Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 01

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I’m all through with Steins;Gate, neither Gunslinger nor Plamemo really wowed me, and I’m just itching for Sidonia season two right now, so I thought I’d fill the void with the latest imagining of a very old acquaintance. I also dug Psycho-Pass, which was clearly inspired by GitS, so I decided to give re-entering the franchise a shot.

That said, I’m what you’d call a GitS tourist. I’m not even sure GitS is the preferred way of abbreviating the title for the sake of brevity. I watched the first two movies in relatively close succession ages ago (the first is a classic and the second isn’t bad), but there my exposure ends; I never so much as caught a dubbed episode of SAC in its entirety on Adult Swim.

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That means I also missed the long-form OVAs that were releaed between June 2013 and last September. Alternative Architecture is a second chance to catch Arise in the midst of a TV season, and I’m taking it, so I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance going forward. I also hope you’ll forgive me if these aren’t the most timely reviews; due to time constraints I’ve got to choose my shows carefully.

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This first episode efficiently reintroduces us to the world of cyborgs with cyberbrains and prosthetic bodies and virtual ghosts, and to Kusanagi Motoko, Badass, now voiced by one of my favorite seiyus since her debut in Escaflowne, Sakamoto Maaya. She also contributes vocals to the suitably hip, electronic OP composed by Cornelius.

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Like Tsunemori Akane in PSYCHO-PASS, Motoko in Arise is faced with a new threat to the fabric of the society she semi-grugingly participates in: a terrorist plot to infect cyberbrains with a virus that turns people into puppets with which to wreak havoc. The culprit of one such attack is a young woman, a war orphan and talented programmer with an aversion to cyberization. As the shot above indicates, Motoko doesn’t have the full picture yet, but she’s sent to escort this individual, who hosts the virus, to a secure location for analysis

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This host, called Emma, immediately tries to start sowing the seeds of doubt in her captors Motoko and Batou, asking them if they can truly trust their memories anymore now that she (or whomever is controlling this prosthetic body) has found a way to create false memories within cyberbrains. And because Motoko is an impatient badass, she dives right into Emma to see what she can see.

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There, she finds a second ghost within her, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess is a rarity. It’s clear Motoko may not just be fighting terrorists, but continuing to butt heads with the government supervisors and bureaucrats who may not share her ideals, but nonetheless technically own her body.

While Arise’s first episode had some thrilling set pieces, particularly in the beginning, there were some scenes in which all momentum stopped while old guys talked about dense stuff I only had the slightest handle on. There’s also a b-plot involving tracking and capturing another terrorist that wasn’t all that gripping despite its best efforts.

I can chalk the pacing issues up to this being the first part of a larger, feature-length piece. I also rather liked the way sound was used in the episode: scenes of aural cacophony juxtaposed with dead silence or slight white noises lent aural reinforcement to the tense, out-of-balance atmosphere of Arise’s world.

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Kyoukai no Rinne – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sakura-chan is a freshman who can see ghosts. Rokudou is the frequently absent student who sits next to her in class. He’s poor and can turn invisible to everyone except Sakura when he wants to.

Together, they resolve small time between the living and the dead.

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The premier introduces us to Rokudou’s weird life, which includes sending a gigantic Chihuahua to the afterlife while only Sakura can see them in in the middle of home room.

Later, they exercise a fellow student’s cell phone, which is being called by a 7-years-dead student who they discover was a classmate with their homeroom teacher and died before he could get his beloved track suit back behind the gym and… and the whole story plays like a run on sentence.

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All the elements of humor are here: the weirdness, the Sabagebu style narrator, the misbehavior only one character can see being done in front of (or to) her friends. Unfortunately, it’s not very funny.

There’s no punch to joke delivery or the micro-drama. There’s barely any sound design (let alone music) playing behind it too. KnR is just a quiet, mildly weird, string of stuff happening inoffensively for 24 minutes.

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It actually reminds me of community theatre, in that budget stage work often involves an actor to be on stage where we can see them, even when the other actors must portray characters who can not. We see Rokudou, as Sakura does, and their is no special effect to visually separate his spirit-state that makes him invisible to the other students.

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You may like it: if you set your expectations low. The humor really is here, it’s just so dead pan and the characters are played so unemotionally, that I found it hard to laugh with OR at.

You may want to skip it: because it’s unremarkable on every level. KnR is not ugly, but plain and discount quality animation and has no audio presence. It’s not dull either, or not funny. Rather, the lack of excitement and simplicity of the visual elements snubs the delivery.

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I’m definitely not going to follow this show but I am curious: was this a manga that converted very poorly to Anime? Or am I totally missing something that should make this special?

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Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 10

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Who is Furukawa Yui?

Sure, she’s an artificially-created body sent back in time to save Kaori. But that mission has made her far more than that. With each failed attempt that resets the timeline, she amasses more memories and feelings, becoming a more and more integral participant in the mission, rather than a simple observe-and-protect role.

Again and again the universe finds a way to kill Kaori, and Yui feels close to a solution that’s an intricate balance of intricate planning and limited intervention. But working alone without the ability to ask for help from anyone else (for obvious reason) put her at an instant disadvantage against the universe, and it doesn’t play down to its opponent.

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Yui even has time against her. While she’s been able to go back a great number of times (dozens? thousands?), going back has very real consequences. More and more of her afterimages appear, stirring up rumors of ghosts, while anyone who comes in contact with them falls into a coma and never wakes up, a “syndrome” that is probably their consciousness being sucked into a different timeline. Yikes!

After seeing how hard the rest of the Astronomy Club and a haunted Sou in particular worked to make Yui’s mission possible last week, this week did everything from her perspective, and really made a case for just how difficult juggling the cumulative variables has become for her, including one variable that has nothing to do with temporarl oscillations or runaway buses.

That variable is love. Her love for Sou, in particular. Remember that Yui was originally a prototype for a body that would hold Kaori’s consciousness, freeing her from the body the accident had destroyed. I maintain that some if not most of Kaori either transferred or copied to Yui unbeknownst to Sou or the others.

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If that’s the case, the love triangle of Yui, Kaori, and Sou is really a triangle of two different Kaoris and Sou; one more complication in what’s looking like a mission that was doomed from the start.

At the same time, Yui can’t be passed off as a mere copy or knockoff of Kaori any more than she can be dismissed (or dismiss herself) as a tool; not after everything she’s been through. All of those trips, all of those wonderful memories she has with Sou and the others before Kaori dies, keep building up, and each time she touches The Box they all come surging back.

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Sou may only be joking when he says Yui is like “an old woman” for sitting out in the sun, but perhaps she is very old indeed, in terms of her life experience and the amount of cumulative time and happiness she’s spent with Sou (none of which he could possibly know about).

Right now, with time running out, Yui believes the only way to Kaori is if Sou loves her. Each time we’ve seen her die was before he could properly respond to her, so there’s something to that. But Yui may be overlooking something, because to her this is a Mission and she’s an expendable element. 

Maybe the only real way to save Kaori is for Yui to let herself love Sou. If there’s a part Kaori in her consciousness, the clashing of that part with the Kaori in the past could be what’s triggering the latter Kaori’s death, as if time and the universe were correcting the paradox of two girls with identical love for Sou.

I’ll admit I may be a bit free-wheeling (and way off!) in my theories and analysis here,  but I love how this show really gets the ol’ noggin churning, which can’t be a bad thing!

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Bleach – 01

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On this evening, 10 years, or 3,652 days, or 87,648 hours, or 5,258,880 seconds ago, the premiere of Bleach aired on TV Tokyo during the network’s 40th anniversary on the air…and the world was never the same. Well, maybe that’s overstating things…but the world was most definitely slightly different for me, as Bleach would go on to be the first contemporary anime I’d follow regularly, and at one point, religiously.

Like another popular animated series, Bleach went on too long, and I watched too long; in hindsight I’d have retired from the show at the conclusion of its third season after a total of 63 episodes. After that came the first of many excrutiating “anime-original” arcs that, also in hindsight, weren’t worth my precious time (or yours). That was a perfectly respectable three seasons.

Bleach’s best years happened long before RABUJOI was a glimmer in its reclusive founder’s eye, so on the tenth anniversary of its premiere airing, I thought it would be fun to give it a standard RABUJOI review, as if I were picking it up for the new Fall 2004 Season (Mind you, I won’t write it as my ten-years-younger self; that wouldn’t be good for anyone.) Enjoy!

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A gloomy, colorless dimension: two black objects shoot up out of a larger mass. Cut to the real world at night. We have no form, therefore we fear it. Two objects fall onto a sidewalk; their faces show for a moment. And because we are formless, we revere it. Then cut to a solitary girl in a black perched on a telephone pole, admiring the full moon before bounding over the town. Thus we are slain. Striking images, striking words (displayed, not spoken). An enticing prologue overall. So far so good!

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Cut to a punkish-looking kid beating up other punks. Turns out he’s mad over them knocking over the flowers left for a recently-deceased girl, so he’s a punk with a heart as gold as his head, which looks bleached. The dead girl thanks him: she’s a ghost, but Kurosaki Ichigo can see ghosts. At home, above the clinic his dad runs, dad ambushes Ichigo, and a heated battle commences as his more mature little sisters tuck in to dinner. Ichigo isn’t hungry, so goes to bed. Nice looking family; worth fighting for.

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The next morning is eventful and strange, with Ichigo running into the ghost girl again, who is on the run from a ferocious monster with a very distinctive, Godzilla-esque roar. As the brute bears down, the girl cloaked in black gives it a taste of her katana, then another, and it’s gone. Then she’s gone, and the color and sound of the world returns. Increased ghost sightings, now monsters? Ichigo is troubled.

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That night the girl in black breaks into his room and ignores him as if he’s not there, earning her a kick in the ass, killing the dark, serious mood in the best way. The girl is amazed he can see her, but identifies herself as a shinigami, charged with killing monsters like the one he saw that morning, as well as sending more docile ghosts to Soul Society, i.e. heaven. Ichigo voices his disbelief and calls her a stupid brat, and for that gets hit with a kido binding spell. The shinigami explains the particulars of the system: plus good, hollow bad, soul burial good. It’s an infodump, but efficiently delivered with a dash of comedy, thanks to her silly drawings.

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The mood becomes dark again when hollows invade Ichigo’s house, and they don’t fuck around, going straight for Ichigo’s beloved little sisters. The shinigami springs into action without unbinding him, but he breaks the magic with sheer shounen will…and yelling. He jumps out in front of the hollow to make it drop Karin, and the shinigami has to come between them to save them, gravely wounding herself in the process.

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The hollow is stunned but not dead, so the bloodied shinigami gets a crazy idea, based upon all the unheard-of-for-a-human abilities Ichigo has thus far exhibited. She’ll lend him, say, half of her shinigami powers so he can finish the hollow and save them all, telling him her name in the process: Kuchiki Rukia. But Ichigo isn’t a halfway kinda guy, and ends up taking all her powers. Donning the same black-and-white garb as her and wielding a Freakin’ Huge Sword, Ichigo takes care of business, easily dispatching his first hollow in the first moments of his new job as Substitute Shinigami.

On the whole, this was the kind of episode that mercilessly tempts you to watch on. It lays out a lot, and gets a little talky at times, but still leaves so much up in the air that I can’t help but want to tune in to see what comes next. While Ichigo initially comes off as a bit of a dick for stealing all of Rukia’s powers, he doesn’t do it intentionally, and did it out of a desire to protect his family. It struck a nice balance of action, comedy, and supernatural elements wrapped in a stylish package, somewhat rough animation aside, with a memorable soundtrack to boot. I think this show could go far!

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Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!? – 07

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The Roommates practice their roles for the play, with Tulip training Satomi especially hard in Knightly duties — including fighting. Satomi takes his lumps but learns quickly.

Apparently the villainous villain is “Clan,” Tulip’s sister and second crown princess to the empire. Tulip says Clan has a stealth ship, which is why they cant find her. Why she is explaining this to Satomi (who doesn’t care) during there a tea break is rather questionable.

Her reasons for training him to be a Knight are pretty dubious for that matter. He’s only supposed to walk around on stage in costume for goodness sakes…

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“it would be pointless to go looking for her” – Tulip says while Clan is hiding in the closet behind to her. Smooth!

Clan makes several attempts on Tulip’s life but is regularly thwarted by Satomi. In fact, Satomi is first to notice Clan, who’s terrible at stealth because she’s clearly evil and conspicuous amongst the theatre club. (regardless of wearing their school uniform)

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Meanwhile, Ruth has discovered Hercules-chan but hasn’t figured out that ‘the cute bug’ is a ‘beetle.’ So she hasn’t gotten made yet. Because aliens know everything about everything except that we call certain types of insects beetles. Gotcha!

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“I have come from untold time and distance” – Blue Knight

The Blue Knight’s introductory lines to the Gray Princess sound and awful lot like the premise to El Hazard. That the princess doesn’t recognize his crests either — and remember Tulip just submitted her nation’s legend word for word — make it look more and more like we’re going to have a time travel other world moment somewhere in the future.

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Apparently Boob-chan is the only one to notice this. Though, for added mystery, she’s heard the same line from… some guy that gave her a trading card or something. It’s unclear, honestly.

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The conflict climaxes on the eve of the festival, with Satomi saving the day on several levels and Clan being completely defeated. Satomi even gets a dragon ball style charge up moment to break through Clan’s defense field.

Then Tulip knights Satomi while he’s sleeping through the credits. (episode end)

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Seven weeks in and RnS is has cornered the market on watchability the way Bud Light has cornered the market on drinkability. It’s absolute minimum effort and quality necessary to keep a viewer’s eyes on the screen and their brain function just above absent.

A mystery has been eluded to but who can care? This was a wacky antics comedy for 3 episodes, remember? It’s not like there’s anything at steak hear — for goodness sake! The worst that can happen is 4/5 of the characters lose their claims on a 10×10 apartment that has, thus far, shown no significance other than they all ended up there!

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Still, drinkability is drinkability! The character interactions are more fluid now. Their relationships a little more believable and nuanced. Amidst all the nonsense, Satomi even asks Tulip to teach him how to dance and it’s half way cute, in a Tsundere sort of way.

But my goodness! I’m not invested in this show and it’s clearly going to ramble on in a predictable-yet-random direction for at least 6 more episodes, I think I’m going to leave it where it is. Satomi is knighted. He’s going to travel time and space somehow and several of the girls will probably get happy endings, one way or another.

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Final Note: The best moment since the premiere was Ruth, having realized the Beetle is a Beetle, chasing Cosplay-chan and Hercules saying ‘Shoo! Shoo!’ with an angry Japanese accent. If there was every a sound byte worthy of a ring tone or an alarm clock in my life, this would be it!