Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 05 – Bleed the Parents

First, I must issue a correction: Vlad Love doesn’t forget everything that happens from week to week. That said, it forgets quite a bit, or at least hand-waves it away. That’s fine; this show is on drugs; who am I to pick apart its whimsical relationship with logic and reason?

Brass tacks? Yes, Mai might have transformed into a dragon and leveled a city, but more importantly (to the show at least), Mai has been outed as a vampire. While all of Mitsugu’s classmates might’ve had varying motives for involving themselves with Mai, they must now band together to protect her.

To that end, Dr. Chihiro crosses her legs Basic Instinct-style to the board of directors and gets approval for night classes at school, which Mai, Mitsugu, and everyone else will begin attending. They’ll also all be included in the Blood Donation Club Chihiro advises, despite Mitsugu objecting to male members. Type-A Jinko joins too, meaning all four major blood types are now represented.

It feels like the episode will continue with the night class plot, it changes gears when Mitsugu notices more bats than usual flying over her house, and she finds a huge package has been sent to Mai from Romania. Turns out it’s her father, Gilles de Rais, who is grateful Mitsugu is taking care of his daughter, and is also a hugger and garlic-lover.

At the (apparently rebuilt) gyoza restaurant, Gilles orders ten of everything, while Mai is singularly focus on one thing: her “ugly bitch” of a stepmother who is the reason Mai left home. Still, this is the first time in a while Mai feels like an actual character with consistent attributes, as she’s not under the influence of a any particular type of blood.

Their dinner is interrupted by the sudden and unannounced arrival of Mitsugu’s archaelogy professor dad, who in a neat twist is a famed vampire hunter in the mold of Van Helsing. Venerable veteran Nakata Jouji voices her dad, lending depth and gravitas to a fairly two-dimensional role (naturally, he and Mai’s dad go together like gasoline and flame).

Add “Van Helsink’s” desire to drive a stake in Gilles’ heart to Chihiro’s intention to draw at least two liters of Gilles’ blood, and the resulting volatile situation results in the second destruction of the gyoza restaurant, complete with Mitsugu and Mai fleeing an explosion Hollywood-style.

Back at home, Mitsugu and Chihiro try to calm the two fathers, but when Gilles lists all the secondary-to-tertiary family members Mitsugu’s dad has already staked, and Mitugu threatens to kill the rest of his family, the two nearly come to blows once more, until Chihiro sedates them. Then Mitsugu has to sedate Chihiro when she tries to draw blood from Mai’s unconscious father. One wonders where all those huge syringes come from…

The next morning, Chihiro and Gilles are gone (the latter being shipped back to Romania), and Mitsugu’s dad remains strongly opposed to Mai continuing to stay in his house, let alone being his daughter’s friend. Mitsugu rightfully declares that someone who barely ever present in the household doesn’t all of a sudden get to set its rules, nor can he dictate with whom she can be friends.

Her dad races off to Europe to intercept Gilles, continuing their interminable game of cat-and-mouse. But his words—about Mai being an “enemy of humanity” and that no good will come of being friends with her—stick with Mitsugu. There’s a look of disbelief, but also doubt. What if her father, no stranger to vampires, is right?

This was some welcome drama and character development in one of the most grounded and coherent episodes of Vlad Love to date. I just wish the fathers, like all the classmates, didn’t reduce the ever-important Mitsugu/Mai time to the bare minimum.

Vlad Love – 04 – All Concerned Parties

In a particularly chaotic episode, Mitsugu is captured by the president of the Torture Club for allegedly getting to close to Nami, the Dance Club president, whom he is stalking. Due to their mutual interest in Mai, Karate Club president Kasuno teams up with Nami to free Mitsugu, who packs a bag for Mai, who is apparently no longer safe in her home.

The pair head to Dr. Chihiro’s “house”—more of a mad scientist’s lab—only for Chihiro to have a predatory ulterior motive for harboring Mai. After Mitsugu sedates Chihiro, every other member of the cast shows up in sequence, demanding answers about who Mai is.

Kasuno and Nami end their brief alliance and their respective clubs “fight” each other, all while Maki films it and Kaoru runs around cosplaying as a Chun Li-like character. The Disciplinary President Jinko then shows up, demanding everyone stop breaking the rules.

The sudden surge of characters interacting means Vlad Love relies far too heavily on sliding inset portraits of characters talking and reacting, such that the episode at times looks more like a PowerPoint presentation than animation. There’s so much of this it borders on ludicrous—nay, it is ludicrous!

Then Mai drinks some very suspect blood from Chihiro’s vast collection and transforms into Salamander, and world-ending dragon, and starts destroying the city with her fire breath while Chihiro has a lengthy, meandering, and seriously unfunny monologue about how she came upon the blood.

From there Mitsugu and her classmates fade away and the focus shifts to a kaiju movie-style sequence in which military command center instructing fighter pilots to attack Dragon!Mai. This sequence is very sluggish, full of throwaway characters worrying about being sued for copyright infringement—an old, played-out joke that just won’t die.

Speaking of dying, once the fighters are authorized to open fire, the resulting battle over the city is cool-looking, though it also results in the death of Mitsugu and all the other characters in a massive explosion. Once again, the story ends up in the papers, and we can look forward to everything resetting back to a measure of normalcy next week.

Once again, the surfacy spectacle is occasionally diverting, but it’s hard to care about anything or anyone when everyone is doing little more than yelling at or slapping each other, and nothing that happens ever matters. Mai becomes an unthinking force of nature, while Mitsugu becomes just one more victim of the destruction. Once again I’m forced to ask: where is the vlad love in Vlad Love?

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

No Guns Life – 17 – The True Duty of John Podpie

Olivier has stopped by to collect the data Juuzou has, but he says he doesn’t have it; she later shows him that Christina and Tetsuro are safe and so he doesn’t need the data anymore.

Just then, Rosa McMahon, who has become smitten with Juuzou, bursts in and sees him with Olivier and runs back out in tears. For a gun-faced metalhead, it cannot be said he can’t attract the ladies!

It’s a situation that puts more serious issues on hold to tell a far more comedic story. Much of the episode is sternly narrated by one John Podpie, who possesses special eye Extensions that allow him to (among other things) see through the clothing of women.

Not only is he not shy about employing this when he gets a shampoo from the barber’s daughter Scarlet, but he considers it his duty to observe and collect imagery he can share them with men all over the world.

Scarlet is so devoted to her customers she assumes his ensuing horrific nosebleed to be an acccident, but once Mary shows up for a shampoo and is spurned by Podpie for having too small a chest and stinking up the joint, his nose his bloodied all over again by a much-deserved punch to the face.

She hooks her diagnostic tool to his eye and determines the nature of his Extensions and the shameful way he’s using them. It would seem that despite his noble pretensions they’re about to call the EMS on the old perv.

However, Scarlet takes pity on the man and forgives him without pressing charges. On his way out Juuzou tells him there are good things he can and should be doing with those extensions, rather than being a corrupted tool for the depraved.

Podpie’s plight reminds Juuzou of Extended soldiers who succumbed to “noble rot” as a result of their abilities, and maintains that unlike him, Podpie can still help people. What Mary wants him to understand is that he’s capable of good too, and has saved plenty of people.

As one-off characters go, Podpie was equal parts disgusting and hilarious. It’s good to see No Guns Life letting it’s hair down and lightening things up on occasion.

No Guns Life – 16 – Free Will Ain’t Free

While Juuzou destroyed Victor’s first fake body, he has a smaller spare extended backed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, Avi Cobo has Mary at gunpoint, and demands to know where Victor’s real body is, shooting her in the foot to show he means business. Even if the backup had an open shot, Avi has electroreceptors like those of a shark that allow him to dodge most attacks.

Emphasis on most, as Juuzou comes in unwilling to stand by and let one innocent young woman suffer any further harm. He starts the sequence to release his Gun Slave Unit limiters, enabling him to create a smokescreen and fabricate new arms. While Backup Victor sacrifices its arm to create a field that confuses Avi’s receptors and gets Mary out of danger, Juuzou gives Avi the mother of all forehead flicks, rendering him unconscious.

While Olivier and EMS arrive, Juuzou delays the grunts to allow Mary to talk to Victor properly. Like last week, way too much time is spent in a static location as exposition is delivered. Much of it we already know or have grasped from events thus far, but what we didn’t know was why Victor killed the man who took them in: he threatened to sell Mary’s body if Victor left for the military.

While Victor is still determined to destroy all of the Extendeds his hands created, Mary remains adamant that Extended components can be used for good, in the way Victor originally intended.

While recovering from the bullet to her foot, Mary ponders whether to take Lefty apart in order to determine just how the machine with the intelligence (and quite a few behavioral characteristics) of a dog functions. Lefty is not cooperative, understandably opposed to its own dissection.

Meanwhile, Wachowski pays a visit to Tetsuro’s quarters/cell, and we learn he had an engineer fix Tetsuro’s components so he can speak with his own voice, an apparent gesture of good faith. However, Wachowski’s plans for Tetsuro are anything but peaceful. The Gun Slave Unit Seven is a big thorn in Spitzbergen’s side, but only a GSU can defeat a GSU, and in his current state, Juuzou is no match for Seven.

Wachowski wants Tetsuro to use Harmony to unleash Juuzou’s full GSU potential, which is only possible when the original host surrenders all free will and humanity and becomes a mere tool of destruction. If Tetsuro agrees to do this, everyone he cares about will be safe. If he refuses, they won’t be safe. Pretty raw deal either way, I’d say.

No Guns Life – 15 – Remote Arms Race

Looking back at her brief but happy time with her brother, Mary remembers a kind and gentle boy who took care of her despite being young himself. He always held her hand, and even braided her hair. When he left, she was proud of him for finding the Place Where He Belongs, but in doing so he was taking what she deemed to be her place (by his side) away.

Mary doesn’t see any of that old Victor in the monster before her, so she does what any sister would do when pinned to the wall by her brother’s mecha-ribbons: launch her boob rockets. I’ll admit to having slightly missed the point of Juuzou’s bashfulness at the sight of Mary’s larger chest last week.

As cool as this tactic was, I still don’t know how Mary’s face and body weren’t horribly burned in the process. Regardless, she’s able to stop Victor from dissecting Juuzou until his uncontrollable final form comes out, and Juuzou is able to rip his arms off, which is key because Victor’s hands can dismantle any technology they touch (including one of the rockets).

Unable to discern whether the “real” Victor was the brother she loved or the monster before her now, the only way to keep him from hurting those she cares about is to put him down. She does so by firing Juuzou’s trigger, which blows off Victor’s head and most of his shoulders, ending the immediate threat.

After that, “Lefty” suddenly reappears, damaged but still intact. He even hooks himself up to the voice box of one of the police Extendeds so he can talk to them properly. Turns out the “real” Victor was never the demented puppet they tangled with.

Victor’s own body has been taken over by the dual parallel sub-brain he’d developed, which has a personality and will all their own. Destroying the puppet this “Shadow” Victor was controlling caused enough of a shock to allow “real” Victor to surface and open a dialogue.

Victor tells Juuzou and Mary how as an engineer he was committed to ending the loss of life and limb on the battlefield through the development of ever more advanced Extendeds, working towards fully remote models that would eliminate the need for flesh-and-blood boots on the ground entirely. Of course, it wasn’t until he tested out one such model on the front lines that he realized that what he was doing wasn’t saving anyone, simply upping the volume and efficiency of the  carnage.

The shock of seeing this created an opening for the sub-brain to take over his real body. The thought he had at the moment of transfer—that all Extended should be destroyed—became Shadow Victor’s primary driving force, which led him to join Spitzbergen. Before Shadow Victor regains control, Victor begs Juuzou and Mary to find his real body and remove the sub-brain. Only then will the shadow’s reign of terror end.

While I’m glad the circumstances surrounding Mary’s brother aren’t as simple as “boy turned evil”, this episode got fairly bogged down in Victor’s exposition, which killed the momentum of present events. As a practical matter, having to sit and listen to him also meant Juuzou and Mary couldn’t escape to some safer location.

They really should have tried to do this, as Mr. Law Upholder Avi Cobo walks right up to them, shoots Juuzou down, and holds his gun to Mary’s head, telling her she’s not doing anything with Victor’s real body. He’s going to take it into custody “in accordance with the law.” Mary in mortal danger to end two straight episodes? C’mon, NGL.

In / Spectre – 10 – Bogged Down in Committee

If Kotoko’s logical fiction were a car, this week she suddenly pops a J-turn. One could say her first solution was simply a means of putting feelers out. If the forum is already convinced that Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost, she turns into the skid with her second solution.

Jealous and spiteful of her success, Nanase Haruka’s father fell down the flight of stairs all by his lonesome, and intentionally left a note behind implicating his daughter, whose career was then ruined. Haruka let the falling steel beam kill her. When she met her father in the afterlife, he revealed the truth to her.

Wracked by his betrayal, Haruka’s soul couldn’t move on, but returned to the world of the living as the evil ghost Steel Lady Nanase. Having solved the mystery of her father’s death and created a logical reason for the existence of the ghost, Kotoko takes the next natural step and creates a reason for her to disappear.

To do so, she beseeches the forum to focus their prayers on delivering her from evil so her soul can move on in peace. This solution is so different it catches Rikka off guard. Kurou returns from his latest death having chosen a favorable future, and Nanase is visibly weaker, enabling him to get the upper hand.

But it’s not over. Kotoko has simply created another crack in the portrait of the Steel Lady; it remains to be seen if she can shatter it. The forum pokes a fresh hole in Kotoko’s latest solution Steel Lady Nanase wouldn’t need to wreak so much havoc if her only goal was to expose her father’s betrayal.

Rikka kills herself. Having pursuaded a few more but not enough, Kotoko pivots to her third solution, involving Haruka’s older, far less famous sister, Hatsumi.

Kotoko presents the idea that Hatsumi was also jealous of Haruka, so when she found the note their father left incriminating Haruka, Hatsumi mailed it to the media. This action had a much more devastating reaction than she anticipated, throwing Haruka into a pit of despair that led to her suicide-by-steal beams.

Only Hatsumi wasn’t convinced Haruka committed suicide, and said as much to the police. In fact, Hatsumi didn’t even believe the faceless body was truly Haruka, but a body double, and her sister was still out there, somewhere, waiting for the right time to exact revenge on her big sis.

Hatsumi became beset by obsession and paranoia, to the point someone depraved who knew and was infatuated with her sought the means to make Hatsumi believe Haruka was truly dead, setting her at ease. He achieved this by creating the spectre of Steel Lady Nanase. Once he murdered someone in her name, this individual might have gone on to seek a closer relationship to the object of his obsession.

Kotoko closes this third solution by calling for the forum to aid in the search for the degenerate before anyone else is harmed. The people take to this story like ducks to bits of bread…until Rikka herself inserts herself into the forum and questions the motives of Kotoko’s would-be creeper, and questions why Hatsumi wouldn’t think Steel Lady Nanase wasn’t her sister’s ghost trying to kill her.

Since we knew from the preview for this episode that only the second and third solutions would be presented, this episode has the disadvantage of being neither the beginning or end of Kotoko’s duel with Rikka. Yet it was still engaging thanks to Kotoko’s boundless charisma.

Rikka’s hold on the forum seems stronger than ever, while Kurou finds himself miles from the future in which Steel Lady disappears. But Kotoko still has a fourth ace of her sleeve. We’ll see if the last solution can sway the forum for good.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 10 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 09 – There is No Truth Here

Parliament is in session, and Leader of the Opposition Iwanaga Kotoko confidently casts her first net of logical fiction, hoping to snare enough votes to neutralize Steel Lady Nanase. A string of believable lies issues forth from her brain and fingers into the forums, creating a non-supernatural solution to the murder of Detective Terada. This early in the game she knows she doesn’t have to convince everyone, just enough to start creating reasonable doubt. It’s as much a murder case as a committee for a bill.

Her solution to Terada’s unusual, uncontested murder is surprisingly elegant and plausable, capitalizing on Terada’s general exceptionalism both as a detective and as a judo practitioner. She also makes good use of the site where his body was found (an abandoned gas station on a sleepy road). She spins the yarn of a the unghostly killer rigging a weight on a pendulum and luring Terada to the spot where it would smash into his face at great speed and kill him without resistance.

Since the episode can hardly just show Kotoko tapping away on her laptop in the back seat of a car the whole time, the online committee is visualized as her standing alone in cyberspace, surrounded by the screens of other users on the forum, poking holes into Kotoko’s solution. Kotoko expected this—any underdog would—and rather than trying to make everyone happy by plugging all of those holes, she settles for reducing the belief in the ghost story by increasing the specificity of the “real” killer’s description.

When that description starts sounding an awful lot like Saki, the policewoman turns around to shoot an angry look at Kotoko. She explains that it’s not her intention to frame an innocent policewoman at all, but to create an alternate killer that both fits the facts of the case and has motive (in the case of Kotoko’s fiction, romantic obsession). After all, neither her solution nor the legend of Steel Lady Nanase are true; they are dueling fictions. Since Rikka’s got a huge head start, Kotoko has to use every rhetorical weapon at her disposal to create lasting doubts.

And therein lies the challenge of this committee: even when Kotoko starts to sway the flow of the forum in her direction, the flow changes back to believing in the ghost all too quickly. That’s because Rikka is killing herself, visualizing and choosing the future threads that favor her ghost story. In the meantime, Kurou duelling with Nanase isn’t just to serve as a gauge for the effect of Kotoko’s lies (her power fluctuates in real time), but a way for Kurou to die and see the futures that favor those lies.

Despite it being another extremely talky episode of perhaps the talkiest show of the season, this is honestly all very fascinating and exhilarating to me. Your mileage may vary, but watching Kotoko do her thing is freaking awesome. Not only that, her first solution not holding up long was already folded into her calculations. She has three additional doubt-creating amendments to her proposed bill, so she’s feeling very confident about a legislative upset.

In / Spectre – 08 – The Curious Case of Sakuragawa Rikka

No sooner is Kuro’s mysterious cousin retroactively introduced as his “one true love” is the frail yet hauntingly beautiful Rikka revealed to be not only a fellow mermaid/kudan flesh-eater like Kurou (explaining why she’s his type), but the very mastermind behind the Steel Lady Nanase monster of imagination. Karin’s older sister was a red herring, while Karin herself was only a loose template upon which Rikka crafted a powerful urban legend.

Surprisingly—and yet not—Kotoko knew this all along, but coyly kept it from any part of the audience who didn’t suspect Rikka as soon as she was mentioned, not to mention from Saki. Kurou also knew it, which is the main reason he arrived to take the Steel Lady on (not exclusively because Kotoko summoned him).

As for how she knew, Kotoko recognized Rikka’s style in the illustration of Steel Lady Nanase that adorns the website, and which is key to creating a strong and consistent image grafted to existing rumors about the idol Karin’s ghost.

Once a goblin cat informs her that the Steel Lady has reappeared, Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki head to her location. There, Kurou will fight her, all night and dying several times in the process if necessary, as Kotoko works her logically fictitious magic in the car. Kotoko remarks that she’d rather not see her boyfriend die over and over, but this is the best way to keep Nanase from hurting anyone else.

As for why Rikka is doing this, Kotoko believes it’s so she can refine and expand her inherited kudan abilities. As Kurou mentioned, reading the future is an imperfect art, but Rikka is attempting to make her ability as perfect as possible, and is apparently obsessed enough in that venture to overlook the occasional murder.

Kotoko closes the episode with a wonderful analogy, likening her impending duel with Rikka as the start of a committee to discuss a proposed bill in parliament. It’s a deliciously wonky yet apt analogy. Rikka has a powerful, seemingly insurmountable majority with her captivating Steel Lady story and its accompanying imagery.

But here’s where things differ from government: among the “voters”—the tens of thousands who visit the site and contribute to the forums—there are no coalitions, nor alliances. Not only that, the masses aren’t explicitly aware they’re voting for anything; they’re simply going to believe the most compelling story. If Kotoko can convince them Steel Lady Nanase isn’t real, she can steel the votes and the majority, and sap her of her power.

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.

In / Spectre – 06 – Conquering the Imagination, Grasping the Future

Practically speaking, most of this episode takes place in Saki’s apartment, and ends with Kurou biking Kotoko to the hotel for the night. None of the characters actually do anything, because this isn’t the kind of show where there’s always loads of action.

Instead, the three spend the whole time discussing the Nanase Haruko accidental death case, the online legend that bred the monster of imagination, and the proper steps needed to defeat that legend. The Steel Lady is not something Kurou can kill physically as long as hundreds if not thousands of people believe in her in her increasingly dangerous form.

 

That said, Kotoko knows their odds of coming up with a better “rational fiction” to blunt the Steel Lady’s power aren’t great, so she intends to cross every “T” and dot every I-Beam. After coaxing the official police position that Nanase’s death was a possible suicide, Kotoko confirms their suspicions by interviewing an unrelated third-party eyewitness to her death…who happens to be a ghost.

The means by which Kotoko summons the ghost—a “goddess’ dance” seems tailored not just to impress the former contruction worker, or annoy Saki, but because she definitely has a genuine joie de vivre about her life and her duties…and why not? Losing and eye and a leg feels totally worth it if in return you have an information network beyond the bounds of mankind or science.

With both the police conclusions and the eyewitness concluding an emotionally distraught Nanase did nothing to move out of the way of the falling beams, Kotoko has a full picture of the past, but that’s the easy part. She’s going to have to come up with a story that narrows down all the possible futures to come into a single one: one in which no one cares about Steel Lady Nanase anymore.

Even in the midst of all this careful analysis and preparation, I’m glad Kotoko still finds time to be a brat to Saki or to flirt with Kurou, as when she invites him to share her double bed at the hotel. Even so, she is clear-eyed about not knowing whether Kurou will be in her future, making it that much more important to make the best use of the time they have.

As for Kurou, it’s fascinating to hear him describe the abilities of the kudan, specifically that they don’t look into the future so much as pull all the branches of possibility into a single bundle. Kurou can use those powers to a degree, but not without dying.

While the mermaid flesh he ate means he’ll come back to life, his kudan powers are limited by the brief amount of time he has to look forward (the further into the future, the more branches, the less accurate he is) before resurrecting. For now, he’s confident he’ll be able to grasp the future he and Kotoko need, at least with regards to solving this case. Getting back with Saki is a future he can neither see nor reach.

Kotoko just hopes the Nanase saga won’t be complicated by an actual murder in the night while they sleep, but unfortunately that’s exactly what happens, only making their task even more difficult. Worse still, the victim is Detective Terada, Saki’s colleague, who wrongly assumed Nanase was a normal person in cosplay.

We also catch a glimpse of the mastermind behind the site and the Steel Lady legend. Is it Nanase’s older sister? Nanase herself? I can’t wait to see how this case is resolved, in large part because it was set up so smartly and carefully.