Kuromukuro – 20

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Now this is the kind of episode that fully delivers on the promise of Kuromukuro from the start. No more teasing: Yukina is finally stuck aboard an alien mothership, and while before we were only given bits of dialogue from the bigwigs sitting on their thrones on the bridge, here we get a grand tour of the massive vessel, with Yukina as our guide.

Lighting, sound, and visual design get top marks here, creating a suitably alien and oppressive but still wondrous atmosphere. Yukina also benefits, at least initially, from the ship (and its various automated crewmen) believing she’s Muetta. I say initially because it isn’t long before Mirasa finds Yukina and tries to kill her, laughing maniacally the whole time.

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A little less exciting, but still important, is Sophie’s continued chat with Zell, who reveals he’s third world that was conquered and dominated by the Efidolg. He doesn’t want what happened to his world (nothing good) to happen to Earth, and he’d also like some retribution along the way.

At the same time, Major Graham discovers the director’s “mutiny” and acts to restrain her, but as she says, she’s “already won”, because Ken is up in orbit, trying to save her daughter. All anyone down there can do, from Graham and Hiromi to Yukina’s sister, uncle, and friends…is wait.

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Yukina manages to find a hiding place where Mirasa can’t see her, then digs into the ship’s records to try to figure out a way off, to no avail. She also finds what looks either like a clone or artificial “Yukihime head,” disturbingly enough. I appreciate her determination to help herself out, sticking true to what she said to herself in the beginning of the episode: “I can’t have him protect me all the time.”

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When she finally finds some clothes and a weapon, she remembers the gruelling training she went through, and it serves her well, at least in terms of the stamina she no doubt developed, as well as her sword skills, which keep her alive against a Mirasa who may well be compromised from the stress of “Muetta” returning to announce her treachery.

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Little does Mirasa know, until the last possible moment, that Muetta arrived on the ship separately. She reports to her superiors, but can’t keep up the fiction that nothing’s amiss when the ship’s sensors detect Ken roaming the corridors looking for Yukina.

Muetta is immediately treated and attacked as a traitor, which is probably what she expected all along. I for one am glad she doesn’t try to turn Ken and/or Yukina over in exchange for essentially keeping her job and having her past mistakes forgiven. Then again, she’s never actually given the choice to betray Ken, because bringing him here in the first place is all the bigwigs need to condemn her.

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Eventually, Ken finds Yukina, steps in on her fight with Mirasa, and along with Muetta they hurry back to the hangar to make their getaway. Yukina allows herself to cry and embrace Kennosuke with relief and heartfelt gratitude, and her continued thanks makes Ken blush. Sure you were only “fulfilling a promise.” Right.

The Efidolg try to snatch both the Kuromukuro and Muetta’s glongur, but fail when the Ogre flies up into orbit to snatch them out of the enemy tractor beam, allowing them to return to earth. All’s well that ends well…except for the little matter of the Efidolg ship preparing to descend to the Earth’s surface. No rest for the weary…or recently-half-naked.

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Kuromukuro – 19

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Now that’s more like it. The last episode kinda dragged on, building to the surprise abduction of Yukina. But this episode takes full advantage of the severity of that cliffhanger: the Kuromukuro is grounded, Earth is more vulnerable than ever, and everyone is on edge, but powerless to do anything in the immediate present. After all, Yukina is in space.

Their only consolation, and hope, as it happens, is the fact they retrieved the wounded Muetta, whom Dr. Hausen determines has identical DNA to Yukina and Hiromi. They’re definitely related, though Muetta is very old.

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Hiromi is in full-on Mom Panic Mode, Sophie is given mandatory leave by the commander, and Ken is disgraced by how useless he feels. Sophie doesn’t have any sympathy for him moping in the canteen, but that’s for the best, as shortly after she’s alone, she’s contacted by the Ogre, who promises an encounter soon.

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Dr. Hausen is the only one truly happy this week, as he gets to study an Efidolg—or, at least, a human who’s had their memories altered and their body populated by advanced nanomachines. He determines that Ken’s blood is the best way to counteract the effect of Mirasa’s weapon, and after a quick transfusion, Muetta is awake and as feisty and combative as ever.

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The Ogre rudely invades Sophie’s apartment, but properly apologizes, and explains that she was the only person he felt safe contacting. His comment about cosplay culture making it easier to move around modern Japan was pretty amusing, but the fact he’s finally here, with Sophie, ready and willing to explain all (or at least some) is very exciting.

He, or I should say, Zell, is absolutely an enemy of the Efidolg, but not yet an ally of the earthlings. Here’s hoping that will change, becaue the earthlings need all the help they can get.

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Ken knows he can’t do squat about Yukina without the Kuromukuro, and so breaks into Muetta’s cell to try to bargain with her. She agrees to co-pilot it with him, with the story that she stole it and captured him. It’s really the only play they have, and it gets them both what they want: Muetta, freedom from this place, and Ken, a chance to save Yukina.

What I’m glad about is that Ken needs help, and lots of it. He may be a samurai, but he can’t whisk Yukihime out of a high-security international installation on his own. The other civilian lab employees clear a path for them, ending with Hiromi herself giving Ken her blessing (and making him swear he’ll bring her Yukina back).

This is because Hiromi’s superiors told her to give up on Yukina. They proposed using Muetta to pilot Kuromukuro, with Dr. Hausen minutes from administering some dread medication that would likely not give her a choice in the matter.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to place Yukihime in the “Good Guys” column just yet, but I’ll pencil her in for now. The bottom line is she had few choices to get back to where she belonged other than going along with Ken’s plan, and once they’re up in orbit, Ken is at the mercy of her “people.”

But what makes be believe Yukihime might not bretray him immediately is the recording of…herself she sees once they fire up the Kuromukuro, which she’s amazed powers up so quickly even though it’s her first time. Only it isn’t: she recognizes herself in the recording. There’s an opening here, however small, for her to start entertaining the idea that Ken is right about her.

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That brings us to poor, poor Yukina. The only moment sadder than seeing her sister and mother despair at her abduction is seeing her look down on earth and call for Kennosuke…after asking for some clothes, of course. The Efidolg brought her there not as a hostage, but because they thought she was Muetta.

Mirasa quickly took it upon herself to try to finish what she started, but it seems Yukina was able to escape her stasis chamber in time. Despite her call for her samurai buddy, something tells me she ‘s not simply going to wander the ship, catching her death of cold, waiting for Ken to rescue her. She’s going to have to help herself out, and stay alive and free until help arrives.

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GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

10_brav2RABUJOI World Heritage List

Coppelion – 01

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90% of Tokyo has been reduced to the “world’s largest ghost town” by the fallout from a nuclear disaster. The Self Defense forces send three girls – Naruse Ibara, Fukasaku Aoi, and Nomura Taeko – into the city to respond to SOS calls. Immune to the radiation, the girls travel without protection suits or masks. They find a severely irradiated person in a riverbed, who is airlifted out by the girl’s superior, Vice Principal Mashima. The girls continue on in search of others, and end up encountering wolves.

“People don’t belong here anymore!” cries Aoi, who had been reticent about their mission from the beginning. And as we watched the three otherwise normal-looking high school girls walking casually through the deserted streets of a Tokyo returned to nature and off limits to those with ordinary DNA, we couldn’t argue with her. The ruined city is gorgeous and tranquil, but it’s also foreboding, and profoundly sad; as one of the greatest cities ever constructed reduced to a husk, and only a privileged (by their genetic makeup) few are able to enter. Many have compared the harnessing of the atom to the power of the gods, as there are few human achievements that can match it in terms of the risk of destruction. We take a risk by using it, and in the case of this series, a heavy price was exacted; Tokyo itself.

This first episode starts during girls’ first foray, but doesn’t try to do too much, letting us gain our bearings and gradually take in its world. Those who watched K will recognize the bold character design and immensely rich background detail. Character-wise we have the tough maverick (Ibara), the exuberant foodie (Aoi) and the animal lover/whisperer (Taeko). Tomatsu Haruka gives Ibara a strong leader’s voice, but we were a little disappointed and irritated by Hanazawa Kana chose for Aoi, it can be a bit shrill and she says a lot of useless stuff. We don’t know Taeko’s seiyu but she had a nice gentle, nurturing voice. Vice Principal Mishima is your typical straight-laced military man, who is the episode’s spokesman regarding how things ended up like this. Accompanying his exposition was his flyover of an eerily beautiful Odaiba, the epicenter of the “accident.”

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • We’re digging the premise, the setting, and the production values, so we’re definitely continue with this. But K had an impressively gorgeous beginning too, but its story couldn’t quite keep up. Here’s hoping that’s not the case here.
  • When that dog first appeared we were apprehensive, as it sure looked a lot like a wolf to us. The girls may be immune to radiation, but not fangs…
  • One of Aoi’s few salient points: why don’t the girls have access to a car, or more precisely, a truck of some kind? Is this their minders’ way of keeping them in shape?
  • No doubt the series will explore how the girls see themselves: heroes with their own will, or tools/puppets by reason of their DNA?