Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.

Great Pretender – 12 – The Unfathomable Subtleties of a Woman’s Heart

The con moves to London, with Makoto spearheading a revenge scam against art appraiser James Coleman. It starts with Abby approaching him and asking to be his protege, while Makoto and Kudou bug the house of Farrah Brown, a wealthy woman who buys the art he doesn’t want to sell at auction, and is also Coleman’s lover. That they’re able to plant bugs under the pretense of checking Farrah’s house for literal bugs is a nice touch.

When the team hears the recording of Farrah and James in bed, Abby concludes that Farrah is simply “a stupid woman”, but Laurent corrects her: she probably does know she’s being used, but “tells herself she doesn’t notice”—either because she genuinely values James’ companionship and attention or for some other reason only she knows.

In any case, this is an episode that may have more Cynthia than any other, and that’s a very good thing, as we see her separate from everyone else working a con of her own…or is it a con? This arc is called Snow of London after the Montoya piece, but the card used for the arc features the silhouettes of a couple I initially thought it was Cynthia and Laurent.

Turns out the man in the silhouette is Thomas, a starving London artist in the throes of painter’s block when he meets Cynthia, who is, presumably years ago, working at the cafe by his flat. The two have an instant easy chemistry, and eventually Thomas goes for broke and asks Cynthia to model for him.

In between taking dance classes and auditioning for acting roles, Cynthia ends up hitting it off with Thomas and becomes his muse. He paints gorgeous portraits of her that are filled with obvious love for the subject. Her stolen glances of the painter show that a part of her seems to be falling for him.

For all its lack of drug lab shootouts and planes threading through skyscrapers, this might just be my favorite episode of Great Pretender yet. It’s certainly the most human and intimate-feeling, with the coldness of London in winter creating a warm cozy atmosphere to the scenes with Cynthia and Thomas.

As this understated romance is taking place in the past, back in the present the gang scores a major victory. Snow of London comes up for auction and Laurent manages to outbid Farrah to get the painting back—for £30 million!—which Cynthia must liquidate some real estate to secure. It’s a slick case of Coleman’s greed (in this case having to accept the highest bid) undermining his own artwork-hoarding operation.

Still, Coleman thinks it could one day be worth ten times that, so he’s furious Farrah gave up. Knowing how Farrah operates, the team knows they can use her doghouse status with Coleman to compel her to buy back the painting in order to get back into his good graces. But the Snow of London they sell her won’t be the one Cynthia bought, but a fake.

Makoto gives forgery the ol’ college try, but he can only do so much with no experience, little practice and scant time. But as we know, Cynthia already knows an artist with the talent to reproduce Montoya’s masterpiece.

Back in the past, Coleman happens by Thomas’ painting stall and is duly impressed by the man’s reproductions, telling him straight-up that he’d do very well indeed in the world of forgery. This may be the genesis for the reasoning behind Cynthia’s present beef with Coleman, and why she wants to bilk him for as much as she can.

Golden Kamuy – 24 (Fin) – Skin in the Game

As Hijikata defeats Inudou by playing dirty (tossing the blood from his arm he let Inudou cut to blind him), and Tsurumi mows down the inmates with a Maxim gun (channeling Tony Montana), A heavily-wounded Sugimoto happens to cross paths with the very person everyone’s been looking for since before episode One: Nopperabo (AKA Wilk). There’s no mistaking those eyes, but it’s confirmed when he recognizes the makiri he made for his daughter.

Nopperabo won’t say anything about the gold until Asirpa is brought to him, but Sugimoto has a non-gold-related question first: Why? Why involve his innocent daughter in what he knew would be a horrible blood-drenched mess that would stretch beyond his life and possibly hers? Sugimoto could sense the fear and apprehension she felt about the possibility Nopperabo turned out to be her father. Why put her through this?

The answer doesn’t quell Sugimoto’s pain, and perhaps that’s because he has no children of his own. Nopperabo was entrusting Asirpa with the future, believing she’d become the leader of the Ainu in that future. All of the time he had with her, he spent teaching her the ways of the Ainu, how to take care of herself, and how to defeat overwhelming foes. Before she turned ten, Asirpa was able to kill a giant red bear all by herself.

When Inkarmat hands the binoculars for Asirpa and she lay eyes on her father for the first time in a long time, she weeps, and perhaps not because she doesn’t understand her aca’s motivations. After all, she knows she’s an Ainu Woman of The Future. Perhaps she’s weeping more for the simpler life she knows her father wanted for her, but could not afford to provide; weeping for the time she and their aca were apart.

Then, to everyone’s utter shock, Nopperabo and Sugimoto are both shot through the head and fall, both shots carrying the very familiar sound of Ogata’s rifle. Tanigaki later rushes in and saves them from further shots (getting shot in the wrist himself) then finds Inkarmat lying in her own blood, a silver dagger in her belly. She tells Tanigaki that Kuroranke was giving someone a signal once the shots were fired.

Shiraishi manages to get Asirpa safely away, but Tanigaki and the wounded Inkarmat are captured by Tsurumi and his men. After all that planning and getting so tantalizingly close to the answer to the location of the Ainu gold, everything seems to have unraveled, and the lives of key players are either gone or in hanging from threads.

Ogata and Kiroranke meet up with Shiraishi and Asirpa, and Ogata confirms that Sugimoto and Nopperabo are dead, sending Asirpa into a frenzy of grief. However, less than a minute later we see Sugimoto, heavily bandaged and resting in bed, scarfing down onigiri. Both his life and Inkarmat’s were saved by the expert ministrations of Ienaga (who may have removed and eaten some of Sugimoto’s brains – channeling Hannibal Lector).

Now “brain damage pals,” Sugimoto is back in Tsurumi’s custody, along with Tanigaki. Inkarmat tells them that Kiroranke and Ogata’s likely next destination is Karafuto, which is where they turn out to be. The two are also well aware that Sugimoto may yet still be alive (he is Immortal Sugimoto after all) and that he’ll surely want to kill them both the moment he sees them again.

As for why Kiroranke stabbed Inkarmat, it wasn’t what I initially thought. Turns out, it was an accident. Kiroranke was merely threatening her with a knife, but in the ensuing struggle he fell and stabbed her. Kiroranke’s intent was to share the location of the gold with his former guerrilla comrades in the far east. And with Nopperabo dead, Asirpa is a vital key in discovering that location.

That’s not to say she’s the only key, however. Before leaving Abashiri, Tanigaki manages to find a consolation prize inadvertently left to him by Inudou: information relating to the tattoos no one else has. With none of the interested parties having the complete puzzle, there will surely have to be more confrontations alliances, and/or betrayals for any one of the parties to find the gold (if it even still exists).

Tsurumi sends Sugimoto to Karafuto to find Asirpa. He’s accompanied by Tsukishima, Koito, and his transport provided by Vice Admiral Koito, the lieutenant’s father. The Admiral had seemed to be only a means to an end up to this point, but he shares insights crucial to Sugimoto’s understanding of why Nopperabo did what he did.

Being a father himself, Koito knew that he could not ask the fathers of those beneath him to sacrifice their sons, nor ask those sons themselves to die, if he did not have skin in the game. Whether he liked it or not, the success of the battles being fought required that he put aside a life of safety and comfort he wanted for his son to legitimize the sacrifices of other sons.

He believes it was the same for Nopperabo. He didn’t simply cynically using her to help craft his ideal of the future for the Ainu. He simply could not ask the Ainu to pay for it with only their blood. Honor, obligation, justice, and an eye toward the future: these are the things parents in positions like Nopperabo and Koito must consider when raising their children.

Still, Sugimoto also happens to love Asirpa, and as long as he’s alive, he will see to it she doesn’t become a murderer like him and his ilk. Indeed, the kamuy may well be helping Sugimoto stay alive in order to serve as her guardian, and a check to the designs of both her father and the unceasing tides of history.

Asirpa comes to believe this in a dream with Sugimoto, in which he promises he’ll come for her again. The Dream Sugimoto insists it isn’t the kamuy speaking to her through him, but him, Sugimoto himself. He hasn’t joined the ranks of the kamuy yet, and nor has she.

Upon waking, Shiraishi share’s Asirpa’s insistence they haven’t yet seen the last of that big unkillable lug. Sure enough, he’s aboard a ship, with a bearing brimming with purpose and resolve, steaming to their location to reunite with them.

Until Golden Kamuy Season 3.

Golden Kamuy – 23 – Ainu Nothing Like The Real Thing

Turns out Inkarmat was working with Lt. Tsurumi…which is why Tsurumi has arrived with a flotilla of four-stack destroyers. With the prison alarms sounded, she declares Sugimoto and Shiraishi to have failed, and Tsurumi is the only one who can get Asirpa and Nopperabo out now.

When a shocked Tanigaki says that means he’ll get the Ainu gold, she tells him neither she nor he particularly care who gets the gold, further unsettling Tanigaki. The ships open fire, blasting holes in the wall, but also collapsing the entrance to the tunnel where Tanigaki and Inkarmat flee. Tsurumi and his large platoon of around sixty men get into small boats and arrive on the beach, fully armed and ready to rumble.

When Inkarmat is trapped by rubble, Tanigaki forgets who she was working for and bursts every button on his shirt to save the woman he loves. Fortunately for both, Ushiyama arrives to save the both of them, and just when you think it’s goodbye for Ushiyama, he casually tosses away the entire roof of the collapsed structure, then dusts off his jacket.

Tsurumi and his men storm the prison and kill everyone in sight…until he spots Sugimoto with “Nopperabo,” promising to kill him if they don’t lay down their arms. When the fake Nopperabo warns the others of a growing fire in the cell with loud grunts, they mimic the grunts. Like Tanigaki’s buttons, the show effectively tempers all the action and drama with moments of absurd, often pitch black comedy.

Meanwhile (there’s a metric F*CKTON of moving pieces in this episode) Toni Anji promises to take Asirpa to Nopperabo’s true location, but not without meeting up with Tanigaki Genjirou, whom Toni was always loyal to. Sugimoto realizes that Tanigaki wanted him out of the picture lest he cause trouble down the road.

On top of that, Nikaidou disobey’s Tsurumi’s order not to shoot, unknowingly hitting “Nopperabo” in the head, killing him. Shiraishi starts sawing through the floor so they can slide down into the crawlspace below. A wounded Kadokura releases all 700 deadly prisoners, unleashing them on Tsurumi’s outnumbered platoon, and, well, all hell breaks lose.

As soon as Asirpa sees that Warden Inodou is keeping Nopperabo in the chapel, she waits for another volley from the ships to escape from Toni and Hijikata (who applauds how tough the young woman is). But he still has the photos he had taken of himself with Asirpa to show Nopperabo.

It isn’t long before she runs into Kiroranke, and then Shiraishi runs into them, having dislocated his shoulders to exit the prison crawlspace. Kiroranke uses grenades to get Sugimoto out (as he has no clue how to dislocate his shoulders) and Sugimoto tells Kiroranke to meet the others at the front gate, while he takes the dagger Asirpa gave Kiroranke (and which was made by her aca) and heads to the chapel.

He’s stopped by Nikaidou, and the two have a vicious, bloody duel, with Sugimoto taking a blade through his mouth and left cheek and a bullet to the leg from the gun hidden in Nikaidou’s false leg. He manages to wrest that leg away and beat Nikaidou half(?) to death with it. I must say, if he survives this, Nikaidou might deserve the “Immortal” title as well…

In the chapel cellar, Inudou orders the real Nopperabo out of his cell, but Hijikata and Toni are waiting for him upstairs. Toni and Inudou shoot each other, but the latter plays dead so he can shackle Hijikata and lock him into a duel with katanas.

This allows Nopperabo to slip away. Outside the chapel, Sugimoto, crawling on the ground, spots him, and his unmistakable big, blue eyes. If only he could get Nopperabo to the front gate, where Asirpa and the others await.

All this time, mind you, Tsurumi and his men are completely occupied trying to fight off the wave of violent inmates. Like I said, a lot going on. One could even accuse it of being too busy, but I for one loved the sense of building chaos, with every character the show fleshed out playing a role.

It just worked, and was yet another example of the payoff tasting doubly sweet thanks to all the painstaking setting-up. After such a powerhouse penultimate episode, next week’s finale will have some big shoes to fill.

Golden Kamuy – 22 – And Finally, on a Black, Moonless Night…

For twenty-one weeks Golden Kamuy has been slowly building to this: the night Asirpa and Sugimoto finally infiltrate Abashiri Prison and meet with Nopperabo, to see once and for all if the one who killed the Ainu and stole the gold is her father. Now that the show has set up all of the various players and their various histories and motivations, it’s finally time to set things in motion.

Thanks to the salmon spawning, Kiroranke and Huci’s sister’s people can build a hut beside the wall of the prison. They can bribe the guards with fish, and within the hut they begin digging a tunnel under the wall to a precise distance indicated by Hijikata.

Before the big night, the whole crew settles under one roof an enjoys the bounty of the river: chitatap made from salmon gills, cartilage, and other normally harder-to-eat parts the Ainu never waste. Sugimoto is stoked to be having true chitatap, and Asirpa is delighted to hear not only Hijikata but even the normally mirthless Ogata not only make chitatap, but say “chitatap” while doing so. There’s also mouth-watering grilled salmon and side dishes laced with tasty roe.

During the meal, Ushiyama asks Inkarmat if she has a man, and Cikapasi forces the issue by giving Tanigaki’s half-eaten meal to Inkarmat, which is a kind of Ainu betrothing. Tanigaki leaves the hut, but Inkarmat follows him, and tells him she’s not hoping to reunite with Wilk for any romantic reason, but simply to settle her past. Tanigaki is the one she wants to spend her future with; he feels the same way about her, and once he gets Asirpa back home to Huci, he’ll give her his half-eaten bowl for real.

When the tunnel is complete it ends right in the quarters of Chief Kadokura, whose father fought beside Hijikata and thus feels loyalty to the old samurai, and will help the group achieve their audience with Nopperabo.

When a moonless night arrives, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Shiraishi, the infiltration team, relies on Toni Anji to guide them through the darkness to Noppy’s cell block. So naturally, they’re caught immediately, as in the first ten feet of their infiltration. The first play of the big game, and they fumble it.

No matter; the guards who spot them are dealt with relatively quietly, and they continue on, accessing the prison ward interior the only way they can: from the roof. The interior is a loving reproduction of the real Abashiri Prison, now a museum and Important Cultural Property—right down to the ceiling and cell latch designs.

Asirpa is lowered in (in a somewhat undignified manner), Shiraishi picks the lock to cell 66, and just like that, Asirpa is face-to-face with Nopperabo…or who she thought was Nopperabo. While the inmate’s face is indeed burned off, she can tell: this is not her aca (father). It’s an impostor; and they’ve been set up.

The fake Nopperabo starts screaming and a prison-wide alarm is sounded. Warden Inodou wakes up and mobilizes his men, and Sugimoto has Toni Anji pull Asirpa out of there, the two separating at the worst possible time. Still, Toni intends to take Asirpa to the real Nopperabo before they escape.

After that, the shit truly shits the fan, as Tsurumi, possibly tipped off by Inkarmat, arrives at the prison at the head of a flotilla of navy destroyers, blowing up the only bridge to the prison island. He orders his men to capture both Nopperabo and Asirpa, and will presumably need that gold in order to pay for such a lavish assault.

So a plan that had so many capable players involved goes pear-shaped almost immediately, scattering those players and leaving many wondering who among them betrayed them. But one way or another, this story is going to end in just two episodes. Here’s hoping Asirpa and Sugimoto and a few others make it out of this mess in one piece, hopefully with some of that Ainu gold…

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

Re:Creators – 21

Thanks to Magane, Souta was able to create a miracle in bringing Shimazaki Setsuna back to reunite with her creation Altair. But early in the reunion, I was filled with a constant uneasiness—and was no doubt meant to be—would the all powerful Altair truly accept this?

If not, how long would it take before the spell was broken, she breaks the train station world, and returns to the real world. What the heck will Team Meteora do then? Everything is on the line here.

Well fortunately, there are no further twists or turns or defeats for Souta and the team; this really is it, and as soon as Setsuna speaks, Altair is well and truly neutralized as a mustache-twirling, world-ending villain. She becomes something far more complicated and interesting; something she only could have become by meeting her creator.

Setsuna doesn’t transparently beg Altair not to destroy the world. Instead, she starts by apologizing for making Altair carry the burden of “curses” she carried with her until death and transferred to Altair. Without judging her, Setsuna earnestly thanks Altair for her efforts, even if they were ultimately misguided.

Setsuna also impresses upon Altair the fact that she is no longer simply her creation; she’s become accepted and loved by everyone as a “king” or “knight of the weak” who took her weaknesses and made them strengths. Altair will always have power, and never be alone, as long as those others exist.

So, realizing her presence is a miracle, but a “twisted” one that shouldn’t be (at least in her world), when the train alarm sounds, she walks to the same spot where she walked before and leaps out over the tracks. Only this time, because she’s not alone, Altair rushes in front of the train and destroys it with her Holopiscon.

When she finds no matter how much she hacks at it, the train will still come in a fraction of a second, Altair redirects the infinite power Setsuna and the world has bestowed on her, into creating Setsuna’s story from now on.

That means creating a world where she and Setsuna can live—them, and no one else, it would seem. Altair is no longer interested in destroying worlds, only creating one world where she and Setsuna can be together, and where her story can continue. They’re basically gods now.

There, in the water, Altair finds a pair of glasses, but they’re not Setsuna’s—they’re Souta’s. Setsuna recognizes them as such, and without saying his name, tells Altair that she was drawn in the first place because of Souta, and others who liked her creations and wanted to see more.

Whether the Setsuna we saw was a combination of who she really was and Souta’s own interpretation of who she was, or one or the other, Souta poured his own heart and soul into creating her, which makes her basically the opposite of Sirius.

All Souta wanted was to “see the same world” as Setsuna. And he did, thanks not just to his own efforts, but to those of the other Creators, their Creations, and the people whose acceptance made them endure.

With one more strum of her Holopiscon, Altair and Setsuna are transported away to their own little infinite world, leaving the normal world safe and bringing a happy (if somewhat bittersweet) ending to Chamber Festival. The hosts sign off, the stadium roars with approval, and the creators and Meteora stand in the control room, basking in the knowledge they saved their world.

While Altair’s transformation was quite sudden, and doesn’t fully absolve the fact that she was fairly one-dimensional up to this point, the means by which she transformed were credible and even, at times, genuinely affecting, for which a lot of the credit goes to seiyus Toyosaki Aki and Ohashi Ayaka.

I also appreciate that the main conflict of the story came to a climax and was resolved with one episode to go, which means there’s time for a closure-giving epilogue.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 12 (Fin)

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Both this sequel series and its final episode share the title “insight”, meaning “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Throughout much of the story, the public at large didn’t have much insight into anything beyond what they collectively felt they wanted in the moment.

Their growing enthusiasm with becoming one, fueled by Gelsadra’s brief rule and new ways of doing things, created a new enemy that no one saw coming until it was too late, due to their lack of insight into themselves. That enemy was the pervading atmosphere.

Everyone was to blame, but an individual was still needed to represent collective guilt and collective culpability; a bad guy who the Gatchamen would beat so badly, the atmosphere would become too terrifying for anyone to want to be a part of it any more.

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As Tsubasa explains to the public on the Milione Show, in the second phase of their plan, she says Hajime took that role. She used Berg-Katze’s power to become Gel-san, then told her G-men comrades to beat her mercilessly before a live nationwide audience.

Hajime was the ultimate hero of heroes in Gatchaman because he realizes her role in protecting the planet goes beyond simply saving whoever is right in front of her, but, when necessary, saving everyone from themselves, even if it means putting her life on the line. Rather than go with the flow or settle for quick votes and easy answers that feel good, Hajime thought, long and hard, about what she, Ichinose Hajime, could do.

Last week’s straightforward battle is thus place in a far different and more compelling context, with added dialogue that accentuates how conflicted the G-men really were about beating up “Gel-san”, because it was really Hajime. Yet again and again, she told them not to stop, until they literally cleaved her in two. As a result, she’s in a coma, and the sight of her on TV incites public rage against Gel-san.

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But Tsubasa implores everyone to follow Hajime’s example and think carefully about what is to be done about Gelsadra: Should they expel him from Earth, allow him to stay, or leave it up to the Gatchamen? Unlike all other previous votes, the people have a whole month to decide, and can change their votes as much as they want until the final tally.

As the days and weeks go by, anti-Gel-san sentiment goes from a boil to a simmer, as after longer and more thorough thought, everyone starts to take responsibility for what happened to the atmosphere rather than blame it all on Gel-san, who was, after all, only a naive facilitator with the very best intentions.

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When the vote comes, Tsubasa is relieved that not only do the people (by a narrow margin) agree to let Gel-san stay on Earth, but only a tiny sliver left it up to Gatchamen. Well over 90% of the population decided for themselves. To Suzuki Rizumu’s delight, the people evolved beyond the level of apes.

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After the vote, public opinion is driven a little less by what happens to be the flavor of the week, but greater intuitive understanding of the situation and their own individual power to shape their own opinion. X tells Rui to think long and hard about what to do about the Crowds, who play with the remaining, calm, Kuu-sama. The Prime Minister reminds his salty colleagues in the Diet that everyone was responsible for the atmospheric fiasco, and everyone is responsible for preventing it from happening again.

As for the savior who woke everyone up from their destructive bliss, Hajime does, thankfully, eventually wake up from her long slumber, without any fuss and grateful she slept so well. She’s clearly happy her big plan worked out, since so much of it depended on her fellow Gatchamen as well as the general public to make it a success.

Now, with the world more or less back to normal, the G-men await the next arrival of an alien who might, unwittingly or not, take a certain human quality to its most dangerous extreme. If that ever happens, I’ll be here to watch and cover it. GATCHA!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 11

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As ‘Lil Gel-san chills at Gatcha HQ with Sugayama, the reunited Gatchamen do battle with the Kuu-sama…to no avail. While easy to defeat, the damn things keep coming, which makes sense, as they’re the granular embodiment of the collective atmosphere. Hajime stops fighting and determines they’ll need to try different tactics to get rid of it. But first, she and several other Gatchamen go on the Milione Show to receive the public’s blessing via smartphone vote. (OD also gets to meet his knockoff, DD).

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As soon as the public votes 84% to leave things to the Gatchamen, the Kuu-sama immediately cease their attacks and aggressive, and switch to fawning admiration for the Gatchamen. Such is the shifted mood of the people. But they’re still hanging around, to which Berg-Katze and Suzuki independently agree the only answer is to kill Gelsadra. So the Gatchamen deploy and start fighting him head-on.

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As we saw in his battle against Joe, Gel is one tough customer, but against the concerted forces of the Gatchamen he is eventually worn down. Only they’re not interested merely in wearing him down. In fact, the G-men make it a point to pummel Gel-san as mercilessly as possible, all while the public watches on streaming media. The Kuu-sama celebrate Gel-san’s imminent defeat, but then…the atmosphere starts to change again.

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People start to pity Gel-san’s treatment, and believe the G-men might be going a bit too far in taking him out. These peoples’ Kuu-samas pop like balloons one by one. Tsubasa tries to stop Sugane from a coup-de-grace, but after all the other assembled G-men salute, he fires off his attack anyway, which teleports through Tsubasa and slices Gel-san in half. Curiously absent in all of this is Hajime.

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The reason for her absence becomes clear a short time later, once the atmosphere has calmed and peace returned to the nation: she wasn’t absent. Utsutsu borrows the life force of her fellow G-men to heal a Sleeping Beauty-esque Hajime, while Tsubasa goes on the air to apologize to the people for deceiving them: Gel-san isn’t dead. They managed to get around the fact that only killing him could calm the atmosphere by “killing” a fake Gel-san, who Hajime posed as for the purposes of the operation.

Hajime understood that the atmosphere everyone had a hand in creating was far tougher opponent than Gel-san or the Kuu-sama, and defeating it would require more than brawn. They needed to convince the people that they were delivering swift and terrible justice to their fallen alien prime minister, and only when he was in smoldering pieces did they start to find such justice distasteful and prefer to move on to other things. I for one just hope Hajime didn’t have to pay for this victory with her own life.

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Blood-C 12 (Fin)

Fumito reveals himself as the mastermind of Saya’s entire ordeal. He captured her, a being with the strength and abilities to go toe-to-toe with elder bairns, but rather than human blood, she feeds off of elder bairn blood. He made a half-elder bairn play the role of her father and created the whole shrine maiden artifice as a vehicle to propel her to fight the bairns Fumito sent at her. After killing all the cast save Amino, he escapes to Tokyo, shooting her in the face as she lunges at him…but the game he started isn’t quite over.

For those who wanted the bloodiest, most disturbingly goretastic finale, well, you got one; though most of that gore was covered up by censors. That’s okay, I just ate a rich dinner, and was thus relieved to only have to catch the gist of the carnage. I’m not sure if a future Blu-ray release will be uncensored or not, but if it is, I must remember not to eat a big meal prior to re-watching it. Notably, after making themselves far less likable last week, Nono, Nene, and Tokizane get their bloody, karmic comeuppance. But there wasn’t just grisly death on display; we were also treated to some exquisite Saya ass-kicking that got downright lyrical and reached a fever pace.

Fumito’s obviously an immensely powerful person, but also an immesely sick, disturbed, evil person, and the multiplying elder bairns he unleashes on the fake village to slaughter all the extras just drives that point home. That being said, he’s a human being. He doesn’t believe Saya can kill a human, but if ever there was one for whom she could make an exception, it’s him. This whole series could be boiled down to one, long, harrowing, emotionally and physically torturous practical joke played on Saya. Come next June, she’ll look to settle the score in the film that will wrap this story up.


Rating: 4

Blood-C 11

Tsutsutori, Nono, Nene, and Tokizane reveal themselves as actors in a grand experiment with Saya as the star. She is a not-quite-human entity with superhuman powers. Fumito captured her and began fooling around with her memories. Whenever she attacks an elder bairn, she’s drunk its blood, making her remember some of her real memories of meeting with Fumito. The teacher, twins and Tokizane are tired of this, and want out, so they try to restore her memories permanently to stop the cycle. But they run into Amino and Itsuki, and eventually Fumito also shows up, likely to stop them…

When it was finally clear last week that the whole story to that point had been some kind of simulation, I immediately thought of the Truman Show. Like Truman, Saya is initially utterly convinced that the world she’s living in are real and her friends are really that. It’s pretty cruel for it to turn out to be a production. Even more amusing is how different the actors are from the characters they’ve played: Nono and Nene are immoral, conniving, vain bitches, Tokizane is a greedy, selfish coward, and the teacher is…well, she was always flirty with Saya, so she didn’t change much. Class Rep Itsuki is still a stickler for the rules, but without the friendliness of his character. One of the best lines of the series came from one of the evil twins: “How are these uniforms realistic in any way?”

It turns out they are: black and red hides the blood. Just like a tiny, isolated village makes it easier to keep Saya involved. I’m surprised the elder bairns are real, and in fact still a threat (though not to the main cast, who bear protective talismans), and seem to also be variables in Fumito’s experiment. This is why they kept asking her to “honor the contract” – she was killing them during Shrovetide, a period when it’s okay to eat humans. Throughout all of this explanation though, Saya is fairly inert. She just kneels there on all fours, breathing heavily, unable and/or unwilling to take it all in. But however much she knows, now we know why those school scenes were so tacky!


Rating: 4