Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 01 – The Girl with the Pink P90 (First Impressions)

SAOA:GGO (rolls right off the tongue) gets right down to it, dropping us into a Gun Gale Online battle royale called Squad Jam beside teammates LLENN and M. Thanks to the patient tactical mind of M, much their time in the Jam is spent not getting shot at, and when they are, it’s to draw dumb enemies into getting shot by smarter ones, all while LM stays clean.

LLENN resents having to play the decoy, but can’t argue that it works, and you have to go with what works in a battle where the team that’s dominating are professional fighters IRL, likely in the game for the training. They show off their skills so blithely, M is convinced that winning isn’t their main objective.

LLENN and M’s is, however, so once the field has been thinned from 23 starting teams to 8, they head somewhere isolated where the pro team will come for them (uninterested as they are in ambushing their opponents).

The pros work like a well-oiled, by-the-book machine, precise and practiced in movement and speech. But because they’re so damn orthodox and true-to-life in their tactics, and since winning isn’t their goal, M thinks he knows how to beat them, and prepares a tiny surprise.

That surprise is the unbelievably diminutive LLENN popping out of a suitcase, previously just another unremarkable piece of the garbage strewn across the street that the pro team leader realizes is a hiding place a beat too late.

A beat is all LLENN needs to go off with her pinkP90, using her super-human speed and agility to take the pros down one by one until only two remain. M wasn’t under-utilizing LLENN before, he was saving her for when it was the right time for her to shine; when it mattered most.

The remaining two pros could probably have made a fight of it, but LLENN’s superhuman abilities render their training program contaminated, as M suspected…so they both resign. We pull back from LLENN on a TV as six school friends watch, then turn to their host, the very tall Karen, for whom LLENN is her avatar.

And there you have it. If you’re a hopeless SAO consumer as I apparently am, you were likely satisfied with this start, which had a nice pared-down feel to it despite the scope of the Squad Jam, easing us back into its world without piling on new faces or places.

Until the reveal of LLENN’s player, we were in-game the whole time. We followed just two gunners in a relatively compact location as they talked strategy, let things unfold and waited for pieces to get into optimal position before striking with all available force. And we learn Karen plays as a chibi in a kind of negative size-compensation.

Prison School – 11

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It’s cruch time for the inmates, and Gakuto quickly devises a fresh challenge for the Vice President—butt-wrestling—only to find Mari has replaced her, not due to doubt over Meiko’s loyalty or competence, but simply because she suspects the boys have caught on to her pattern of behavior and are planning to exploit her once more…which is exactly what is going on.

Their latest greatest plan thus foiled before it could get off the ground, it falls to Kiyoshi to use Meiko’s replacement Hana to regain access to the office. When he mentions the grudge Hana holds against him (without going into the tawdry details), they protest what could end up a very painful, bloody path, but he sees it as an opportunity to do right by the lads he wronged. They forgave him, but he hasn’t forgiven himself.

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As I suspected, Kiyoshi makes use of Chiyo’s message exchange to gain outside help, and while Chiyo is caught, it’s by Anzu, who shares her desire to get the boys un-expelled. The girls of the Underground StuCo may be the source of all their suffering, but girls also happen to be instrumental to their salvation.

When Gakuto’s quick thinking gets him and Kiyoshi in the office, then ends up alone with Hana, he’s expects the worst for his “eryngii” when she pulls out a pair of shears. Alas, Hana is no butcher, nor is she criminally insane; she merely uses the shears to cut the top off a bottle for him to pee in. Her plan for revenge remains the same; it has not escalated.

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But once Kiyoshi quickly removes his pants, then boxers, he realizes Hana is no less embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation than he is, so he steels himself and tries to win the emotional battle. When Hana realizes what’s happening, she too steels herself, removing her leggings and shimapan and turning the tables. Considering all the messed-up stuff these two have been through—largely through no fault of their own—this is par for the course.

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Kiyoshi doesn’t give up, however, and manages to unlock the door that must be unlocked for the larger plan to succeed. Then she kicks him for being too close, and he catches a glimpse of her “precious area”, which he calls her “medusa”, and then “turns to stone.” Yikes, that’s a lot of double entendres!

Just when Hana is about to pee on him, they’re startled by the commotion when Meiko captures a girl outside the prison. Everyone is dejected that Chiyo has been caught until Shingo recongizes the voice of Anzu, selflessly serving as Chiyo’s decoy and getting captured for the good of the mission.

Kiyoshi gets another accidental peek, and when he explains himself with those entendres, including the use of the term “medusa”, he causes Hana to start bawling. Why did he give it a name? Why does the first person to see her have to be him? Why did it have to turn out this way?

Kiyoshi offers his apologies, and offers to let her hit him as much as she wants…and she does. But hitting him won’t make them even. Instead, in keeping with her eye-for-an-eye sense of justice, she takes from him something he’ll never get back: his first kiss with a girl.

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Almost delirious with the justice she’s doled out, Hana gets Kiyoshi to admit he likes Mari’s little sister, and for that reason, Hana is resolved to do everything to him he doesn’t want her to do, no matter how embarrassing it might be. So as Chiyo sneaks around outside, fighting for Kiyoshi’s sake, Hana continues to purposefully make out with him.

Even if Chiyo doesn’t catch them in the act (something Kiyoshi could probably explain anyway), Kiyoshi won’t forget this evening in the prison office. The thing is, neither will Hana. I can’t believe this encounter won’t stay with her, and that she feels absolutely nothing genuine from it.

Amidst all the totally weird and wrong interactions they’ve had, there’s also been a sliver of chemistry and mutual attraction…it’s just a matter of neither knowing what the heck to do with such things.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 12

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GIBO has followed a highly effective pattern throughout the Fall: terrific quiet episodes followed by even more terrific LOUD episodes. The latest Loud One might just be the best.

Eugene might scoff at Kudelia’s ignorance of the gravitic effects of Ahab reactors, but I was glad for the little lesson, which explains why there’s a vast churning debris field made up of ships and suits from the calamity war, all gathered together by still-active ahabs, like the Pacific Trash Vortex in space.

It’s a fitting battlefield for Tekkadan and the Turbines’ fight with the Brewers, who have been hired by Gjallarhorn to bring Kudelia back into their orbit, whether she wants to or not. The debris field has powerful metaphorical value too: it’s the ingrained belief of most Human Debris that they’re no different from those hunks of metal floating around; if they’re not useful, they’re worthless.

At the same time, the adoptive, surrogate, and biological families aboard the Hammerhead and Isaribi themselves came together much like the debris field in which they’ll fight, only their shared experiences, emotions, fondness, and love comprise the “gravity” that brought them together.

That “human gravity” gives the impending battle extra weight: it’s not just about giving the Brewers a bloody nose: it’s about saving Masahiro, who isn’t just Akihiro’s brother to Orga and Tekkadan. Mika understands this, so as he goes out to scout with Lafter, he promises Akihiro he’ll try to go easy on Masahiro until he arrives.

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Heartbreakingly juxtaposed with Atra and Kudelia presenting their beloved Mika with a love-infused and no-doubt sumptuous homemade lunch for the battle (how adorably domestic), is the Brewers debris chow scene, who are lucky to get dry packaged protein bars. They notice there’s one extra, for their fallen brother Pedro, and talk arises of rebirth and resurrection into a better life after this one. Naturally, Kudal comes in and smacks them for such talk, but Masahiro seems intrigued.

As Mika and Lafter scout out the debris field (with Mika studying reading and writing and eating his lunch to kill time – every minute is valuable for this guy) Kudelia, Atra, and Merribit wait for the ride to get bumpy in the mess hall. Kudelia is apprehensive, but Atra takes her hands into hers to reassure her: Mika will come back; he always comes back. And because of how this particular Gundam treats statements like that, I know he’ll most likely come back too.

To me, it’s more another sign that Atra’s idea of sharing her love for Mika—rather than “winning” and depriving Kudelia of him—wasn’t a fleeting one. She cares deeply about Kudelia too, and doesn’t want her to worry. The display of affection and concern makes Merribit smile.

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And that’s about it for the “quiet” part of “The Shoals.” Brooke and Kudal end up taking the bait, believing the false readings of enemy ships being right behind their scouts, and sending all their mobile suits to attack, leaving them wide open for when Tekkadan and the Turbines get the jump on them.

The Hammerhead impressively rams Brooke’s ship into an asteroid, while the Isaribi handles the other with arresting cables and a boarding party led by Shino. Kudal sorties in his Gusion (armed with his own hammer), while Mika, Lafter, Azee, and Amida all maneuver the Brewer suits so that Masahiro is isolated, to allow Akihiro to approach and retrieve his bro.

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While the Brewers are no Gjallarhorn, didn’t see through their adversary’s tricks, and don’t impress Shino with their intruder repelling skills, they still put up a hell of a fight. In addition to its hammer, Gusion has anti-ship artillery that packs a punch, while most of the human debris pilots are fighting with revenge on their minds. Of course, ultimately Mika and the ladies don’t have much trouble taking them out; only Kudal looks to be a legitimate headache for our flygirls and boys.

As such, Akihiro gets the one-on-one encounter with Masahiro that he wanted. Akihiro still goes off about how he’s garbage, but Orga makes it clear he’s sick of that talk. Whatever happened in the past, they all have the power to change things as much as they want; they only have to do it. Akihiro thinks he can convince his brother of the same thing…but his brother is too far gone. “Why now?” is his refrain; as if now was too late.

When Akihiro headed out, I wanted him to bring his brother back to the Isaribi. I wanted the words Akihiro heard from Orga, and took to heart, could be successfully relayed to Masahiro and snap him out of his nihilistic human debris mindset. But none of that happened. When Akihiro mentions another family other than him, mom, and dad, Masashiro loses it; Akihiro’s been having fun since abandoning him.

Twisting Akihiro’s brotherly mobile suit hug for a darker purpose, Masahiro releases Akihiro at just the right time to spare him the blow of Kudal’s hammer, which crushes him instead. Whether he was thinking about ending it so he could be reborn in his mother’s belly—a clean slate he felt wasn’t possible in this life—it’s a rejection of Akihiro’s hope, and an immediate end to Masahiro’s suffering…if he’s actually dead, that is.

In a safer, more controlled environment with more time and cooler heads, Akihiro might’ve been able to more carefully explain things and convince his brother to join him, but in the heat of a battle in a debris field wasn’t that environment. And now, no doubt, Akihiro will blame himself for what happened as more evidence debris is all he should ever aspire to be; to hope or wish for more only brings about punishment such as this.

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Attack on Titan – 11

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Supreme Commander Pixis decides the fate of humanity will depend on whether Eren can seal the broken gate with a boulder. At no point does he ever go a step further to what the plan is if Eren can’t, or say, if the Colossal and Armored Titans reappear and destroy the boulder or blast a new hole in the wall. I guess that doesn’t really matter at the moment; one crisis at a time and all that.

The advantage of semi-marathoning (2-3 episodes per week) is that I can go from one episode to the next without waiting a week. In the case of the Battle of Trost arc, I’m starting to wonder how viewers back in Spring 2013 could stand the snail’s pace. Part of that is the fact the first few episodes covered five years; for the last seven to be about the same battle is a bit disorienting.

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Time is moving so slowly, serious damage has been done to the arc’s sence of urgency. Despite often claiming there’s no time in various ways, there’s still plenty of time for leisurely strolls along the wall and interminable motivational (or sobering) speeches. A disadvantage to semi-marathoning also rears its head: the use of narration and repetition of events we just watched don’t do the episode’s urgency any favors.

Stretch out a daylong battle across so many episodes, and the viewers’ minds can stray. I know that if this battle had been wrapped up by now, I wouldn’t be noticing details like it’s strange that Pixis’ voice can carry far enough for everyone below to hear him, or soldiers worrying about “losing discipline”…as dozens of scared soldiers start deserting en masse. Uh, I think that’s a sure sign discipline has already been lost, actually…

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Finally, near the end, we get beautiful and highly kinetic sequence of soldiers flying through the city. I’d been mired in speeches and exposition so long, this scene made me sit up straight. Like the rest of the episode, it’s little more than people getting into position, but it does so without listing a bunch of names of redshirts we may never meet, something Rico does to Eren as they’re running. Why does everyone suddenly think Eren’s a spoiled brat? He’s going to save everybody.

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Only, he’s not. Not really. And that was the most glaring problem with this episode, from my perspective: Titan-Eren was never going to actually succeed. When he transforms, he turns from the boulder and smashes the roof where Mikasa is standing, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Oops.

This show has proven, Lucy-from-Peanuts-like, that just because it’s carefully positioning a football on the ground, doesn’t mean it won’t pull it back up just when you’re about to kick it, leaving you, Charlie, flat on your back. Not always, mind you: Armin’s gambit worked very nicely indeed.

But past results are no guarantee of future success, and it would have been too easy if Eren just picked up the boulder and plugged the hole like a good Demi-Titan. So…how about that Plan B?

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 07

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After just leaving Aihara Aiko and her squad behind to die, Guren indulges Yuu’s desire to save the hostages rather than kill them to end their suffering and retreat. But since these noble attacks are decoys to allow the main Shibuya force to move without detection, it doesn’t really matter how they proceed at Nagoya city hall, as long as the count of able-bodied soldiers doesn’t go down too far.

Shinoa tells Yuu to be calm more than once when discussing what’s to be done about the hostages, but she’ll suffer no deviation from her orders: if they can’t save the hostages in five minutes, everyone is to retreat, no ifs ands or buts. Narumi’s squad will back hers, while Guren, Shinya, and his team will target Crowley, Belle, and Horn. But as Shinya and Yoichi’s first shot demonstrates, these nobles won’t go down so easily.

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While I can see what the show was trying to do by building up the attack, the orders not to die and the setting of the watches, and all the talking didn’t help the pace of this episode, nor did the apparent contradiction in abandoning one squad to die but saving another in a much more dangerous situation. But when the battle finally begins, things pick up nicely, as we see just how easily Guren’s people can mow down vampire foot soldiers.

Still, it’s nobles Guren is after, and when he finally crosses swords with Crowley, what is surely his best strike is easily turned away. Crowley is more bemused than anything else by the sudden attack, but admits to his two lieutenants that in the short-term, humans can actually be somewhat entertaining. The result of their efforts isn’t in doubt for him, but he’ll patiently see what they can do.

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Guren on his own is clearly not enough against Crowley, but Shinya undermines the element of surprise by announcing he’s behind Crowley. Before he can say “checkmate”, both Guren and Shinya are in a pile, and have to regroup. Meanwhile, Yuu and the others are done early, so under pressure from Yuu, Shinoa decides to dedicate three minutes—no more—to helping Guren out. Interestingly, this week there’s no downing of PEDs, though one would think those would come in handy against nobles as they had in the past. Maybe they took some earlier and they haven’t worn off yet?

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In any case, Guren and Shinya, wounded and soundly outmatched, are forced to scurry from one room to another at an increasingly slow clip, with Crowley and his ladies always catching up. Yet as long as they’re keeping the nobles busy, the mission continues to be a success. It’s just…it would be really nice if these three vampires could be brought down.

But considering how easily we’ve seen Guren take care of Yuu, I don’t see how Yuu is the man to do it. It will have be a concerted team effort, as it was for their first bagged noble. But all that might be moot once Mika arrives. Could he join forces with Yuu to beat Crowley, in service of his ultimate goal to free and protect Yuu from those who would hurt or use him? Stranger things have happened.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 12 (Fin)

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Both this sequel series and its final episode share the title “insight”, meaning “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Throughout much of the story, the public at large didn’t have much insight into anything beyond what they collectively felt they wanted in the moment.

Their growing enthusiasm with becoming one, fueled by Gelsadra’s brief rule and new ways of doing things, created a new enemy that no one saw coming until it was too late, due to their lack of insight into themselves. That enemy was the pervading atmosphere.

Everyone was to blame, but an individual was still needed to represent collective guilt and collective culpability; a bad guy who the Gatchamen would beat so badly, the atmosphere would become too terrifying for anyone to want to be a part of it any more.

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As Tsubasa explains to the public on the Milione Show, in the second phase of their plan, she says Hajime took that role. She used Berg-Katze’s power to become Gel-san, then told her G-men comrades to beat her mercilessly before a live nationwide audience.

Hajime was the ultimate hero of heroes in Gatchaman because he realizes her role in protecting the planet goes beyond simply saving whoever is right in front of her, but, when necessary, saving everyone from themselves, even if it means putting her life on the line. Rather than go with the flow or settle for quick votes and easy answers that feel good, Hajime thought, long and hard, about what she, Ichinose Hajime, could do.

Last week’s straightforward battle is thus place in a far different and more compelling context, with added dialogue that accentuates how conflicted the G-men really were about beating up “Gel-san”, because it was really Hajime. Yet again and again, she told them not to stop, until they literally cleaved her in two. As a result, she’s in a coma, and the sight of her on TV incites public rage against Gel-san.

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But Tsubasa implores everyone to follow Hajime’s example and think carefully about what is to be done about Gelsadra: Should they expel him from Earth, allow him to stay, or leave it up to the Gatchamen? Unlike all other previous votes, the people have a whole month to decide, and can change their votes as much as they want until the final tally.

As the days and weeks go by, anti-Gel-san sentiment goes from a boil to a simmer, as after longer and more thorough thought, everyone starts to take responsibility for what happened to the atmosphere rather than blame it all on Gel-san, who was, after all, only a naive facilitator with the very best intentions.

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When the vote comes, Tsubasa is relieved that not only do the people (by a narrow margin) agree to let Gel-san stay on Earth, but only a tiny sliver left it up to Gatchamen. Well over 90% of the population decided for themselves. To Suzuki Rizumu’s delight, the people evolved beyond the level of apes.

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After the vote, public opinion is driven a little less by what happens to be the flavor of the week, but greater intuitive understanding of the situation and their own individual power to shape their own opinion. X tells Rui to think long and hard about what to do about the Crowds, who play with the remaining, calm, Kuu-sama. The Prime Minister reminds his salty colleagues in the Diet that everyone was responsible for the atmospheric fiasco, and everyone is responsible for preventing it from happening again.

As for the savior who woke everyone up from their destructive bliss, Hajime does, thankfully, eventually wake up from her long slumber, without any fuss and grateful she slept so well. She’s clearly happy her big plan worked out, since so much of it depended on her fellow Gatchamen as well as the general public to make it a success.

Now, with the world more or less back to normal, the G-men await the next arrival of an alien who might, unwittingly or not, take a certain human quality to its most dangerous extreme. If that ever happens, I’ll be here to watch and cover it. GATCHA!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 11

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As ‘Lil Gel-san chills at Gatcha HQ with Sugayama, the reunited Gatchamen do battle with the Kuu-sama…to no avail. While easy to defeat, the damn things keep coming, which makes sense, as they’re the granular embodiment of the collective atmosphere. Hajime stops fighting and determines they’ll need to try different tactics to get rid of it. But first, she and several other Gatchamen go on the Milione Show to receive the public’s blessing via smartphone vote. (OD also gets to meet his knockoff, DD).

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As soon as the public votes 84% to leave things to the Gatchamen, the Kuu-sama immediately cease their attacks and aggressive, and switch to fawning admiration for the Gatchamen. Such is the shifted mood of the people. But they’re still hanging around, to which Berg-Katze and Suzuki independently agree the only answer is to kill Gelsadra. So the Gatchamen deploy and start fighting him head-on.

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As we saw in his battle against Joe, Gel is one tough customer, but against the concerted forces of the Gatchamen he is eventually worn down. Only they’re not interested merely in wearing him down. In fact, the G-men make it a point to pummel Gel-san as mercilessly as possible, all while the public watches on streaming media. The Kuu-sama celebrate Gel-san’s imminent defeat, but then…the atmosphere starts to change again.

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People start to pity Gel-san’s treatment, and believe the G-men might be going a bit too far in taking him out. These peoples’ Kuu-samas pop like balloons one by one. Tsubasa tries to stop Sugane from a coup-de-grace, but after all the other assembled G-men salute, he fires off his attack anyway, which teleports through Tsubasa and slices Gel-san in half. Curiously absent in all of this is Hajime.

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The reason for her absence becomes clear a short time later, once the atmosphere has calmed and peace returned to the nation: she wasn’t absent. Utsutsu borrows the life force of her fellow G-men to heal a Sleeping Beauty-esque Hajime, while Tsubasa goes on the air to apologize to the people for deceiving them: Gel-san isn’t dead. They managed to get around the fact that only killing him could calm the atmosphere by “killing” a fake Gel-san, who Hajime posed as for the purposes of the operation.

Hajime understood that the atmosphere everyone had a hand in creating was far tougher opponent than Gel-san or the Kuu-sama, and defeating it would require more than brawn. They needed to convince the people that they were delivering swift and terrible justice to their fallen alien prime minister, and only when he was in smoldering pieces did they start to find such justice distasteful and prefer to move on to other things. I for one just hope Hajime didn’t have to pay for this victory with her own life.

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Shimoneta – 03

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After top art student and school’s pride, Saotome Otome, caught a glimpse of Okuma and Ayame’s rooftop antics, she literally snags him on a chain and drags him away to her studio, where she presumes he can assist her with (or rather she can blackmail him into) helping her with a romantic problem that is making her art suffer. The subject of her affections? Anna. So when Okuma must tell her who he loves, he says the first girl’s name that comes to mind: Ayame, so as to avoid conflict.

But Otome’s artists’ block is merely a side effect of a much larger problem that afflicts not only her, but much of the population: a decade of PMs and oppression is leaving large swaths of the population unable to express their love, or even identify what they’re feeling as such. This isn’t surprising; dirty jokes and the sexual knowledge that makes them dirty are crucial to natural human interaction. Without them, there’s a large gap that is filled with whatever else people can come up with.

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For a certain unsavory admirer of Anna, that something is stalking and candid photos with threatening messages. Anna is shaken by this, but Ayame assure Okuma she’ll protect her while he tries to get Otome to join SOX, revealing that her friendship to Anna is genuine, even if the two are on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Anna, after all, is person who made it possible for Ayame to exist in normal society; she’d surely be in jail without her. But with the very survival of the human race is at stake, and so Ayame must act against her best friend.

Anna, for her part, knows Okuma isn’t the stalker, despite Goriki’s suspicions (which are his own way of expressing his own love for Anna), and agrees to a sting in which Ayame will dress as a boy as they go on a date. At the same time, Otome plans her own rescue of Anna by the stalker, shaving Okuma’s legs and putting him in drag (for the second straight episode).

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As they wait in the bushes, Otome cannot help but compulsively draw Anna, her first real model, in her own unique way of expressing her love. The resulting sting is a pretty thrilling and complex bit of physicality, as not only does the stalker turn out to be huge, but there are three of them, and not everyone in a position to protect Anna is close enough to stop their attacks.

Fortunately, Ayame knows right where to kick the first stalker, and Okuma is in time to stop the next one with a devastating right. Interestingly, he moved out of instinct, but isn’t sure who he moved for: Ayame, whom he told Otome he loved on a whim? Or Anna? Heck, why not both!

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Whoever he was trying to protect, he loses his wig and takes a rock to the back of the head, and ends up not only landing on top of a stunned Anna, but his lips and legs end up locked with hers for a not inconsequential amount of time before he gets up, starts to apologize, and passes out from the rock blow.

As for Anna, that sudden closeness to a boy and the touch of his lips seems to awaken her libido with a vengeance. Again, she has no idea what’s going on, but she knows it feels amazing. Will this be an isolated incident eventually forgotten, or will Anna never look at Okuma the same again?

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Shimoneta – 02

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To borrow a couple of sophomoric double entendres from Blue Snow, Okuma is in a tight spot; between a rock and a hard place. He admires and idolizes the pure, perfect Anna (who shows no signs of being anything other than that, with no hidden dark side), but is being forced through blackmail and coersion by Ayame to undermine her.

I will say, both Ayame and Okuma are well-positioned in terms of hiding in plain sight, and Okuma’s story of how he was ostracized when his “terrorist” father was put away and met the “guardian angel” Anna in grade school (something she doesn’t remember) that inspired him to live a purer life, is a great cover story.

But Ayame is stripping the primacy of his goal away as she exposes him to more and more misbehavior, as Okuma can’t deny the thrill he gets from finding ultra-rare smutty mags in an abandoned cabin, like buried treasure. When the imagery therein is copied and distributed around school, Anna is so ignorant to its insidiousness she herself frames a picture of a girl performing fellatio in the StuCo office!

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That gets to another bigger social issue about the whole anti-dirty-joke law and PM devices: real-world Japan’s brith rate can’t keep up with its aging population; if laws were put into place to block the people’s natural sexual development and keep them in the dark about reproduction (if such a thing were even possible), it would be a de facto form of population control. Maybe the Japan of Shimoneta wants the population to decrease.

In any case, Anna’s powerful, driven politician mother is introducing a new bill that would step up the oppression even further, legalizing the monitoring of every action and conversation in the country. With no stones unturned, Ayame’s terrorism could not continue, her crusade to educate the ignorant masses would end in defeat, and most importantly, the people would have no privacy whatsoever in the new surveillance state. Ayame makes sure to impress upon Okuma that while she has her own selfish reasons for doing what she does, she’s also working in best interests of a free society.

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Thus, the fight must not only continue, but be stepped up. Ayame dresses Okuma up like a Blue Snow decoy to give students dirty word eye exams during school physicals while she steals the boys’ urine samples, hoping to start a scandal in the school when tests reveal high levels of masturbation. The operation also results in Anna yelling out the howler above.

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Anna isn’t portrayed as an idol fool here, but actually comes quite close to exposing and capturing Okuma-in-drag more than once, and presses her pursuit of him with heretofore unseen (and somewhat frightening) superhuman strength and speed. Game Over for Okuma and Ayame is rarely less than a few seconds or inches (heh-heh) away, but with one last misdirection, Ayame manages to save Okuma and make off with the urine.

The fact that the entire final exchange is witnessed by a painter in a crow’s nest—likely the same painter who painted the pure “Sound of Music”-style painting Okuma lingered on—means the ranks of Ayame’s SOX are likely to swell in the near future, which bodes well for defeating Anna and stopping her mom’s overreaching legislation.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 03

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Last week A/Z left the two bands of Terrans we’re following in Tokyo with some steep hills to climb: Lt. Marito to save the civilian stragglers and his students, and Inaho and his friends to mount some kind, any kind of counterattack against Sir Trillram’s purple pillbug. The damn thing has to have its weaknesses; they turned out to be very glaring weaknesses in the end, but time, prodding, and a good deal of decoy work was needed to reveal and exploit them.

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After Inaho devises plan and they prepare as best they can, It’s SHOWTIME, Everybody! and A/Z does not disappoint with the righteous action that follows. I particularly liked Asseylum handling a grenade launcher while Rayet handled the wheel of the decoy truck. Inko pilots a Terran kataphrakt along with Inaho and Calm, so the ladies aren’t sitting on the sidelines here.

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As it turns out, Trillram’s kataphrakt is totally blind without help from recon drones in the air, easily obscured by smoke bombs, and while most of the pillbug’s surface is covered by that impenetrable barrier, there are “bald spots” that enable it to function at all, which Inaho finds when the pillbug falls into the bay. As Count Saazbaum pointed out, there’s no time to waste; the kataphrakt’s technology revolved around a strategy of quickly and utterly defeating the enemy.

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But the “rats” who survived the initial onslaught were small, crafty and had enough time to chew through that technology. Needless to say, it was extremely satisfying to see the damn thing finally go down, with Inaho dedicating his coup de grace to the friend whose hand slipped out of his the day before. He and his friends old and new proved something this day, both to the rest of the world and their conquerors: the Vers aren’t invincible, and if they want to play at war, they’ll get one.

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Another nice shift in momentum for the good guys: Slaine shedding his status as Terran lapdog, when he comes to pick up Trillram and learns of the plot to assassinate the princess. Trillram is still too arrogant for his own good and turns his back on Slaine, who snatches up his sidearm and terminates his command with extreme prejudice. Now if only Slaine can somehow meet back up with Asseylum. There’s far more work to be done…and traitors to expose, if any of Vers will still listen.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 02

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Vers landing castles have touched down in New Orleans, Maputo, Beijing and Tokyo, and even the defenses Earth has been preparing for fifteen years have absolutely no effect on their invaders. F-22s are swatted like flies and primative kataphrakts are sliced up like cold cuts. Count Cruhteo sends Sir Trillram to “retrieve” the Vers operatives who carried out the Asseyleum assassination, but that means killing them all so that no word gets out about the conspiracy.

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One member of the group of what Trillram deems “rats” manages to escape his initial attack: Rayet Areash, whom the Kataphrakt forces consisting of Lt. Marito and Yuki mistake for a civilian. Yuki scoops her up and rendezvous with an evacuation vehicle with her brother Inaho and his friends aboard. Inaho, who had himself just recently been picked up, has with him two “foreigners” who we know to be Eddelrittuo and none other than Princess Asseylum in disguise; only her body double was the one killed in the motorcade assault.

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While these four cities have all but fallen and all attempts to counterattack are futile, the Terrans aren’t done yet, as long as they refuse to give up. Even though they’re only students, Inaho, Inko & Co. are still called upon to help evacuate civilians from the battle zones. Even in the face of certain death, Lt. Morito and Yuki fight with everything they have to delay and hold back Trillram and allow the innocents to escape.

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They do this unaware that right beside them sit not only one of those responsible for the plot that served as the justification for the Vers invasion, but Vers’ own discarded, peace-loving princess her group thought they offed. They’re not done yet, either: the ferry with the bulk of evacuees needs cover. Inaho & Co will pilot training kataphrakts with live ammo and do what they can, which may not be much against the might of the Vers invaders, but who knows: maybe those bastards’ arrogance will end up being their undoing. In any case, they’re not giving up quite yet.

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