BEATLESS – 02

Arato doesn’t really yet know he has a fugitive in his house, so I’ll forgive him for letting Yuka enroll Lacia in a fashion hIE competition that she then promptly wins. Still, considering all the danger he encountered upon meeting Lacia, you’d think he’d be a bit more careful.

But nope; the fashion thing goes through, Arato tells his friends at school (who agree with me that he’s probably not taking this seriously enough) and even lets Lacia accompany him on the train when he leaves his tablet at school.

Lacia shows him the nice view from the school roof he’s never seen, but the episode suffers from a lack of stakes or impending doom until the very end. Arato doesn’t sense any danger, which makes him less informed than us. If he had any notable qualities, that could be forgiven, but he’s pretty much a big not-steaming pile of meh.

That makes the fact he stumbled backwards into ownership of an elite luxury hIE all the more grating. He hasn’t really done anything but accept ownership; presumably he’ll start to experience the negative consequences of his choice, but this week he doesn’t.

Instead, he merely tags along during a live Lacia fashion shoot and “analog hack” that goes on too long and attracts a dubiously large crowd. It never comes across as anything but a tremendously bad idea.

All the while, I was thinking that at some point, Memeframe will come looking for her in some capacity, although perhaps the destruction caused in their escape hindered their ability to track their property. As for Arato’s nerdy friend Kengo, he’s paid a visit by Kouka, who doesn’t seem particularly interested in having an owner or following commands.

If Memeframe isn’t going to come into the picture soon, maybe Kouka and the other escaped fugitives can bring the storm…because this ep was too heavy on the calm.

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BEATLESS – 01 (First Impressions)

Yeah, we usually started in September…

In a technologically-advanced, highly automated future where androids called hIEs serve mankind and are treated as tools, nondescript protagonist Endou Arato does have one unique quality: he has compassion for these “tools” as if they were real humans with souls.

He helps the hIE assisting an elderly woman cross the street, and takes the disembodied arm of an hIE to the police. He’s a good kid, even if his friends scratch their heads at what they see as unnecessary behavior.

In addition to a somewhat cryptic cold open in which he watches hIEs being made and coming to life (and going wrong for that matter), I felt Arato’s ingrained compassion would end up working in his favor even as five Memeframe Corp. elite hIEs violently escape from their cage in Odaiba and scatter, causing chaos and destruction in their wake.

BEATLESS may not be the most groundbreaking stuff, but it does realize and advance quite a few pieces of tech still in their relative infancy today, such as fully autonomous cars, robotic eldercare assistants, and even clothes with built-in climate control.

The way the military operates here in trying to apprehend the hIEs is also well-grounded in existing tech, with the bots doing the fighting while the humans keep a (mostly) safe distance. We also see the downside to dependence on so much technology (the aforementioned chaos and destruction). Kouka (the red hIE) seems to place as much importance on human life as Arato’s friends place on hIEs.

Speaking of chaos and destruction, Arato is cursed with one hell of a piece of work of a little sister in Yuka, who lounges around waiting for dinner, then eats all the meat before Arato is done cooking the rest, forcing him to go out and buy more a mere hour and a half from midnight.

After shopping at a nightmare supermarket with no human employees, he encounters an hIE acquaintance, “Ms. Marie” whom he laments he doesn’t have at home to help deal with household duties (since Yuka presumably does none).

Just as he does, one of the not-so-nice hIEs, Snowdrop, uses “flower petals” to hack every piece of machinery in the area, and both Ms. Marie and the nearby cars start trying to kill Arato…until he’s saved by a nice hIE.

This powder blue-haired hIE, Lacia, determines Arato would make a good “owner”, and she needs such an owner to take responsibility in order for her to take action. After a lengthy, somewhat momentum-killing but still kinda amusing scene in which he accepts the terms of the license agreement (as one does), Lacia eliminates the threat with something akin to an EMP.

Yuka initially wigs out when Arato brings Lacia home, but quickly falls in love after Lacia quickly prepares a sumptuous midnight repast for the Endous. Later, while serving Arato tea, Lacia reiterates to him that she has no soul, and that her “behavior” is just programming. But Arato doesn’t care, because Lacia moved him nevertheless.

‘Treat others as you’d like to be treated, even if those others are artificial’ seems as good a slogan for Arato as any, especially if the not-so-nice fugative hIEs out there start terrorizing the population. I can’t imagine it will be long before Memeframe or the military find Lacia and Arato and Yuka get dragged into a good bit of drama. I suppose I’ll watch on for now and see.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 10

Just as getting shaken down in an alley one more time can lead to a city wide crisis involving a giant rage monster, Hellsalem’s Lot is the place where there’s never a shortage of work for cleaners like K.K. She’s so good at her job, in fact, that there’s no one to replace her in most operations. As such, her work-family life suffers.

This week we get a welcome, overdue look into that balance (or lack thereof), starting with how she managed not to break her promise to come to her younger son Kane’s school’s Parents Day the fourth or fifth time in a row.

I enjoyed how quickly we were caught up to speed on her lovely family: Kane, who still takes everything at face value (and assumes she doesn’t love him if she goes back  on her word), an older son who is jaded by it, kind husband who knows how to smooth things over on both sides.

Seeing the other side of K.K. really brought a background character to life, and gave all her momentary appearances in previous episodes this season more context: there’s always been somewhere she’d rather be, and that’s by her sons’ sides.

One advantage to all the work she’s been doing is that she can afford a remedy that will allow her to be with Kane: she has Patrick prepare a number of remote drones that she can control either from her shades in class or a laptop and controller in the restroom.

There are several interruptions in her presence (which a prickly Kane naturally notices), but hey, at least she’s there without having to worry about Steve and his men dying because of it.

As soon as she returns to the class and finds only one man in a green suit having a grave phone conversation, I had some suspicions about him. But K.K. is trying to be present, and when she sees a pretty girl talking enthusiastically with her son, she can’t help but get a bit distracted.

That’s when the crime boss of the organization Steve is trying to take out shows off his backup: a remote-launched missile-catching Blood Breed who cannot be picked up on any of K.K.’s remote scopes. She held out as long as she could, but she has to go—and endure Kane’s hate—one more time.

Of course, I’d already realized the man in the green suit was the real blood breed, remote-controlling the automaton facing off against Steve. It’s the reason he has to step out for a “smoke break.” K.K. senses it too, and confronts him on the school roof.

But here’s the thing: he wasn’t lying about anything: his daughter (Kane’s pretty  “girlfriend” Caroline) really does attend the school, he’s also up to his neck in work, and like K.K., has a hard time striking the right balance.

Knowing K.K. wouldn’t let him go he’s working as a bodyguard for some bad dudes, after all) he proposes the two of them go at it one-on-one right there. But anything that would have happened is thankfully interrupted by Caroline and Kane. Back at the operation, the father’s automaton stopped moving, allowing Steven to destroy it. The mission is a success, and K.K. can go back to being with her son.

Unfortunately, his failure means the father has to disappear lest he and his daughter incur the wrath of his defeated client for his failure. Just as K.K. has to disappoint her kids and let them hate her again and a gain, it’s more important for the dad to keep Caroline safe, so he had to pull her out of Kane’s school. K.K. feels partially responsible for that, so gives Kane a commiseratory hug.

In any case, it’s not like Kane and Caroline will never see each other again; they’ll surely do so once they get a little older (and maybe even follow in their parents’ footsteps). Until then, there’s always the almighty social media to keep them connected!

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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PSYCHO-PASS 2 – 06

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Kamui is committed to discovering and exploiting every weakness in the Sybil System, and he continues to prove he’s exceedingly good at it, luring a large force of MWPSBers into an elaborate trap, perverting the same holo software used to “sanitize” military drone footage so operators’ Psycho-passes don’t get clouded.

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The facility is also a chance to test out his new convert, Former Inspector Shisui. One major weakness of Sybil is obviously the use of eyes. Granted, few people are able to perform successful eye transplant, if one does, one can control any Dominator as if he was an inspector. And while we saw what torturous ordeals Shisui went through in Kamui’s custody, here she’s actually grateful he took her eye. Among this guy’s many gifts and disciplines, add in psychological manipulation and infectious charisma.

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It’s a another particularly shitty day for MWPSB, who are, after all, nothing but complacent, obedient pawns to Sybil. Even if the drones weren’t hacked and trying to kill them all, MWPSB doesn’t even have enough ammo to destroy them all. Rushing in there was a costly mistake; Division 3 is eviscerated. And we hardly knew thee…

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Back at HQ, the gang isn’t sitting still. Well, they are, but they’re tapping away at computers. Well, Saiga isn’t, but…hey, he’s the over-brains of the counter-hacking operation, planting the idea in Shion’s head that the key to stopping the drones is their own MPS operational servers. Saiga basically helps prevent a crisis from turning into an calamity, and if it wasn’t for Akane, he wouldn’t even be in that building.

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Naturally, Mika is utterly dismayed and appalled by Akane’s actions, most of all putting the safety of lowly enforcers before her own and going after Kamui herself; ushing to the forefront instead of staying back and delegating. It doesn’t help that recent events have had a somewhat clouding effect on Mika’s soul, to the point she mutters that she hopes Akane gets clouded.

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That’s after coming back from Togane’s quarters, where she found that he was taking constant measurements of Akane’s color. Togane can’t help himself when Akane has her back turned to him in the field. He’s astonished by how clear she is, even there, which, as he thinks to himself, makes him want to turn her black that much more. Clearly, Akane needs to watch this guy, but she’s given no indication of being anything other than totally in the dark regarding him. Mika knows something now, but I expect her to keep that knowledge to herself. Why help Akane out, and reward her for breaking the rules constantly?

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Oh, and if you like turn-off-your-brain action, you liked this episode. The running and jumping and shooting and exploding is virtually non-stop, with Akane right in the thick of it; she’s everywhere, kicking ass and taking names. The clever tactics used to bunch the drones together so their guns lock (a measure to avoid hitting one another) is a particularly neat little setpiece, though how Akane and the others survive an ammunition warehouse explosion is uncertain! Really, how are they not dead?

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As it turns out, Mika missed out on all the action, which was probably for the best, as she’d probably only issue orders that would have made the situation worse and cause the deaths of more enforcers and civilians. It’s also nice that Shion, Yayoi, Hinakawa and Saiga pay her no mind while switching off the holo overlays. Yes, it clouds a great many minds, but it also saves their lives. The righteous Mika has the usual arguments about how This Is Not How Things Are Done (clearly unfazed by the Chief’s shutdown last week), and Saiga tells her what we all want tell her: “Quit yer damn whining!” Some problems, he says, simply can’t be solved (or even understood, I’ll add) by doing things by the book.

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Kamui is one of those things. He’s a ghost to Sybil’s technology, and he’s also a cunning creature who’s been able to turn it around on itself almost every time. Now he has at least five Dominators, and the ability to use them all at any time. For her confrontation, Akane brings a real gun, but suddenly remembering Kogami, she can’t fire it, nor does she allow Togane to. Kamui gets away very slowly on his boat (named What Color, LOL), but the standoff ends with Akane still a Dominator in the clear, which she needs to continue to be if she’s going to stop Kamui.

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PSYCHO-PASS 2 – 05

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Man oh man, when Psycho-Pass is on, it is frikkin’ ON. This was one of those times. It had it all: turned inspectors, sketchy enforcers, brain-picking, inspector head-patting, attempted inter-office political wrangling, failed freaking tattling, and one more big MWPSB operation…which is exactly what Kamui wanted bearing down on his ostensible location on an isolated island used for military drone development and training. What could possibly go wrong?

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We start off where we left it last week: the site of a major MWPSB fuck-up and defeat. The gory scene — not to mention the way it went down, by MWPSB hands — is understandably a bit much for Mika, who retches and vomits into a sink, clearly scarred by the experience. Even so, her location near the bathroom turns out to be fortuitous, as she spots Togane pointing his Dominator at Akane. The reading? A puny, blindingly-clear 26. As Professor Saiga remarks quite hilariously while Akane is visiting to convince him to interrogate Masuda, Is Akane really human? I hope she turns out to be, because that’s what makes her so damn awesome.

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Okay, I feel a little bad for Mika, and the scene where Kunizuka tenderly pats her head (and said patting is covered by Multiple Camera Angles!) is pretty damned cutebut Mika is still The Worst until she inevitably proves herself otherwise at a later date.

As Professor Saiga remarks quite hilariously while Akane is visiting to convince him to interrogate Masuda, Is Akane really human? I hope she turns out to be, because that’s what makes her so damn awesome.

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Speaking of non-humans, Mika runs to mommy to tattle on Akane being so darned unorthodox. Standing at attention, Mika lays out a carefully-considered, comprehensive argument for why she believes Akane may require “treatment” or at least closer observation and a tighter leash…only to be totally shot down by Chief Kasei, who is very unimpressed and all like “Uh…And?”

What I hoped she’d say was, “Girl, you best GTFO and stop wasting my time before I throw a shoe at your scrawny ass.” Mika scurries away, and Kasei determines she’ll get “eaten alive.” It was just a flawless shutdown, in every way. I’m so glad Kasei is still around, and simultaneously on and most definitely not on Akane’s side.

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While poring over Masuda’s speeches with Shion, it doesn’t take a genius (not being sarcastic) like Saiga long to realize Masuda ain’t Masuda no more. He knows because the latest speeches don’t match the accomplished politician’s earlier balance and finesse with words, volume, and modulation. It’s as if he’s been replaced by a very good but still clear impostor.

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This Impostor gave the MWPSB the location of Kamui without anyone, even Akane, realizing he was a messenger to get them to come to the very place and time Kamui wanted them to be: the experimental drone testing facility. Here, Kamui unleashes his most brutally insidious weapon yet: hooking the deathbots up to everyone’s favorite new cell phone game. They play the crude 3D game with 8-bit sound effects with relish and glee, totally unaware they’re murdering real people.

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In last month’s Rundown I said Kamui may not be as brilliant as Makishima, but I think I need to revise that statement right now: Makishima’s crimes (or rather, his criminal facilitating) had a fairly linear structure, but Kamui’s got his tentacles in so many things at once, MWPSB doesn’t just look stupid or ineffectual, they look extremely vulnerable. Kasei is keeping Akane on the job and giving her a long leash because she and her brilliant, bizarre mind may be the MWPSB’s only hope of surviving. Sybil isn’t quite that vulnerable yet…but Kamui is just warming up.

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We close with certified non-genius Mika, who has, by way of rejecting her by-the-book upright citizen and intruding of Enforcer Togane’s private quarters, actually stumbled on something quite disturbing: Togane seems to be interested in Akane…very interested. While Saiga joked about her not being human, Togane my suspect she isn’t. Heck, he could think any number of things. He could even be…a Kamui mole. All I know is, the wall are closing in on Akane, Mika, everyone who wants to be on the right side of morality, as Kamui aims to bring the system they’re protecting to justice by the most deliciously dastardly means possible!

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Black Bullet – 08

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What with the intensity of last week’s battle between Rintaro and Tina, I had a pretty good feeling we were in store for a cooldown episode, and so it came to pass. But Bullet made the most of it, allowing two former enemies to do some bonding, but never letting us forget that the peace won’t last long.

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Dual threats appear this week: not only have the Gastrea returned to the picture, but they’re up to some unprecedented shit, attacking one of the monoliths that protect Tokyo. The government will have a new one built in nine days (how, I have no idea…those things are HUGE), but the old one will only last six. The three day gap is all the Gastrea need to convert or kill Tokyo’s entire population, if they aren’t opposed.

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That means it’s time for an Entmoot Adjuvant, where Civil officers join forces with the military to fight the bugs off, thereby saving the city. But the other threat appears from within, and again brings up the question of whether the city even deserves to be saved. When a leader of the movement to expel the cursed children is murdered and a cursed child named as a possible suspect, anti-cursed sentiment balloons.

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Frankly, it would make more sense to me to expel the anti-cursed mob: if they don’t want to afford gratitude, rights, or even the slightest decency to girls who save their skins day in day out, they can piss off out of Tokyo and fend for themselves. Fortunately for them, cooler heads like Rentaro seem committed to saving the city despite all the ingratitude. When some punks toss a soda tab at a blind cursed-child beggar who mistakes it as a coin, we mused about how good they’d look in the bottom of a Gastrea’s stomach.

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The girls Rentaro and Kisara teach in the beginning don’t even get a classroom with a roof. And the Katagiri siblings are proof that not all civil agencies are as prosperous as Tendo. Still, nice to see how well Tina is taking to normal life as a regular girl, even with war on the horizon that could cut it short. There’s a kind of gloom in the fact that even if she and many other girls fight and give their lives for the city in the coming days, they’d still be hated and ostracized.

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Black Bullet – 07

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While Preston continues to bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of Nagi no Asukara’s finale, let’s talk Black Bullet, shall we? Last week’s episode ended with the implication that Enju had just gotten her ass handed to her (or worse) off-camera, by 98th ranked Tina Sprout. We later learn that Satomi’s power level is 2200% and Enju’s 8600%, but Tina’s is estimated to be 12900%. Not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive; you don’t see percents going into the tens of thousands often enough, if you ask me.

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But even if Tina’s power level were One Million percent, the chances of Enju kicking the bucket in the seventh episode were precisely zero. Instead, she’s hospitalized. The third meeting between Seitenshi and Saitake will happen before she’s expected to wake up, so he’ll have to defeat Tina without her. But that doesn’t mean he’s on his own. And he also gets the feeling she’s not killing people on purpose, as if, unlike the general consensus about the Top 100, she still has a soul, and is trying not to fully lose it.

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Even though Enju sits this one out, Satomi isn’t alone. Muroto-sensei tells him about the small, nifty “Shenfield” drones Tina uses in concert with remote machine guns to keep her foes at a distance. He makes full use of the Shiba training facilities. And when he finds Tina and goes after her, Miori has his digital back. But even with all this support, Tina is a 12900% handful. She’s also been warned by her master (named Ayn Rand, a very loaded real-world name) that if she keeps not killing people and having emotions or whatever, she can just kill herself.

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She’s committed enough that no amount of appealing to her humanity is enough to stop Tina from trying to kill him…but he is able to slow her down and get her to come close enough to stun her with a flash grenade. After that, he rains a proper Vanadium-plated beatdown upon her; that’s what stops her. As thanks for not killing Enju (even if that was actually just a mistake on her part), he spares her. And then she’s shot through the heart…not by Rand—whom we hear no more of the rest of the episode—but by Yasuwaki, the most over-the-top, insufferable, Worst Character Ever.

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Of course he’s the one to shoot her, right? Fortunately, Yasuwaki just fires a regular bullet that doesn’t kill her, and Seitenshi stands up Saitake in order to stop him.  She then promotes Satomi, and his first act as Yasuwaki’s superior is to shoot one of his fingers off, which is fine with us! It’s a little tidy that Kisara ends up hiring Tina, but as she says, Tina has nowhere else to go, and Tina is frikkin’ adorable. Ultimately, I like her more as an ally and a friend than as a mortal enemy, and look forward to her future contributions. Sounds like we’ll be getting back to the Gastrea. Yeah…remember those?

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