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?

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AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

AICO – 05 – I’m Not a Thing, I’m a Person and My Name is Aiko

After a harrowing trip through Area One, the group rests and resupplies at the facilities near the guillotine dam, a place of relative safety with all of the nearby Matter either destroyed or paralyzed. The respite also means a slowing of the brisk and satisfying pace AICO had maintained until now.

Outside the area, Kurose decides to give Director Nanbara a ride to CAAC headquarters. She and Kurose happened to date in college, but Nanbara dumped him, and while the two are on cordial terms, neither comes away with much information from the other about the situation with Aiko. Nanbara also warns Kurose to stay out of the affairs in the Area altogether—apparently unaware he’s already very much involved, and indeed facilitated Aiko’s escape.

While on watch duty, Kazuki and Kaede learn a bit more about their client, who remembers fishing with her family on the river now overrun by Matter, and the events that lead to her not getting tangled up with Yuya, Kurose, and eventually them. In the process, we also learn that Kazuki is a spoiled rich kid who joined the Divers to chart his own course, while Kaede came from a broken family and enjoys her new solitude and independence.

We also learn that the translucent blue ball Aiko has is actually a very valuable prototype for a mouse-like artificial life form. Yuya’s comparisons between it, the Live Suits, and Aiko bother her quite a bit, seeing as how she feels like a person and doesn’t appreciate being treated and talked about like an object, even if Yuya is correct that she, or at least her body, is just that.

Not five minutes after discovering her blue ball was really a pet, Aiko loses it as it runs outside. She puts on a suit and chases after it, slipping, falling, and getting lost in the woods. This would have been a perfect time for the drug that keeps her from attracting Matter to wear off, at least from an urgency perspective…but Daisuke finds her and a very worried Yuya finds her pet, whom Kaede names “Gummi.”

With their client retrieved and the “Beetle” Tank loaded up, the team piles in, leaves their safe place, and heads to Area Two, just as a CAAC team enters Area One. Isazu and Nanbara agree that Kurose succeeds Dr. Yura as head of Kiryu Research, he’ll stop research Nanbara believes is crucial to the Japanese economy, and Isazu believes is crucial to saving his daughter. As such, he prepares to oust Kurose from Kiryu with trumped-up corruption charges.

AICO – 04 – An Artificial-Bodied MacGuffin

I’ll give AICO this: it knows how to move things along. The Diver team run into far nastier resistance than they thought so early in the mission. It’s great to watch people on the job whom we’ve already met off duty. It not only affords us a look at their procedures and teamwork, and ability to keep up with their constantly evolving foe.

As for that foe, we get a decent helping of its various forms and behaviors. As a rule, any non-sentient “force of nature” villain has to evoke a certain degree of primal fear (in lieu of a personality), and I think that’s achieved here. There was a lot of jargon/technobabble being thrown around, but the brisk pace kept me from getting bogged down.

I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of the foreboding alien landscape that is the MatterZone with the so-far-untouched parts of Japan the other characters enjoy.

Sure, in each case they’re basically scenes of more exposition—establishing that Nanbara, Isazu, and Kurose were all college buds, and that Nanbara and now Isazu aren’t in a hurry to destroy a valuable resource.

But it’s just neat to cut from scenes where characters are fighting for survival while pushing through a hostile environment, to ones where they can hold a meeting, enjoy a tasty desert, or dote upon their comatose daughter without having to worry about being, er, mattered.

The show doesn’t forget that the individual sub-teams within the Diver team are competing for an achievement bonus. Kaede is probably guilty of the most unnecessary chatter of the whole crew, but probably gets away with it due to the fact she’s still quite young and also extremely talented.

Yet no matter how highly talented, trained, experienced, and armed the Divers are, it never feels like they can truly relax there in The Shit, and constantly have to have each other’s backs lest some tentacle of Matter end them in an eye-blink.

The first leg of their journey is marked by one of the giant dams, which also happens to serve as a massive three-bladed, electrical-shocking guillotine, which is one of the more original ideas AICO has served up. If this setup is an exact copy of something from a far better anime I haven’t seen before, well…ignorance is bliss, because giant dam guillotines are cool.

They’re also damned effective, if only temporarily so, as after the “slice” is made everything downriver dies, while everything in the immediate vicinity is paralyzed. But between the living Matter looking like miscellaneous viscera and the fact it’s apparently “learning” how to take a crude human form, there’s clearly no permanent fix for this scourge as yet.

Of course, ending all this is, supposedly, Aiko’s role…or it will be, much further up the river. If there’s one blemish on this episode, it’s that the protagonist is utterly sidelined this week; even more so than previous episodes. She mostly just reacts, once to the point of passing out. Simply being in such an inhospitable place clearly has a deleterious effect on her cyborg physiology.

Part of that is inevitable: she’s certainly not trained to fight the Matter, and I daresay I’d probably be much more freaked out in her situation. But let’s call an artificial-bodied MacGuffin a MacGuffin. The show could have avoided this by giving Aiko some training (and development) prior to the mission, but that would have killed the narrative momentum. For now, like Aiko, we’re along for the ride, so I suppose I’ll just enjoy it…and watch my six.

P.S. I’ve intended to skip the ED the last three episodes…yet I always end up watching it to the end. The end theme is very pretty, as are the sights the top half of Aiko walks through.

AICO – 03 – After a Rescue, The Real Journey Commences

Aiko and Yuya have been captured by CAAC (Control Agency of Artificial Creatures), led by Director Nanbara, your obligatory Badass Director Lady giving orders in the back of a fancy car. She’s in frequent contact with Dr. Isazu, director of the Kiryu Hospital and once the doctor in charge of Aiko’s care. Clearly lots of people are interested in Aiko.

Thanks to a clever tracking strip in his paper airplane (activated when he goads a guy into crushing it), the Divers get a fix on Yuya’s location before the government takes harsher steps to interrogate him and fill Aiko’s head with lies (they insist her family is dead).

The Divers ambush the captors when they try to move their prisoners, in a decent action scene that demonstrates the Divers’ coordination and toughness, even in non-diving situations. That they were able to so easily infiltrate CAAC and retrieve their assets speaks both to their exceptional skills and CAAC not expecting an ambush.

With Aiko and Yuya back, the mission proceeds as planned—even as there’s a sudden flare-up of the Malignant Matter behind the Gate, spurring an increased military presence, which launches tranquilizer missiles over the gate that manage to calm the Matter down.

While preparing for zero hour, Aiko nods off and her dreams include the POV memories the other Aiko—her real body with an artificial brain. She and her double are connected. Not only that, the Matter is attracted to her artificial body; but Yuya hopes a certain drug will diminish that particular effect.

Aiko has decided to side with those who cultivate and embrace her belief her family is still in there, alive (the other Aiko seems to have encountered them, after all). We’ll see if she’s put her trust in the right people. The Divers are pros who will carry out their mission to the best of their abilities, but they also seem to have taken to Aiko and want to help her out, in addition to, well, trying to save Japan and the world.

Once she and the other Divers are suited up in their “Live Suits” (a process that reveals a lot of her and the Divers’ skin), they head to the Gate. Just minutes after they’re allowed through, however, the Gate is locked down by the government. There’s no turning back; if they’re going to do this, it’s now or never.

AICO – 02 – Getting Up to Speed, Running Away, Getting Nabbed

Aiko’s new “friends” dump a lot of info on her in an episode that gets us up to speed, introduces some other players, and sets the stakes, which are far-ranging. To sum it up, Aiko’s natural body was all but destroyed in a car accident, so researchers decided to put her brain in an artificial body they made when she was born.

However, the surgery that allows her to be standing there today caused the Burst: an overpowered proliferation of “malignant matter” that threatens Japan and the world. She’s also apparently the key to stopping it. Oh, and her mom and brother are still in ground zero.

It’s obviously a lot to absorb for poor Aiko, whose world has just been flipped upside down. She’s a lot like Neo during his sprawling introduction to the Real World, though she doesn’t throw up, she RUNS…nowhere in particular, just away from all this scary shit.

While running, she ends up falling through a roof, right into the lunch a redheaded Diver named Misawa Kaede is about to tuck into. Kaede’s colleague Kazuki assists Aiko when he learns she just wants to get away, but Kaede and the others corner her and bring her back to Kanzaki, Dr. Korose & Co.

Kurose decides to hire the 4-person Diver team to infiltrate Ground Zero in order to retrieve Aiko’s real body. Kanzaki will be their guide, they’ll be paid handsomely even if survival can’t be guaranteed, and whatever 2-person team from the quartet fares better by a certain leg in the mission, will get a bonus and be the ones to accompany Kanzaki to the final leg.

Now that the situation and the plan for dealing with it have been established, it looks like it’s time to impliment it, but the team hits a snag: a SWAT team busts into the hideout and snatches up Aiko and Yuya.

In two episodes, Aiko has been plucked from school by one party, given an infodump, freaked out and run away, picked up again, and then kidnapped by another party. I’m not seeing a whole lot of agency for the titular character, nor are there any indications she’ll be gaining any of it anytime soon.

That could be problematic going forward, as we’re dealing with a Netflix “Original”-style series that has been intricately formulated to check a lot of boxes and satisfy multiple audiences, but in doing so lacks any kind of basic originality.

AICO is (and will probably remain) watchable because’s it’s well-made competently executed, and isn’t gratingly gratuitous (likeDevilman Crybaby). But I like to think I’ve watched enough anime to make the determination that there’s no potential for AICO to be anything other than popcorn entertainment.

Re:Creators – 22 (Fin)

With Altair, well, not defeated per say, but ceasing to be a threat to the world last week, Re:Creators can relax and do a leisurely victory lap. The five creators remaining on the battlefield accept their supporting roles in a story that ended up being primarily about Altair and Setsuna. The other creators congratulate Souta for his achievement, even if, especially for Matsubara and Takarada, it hurts that their heroines had to die in order to win.

But Meteora steps in to assure Matsubara that only one possible Selesia’s story ended there; there are countless others that remain alive, and more still as long as he’s committed to keep adding to her world…coffee, for instance.

After a celebratory feast at a down-home restaurant, Meteora also points out to the other creations that they will all have to return to their respective worlds soon, as her magic will eventually cease to work as the world restores its proper order (an order in which her magic doesn’t exist).

After the creations and their creators spend one last day together, saying what they want to say and suggesting what they want to suggest, Meteora opens a return gate.

One by one, the Creations say their final goodbyes and walk through the gate, disappearing from the world in physical form but not in the hearts and minds of their creators and fans. I was kinda wondering where Magane was in all of this, and I really wish we’d been able to see more of her…did she de-coalesce off-camera after using her ability to help Souta?

In any case, Meteora has one more plot twist in store: she’s staying. I mean, even if she wanted to go back, she can’t go through a gate she is keeping open any more than she can pick up and throw herself. But she loves this world, and has always seemed quite comfortable here. So while she loses the rest of her magic as soon as the gate closes, I have no doubt someone as strong and brilliant and charming as she will land on her feet.

A bit of time passes, marked by the emergence of several new advertisements around the city promoting new seasons of the creators’ creations, each with new stories that reflect their experiences during the Chamber Festival: Shou and Yuuya fighting side by side, Blitz with his daughter by his; Hikayu’s new martial-arts master alter-ego; Magical Slayer Mamika meeting Aliceteria.

Everyone continues to create. Whatever problems people had with the story of the Chamber Festival (and it did kinda go all over the place, if we’re honest), creators can’t look up to a standard they worry they’ll never approach; they can only keep moving forward, and keep creating. That’s the surest way to achieving happiness not just for themselves and those who consume their work, but for their creations too.

I’m also heartened to see Souta and Meteora exchanging texts in much the same way Souta used to do with Setsuna, only now he’s a little older, a lot wiser, and more importantly, confident enough in his ability as a creator in his own right, to be anything but proud and supportive of his friend’s efforts.

Meteora has pivoted to creation herself, and has decided to name her first work Re:CREATORS—the very work we just spent 22-plus weeks watching.

Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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Divine Gate – 01 (First Impressions)

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Many years ago, Noriyuki Abe wasted no time drawing me into a world where a youth named after a berry, who looked like a delinquent to many around him, actually had a very kind and generous heart. He could also see and talk to ghosts, which is how he met his first shinigami; a very cute one who sucked at drawing.

I’m talking, of course, about Bleach, my first extended foray into serialized anime. There’s a lot of that same welcoming, beckoning quality coming off his latest work Divine Gateas well as its exploration of spirituality and mythology. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, but Active Raid didn’t have it; not for me at least. Divine Gate, like Bleach, did.

In DG the normal human world is just the normal human world, but there are two other worlds: a world of fairies and a world of demons. A few of those humans have elemental powers, and work under Arthur of the World Council either as full-fledged members or academy students like Akane and Midori.

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Then there’s Aoto, who’s clearly a powerful water-user, even without a power-enhancing driver, but wants nothing to do with the Council, despite Arthur’s believe his powers will help maintain peace between the three worlds. Instead of attending a school that will help him hone his powers, he’s at regular old school, where his peers shun him as the infamous “parent-killer.”

Even though most of Aoto’s early dialogue is internal (and quite flowery), the fact I can hear what he’s thinking is an effective way of drawing me into his world and his plight. He’s mopey and morose, but there are very good reasons for it.

Meanwhile, since this is a show about elements and colors, his moroseness is balanced by his would-be academy mates. Akane outwardly mocks Midori for actually believing in the titular “Divine Gate” that will grant any wish once opened with the power of all the elements, but somewhere in the heart of every student and Council member is a desire to encounter that gate, their individual wishes ready to go.

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Midori and Akane meet Aoto twice, but neither encounter goes particularly well. He’s got a wall up, one they don’t—and can’t—quite understand, anymore than they understand right now how a kid could really kill his parents—which Aoto freely admits when the subject comes up (though I’m not sure he’s being truthful).

But the flashback makes it clear: Aoto was the family pariah; his parents doting on the younger son while he was exiled to a shed in the backyard eating cold food. His brother knew of his plight, but also knew Aoto had the power to do something about it, so he did nothing, instead doing whatever he wanted.

So Aoto endured a thoroughly cold and loveless upbringing. Why exactly, we don’t know. The “rain” (his tears) continues to fall unendingly inside him. He doesn’t believe power can do anything, because he’s always had it and it’s never done him any good. But perhaps, with more interaction with other perspectives and elements, those inner clouds could break one day, and he’ll find that wish to be used at the Gate.

DG effortlessly drew me into its world; it’s a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to next week. Not sure about the show’s logo, though. Tilted Impact? Really?

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GATE – 12 (FIN)

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GATE ends its first season with a somewhat transitional episode that takes stock of what’s happened (and all that Itami has done) and sets up some new storylines to come in the second season (whenever it airs). Sure, there’s a dark elf looking for help from the Green People to save her village and not having a lot of success, but there’s not much else going on here, and certainly not any kind of season-ending cliffhangers where anyone is in imminent danger.

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That being said, Yao Haa Dushi’s story is a good one, even if it’s familiar (it’s a lot like Tuka’s, only there are still survivors in her village). She comes in fully prepared to use her body to seduce the green people to help her, which comes off as a bit of a sexist move by her village elders, alone with sending her alone with no help. A lot of the time she has trouble with something as basic as language, and is wrongly accused of mugging one of the seedier elements in the Alnus town after she refused his advances.

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The refrain throughout the episode is twofold: the bureaucracy is bad because it keeps the JSDF from helping people (and because in Japan, the ASDF has to share airspace with civvies and the U.S.), and the question What Would Itami Do? It seemed like stalling a stalling tactic to make Yao’s first impression of Itami so poor (at the tavern last week), and even more of a stalling tactic to send Itami away on a random mission just when Yao finds an interpreter (in Lelei, who is starting to augment her magic with Japanese science).

Everyone who isn’t Itami and is still in town wants him to get back so he can do something, because surely he would in this situation. Which begs the question: how is he going to get past the General’s order not to help Yao? Sure, he’s got some privilege and pull in the Special Region, but there’s still the JSDF chain of command.

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The rest of the episode seems concerned with further stroking Itami’s ego and stoking his legend both in the Special Region and in Japan. Pina seems happy to receive a new supply of BL literature (AKA “Art!”), but it turns out to be translated articles from Japan singing praises of everything Itami has done. This is a bit odd, since Pina and her aide react like they didn’t already know all this, when in reality they were present for much of it! Also, it looks like Pina has a bit of a crush on Itami.

So yeah, this episode wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a fiasco, either. And it paves the way for an interesting second season. I don’t think it’s a matter of will Itami go off to fight the fire dragon, but when. His JSDF comrades would seem to welcome this, but it’s implied there will be further consequences involving the military brass and civilian government, both entities the show has shown pretty transparent contempt for.

As for me, Itami’s head may be getting a bit big for my taste, but between Rory, Tuka, Lelei, Pina, and now Yao, GATE has a solid cast whose future adventures and fates will have me coming back, and hopefully its more troublesome elements can be kept at bay long enough for me to stick with its second season to the end.

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GATE – 11

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This was a pretty good episode of GATE; a vibrant episode thankfully bereft of real-world leaders and full of transition and change, opening five months after Itami & Co returned to the Special Region. The area around the military base and refugee camp is now a bustling town and a melting pot of Special Regioners and JSDF.

Pina continues the diplomacy, bringing a minister from Japan to work with the Imperial elites to negotiate a peaceful resolution, and as an old elf continues to struggle in the present, there’s a new elf on the block who has a mission only the JSDF can pull off.

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First, Tuka: Itami’s subordinate Mari wants to do more to help Tuka, who’s spent much of the last five months wandering the new town, looking for her dead father. Mari wants to make Tuka see reality so she can move forward, but Itami basically tells her not to rock the boat, because Mari doesn’t know she will be around to support Tuka indefinitely. No one knows what the future holds, so Itami is content with the status quo for now. Mari is understandably frustrated with Itami, but agrees not to do anything.

Having checked in on the Tuka situation (and even more briefly on Lelei, who looks disheveled but content in her modern clothes) we shift to Rory, still stubbornly donning her gothic lolita garb and trying to sleep with Itami. Itami, while flattered, still has an issue with Rory looking like a child, even if she’s 27 times older than him.

Her evening plans are foiled for good by the appearance of a new dark elf character, who also mistakes Rory for a child. Interestingly Rory plays along by pretending to be a child, putting Itami in a spot and forcing him to beat a hasty retreat when the elf draws her sword. I like how Rory takes her frustrations out on both the elf and Itami.

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We learn this dark elf is named Yao Haa Dushi, continuing the show’s George Lucas-style approach to fantastical-sounding names. Her misunderstanding about Rory is forgivable because she’s on a noble quest to meet with the JSDF. Her village has been attacked by a fire dragon, and she needs the “green people” to help finish it off. She doesn’t intend for them to work for free, either: she’s brought a ginormous adamantite crystal as payment; a material that doesn’t even exist beyond the Gate in Japan, which makes it very valuable.

Yao spends the night in a beautiful forest on the town outskirts, dreams of the village attack, and then wakes up to the sound of practice-dogfighting JSDF fighter jets screaming through the sky. It’s a sight that’s full of awe and majesty, and convinces Yao the JSDF are indeed the people who can save her village.

She’s convinced again when she spots a dual-rotor cargo helicopter zoom overhead. Itami is aboard that chopper, which is packed with goods from Japan furnished by the ministry of foreign affiars, who regard such items as ammo in the fight to turn Imperial hawks into Senatorial doves.

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