Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 07

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This week Saikawa and Moe have very interesting encounters and conversations; I just wish the vehicles for those conversations weren’t, in the case of Moe (at least initially), an overly aggressive otaku researcher Shimada, and in the case of Saikawa, what felt like fifteen years of Kase Yasuyuki and Kaida Yuuko speaking in very rough English. Hey, Anime: If the seiyu isn’t fluent, don’t make them play a fluent character. This. Never. Works.

It’s ironic that Moe ends up plunging into a sensory deprivation chamber, where she’s closed off from the outside world, because the bad English pulled me right out of the world of Subete ga F. It was painful, but I don’t blame the seiyuu; at the end of the day the producers and director have to step in and say this isn’t going to work. I get it; Miki is from America…but why can’t she just speak Japanese? People speak a lot of languages in America.

I don’t want to belabor the point any further; I just hope there’s little to no more such dialogue in the final four episodes. Because the content of the conversation was actually pretty poignant and enlightening. By talking with Saikawa, Miki is able to summon a memory of when she hurt herself, and Shiki told her the human body is only a container for the brain; a mechanism; a doll.

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Miki also suspects that while they never met, Shiki and Saikawa would have gotten along, because she thinks they’re probably pretty similar people, hiding intense emotions behind a cold, sterile exterior. Shimada actually likes how “cold” Saikawa seems, even if Moe says he’s actually very nice. Shimada also likes how warm Moe is, and while she says Moe doesn’t have a chance with someone she deems the opposite “temperature”, it’s not like hot-cold relationships are impossible. Opposites can attract and compliment each other.

Once the English conversation is over, we dive into Moe’s mind, no longer receiving signals from her senses in the deprivation tank. This is what Shiki was getting at: in the tanks, humans shed their bodies and shed the physical world, and the brain takes over, creating worlds from the stuff stored inside. Moe’s dreamscape starts by chasing Saikawa around campus, defying gravity and physics in the process. It’s very light and fun…until Saikawa’s office turns into the room where Moe spoke to Shiki.

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This is where Moe’s trip to the tank seems more than a mere lark by Shimada to see her in a bikini, but a legitimately profound, eye-opening experience. A “dream Shiki” purports to have been “called there” by Moe, where they continue their past conversation. Moe’s parents died in a plane crash, Moe was distraught, and the purple dress she wore that day was thrown out because it had become bloodstained.

Shiki helps Moe remember where that stain came from, which is the same reason Moe was able to survive despite losing everyone dear to her in her life. The blood came from Saikawa, who was there for her. Mad with grief, she struck him in the face, but that didn’t stop him from doing what had to be done, which is simply to hold her and allow her to let it all out. Moe wasn’t alone; she had Saikawa.

Now we know for a certainty why Moe cares for him so much, and stays by his side, and why he won’t reject her, but feels uncomfortable taking things in a romantic direction. Her flashback is a gorgeous sequence that made my heart hurt more than a little, and made up for all the Bad English earlier.

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Shiki seems to be happy for Moe, but at the same time, she pities her and everyone else in the “restricted” physical world, where she’d clearly accomplished everything she thought she could. As more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the possibility arises that Magata Shiki found a way to leave her physical body behind, and still exists somewhere in or about that lab, or possibly in the digital either. The end credits have been hinting at that all along.

On the other hand, everything Moe experienced was more likely all in her own straying mind. The Shiki she conversed with was really just herself. Sure enough, fifteen years ago, after taking the first steps towards freeing herself from the restrictive world by killing her parents, Shiki predicts that she and Shindo will one day be killed. All they can to in the meantime is “live righteously, believing in human pride.”

Is she speaking of her own pride and Shindo’s, or the pride of those who will eventually kill them?  If it’s the latter, than I imagine Shiki, tired of the physical world, wanted someone to kill her and send her to some other, immortal realm; to true freedom. But is that just death, or something more? And if no one could get in or out, did she kill herself, her body possessed by one of her three alternate personalities?

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 06

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With five episodes behind us and five ahead, we’ve reached the middle of Subete ga F, and it’s predictably a crossroads of a kind. Last week ended with a disagreement between Saikawa-sensei and Moe, as well as the introduction of a knife and Shiki likely bringing Shindo into her plan to murder her parents.

Saikawa and Moe have had access to numerous clues, but haven’t solved anything yet, so they return to the campsite, if anything just to get some distance from all the messed-up shit they experienced at the lab.

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Alone on the beach, Saikawa goes over what they’ve learned so far, while Moe does the same in front of her educational colleagues, who wrongly assumed from her demeanor that she confessed and Saikawa rejected her.

She drowns her frustrations in non-alcoholic beer, but somehow, amusingly, gets drunk anyway. Some “non-alcoholic” beer can still be 1% ABV or more, but the can says 0.00%, so I don’t think that’s the case here? As for the can, it seems to be a cross between Sapporo (with the red star) and Kirin Free (white and green can). In any case, Moe is apparently a mean drunk.

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Things get seedier on Saikawa’s end when Yamane offers him a bribe to be a party to conspiracy. They have a big NASA contract coming up, and the police discovering Magata would ruin over a year of work. Saikawa is disgusted, and returns to the other campers.

Later that night, after Moe’s slept off the NAB, she and Saikawa have a nice moment where Saikawa lights a sparkler and talks about how he used to fear fireworks and not comprehend how people could enjoy doing something he perceived as so dangerous.

That’s enough for Moe to deduce that Saikawa’s not leaving the island after all, which means neither is she. She doesn’t care how dangerous it is, she wants answers. She’s close to this, after all. And as long as Saikawa is by her side, she believes she’ll be fine. They go to Yamane and agree to stay quiet for a week if he gives them unfettered access to the lab.

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United by their desire to see this through to the end and discover the truth for themselves, they restart their investigation with a full head of steam. Saikawa believes the killer wrote the three messages on the computer.

Moe discovers a change of elevator positions during the emergence of Magata’s body on the cart. Saikawa observes that all the encyclopedias on Magata’s bookshelf only go up to fifteen, the number of years she lived there. Is “fifteen” the “F” that one message said “everything becomes”?

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Then the final kicker: we watch how the murder of Shiki’s parents goes down. When Shindo hesitates, she takes the knife she gave him and stabs her mother herself. He grabs her from behind, and they essentially plunge the knife into her father together, getting blood all over her and the doll in the process. She spares her aunt, who witnessed everything, and she looks extremely satisfied with how everything went down.

So there we have it: we now know how Shiki killed her parents, and maybe one of the reasons why as well (to free Shindo from the shame of their becoming lovers). It’s yet to be determined how much the details of this incident informs how and why Shiki and Shindo themselves were murdered, but as Moe—who like Shiki, is into an older man—said: Shiki seemed “overcome” by death.

But did she really go “mad” as a result of that? What is “madness” to someone with such a towering intellect? In the second half to come, I imagine we’ll find out; and hopefully it will be an elegant unveiling.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 05

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It was probably present before, but this week more than others I noticed the common theme between the two “couples” in Subete ga F: Shiki and Shindo in the past; Saikawa and Moe in the present. In both cases, the men are unfulfilled, wanting more freedom but being tied down; fearing the very freedom they crave because of what it might cost.

And by the end of the episode both couples arrive at a turning point, as well as a philosophical impasse of sorts. The apparent murder case, so prominent last week, takes a back seat to how being in the Land of Magata Shiki is affecting Saikawa and Moe, even as they act out a very similar scenario to that of the now-dead couple.

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Suffering vivid dreams of the day her own parents died, Moe ends up pumping Shindo’s still-in-shock widow for information. Losing her husband has left her untethered, floating free; but she doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she bakes too many cookies and is happy to tell Moe whatever she wants to hear about the day Shiki’s parents were killed.

But no matter how many details Moe learns, she comes no closer to understanding Shiki or her crimes, to say nothing of accepting them. It’s when she confers with Saikawa that a rift starts to form between them: the playful flirting replaced by increasingly harsh debate over who and what Shiki was.

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Bright as she is, Moe wears her heart on her sleeve and owns herself. She doesn’t feel “tied down” by having one personality she settled on as she grew and matured as a human. Saikawa, however, feels more trapped, both by his job and by the decision most all people make when they grow up to eliminate the contradictions and choose one personality with which to interact with the world…and fit in.

He admires Shiki for never doing that even as she grew up; he even believes she was fulfilling more of her potential as a human than he or Moe or hardly anyone else. He even goes so far as to call her “pure”, which considering her murders and fooling around with her uncle, would sound strange to anyone with conventional ideas of love and ethics…ideas Moe happens to have.

To Moe, when Saikawa starts waxing poetic about Shiki, even though he’s making no direct judgments on her, she feels rejected; it’s as simple as the guy she likes liking another girl more than her. But Moe does have one variable in her favor Shiki lacks: she’s still alive.

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The bookend-ing of flashbacks completes with Shiki purchasing a survival knife for Shindo, calling it “a tool to free oneself.” That could mean many things. Shiki’s parents clearly are unaware of the affair she and her uncle are engaged in. “Freeing oneself,” in that case, would mean making sure that affair stayed secret. Cutting the ropes that tie you down, to be with Shiki, the one who glides over all.

That knife could be the weapon that killed Shiki’s parents, and the doll in the room is Machiru, one of the personalities she carries. By gifting him the knife, Shiki is also forcing Shindo’s hand one way or another; asserting her authority over all these adults in her life by the primacy of her intellect, not things like familial bonds dictate who’s in charge.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 04

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Another week, another episode with more questions than answers. More than once I conjured in my head those words from Alice in Wonderland: Curiouser and curiouser. There is so much that is curious and suspicious about this whole situation.

Saikawa and Moe explore Magata Shiki’s quarters and find quite a few more clues with which they start to piece together a narrative, sticking with practical matters like how the killer dismembered Shiki, stuffer her limbs down the garbage chute, cleaned up the quarters, and got to the roof to kill Shindo in the helicopter.

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But with each new strange discovery they have to amend their working theory, while remaining ignorant to the identity of the one whose actions they’re trying to construct. On her PC, Shiki left three separate notes of farewell and good luck, one of which states the show’s title, “Everything is F”…in lieu of Wonderland’s “Eat Me” or “Drink Me.” But there’s nothing else on the hard drives, just the latest version of Red Magic – two whole versions beyond what the staff had.

The night turns to morning, but there’s no way to know with no windows in the quarters, as if they’d either abandoned by or released from time, depending on who you talk to. As Moe inhabits the space where Shiki once sat and talked to her via video conference,  talking about Shiki’s wedding dress, Saikawa recalls a dress Moe used to wear when she was young, that made her look like a doll.

Dolls are both unfettered by time (as they do not age) and by conventional existence (they lack free will, and can only be manipulated by outside forces). Shiki seems to have built a robot: a kind of doll that thinks and moves on its own, but for a seemingly very limited purpose (locking or unlocking her bedroom door). And I can’t overlook the fact parallels are being drawn between Shiki and Moe, not just in their doll phases, but the fact both lost their parents when they were young.

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The show returns to the past with Shindo in a room with a young Shiki who wants him to touch her, after carrying on conversations between herself and her other personalities. Shindo appears flabbergasted and ashamed, but somehow powerless to cease this strange, alarmingly bright young woman’s whims. He says he’s “falling down a slope”, just as Alice went down a rabbit hole into a completely different world.

And at the end of the day, everything Moe and Saikawa find themselves tangled in that same world. It’s Shiki’s world, and they’re just living in it. She was presented as a doll on a robotic cart, and even before that seemed to invite manipulation from others like Shindo. But the good professor and his bright young protege could now be dolls under her control. Furthermore, she may not be fully gone; though her body is dead, Mahiru and Red Magic Version 6.0 invite so many intriguing possibilities.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 03

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I went into this episode hoping for some answers but prepared for more questions, and got both. First, the indisputable answers: the figure in the wedding dress on the robotic cart is, in fact Magata Shiki. Magata Shiki is dead, and because her arms and legs were amputated, someone murdered her.

The rest—how she was murdered when no one went in her room, nor did she ever leave, in fifteen years—remains, well, a mystery. To say nothing of the identity and motive of the killer.

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As a result of encountering Shiki’s delimbed corpse, everyone, including Saikawa and Moe, are in a bit of shock; not knowing quite how they feel, let alone how they should feel. But Saikawa and Moe are also two uncommonly smart cookies, so they soon find a bit of solace from the horror before them in trying to unravel the mystery that comes with it.

The geography of the room and its apertures (one big, one small); the impeccably-kept surveillance tapes spanning a decade and a half (they didn’t rewind-and-reuse, like convenience stores); the custom security system called “Red Magic” that is so flawless, last week’s error seems planned; there’s a lot to sift through, and Saikawa attempts to do so; sucking down cigarette after cigarette in the process.

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Then Director Shindo arrives on the island via helicopter with Shiki’s younger (but notably more adult-looking) sister Miki, who is shocked to learn Shiki is dead. Moe, while going over in her head the part of her video conversation with Shiki relating to her feelings for Saikawa, thinks it somewhat coincidental that Miki, the last surviving Magata, should arrive around the same time her sister is found dead and mutilated.

For the record, we also learn how Moe met Saikawa (when she was a fifth grader) and why she developed feelings for him (he was the first adult she ever met who was smarter than her). The implication is, her towering intellect had made her hunger for stimulation; for a challenge.

While she initially hated Saikawa for being smarter, she clearly now sees him as a means for her to exercise her intellect. He expanded her humdrum world, by doing nothing at all but existing.

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It seems like Moe is about to mention something about her (deceased) parents, but Saikawa is concerned with how late Shindo is; when they return to the helipad, they find him dead from a knife to the back of the neck. It’s another surefire murder,  and just as Shiki never left her room, he never left the helicopter cockpit, and only used thumbs-up from inside. Perhaps the killer was there all along. But then what’s Mika’s part in all this?

Even more intriguing—and more than a little, well, wrong—is another monologue by the director accompanying another flashback (the one in the car last week was indeed a flashback involving a younger Shiki). This past Shiki is confirmed as only thirteen, but as he puts it, it’s “a long thirteen years”, in which she absorbed and retained everything she possibly could, and now wanted to “lose” something…which is pretty heavily implied to be her virginity.

It was up to Shindo, the adult in this situation, to put a stop to whatever was going on in the car and Ferris Wheel, but for various reasons, he couldn’t. Now both he and Shiki are dead; murdered…by who? How? Why? We’ll need quite a bit more ‘expository dialogue’ to find out.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 02

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Professor Saikawa leads a group of college students on a camping trip to Himaka Island, but as far as Moe is concerned, it’s a golden opportunity for just the two of them to spend some quality time together outside of the university, smitten as she is for the young professor.

As much as she was looking forward to this trip (according to her butler), she gets pouty whenever the subject of the island’s most (in)famous inhabitant, Magata Shiki, comes up. Could it be she pulled strings to contacte Magata and had that recorded conversation just to get to better know the person she’s battling for Saikawa’s attention and enthusiasm?

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Once they arrive at the island and set up camp, Saikawa is quick to branch off on his own, as is his wont, while Moe is just as quick to join him, the two of them alone like she prefers. Here Moe shows a little more dimension beyond infatuation when she calls Saikawa out, asking straight up why he keeps her around “if he doesn’t like her.”

Saikawa’s frank response—that he doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to outside of work hours, such as the present time—appeases Moe, but also emboldens her to want to go to the beach at night and drink alone with him; but Saikawa demurs, pulling the age card, even though he knows full well despite her looks Moe is nearly twenty, and capable of making these kind of decisions.

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Then there’s a raven-haired maiden in a white shift being driven by the director of the Magata Lab. Curiously, she demands the same basic things that Moe demands: to see the beach at night, drink alcohol, and the like. Furthermore, she inquires as to what the director’s wife is up to and what his own obligations for the evening are, then places her hands upon his as he clutches the gearshift and gives him a look that’s equal parts seduction and menace.

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To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on in that car, or even who the girl is: is it Magata’s little sister, whom the lab’s second-in-command helpfully informs Moe and Saikawa is off retrieving when Moe’s fake headache grants them access? Or is it Shiki herself? We see that Moe is either also interested in learning more about Magata, or is doing what she feels is the best way to get to Saikawa: by helping him meet his idol.

As for the lab itself, arriving there, exploring it, and being introduced to the various employees, it all has the flavor of an Agatha Christie novel, complete with shifty expressions, mysterious loyalties and backgrounds…and a locked room, wherein Magata Shiki herself has apparently dwelt for fifteen years without stepping outside…

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…A streak that appears to end after an apparent system-wide bug dramatically flashes the lights as a white-veiled, red-lipped Shiki, or something looking just like her which Moe insists is Shiki, blasts out atop one of the robotic trays that carried headache medicine to Moe not ten minutes earlier.

Naturally, Moe uses this frightening experience to grasp her beloved professor’s arm tightly, but something tells me that despite Shiki’s murderous past, she’s not going to be a physical threat so much as a psychological one, a possibility reinforced by the director’s monologue about his life being “ruled…and toyed with”, or rather wanting it to be “ruled…and toyed with”, by the girl in his car.

Again, still not entirely clear what’s going on, but I’m definitely intrigued, if a bit bemused.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 01 (First Impressions)

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Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is the title of a painting by Paul Gaugain, painted in Tahiti.  He considered the work his magnum opus, and he intended, tried, and failed to take his own life upon its completion. The title is an inscription in the top left corner of the piece, and may have been painted only after the attempted suicide. The three questions paraphrase those asked in a lesson by his liturgy teacher in school, which clearly stuck with the painter.

Those same three basic questions are asked several times in Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, an intriguing mystery show full of precise compositions, dramatic lighting, subtle facial expressions, complicated emotions, philosophical discussion, a striking opening image of a girl sitting beside a beached and decaying shipwreck, and a cute college student who drives an slick new Alfa Romeo 4C to work at the office of her professor, whom she is pretty obviously in love with.

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The cute college student with the bob is Nishinosono Moe. The object of her attentions and affection is Saikawa Souhei. We first see “Where They Were” separately: Saikawa in some kind of awful meeting, Moe getting up and driving to work. Then we see “Where They Are”: simply coexisting in the office; Saikawa reading something on his computer and smoking while Moe makes coffee and waters the plants. Then we go back to “Where Moe Was”, when she “meets” the enigmatic Professor Magata Shiki.

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I say “meet” because Magata communicates through a video feed. But Moe’s encounter with her establishes Moe as academically and philosophically sharp. She’s in over her head with someone of Magata’s towering academic stature, but she comes in confident and with a plan of action, and Magata notices.

Back in the present, Saikawa goes off somewhere, and a lady named Gido arrives whom Moe is pretty sure is her romantic competition, and her mood changes considerably as a result when Saikawa returns. She tries to hash it out with him, but is interrupted by another student, Kunieda.

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When Saikawa goes out to lunch, he invites Moe, who reveals she spoke to Magata, something Saikawa hasn’t done, despite his esteem for the famous professor. Magata also happens to be infamous, due to the allegations she murdered both of her parents (she tells Moe what she told authorities: “A doll did it,” but then she does look very doll-like).

Once again Moe’s alone time with Saikawa is disrupted by interlopers (students Hamanaka and Kushieda). But Moe exploits their presence to plan a trip to the very island where Magata self-exiled herself and now studies at her lab in seclusion. And so now we know “Where They’re Going.”

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Once there, they’re sure to learn more about Magata, who asked the big existential questions—and asked some of her own—when she was only five. Normally, that’d be an indication Magata now has a brain the size of a planet, were it not for Saikawa’s continuing assertion throughout the episode that everyone is born a genius, and grows progressively stupider as they age and learn to interact with others.

Magata, who is a hermit, may have avoided some of that society-driven degradation, and hence Saikawa considers everything he’s accomplished (and he’s a top young mind himself) to only be a drop in the ocean of Magata’s greatness. In other words, the perfect rival for Saikawa’s intellect, as well as Moe’s rival for Saikawa’s attention.

A quiet, mature, contemplative show about very smart adults, morality, mortality, intrigue, and a weird love triangle?—I like where Subete ga F ni Naru is. Will I like where it’s going?

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Gundam: G no Reconguista – 04

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Aida pointing out the fact not much happened this week

When the Capital Army Commander hears that Director Zellam, Noredo and Raraiya have been “taken hostage” by the pirates, he uses it an excuse to launch a military attack under the guise of a non-military rescue mission. Not only is the justification and classification flimsy, it violates the “Ag-Tech taboo against the advancement of science.” It would seem the use of advanced warmechs like Caitsiths is to be minimized as much as possible as the world “recovers” from what must have been a destructive, catastrophic war that may well have had beginnings just as modest as a captured official’s son.

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Where I start to kinda lose Recon in G is this taboo: I mean, if certain levels of technology aren’t allowed, why do the Caitsiths and Rectons and whatnot exist? I mean, shouldn’t building them have been just as taboo? It doesn’t really matter; the condition of the earth is kind of in the background anyway. Taboos aside, Bellri’s own instructor Dellensen leads the Capital Army mission to rescue him and the civvies, resulting in another somewhat awkward battle and the deaths of several men, none of which had to actually happen.

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I will say, that is a nice classic design

While Bell is piloting the G-Self to further examine it on Lt. “Genius” Klim’s orders, Capital arrives, giving the pirates an ultimatum. Bell wants to talk them down, but when the crucial moment to do so arrives, he learns he can only receive, not send, communications. Klim picks a fight, and the needless battle ensues, in which Dellensen loses a good number of pilots. Still, they’re nameless, faceless pilots that we can’t and don’t really care about. The typical Gundam Move of One Side Retreating for the Time Being ensues, and we’re back where we started: with Bell, Noredo and Raraiya as “guests” of Aida and the pirates.

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“How long do I have to Mondaysit?”

Somewhat worryingly, on top of being an episode with a battle that only happened because of a stupid busted radio as the centerpiece, there was little to no character development for anyone. Bell and Aida’s interactions were all business without even a hint of romance, Klim is still a punk who’s constantly calling himself a genius, Noredo is just kind of around, periodically glaring at Aida, and Raraiya continues to be an amnesiac cypher. Is she ever going to be able to talk normally? I hope so. I hope a lot of things happen next week, because the retro sheen is rapidly fading.

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No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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No Game No Life – 03

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Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

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Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

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But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

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In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

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When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

8_ses

No Game No Life – 02

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Rock-Paper-Scissors is a very simple game, and a lot of psychology goes into its play. Stephanie Dora loses because she gets lost in analysis of her own strategy, and doesn’t consider the fact that Sora has a pretty good idea what it is. She fails to figure out that he had it all figured out, and loses. But the win isn’t particularly impressive (and Steph’s inner strategizing goes on a bit too long for my taste), because as Sora says: there was no way she was going to win; she’s just too emotional and easily riled.

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She was also coming off a fresh and devastating loss to Kurami and wearing nothing but a sheet over her panties, which couldn’t have helped her confidence. Sora may not have gotten a challenge, but he didn’t want one: he merely used a bet with Steph to test the power of the ten pledges. When he commands her to fall in love with him, she falls under his spell, but only intermittently. I liked the idea of the pledges being that ironclad, but it stumbled a bit in execution, Steph’s constant smashing of her head against things in an effort to shake off the spell got a little old after a while.

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That being said, I appreciated the manic energy both Hisaka Yoko and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu brough to Steph and Sora, respectively. Lest we forget, Sora’s not a normal human being, nor is Shiro; a point beautifully reinforced when they grow too far apart from one another. That intense co-dependence may make a future romantic pairing between Sora and Steph a bit tricky, but on the flipside, their absolute trust in one another makes them such a powerful gaming duo, Steph starts to believe they could be the key to saving the kingdom of humanity. More to the point, Sora’s thinking big, aiming squarely at the throne.

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Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle – 01

Daimon Kaito is a puzzle-solving genius with boundless potential. His classmate Jikugawa lends him a PDA containing a series of puzzles, which he proceeds to quickly solve. When he does, he is invited by the “Minotaur” to a grand puzzle with many stages, but with this one, his life is on the line, as well as his friend Nonoha’s, who tags along. With her help, he clears the initial stage, and he is then furnished a golden armband and a red seeing eye, which will help him use all of his brain to solve the puzzles to come.

We here at RABUJOI love it when are expectations are exceeded. Basing our assumptions on little more than the title, we thought this was going to be a somewhat childish romp involving puzzles. Turns out…well, it kinda is, but who cares? It kicks way more ass than we predicted. Kaito is a somewhat Bossun-looking lead, and while his promise to his dad (solve those poor lonely puzzles 0_o ) it’s clear this is just a kid whose brain needs to be constantly challenged. The fiery Nonoha kinda reminds me of Miyoshi from Bakuman – but is voiced by Lain!

Let’s face it, none of the character designs are super original, but they are well-executed and attractive, and full of life and energy, too. The animation was excellent, the soundtrack was very eclectic and as for the puzzles, well, let’s just say it felt like we were watching Myst in anime form, what with the tricky practical puzzles where you may die if you screw up. The system underlying Minotaur – Einstein and Orpheus and whatnot – still somewhat escape us, but this was a great introduction, and we’ll be watching next week.


Rating: 3.5