BEATLESS – 01 (First Impressions)

Yeah, we usually started in September…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 04

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I love how this show subverts our expectations…even expectations established as recently as this week by the other Mappa series this Fall, Shingeki no Bahamut. Creepy village full of ugly people? Rumors of disappearances? A gorgeous woman (Herman’s type!) living with her bowl-cut son on the outskirts?

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The logical path of least resistance tells us that if this beautiful creature Aurelia isn’t a witch, or rather a horror in disguise (and let’s be honest, “Aurelia” sounds like a witch’s name), then her son,  he of the intense gaze who talks to his wooden doll, most certainly is. Now that Leon is a full-fledged, under-control Makai Knight, it’s up to him along with Pops to root out Horrors and protect humans…even the thoroughly unpleasant-seeming, highly private inhabitants of this town.

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Well…THIS is certainly very creepy…

When Herman rules out everyone else, including Aurelia, the conventional process of elimination says the Horror is Alois, and Herman tells Leon He’ll Get This One, as it’s not fair to ask his son to kill a child when he’s really still one himself. Leon bristles at this (as he bristles at pretty much everything his dad says): it’s a Horror; the fact that it takes the form of a child is of no consequence.

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I want Herman’s neat little Horror-detecting bell.

Only…Alois isn’t a Horror either, sending the knights back to square one. Having wached Bahamut this past Monday with Hannah, in which innocent little Rita ended up being a necromancer, was pre-conditioned to suspect the kid too. Yes, even with all those hundreds of creepy wooden idols in that abandoned hut.

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Similarly, the overall sketchiness of the townsfolk, and the way in which they dealt with Aurelia, made her story about their seedy occult “ceremonies” make us start to suspect them as at least harboring a Horror or being in it’s thrall, if they weren’t Horrors Herman could detect with his bell for whatever reason. And yup…still wrong!

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No, this week’s Horror is the wooden doll Alois walks around with. He talks to it because it takes the form of another boy who, unlike the rest of the town, wants to be friends with him. It also taps into Alois’ desire for revenge against the town for persecuting and murdering his father, who reported their activities to the church.

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So, this is a Horror facilitating a young, angry boy’s thirst for revenge. Basically, a younger version of Leon, no? Herman is always possessed of many of the show’s best lines, and this week’s no exception:

Revenge will only destroy you. At the very least, be destroyed by women, that way you can go like a man.

Raging sexism aside, this line not only gets us to suspect Aurelia even more early on (be destroyed by women) but also hints at the situation they’re about to face at the town: Alois wants revenge, and the Horror wants to give it to him, but the Knights can’t allow it. They have to save Alois by depriving him of that which he desires most in life, because the Horror won’t stop with the townsfolk.

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This week is notable for its focus, eschewing any Emma or Alfonzo updates, but also for Herman never needing to don his Zoro armor, because this is another lesson for Leon first and foremost. When the Horror’s face morphs into that of Alois, Leon hesitates for the split-second needed for it to escape, but he doesn’t get fooled again, knowing that as seductive as the prospect of revenge can feel, his father’s words in this case are spot-on: it will only destroy you in the end.

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While he and his mother are now safe, he’s still sad he lost his “friend” and any hope at getting his revenge, but the Knights helped keep his soul clean. He’s young, and he’ll get over it. Their job done, Herman and Leon start off to the next town to gather info on their next target, whatever it may be.

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Aurelia and Alois blow town too, because, and this is the interesting part: the town hasn’t stopped the rituals. Furthermore, Herman and Leon aren’t going to do anything to stop them. They’re Makai Knights, charged with eliminating Horrors. They’re not all-purpose heroes, and it’s not their job to judge humans. Had a Horror not been involved in any part of this case, Aurelia and Alois probably would’ve been SOL.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 03

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“Better get used to me, kid!”

GARO slips right back into high form in its third outing, which starts with the receipt of a cool floating-rune message that “Zaruba is complete.” After crossing paths with Emma Guzman in their inn (by “coincidence”), they waste no time rushing to the secluded home of the Makai Alchemist Gael, who fought alongside Leon’s grandfather, who was the last Garo.

They don't hang about, do they?
They don’t hang about, do they?

We get a short but sweet flashback to when a sixteen-years-younger yet far more world-weary Herman is still on the run with lil’ Leon, and asks Gael to fix the Madou Ring that allows the Golden Knight to contract with Zaruba and lend him his strength. All this plot and terminology could have been a ponderous ordeal to sit through, but it’s all very easy to follow, and it’s delivered with flair, which this show has in spades.

Leon looks a lot like his dad, as demonstrated in this flashback
Leon looks a lot like his dad, as demonstrated in this flashback

Like German, Gael has an apprentice of his own, Marcelo, who is eager but somewhat inept, a fact Gael is quick to remind him of for launching a neat “drum-needle” barrage a the approaching Makai Knights. But in sixteen years of watching Gael work on the ring, the idea took root in Marcelo’s mind that Herman would never return, and that the ring would fall to him. He hides it well, but he’s pissed Herman came back.

Whatever Gael is doing here, you gotta respect the energy! "Ah, FUCK IT, I'M THROWING IN THE LOT!!"
Whatever Gael is doing here, you gotta respect the energy! “Ah, FUCK IT, I’M THROWING IN THE LOT!!”

Marcelo has the sense to make sure Gael has completed the ring before killing him and snatching it as Herman and Leon sleep. When he bumps into Emma in the forest (who’d slapped a tracking device on Leon at the inn), Marcelo even thinks quick on his feet, overpowering her, then maintaining his innocence with Leon, claiming she killed Gael and stole the ring.

You're ah...you're not lookin' so hot there, sport. You okay?
You’re ah…you’re not lookin’ so hot there, sport. You okay?

Marcelo must’ve remembered the helpless boy Herman brought with him sixteen years ago, and even if he didn’t know Leon already inherently distrusted Emma, is able to easily convince him she’s the bad guy. I really love the scene where Emma thinks Leon passed and exhales, only to get into a heated but short fight, which ends with Emma telling Leon he’s been had: Marcelo has become a horror.

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As one would expect, even though he’s probably distraught over Gael’s death, Herman doesn’t swallow Marcelo’s fiction so easily, mostly because Gael was killed by a sword like Marcelo’s; a weapon Emma would never stoop to as long as she had her spool of string. The jig is up, and Marcelo, cornered, finds to his dismay that Zaruba will only contract with the Golden Knight, which he ain’t. Furious, he transforms into his monstrous Horror form.

"This should be good..."
“This should be good…”

Again, Herman leaves the work to the kid, who transforms into Garo and takes it to Marcelo-HORROR like a Final Fantasy protagonist to a major boss. Leon’s little skirmish with Emma was cool-looking enough itself, but once he dons the armor the combat spectacle takes on a whole new level, suitably accompanied by Garo’s sweet battle theme.

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Look around--choose your own ground...
Look around–choose your own ground…

When he finds an opening, he punches through Marcelo to get to the ring, briefly enters a sparse scene that resembles some 70s prog-rock album cover, and meets and contracts with Zaruba, who has a surprisingly personable voice (though not as goofy as say, Excalibur’s, though that would have been cool too.) Zaruba not only strengthens Garo, but calms his flames. Calmly, smoothly, Leon slices and dices the horror into oblivion.

Cue Victory Fanfare; tally EXP. CONGRATULATIONS. (Wait…why the hell is this eight minutes long?):

Now in possession of the restored Madou Ring, Leon can become a full-fledged knight. Afterwards, Emma takes off on her own (though I’m certain they’ll meet again), and the father and son continue on. That would’ve been a fine place to end, but this episode wasn’t done yet, giving us BONUS GARO by checking in on Alfonso, now a fugitive on the streets of his own capital by rights.

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He learns to his horror when defending himself that it isn’t just regular police being sent after him, but DEMON Police (which are, like Marcelo, of a pretty cool-looking design; not bad for grunts), which he simply isn’t equipped to deal with (yet). So it’s a good thing, then, that a Makai Knight was in town to save his life, waste the demons, and then pose stylishly with the moon as a backdrop.

"Hey. Hey Alfonso. Take a snap for my Instagram, yeah?"
“Hey. Hey Alfonso. Take a snap for my Instagram, yeah?”

It’s a thrillingly efficient closing scene that assures us the show hasn’t forgotten about Alfie, that he still has a lot to learn about that thing round his neck, and that he and Leon are sure to cross paths at some point.

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Samurai Flamenco – 16

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Given the ample resources of the Prime Minister, he can shout his lies loudly and consistently enough that the public comes to believe them as truths. Masayoshi has hit rock bottom not because his career has been destroyed and he’s homeless, hungry, and filthy, but because he has almost lost hope. He feels a fool for allowing the government to manipulate him, and sees world around him as a hostile enemy.

Stuck in this downward spiral and unwilling to steal or ask anyone for help lest he hurt more people with his selfish actions and dreams, he ends up becoming the recipient of aid from a Good Samaritan in the form of a poor, nearly-blind chap living in a tent in the park. After Masayoshi regales him with the abridged version of his story, the man tells him his: he was in the same spot Masayoshi finds himself: angry for being fooled and devoid of hope for the world. When a thug started beating him, he was ready to give up and die. Then Samurai Flamenco saved him.

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All it took was one kind, decent, good act for the man to realize he was wrong about the world. He started to help people, and they helped him and others in return. His world became a better place, but only because he refused to give in to despair and cynicism. He returns the favor, facilitating Masayoshi’s escape from a patrolling cop. The encounter reminded Masayoshi that even heroes need saving from those psychological villains. So he finally pays Gotou a visit, and Gotou asks what took him so long.

This is the Gotou who took Mari in when she too became lost, but also allowed Mizuki and Moe to confront her when she’d spent enough time stewing in her own angst. We mercifully, finally see that confrontation, and it’s a heated one, with lots of thrown punches and scathing remarks that cut to the quick. Mari hates Moe’s face right now because it reminds her that she’s a coward; that Moe volunteered to die for her in order to show her up. Like Masayoshi, she feels the world has turned on her, and she just wants to curl up and die.

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The other two M’s don’t let that happen. Even after she rips them to shreds about how much they depend on her greatness (Mizuki doesn’t dispute this, but hates the pathetic creature Mari has become) and flees to the place where King Torture tortured her, where she vomits and lies in it. Moe and Mizuki find her, and Moe, wearing a bag on her head, convinces Mari to return to their world, which isn’t complete without her. It was a showdown we’d been waiting for, so kudos to the show for finally giving it to us. It didn’t disappoint.

We also appreciated the symmetry of Masayoshi and Mari, at the end of their ropes, seeking out and being sought out by their best friends, respectively, and that the entire episode was devoted to the characters and relationships that had been neglected of late. It was welcome reparation for all the From Beyond shit the show put us through. With wounds healed, friendships repaired, and faith restored in the inherent, indomitable goodness of the world that shines beneath even the most well-funded lies, everyone’s in good shape for the final six episodes.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Joji is in full Hannibal Lector prison regalia, which is hilarious. Looks like his wife (who doesn’t know Sakura’s a flamenger, btw) could play a more important role soon.
  • Even at rock bottom, Masayoshi ain’t stealing bread. Dude’s for real.
  • It may seem a little contrived, but we like how a past recipient of Samurai Flamenco’s herosim is the one to pull him out of the abyss. Blind or no, that guy wasn’t going to turn him in.
  • Moe’s crush on Mari earlier in the show was played for chuckles, but we like how it evolved into genuine, unswaying love, which proves crucial Mari out of the abyss.
  • We actually liked how Mari and Moe’s embrace turned into a makeout session…Moe earned the hell of out that! Mizuki’s reaction is also pretty priceless.
  • Alright, show of hands: who thought that bright glowing vomit Mari spewed out was going to turn into something evil? We thought so; the show’s pulled that crazy shit out of left field before. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Samurai Flamenco – 15

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Ah, now that’s better. For now, Masayoshi’s evil clone is just a red herring, and the From Beyond crisis is thankfully brought to a close with a somewhat clunky resolution: The Flamengers fly Flamen Robo into Mt. Fuji’s caldera and physcially beat the giant drill up until it breaks. All the From Beyond baddies disappear, Cloneayoshi kills himself with Masayoshi’s ray gun. The Flamengers get more awards, parades, and national praise, and then disband, their job done. With all this in the first half, one would expect a cooling-off period in which Masayoshi checks in with the characters who had been marginalized throughout the last arc. One would be wrong.

As stupid as Torture was, and as even stupider as From Beyond was, the show has thankfully not dwelled on them any longer than they needed to (though we had a problem with them dwelling on them at all). So it wastes no time introducing Masayoshi’s latest foe, and what do you know: It’s The Government. Nothing unites the people quite like a common threat, and the government furnished that threat in From Beyond. The Flamengers and other heroes were conscripted to be the hero of the public, but grew too popular. With control of the mass media, it was a simple matter to find and apprehend them all, and throw Masayoshi & Co. under the bus by proclaiming they were terrorists who orchestrated From Beyond to throw Japan into chaos and grab power.

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Before the cops get to Masayoshi, he’s lucky enough to be found by Mister Justice first, a hulking, boisterous American counterpart to Kaname, who has also been made persona non grata by the government that betrayed him. While the show hardly needed another blowhard beefsteak superhero, Mister Justice is a hoot to watch, whether he’s humming The Star-Spangled Banner to “calm” Hazama in his conspicuous star-spangled semi, or beating up an entire SWAT team; scolding them for not eating enough oatmeal and red meat. And he genuinely seems to want to help Masayoshi, successfully covering his escape.

Masayoshi now suddenly finds himself an enemy of the state, with a very famous face and even more famous disguise. But he’s not alone: Sumi, Kanno, Harazuka, and Gotou remain free (for now), as does MMM (though judging from Mari’s body language MMM might be over); all could help him in various ways. The first step would seem to be freeing the other four Flamengers from custody. But after the way Aoshima gets destroyed by Prime Minister Okuzaki, that probably won’t be easy. But then nothing is when you’re fighting on the side of right.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)

Coppelion – 02

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The Coppelion meet Kawabata Mitsuo and his wife Yukiko, ex-convicts living in the radioactive zone after escaping from prison in the meltdown chaos; Mitsuo is searching for Miku, his daughter from his late first wife. The girls determine that Mitsuo and Yukiko argued about sending an SOS, and Yukiko took Miku hostage. Ibara enters a condemned hotel and finds Yukiko and Miku on an upper floor, but the hotel collapses and Yukiko falls to her death. Mitsuo dies from radiation before the girls can reunite him with Miku, but she still thanks them anyway for their efforts.

After the first week established that birds, wolves, and the like still thrive in the region rendered uninhabitable to humans, this week revealed that some humans have tried to do the same, and not all of them want to leave, despite the radiation. The first such people we meet are in a complicated, unenviable position; rescue would mean breaking up the family because Yukiko and Mitsuo are criminals who still owe debts to society. They were able to somehow scrape together a living, but then the supply trucks ceased. Yet however pure Mitsuo’s love for Miku, or good his intentions, subjecting her to a bleak, shortened life in that radioactive hellhole simply wasn’t fair to her.

Mitsuo ultimately came to realize that, but Yukiko simply couldn’t bear to lose another child, and was even messed up enough to threaten to shoot Miku if Ibara tried to take her; such were the twisting, traumatizing effects of their desperate way of life. Faced with human tragedy more complex than they’d ever perceived, the Coppelion girls reflect on their existence as test tube-grown “dolls” or “puppets” whose edict is to go where ordinary humans can’t and save people. They learn that not everyone they encounter can – or wants to – be saved. But they also learn that they’re not just automatons; this encounter affected them, stay with them, and inform their actions on future missions.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)