Full Dive – 02 – Hell’s Fruit Slicer

For someone supposedly there to help Hiro out, Reona has nothing but bad news for him: Kiwame Quest can’t be restarted unless he buys a new console, which she just happens to be willing to sell for ¥120,000, or ¥30K more than he paid for his. Considering how quickly easily Hiro ruined his game, it’s no wonder KQ is a dead game.

He also learns that in the city of Ted, AKA the Closed City, he’s already a wanted fugitive, and so must exercise caution when buying a cheap cloak to mask himself. The clothes merchant hikes up the price in exchange for staying mum about seeing him. It’s looking more and more like the enterprising Reona wrangled Hiro into this game in hopes he’d give up and spend more of the money he doesn’t give to school bullies to her.

Despite costing most of the cash he started with, the cloak does nothing to hide Hiro from his childhood friend Alicia, who arrives in heightened fruit-knife wielding psycho mode. Ai Fairouz brings a lovely chaotic intensity to the role, and after praising the ten-year old’s NPC AI magic, advises Hiro to run. Running makes him tired—just like real life—only since he’s never actually run for his life before, he’s doubly exhausted.

His title changes from “Best Friend Killer” to “Running Best Friend Killer: Fleet-footed Amicide.” Having had enough, Hiro tries to log out, but he’s still technically in combat with Alicia, who appears and slashes his hand. Despite Reona assuring him one doesn’t feel any more pain than a bruise from fallnig down stairs, Hiro is still caught off guard by the pain. Reona, invisible to Alicia, punche her in the face to allow Hiro to flee and log off.

Back in the real world, Hiro notes how he’s never run all-out like he just did in KQ. His friend tries to prod him into confronting the bullies using him as a wallet, and Kaede makes another brief appearance to complain about the noise he made last night, and look at him with disgust. He ultimately decides to go back to KQ, and not just to go all-out again…but perhaps so the shitty experience there makes real life seem not so bad?

Upon logging back on, he’s in the exact same pain as when he was last there, and his hand is still bleeding. Naturally, simply touching the medicinal herbs in his pocket doesn’t heal him. He then happens to bump into Ginji, another “best friend killer” who’s been playing the game for years. Ginji crushes the herbs and bandages Hiro’s hand, then takes him to a casino to drink a cola-like beverage he’s inexplicably drunk on.

Reona told Hiro to seek Ginji out to learn how he salvaged killing his best friend at start of the game, only to learn he didn’t. In fact, he also killed his childhood friend, and feels zero remorse over it. He also mentions that despite how hard this game is, and how you enter it with your real-world attributes, there is one man, named Kamui, who actually managed to clear the game 100%. But that’s enough chit-chat, as Ginji sells Hiro out by yelling that the fugitive killer is there.

Full Dive’s high concept asks me to suspend my disbelief so high, my arm muscles strain to keep it in the air. It doesn’t help that the visuals are underwhelming, or that the color palette and lighting are oppressively dark and drab—this may be the ugliest Spring show.

Still, if there’s one thing I buy just enough—for now—is the rationale for Hiro sticking with KQ: of all the people in real life, Reona is the only one we’ve seen who not approves of his video game hobby, and wants to play with him. In other words, the closest thing to a friend. He just needs to stay away from fruit knives!

Full Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Reality Bytes

Just as Tyrell Corporation’s replicants were billed as “more human than human”, Kiwame Quest was meant to be a full-dive VR RPG “more like real life than real life”—stimulating all five senses and capable of near-infinite routes. The problem is, video games are supposed to be like video games: a relaxing escape from the troubles of real life. So KQ was panned and receded into obscurity.

Our dull MC Yuuki Hiro’s life sucks. Something traumatic happened two years ago that everyone around him can’t help but keep bringing up and dancing around; he’s entering his final year of high school and still not sure what he’s going to do. He “lends” cash to two delinquents, so he’s a key short when it’s time to purchase Finalizing Quest 22 (the show’s FF equivalent).

Certain he won’t find FQ22 for sale at a lower price, he rolls the dice at the unassuming and deserted Kisaragi game store. The newest FQ on display is last year’s, and when he asks the gorgeous clerk Kisaragi Reona (Taketatsu Ayana) if they have 22 in stock, she goes on a passionate and unsolicited rant about how people just keep buying FQ out of habit despite diminishing returns.

Reona has something else in store for the low, low price of 10,000 yen: Kiwame Quest, which Hiro has never heard of. Dismissing FQ as “innocent”, she calls KQ “a super hardcore full-dive RPG for adults”, and since she logs in regularly, she’ll be there to teach him what he needs to know “attentively and patiently”. Hiro reluctantly agrees to the transaction and heads home.

Hiro’s home, by the way, seems to have been lit by Zack Snyder. After learning KQ is a decade old but not being able to reach Reona on her phone, and after the obligatory walking in on his sister in her underwear, Hiro settles into his room, switches on his VR gaming system, and dives in.

He’s initially underwhelmed by the opening spiel, telling him to begin the quest to defeat the Demon Lord by leaving the city and heading to Flora Castle. But once he coalesces in the game world, he is soon legitimately impressed by the realism, and the fact he can feel the metal of a window handle and the wind blowing in.

He soon meets Alicia, an NPC who is anything but. She’s his character’s childhood friend, and Martin is her “nice young man” big brother. They’ve come to invite Hiro to join them for apple picking. When he tells them ihis intent to leave the city and asks where Flora Castle is, they react like his head’s on backwards.

Apparently there’s no entering or leaving the city walls due to the heightened threat of goblin attacks. When Hiro waves that threat away, assuming it’s a low-level battle, Martin is convinced Hiro is mad and tries to beat him back into coherence. It’s here it’s confirmed that a punch to the face is every bit as painful as the real thing.

Thoroughly pissed off and out of patience by a game that’s not going the way these games usually go, Hiro lashes out at Martin, shoving him to the ground. When he doesn’t move, Hiro leans in to find the knife Martin was using to cut an apple went straight through his mouth and out the back of his throat, killing him.

Alicia freaks, and Hiro, still not sure how the hell things got to this particular place, decides the only thing to do for now is to run. A crazed Alicia chases him like the Terminator, but he eventually loses her in a downtown alley. It’s there where Reona finally joins him, but in a neat bit of camerawork it’s revealed she’s a tiny fairy, who is there to be his guide.

She also points out that the little tag around his neck is etched with a title to denote his game progress so far. Hiro is unable to tell her what has happened before she reads his tag and learns for herself: “Best Friend Killer.” Hiro’s been diving less than ten minutes, but it’s already Game Over, Man.

Full Dive is helped by its offbeat approach to VR game immersion, and by its crisp and highly expressive character designs and smooth animation. It is hurt more than anything else by its absolute flat-line of a protagonist. Granted, some of his reactions are fun and he’s supposed to be dull. Still, I want to watch the next episode, if nothing else to see whether he’ll start over or continue on from his bloody, disastrous start.

Cop Craft – 04 – Temporary Insanity

Picking right back up from last week, Tilarna and Kei reach the roof where the fairy Leahyah is trapped in a psychic bomb on a timer. Zelada is ready with magical blue flames that horribly burn the better part of Kei’s back.

As Tilarna tries to counterattack with little success, Kei focuses not on what his eyes see but on what he hears, knowing Zelada is hiding himself with illusion magic. His pistol, which Tilarna said had a certain level of latena, briefly glows purple before he gets a shot off, and it’s a direct hit.

Tilarna presses the attack by claiming one of Zelada’s arms, but he throws himself off the building rather than suffer the dishonor of being killed by a human and a pipsqueak knight. With Kei too burned to get up, the clock winding down on the bomb, and no known way to defuse it, Tilarna sits down with Kei and Leahyah for their final shared moments alive.

Realizing the child she helped when she was lost in the forest is ready to die beside her, Leahyah sacrifices her body before the bomb detonates. With no other choice, Tilarna uses the resulting output of latena to cast a healing spell on Kei. With Leahyah dead, Tilarna and Kei have failed in their primary mission.

Tilarna prepares to board a ship back home where she’ll return a disgraced and dishonored knight, but is ready to face the music. He gives her the floral broach he got back from O’Neill, and she thanks Kei for his partnership, praising him as a “gallant doreany soldier” when they part.

And from the time they bid one another farewell, Kei goes through the rest of the day positively miserable—more so than usual for him. Then he comes home and hears the TV is on, tuned to a basketball game. He draws his gun, looks inside…and finds Tilarna, in casual clothes, lazing on the couch with Kuroi.

She changed her mind: Zelada may not be dead, and there are other threats in San Teresa, so she got a field commission to detective in order to continue serving as Kei’s partner. Kei tries to seem put out, but there’s no doubt he’s happy about this.

On their next arrest raid, Tilarna and Kei are front and center when they take the door, but in her medieval overzealousness Tilarna also takes the finger of a gunman. She thinks nothing of it—she was simply serving justice—but their new chief, Zimmer, lights them both up, saying whatever the “alien” (as he racistly refers to Tilarna) does, her partner Kei is just as responsible.

Thus the old earlier dynamic Tilarna and Kei being at each other’s throats continues apace, with Kei refuing to thank Tilarna for rescuing him and Tilarna repeatedly punching Kei in the back. This all looks like flirting to other detectives, who show them an old wooden coffin with Semanian writing…and a Semanian mummy inside.

They take the mummy to the medical examiner (and Kei’s ex), Dr. Cecil Epps, who resents having to perform an autopsy on an archaeological artifact, but becomes fast friends with Tilarna when the two women share their mutual disdain for Kei. Though Tilarna still isn’t quite clear what an “ex” is, she does chalk up her reunion with Kei as a bout of “temporary insanity.”

The pair is summoned to the station to speak with the suspect whose finger Tilarna sliced off, and she immediately establishes herself as the “bad cop” by pulling her dagger and tossing the perp around. It ultimately pays off, as she learns from where they stole the coffin…and realizes that Cecil is in mortal danger.

Back at the M.E.’s office, Cecil has delegated the CT scan of the mummy to her assitant, Chapman, who either hates her or has a secret crush on her he’s not handling well. That means Chapman becomes the mummy’s first victim, as Cecil enters the CT room to find all his blood being drained and drunk by the now fully animate vampire.

Tilarna arrives to save Cecil, and the vampire says something in what she identifies as “the old language.” The vampire is superbly nimble—not to mention extremely creepy—and even naked, unarmed, and without her morning coffee, still proves more than a handful even for Tilarna. Perhaps she’ll get some timely backup from her partner and his latena-infused sidearm.

While Cop Craft’s fish-out-of-water buddy cop dramedy is deceptively simple, it sports some of the summer’s best and most creative cinematography and action animation, and Tilarna’s striking character design is one of the coolest (and cutest) while Yoshioka Mayu does some great work as her seiyu. And despite its perils, San Teresa is still a really fun place to spend time.

TenSura – 23 (Fin*) – Problems Solved

Rimuru and the five students enter the Dwelling of Spirits and…pretty much absolutely everything goes swimmingly! Seriously, one by one Rimuru either creates a superior spirit from hundreds of inferior ones with the Great Sage’s help, or in the case of Kenya and Chloe, a spirit is summoned by the kids themselves.

Bottom line, with superior spirits within them, the immense magical power is now under control, and will no longer send them to early graves. Mission Accomplished! The only problem is, there’s a lot more runtime to the episode after that, but it’s clear that’s all the story TenSura cares to tell, so the remaining ten minutes or so basically runs out the clock.

We get montages of How Far We’ve Come, followed by a number of Long, Tearful Goodbyes, as well as hints of Challenges to Come Next Season. As fantasy/Isekai anime go, TenSura almost always kept things light, breezy, and above all nice and easy for Rimuru.

I don’t see a second season messing with that formula too much, but rather expanding Rimuru’s powers, understanding of his world, and of course, introducing a smorgasbord of new characters who will then interact with his already vast crew. The MAL score of 8.36 is definitely overzealous in my book, but colorful, upbeat, and full of charm and good humor: that’s been TenSura through most of its run, and it should continue to be so in the future.

*An “Extra” episode will air next week.

TenSura – 22 – The Extra Fairy

Rimuru, Ranga, and the kids head deep into the green and lovely Ulg Nature Park, and enter a palace-sized tree hoping to find the Queen of Spirits. They find themselves in a sneaky labyrinth that appears to be a straight path, but Rimuru requires his mental map in order to properly navigate through it.

They all hear a voice in their heads that must be some kind of telepathy, and before you know it they’re in a new chamber, which looks curiously like an arena.

Rimuru’s challenger appears: a magisteel golem controlled remotely by one of the labyrinth’s spirits. He easily defeats it with thread fetters and a flare, and its controller (and the voice in their heads) reveals herself as the fairy—and Demon Lord—Ramiris.

Voiced with great energy by Haruno Anzu, Ramiris is a delightful trip and a half, somehow even more hyperactive than Milim, and with a lot more voices. I found myself reveling in her many changes in mood and tone, as well as Rimuru’s growing impatience and incredulousness.

She’s also heard of Rimuru Tempest, leader of Jura…and slime. It’s the first time the kids learn Rimuru is actually a slime, and they’re suitably impressed and delighted. When Rimuru gives Ramiris some cookies as a peace offering, and tells her why they’ve come, she reveals that she’s the Queen of Spirits, who “fell from grace” into a Demon Lord, like Leon, who summoned both Ifrit and Shizu.

I enjoyed the gradual transition of Ramiris from obnoxious pest into someone to be admired (she completed the magisoldier Vesta’s team couldn’t…all by herself) and even venerated (she’s able to bestow divine protection). She empathizes with the kids’ plight, and shows them the path to the Dwelling of the Spirits.

Even if they can’t summon any interested superior spirits, they can always make new ones there. As for Rimuru, he’s proud he’s finally well on his way to fulfilling Shizu’s dream to free her students from premature demise.

Berserk – 01 (First Impressions)

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“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” —MAL

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I came in knowing nothing. I also haven’t read Macbeth since junior high, so all I remember is that there’s a manipulative Lady in it. So forgive my ignorance and read on to learn a fresh perspective on Berserk unblemished by prior consumption of the material (at least that I remember).

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Berserk definitely has its draws: a lush yet grim fantasy world full of violence both human-and-human and demon-on-human; an overpowered cursed antihero with a bad attitude and even worse effect on the lives of the innocent; decent voice acting and a great soundtrack. Some  strong elements of horror (body and otherwise), blood, and gore, though all tastefully censored.

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Those pros were not able to overcome the cons for me, at least in the first episode. The cons are pretty big: the CGI animation of characters is distractingly weird. If you know my work you know I reviewed (and loved) two seasons of Sidonia, but for some reason this style works far better in a futuristic sci-fi milieu for me.

It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Sidonia (and I never got far with Ronja), but I’m less optimistic about Berserk. It’s not so much the uncanny valley effect as the inescapable feeling that these are wooden CGI armatures moving around very awkwardly mechanically.

That suits the frenetic combat at times, but any natural movements, including mouth movements and expressions, suffer greatly, marring the overall viewing experience.

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This comes down to a question of style: Berserk’s producers for whatever reason decided not to use conventional animation, and frankly, that could well be a dealbreaker. Even if not, the naked annoying motormouth Puck would be (sorry, Puck fans out there).

I can’t immerse myself in a world that announces its “fakeness” so transparently, in a manner most anime manage to avoid. Some say more and more full CG will be the future of anime, but with some notable exceptions, I hope that’s not the case.

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The Secret of Kells

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Thursday night is movie night in my neck of the woods, and sometimes we want something short and sweet rather than a three-hour action blockbuster. That’s when a friend happened upon the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. As it was his week to choose, we went with it, and I’m glad we did. It’s only 75 minutes long, but it makes full use of that runtime to create and achingly gorgeous world where danger is always lurks but hope endures thanks to the titular book.

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We follow Brendan, a redheaded young monk under the care of his uncle, the stern, stoic Abbot Cellach (voiced by veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson), whose Isengard-like Abbey is ringed by the tents of refugees escaping the scourge of the horn-tipped, beast-like “Northmen” (read: Vikings). A thick high wall surrounds the abbey and its grounds, but that wall looks like Swiss cheese, and some aren’t even sure it would keep the barbarians out even if it was completed, which is the Abbot’s one and only concern.

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Because he only wants the wall completed before the Northmen arrive, he is frustrated whenever Brendan is doing anything other than contributing to that goal, like asking the other monks about the Book of Iona, then getting into the practice of making ink and drawing his own pages with brother Aidan. This is a really neat reference to the fact that in the darker ages of civilization in Europe (and likely elsewhere), it was the monks who preserved the history that had come before in the form of elaborately bound and illustrated books, which you can still see in museums and even open up and read in old libraries.

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This surprisingly ambitious little movie is just as lush and imaginative as much of that almost impossibly intricate real-world work; rich in color and texture. Every character has its own distinct look and manner of movement, be it jerky or smooth; lightning-quick or molasses-slow. The film also features one of the best fictional cat’s I’ve seen in a while: Pangur Ban. All characters and animals are full of expressiveness and verve. My favorite of these was the mystical fairy-wolf-girl Aisling, whom Brendan meets when looking for seeds to make ink.

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Aisling is kind of a perfect storm of cuteness (in both appearance and voice) and utter badassdom, who saves Brendan’s life (more than once) and befriends him because, well, why not? Brendan’s nice to her, and also clearly enchanted. When Brendan ends up imprisoned in a tower for disobeying the Abbot Cellach, she breaks him out by singing a hauntingly beautiful song to the cat, transforming it into an ethereal specter that can pass through bars and spring him. The jist of the Irish lyrics:

There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.

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When the Northmen arrive at Kells it’s an almost instant rout, and the Abbot immediately regrets such a short-sighted strategy for the abbey’s defense. It’s sad to see the beautiful environs of Brendan’s home go up in smoke and flame, but not all is lost. Years pass, during which he completes the Book of Iona with Aidan, renaming it the Book of Kells, which is a real and very revered thing, incidently.

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After Aidan passes away, Brendan arrives back in the woods outside his home, where the wolf-Aisiling leads him to the abbey. Just as Abbot Cellach is about to lose hope, his nephew arrives and shows him the great book, providing him comfort in his waning days. At once a gorgeous and inventive story steeped in stirring Celtic mythology and a moving coming-of-age tale in which a sheltered boy expands his world and finds his calling, The Secret of Kells is a must-watch for any fan of animation.

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