No Guns Life – 14 – The Cyberpunk Prometheus

In light of her brother’s apparent return, Mary tells Juuzou more about her and Victor’s past as orphans. They were taken in by an engineer named Emmet, but when Victor got interested in Extended tech Emmet objected. Since Emmet had become a violent drunk, Victor killed him before he could hurt Mary and fled.

Mary only ever got one letter back from Victor saying he’d joined the military, but what she doesn’t know is that he became Juuzou’s primary engineer during the war. Juuzou assumed Victor had died, but considers the man’s dying wish to be his first request as a resolver: Protect Mary.

What Juuzou doesn’t understand is why Victor joined Spitzbergen, and why he’s getting Mary involved in dangerous shit when he told him to protect her. Their talk is interrupted by the pair of Spitzbergen enforcers, but despite the larger of the two describing his anti-Extended armor in great detail, Juuzou still manages to blast it to pieces anyway, safe in the knowledge he didn’t have to hold back.

Juuzou is actually find giving Spitzbergen the data, as long as the hostages are returned safe and sound, but that willingness doesn’t imply he won’t punch somebody for daring to kidnap members of his “family”. He and Mary head for the Kyusei Pit.

Meanwhile, Tetsuro isn’t really treated like a hostage, but allowed to walk free without restraint. He’s brough before a high-ranking member of Spitzbergen named Wachowski, a clear homage to the creators of The Matrix.

Wachowski reveals something to Tetsuro he had forgotten as part of his amnesia: he betrayed his father, left Berühren, and funded Spitzbergen. Tetsuro can’t believe any of it, but he can’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand, either.

Whether Tetsuro became aware of the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed as a result of Berühren’s greed and wished to balance the scales by helping its enemy, who can say. All we do know is that Victor Steinberg is not a good guy anymore.

When Juuzou confronts him and asks why he’s sabotaging his request to protect Mary, Victor reveals that his main goal is to dissect and research Juuzou himself, down to his last bolt. He also knows Juuzou will never fight for himself, only to protect others.

That means in order to unleash Juuzou’s “true form”, he must put a member of Juuzou’s family—in this case Mary—in mortal danger. Victor’s claims to be “reaping what he’s sown” by joining Spitzbergen seems to be in conflict with his more scientific desires.

One thing’s for sure: Juuzou isn’t going to let Victor hurt Mary. It’s fitting that’s their names, since Victor is acting very much like a twisted Dr. Frankenstein, while Mary is likely named after Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley. Famous name-borrowing aside, looks like a big bruising Juuzou-Victor fight is primed to commence.

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

No Guns Life – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

No Guns Life – 03 – Pulling the Strings

Juuzou politely declines a job offer from the imposing Brother Huang of the Kyusei group to find and eliminate someone stealing extended limbs from kids, because he thinks people should “wipe their own asses.” But what if someone can’t, either because they don’t have arms, or can’t move the ones they have?

Juuzou trusts actions over words, even what he deems are sincere words from Tetsuro about saving the other children imprisoned and tortured by Berühren as they speak…only Tetsuro isn’t really speaking with his own voice; he’s using a spare Extended head’s voice.

Similarly, in order to actually carry out the saving of those kids, he’ll need to rely on bodies other than his own, which was made all but useless by the company. Juuzou tells him any attempt would be futile; the world is an unfair place, and Tetsuro needs to count what blessings he has and move forward thinking about himself.

Tetsuro can’t accept that, and won’t sit back and do nothing. Instead, he uses Harmony to hack into Juuzou’s body, which he uses to carry his own body (lest Mary try to disconnect the two) as he heads out in search of the people hurting kids. When he almost falls victim to parts scavengers, he covers Juuzou’s head with a sack.

Then he seemingly lucks out when he spots two distressed-looking girls in gray frocks running from a man with swords for arms—just the kind of people he wants to save. Only Ende and Anne are not really on the run; they’re the very people stealing parts from kids, on orders from Berühren. They were also ordered not to let any witnesses survive, making Tetsuro/Juuzou their next target.

Of the two, Ende is capable of transforming into a monstrous mecha-spider woman, but even with Anne by her side for emotional support, she easily goes berserk, and in any case is in constant pain. Anne just hopes they can return home to Berühren for maintenance, and believes that Ende’s body will be put “back to normal” as a reward if they complete their mission.

Berühren’s stooge, however, considers the two to have failed their mission when he meets up with them, and orders the two test subjects immediately “retired” (in another nice nod to Blade Runner). Both he and the company never saw Ende and Anne as human beings, but mere puppets; tools to be used and discarded when the desired results aren’t achieved.

And yet, even though Anne and Ende tried to kill Tetsuro/Juuzou, he still comes to their rescue here, since he already knows what they’ve only just figured out: Berühren can’t be trusted, and can only be opposed. The girls don’t trust adults, but hopefully someone who can transform into a mecha-spider woman can come to believe Tetsuro when he insists he’s one of them, and is merely controlling the big burly adult body they see. It’s a tough sell, I know.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.