Astra Lost in Space – 04 – Songstress of the Mushroom Kingdom

In addition to action, adventure, and danger, there’s also quite a bit of plain old life aboard the Astra, and whenever the crew is not working against the clock to save their skins, there are little quiet moments of that life: Zack accidentally walking in on a naked Quitterie (and even worse for her, not blushing about it); Funi coming up with a new way to address Kanata (“Aye, yeah!”); or Kanata basically telling the traitor, whoever they are, to “do their worst.”

In the meantime, the crew is going to focus on food and water, not investigations that will waste time and sink morale. While I’m sure the mystery traitor will cause more problems down the road, I’m glad it’s not totally dominating the narrative or the headspace of the crew members. Instead, the crew splits up to find food on the planet Shummoor, a name that sounds kind of like “mushroom,” and thus a hint about who or rather what is the true king of the planet.

Thanks to some friendly Gruppies, one team makes it back to the ship with giant cacti full of water, while the other team has a pretty big haul of delicious fruits. Unfortunately, those fruits spoil almost immediately after being picked, making them unsuitable for storage. This presents a serious problem: their first day’s haul of food will only be good for five days at most; not nearly enough to reach the next planet.

After Ulgar earlier called the towering Yunhua a “big girl” and “useless”, Luca’s thoughtless joking words about being worried Yunhua inadvertently eating all of what little food they have are the last straw. Aries and Kanata find Yunhua’s glasses and a note saying she’s left the ship and will stay behind for the benefit of everyone else.

Naturally, Captain Hoshijima is not going to remotely accept that; each crew member is precious, regardless of their talents or other perceived value. Thankfully both Luca and Ulgar show at least a measure of remorse for their ugly words.

As to Yunhua’s crushing lack of self-esteem, it’s chalked up to Yunhua’s dream to sing like her mother (a famous professional singer) and that selfish mother’s commitment to making sure Yunhua not only never sings to anyone, but remains as invisible as possible.

Even though Kanata has skills for which he’s been praised (and indeed qualities that made him the consensus captain), he can still empathize with Yunhua, for the trauma in his past stems from an inability to do anything to save his sensei. He knows what it’s like to feel useless, but what’s even more useless is to keep feeling that way.

But Yunhua leaving the ship isn’t the crisis of the week, it’s the mushrooms, specifically, when the Pole Tree releases poisonous spores that knock out Aries, Zack, Luca, Ulgar, Funi, and Charce, who at leasts manages to send an SOS to Kanata warning him not to take his helmet off.

Every planet is going to have a bit of an edge of danger to it—it’s built into human nature to fear the unknown—but I like how Astra smartly builds up its threats with clues, while also presenting possible solutions that, while not impossible, still require the crew to work together—or for individual members to do what is necessary when it’s their turn.

Dr. Quitterie is stumped; the medical supplies on the ship can only make the six patients a little more comfortable, but aren’t sufficient to cure them. As Kanata did with the traitor mystery, Quitterie drops her beef with Yunhua running away (and risking everyone else’s life to look for her) and asks her to help out with the patients.

Charce, still barely conscious, figures out the process of the predatory Pole Trees that rule Shummoor, and their symbiotic relationship to the moss and other plants. When Kanata asks if the ecosystem has some kind of limiter on the predation of animals, Charce says there could be an antidote out there: a medicinal mushroom. Sure enough, Yunhua used that very mushroom earlier to cure an ill gruppie. Kanata runs back out there to find some.

He has no luck, and worse, Quitterie succumbs to the spores, having been around the infected so much. That means the only non-bedridden crew member on the ship is Yunhua. Remembering her chat with Kanata about her dream to sing but reluctance to defy her mom, Yunhua steps up and finally does what only she can do: sing to her ill crewmates, sing with all her might, and by doing so create a soothing atmosphere suitable for healing.

As she envisions herself on the stage, in a glittering purple gown, with her bangs out of her face, belting out a reassuring song, Kanata realizes that the Pole Tree won’t allow access to the antidote fruits unless he’s suffering the symptoms of the poisonous spores. So, in true Classic Sci-Fi Captain-y fashion, he takes a huge gamble, removes his helmet, and lets himself be poisoned.

 

Sure enough, the medicinal mushrooms reveal themselves before him, he eats enough to get back on his feet, and the very gruppie he and Yunhua saved gives him a ride back to the Astra. The other ill crew members eat the mushrooms and recover.

The captain put his crew before himself and they are grateful for it. But Yunhua is even more grateful for Kanata helping her break her chains of self-loathing, leading to her playing a vital role  in the crew’s recovery.

As for the crew, they’ve likely learned some vital lessons for future planetary excursions: just because a plant or a mushroom doesn’t have teeth or a roar doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous or deadly. Anything in this vast universe is capable of ruling a kingdom, and mere humans interlope at their own risk.

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Astra Lost in Space – 03 – This Is NOT It!

Aries has heterochromia. It’s a detail I never noticed in the first two episodes, until it was explicitly mentioned this week. I thought I was so sure they were the same color, but I looked back on those episodes, and sure enough, one of her eyes is more yellow; the other more green. My eyes just…didn’t notice.

It’s a subtle and clever way for the show to communicate not only that one’s eyes (or other senses) can fool them, but that things could be going on right out in the open and we may not even notice them until it’s too late. The same goes for Kanata, who both suspects and doesn’t suspect everyone. Like us, he may suspect Yunhua and Ulgar the most, but just because we know the least about them.

On their twenty-fourth day in space, Zack anounces that the Astra has arrived at Planet #2, Shummoor, but the rest of the crew is too busy shooting the breeze, which should be seen as progress. Then Funi (and her puppet) start talking about how she was adopted the same day she arrived an an orphanage, and how she overheard adults saying “put her on Beego and we’ll illuminate them all.”

Change “Beego” to “B-go (or 5)” and “illuminate” to “eliminate”, and it sure looks like everyone was put on this ship because they wanted to get rid of them in one fell swoop. With this theory afoot, Kanata decides to tell the others that there’s a traitor in their midst. Ulgar finally reveals something about himself: he’s the estranged son of the school vice principal, a man able to transfer students and choose who goes on what team.

I loved that this exchange marked the return of the haunting music that backed up the first episode’s cold open; a piece that captures both the unfathomable size of space and the equally unfathomable variety of perils it offers. And yet the greatest danger to everyone may be someone among them, not anything out there.

All this talk of a traitor is too much for Quitterie, who loses her composure, even pushing Aries away when she tries to comfort her. The fact is, no one can prove they are or are not the traitor. So Aries decides to table that particular dilemma for now, and have some snacks before heading down to the planet.

Both in this defusing of a volatile situation and in the insight she offers vis-a-vis the possibility of the traitor being on the kill list themselves, making theirs a suicide mission—Aries proves she’s far brainier and tougher than her space-cadet-with-a-photographic memory exterior would suggest.

In the midst of the discussion about this potentially suicidal traitor, another act of apparent sabotage goes down: a hole is blown in the ship’s hull, rupturing a water pipe.

Charce finds fragments and determines that it was an accident, not treachery from one of their own: a meteor pierced the hull, causing damage that if not repaired will spell the end of the ship. It’s actually comforting that it was a truly random, chaotic event, something that happens in space all the time, and something even the traitor did not expect to happen when it happened.

After reciting a couple more lame, vague “survival tips,” Kanata quickly and decisively assigns tasks to each member of the crew, each according to their strengths as he knows them. And after the events of last week, where he made decisions and acted when no one else could, the crew responds by going along with his assignments without protest. He also instills in everyone a palpable sense of “we can do this” by dint of sheer charisma.

The crew springs into action…well, all but Yunhua. Yunhua gets water in her face and some of it ends up down her throat. Because water forms balls in zero-G, she starts to drown, but Quitterie, the closest thing to a medic on the crew, acts quickly to save her, absorbing the water with a cloth. Yunhua is left alone to rest, and while it’s highly unlikely she meant to almost drown, I couldn’t help but think she was up to something arranging to be left on the bridge with no one watching.

Once a series of cables connect the backup generator with the gravity reactor thingamajig (technobabble), the system still throws and error due to a weird bird/bug-like critter flying about that the computer does not recognize. If they can’t nab it, they’ll plummet to their deaths.

The resident marksman, Ulgar, volunteers to shoot the thingy with Luca’s glue gun, as Luca and Kanata keep him steady. He succeeds, and the ship’s gravity and power are restored, halting its death dive into the planet’s atmosphere. Thanks to the talents of the individual crew, and their ability to work together as a unity under Kanata’s direction, the latest crisis is averted.

But that doesn’t change the fact there’s a traitor in their midst. As Luca praises Ulgar’s marksmanship and claims that with a real gun he’d be “unstoppable,” Kanata retorts that guns haven’t been legal in a very long time. And yet there Ulgar goes, into his quarters, to pull out a case containing…a gun.

Could it be as simple as one of the most obvious suspects in the crew actually being the traitor? Or is the reveal of the gun more misdirection? Like Aries’ different colored eyes, the answers may have already stared me in the face long before I discover them for myself…

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 19

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Due to the Dort excursion, it’s been a while since the last big space battle. I was hungry for a new one, and this show delivered a feast with its usual excelent timing. Before the battle commences, however, Kudelia gets her long overdue handshake with Mika.

In her first such attempt (in the very first episode), Mika demurred because his hand was dirty, but she never cared about dirt, and now her hands are dirty too, and whatever their personal inadequacies tell them, they’re on more equal terms than ever, with a united cause.

Kudelia also warmly thanks Orga and Tekkadan for getting her this far (and she’s sure they’ll take her further still), promising to make them all happy. As she glances at Fumitan’s empty chair, it’s also clear she doesn’t want her maid’s sacrifice be in vain, any more than all the other people whose blood is on – and dreams are in – her hands.

We also get a nice symmetry between Commander Carta Issue, who choreographs her men as part of their preparations for battle, and Eugene getting all fired up on Isaribi. Both strive to meet their personal ideal of cool to all around them. Eugene wants to be like Orga. Carta, as it happens, wants to show how far she’s come to McGillis and Gaelio.

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I always knew McGillis and Gaelio went way back, but now we see there was a third member of their childhood clique, the lovely (but also tomboyish in the day) Carta, who is spellbound the moment she first lays eyes on the newly adopted/arrived McGillis.

In the present, she’s pissed McGillis chose Gaelio’s little sister instead of her, and in order to further his career, no less. But Carta herself was only given Ariadne fleet command because of her silver (as opposed to iron) blood. Gaelio sees her as a figurehead, but she takes her role seriously.

As he watches the confrontation unfold between Tekkadan and Carta, McGillis (AKA “Montag”) monologues the importance of “unveiling the past” of those one wishes to predict and control. At the same time, living in the murky past “wastes” the bright future. He’s hoping Tekkadan is taking steps forward, and wants to see that he’s right.

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Speaking of a waste, just imagine if Tekkadan had the manpower and firepower at Carta’s disposal. Carta is rusty, if her blade was ever sharp to begin with. Earth’s orbit may be “her sky” to her and her loyal men, but that title had probably never been challenged in any way until now.

Some may decry how poorly she performs here as making it too easy for Tekkadan to succeed, but I take a different tack: there are good and bad, experienced and inexperienced commanders in Gjallarhorn. Her ability simply doesn’t match (or frankly justify) her arrogance or theatricality.

Faced with an unpredictable and fully committed opponent, Carta is outmaneuvered by “old school” tactics such as the Isaribi using the Brewers’ ship as a physical shield from long-range bombardment, which when destroyed releases a huge cloud of nano-mirror chaff that blinds the fleet, giving Tekkadan time to get the landing party into position.

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To pull off these tactics, Eugene had to control both ships with his A-V system, which takes him to the extent he looks like he’s just seen up someone’s skirt by the time he’s finished. Hopefully, he’ll be okay. The landing party, guarded by Shino, Akihiro, and Mika, is then ambushed by Gaelio and Ein, who in hindsight doesn’t seem so much obsessed with revenge here and now as he is eager to prove to Gaelio that he’s worthy of the trust and opportunities bestowed on him.

In the cold open Eugene and Shiro threw what you might call death flags, but since this is IBO not all death flags are genuine. Nevertheless, with so many people in play, I figured someone else we care about was going to die in this battle, especially when the transport carrying Orga, Kudelia, Atra, Biscuit, and Merribit is targeted. Enter the cavalry: Laffter and Azee, piloting suits modified so as not to tip off Teiwaz involvement.

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Ein has always been an intriguing if one-note character, but he faces another serious setback here as his suit and his body are pierced by Mika when he jumps in front of Gaelio to protect him. Like Carta, Ein simply can’t back up his rage and enthusiasm with actual ability. I doubt he’s dead dead, but he’s in bad shape, and now Gaelio has a another reason to want Tekkadan blood.

When Carta sends out her mobile suit forces, elite though they may be (or believe themselves to be) they can’t hang with Mika, especially when Montag joins the fray (in what I’m guessing is a suit that disguises his identity from Gaelio and Carta, whose reactions to his involvement aren’t seen). One of Carta’s pilots actually does give Mika a pretty hard time, making him miss his opportunity to use the transport ship as a atmospheric entry shield (Barbatos won’t make it on its own).

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Things look bleak for Mika (whose handshake with Kudelia could also be considered a death flag), especially when he thinks back to the convo he had with Orga back when the were kids, which set them on this course. But Mika’s not ready to say goodbye to the world yet; not when he hasn’t yet seen with his own eyes the place they belong Orga talked about.

So as the transport occupants worry and fear the worst during the long, violent atmospheric entry, Mika hitches himself to the mobile suit of the guy he defeated and uses it as an ablative heat shield, safely emerging not long after the transport. Kudelia, Atra, Orga…they’re all elated. Another close call, that’s all. Now, after that exciting space battle, our people are finally on Earth, where several new battles will commence.

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Patema Inverted

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Even though we’ve collectively logged over 1,900 hours of anime, we still consider ourselves humble tourists in the field. As such, we’ve developed and clung to assumptions more experienced and/or knowledgeable parties might find quaint. One of those is that the Miyazaki/Ghibli juggernaut has classically had the “wondrous fantasy with wide appeal” market cornered.

After this film (originally released in November), the first work we’ve seen from 34-year-old Yoshiura Yasuhiro (Eve no Jikan) which is ostensibly his magnum opus (so far), that assumption has been…inverted. SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.

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Hannah Brave (Braverade): I’m still reveling in the afterglow of this phenomenally gorgeous film. There honestly wasn’t a bad shot in the whole running time. From the opening moments depicting a wide-scale calamity to the transition to an underground world, it just kept dishing out awesome, exquisitely-detailed environments, determined to out-do Ghibli in sheer density of memorable imagery.

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Preston Yamazuka (MagicalChurlSukui): I too found myself spellbound by the sights, but even the best-looking film can be undone by subpar music or voice-acting. This had neither of those problems: the stirring orchestral score, the hauntingly beautiful theme song; the voice-acting and ambient sounds—all conspired to complete our transportation to this new world.

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Zane Kalish (sesameacrylic): The sights and sounds were spot-on (and very Ghibliesque at times, I might add), but where this film really shone was in its premise, brilliant in its elegance and almost universally approachable: what starts as a humble fish-out-of-water tale balloons into an epic tale of two worlds with opposite gravity connected by two young, open-minded representatives of said worlds, who share a passion for exploration and a yearning for the new.

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Hannah: Yeah, I sure did think this was just going to be about the Adventures of Upside Down Girl, but the film became so much more than that as it progressed. The science of what exactly happened to cause this phenomenon is wisely kept vague; it’s the impact of the phenomenon on society that really impressed.

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Preston: To returning to the genesis of the Ghibliverse, Patema sure did resemble Princess Nausicaä, and her village was the kind of individualistic egalitarian utopia ruled by a kindly king the Valley of the Wind was. Meanwhile, gravity may be “correct” in Age’s world (in that the sky is up, but more on that later), but feels like Nausicaä’s unseen Tolmekian Empire; run by a man not afraid to spill blood to validate his ideals.

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Zane: Forget just Ghibli: Aiga, a stark, authoritarian nightmareland where it’s taboo to look up, called to mind Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, Brazil, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In any case, no where you particularly want to be. Once Patema arrives in Age’s world, the cameras favor Age’s perspective, making her inverted, but it’s Aiga world that’s “upside down” in terms of philosophy.

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Hannah: When Age (pronounced “Eiji”) hides Patema in that little shed, we knew it was only a matter of time before the “anti-invert” state got wind of her and brought the hammer down. If we had to give this film a demerit, it would be for having such a Laughably EEEEVIL Antagonist in Governor Odious Izamura, who spouts dogmatic bullshit but at the end of the day only worships the god Izamura, believing the vast power he has entitles him to keep Patema as a pet…or worse.

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Preston: I can kinda forgive the scenery-chewing arch-villain, because while this film is often broken up into extremes of good and evil or up and down, it’s just as concerned with the “in-between”, the “third way”, and in finding a way to connect the two worlds, which starts with the two kids Patema and Age. And even Izamura’s evil is diluted by his right-hand man, who operates in more of a moral gray area for most of the film.

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Zane: Izamura’s character was definitely informed by the old-school bad guy immortalized by Muska, whom even Miyazaki said he was a bit disappointed in, but when two crazy kids start makin’ eyes at each other, you need a strong, unrelenting force to break them apart in order to make their reunion that much more of an accomplishment. And I loved everything about the friendly love triangle of Patema, Age, and Porta, including how the two guys put their rivalry aside to save the girl.

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Hannah: That was one hell of a rescue…even though it technically failed! But while Patema and Age’s escape back down (or up? Oh dear…) to her world was delayed, the standoff on the roof of the skyscraper left us breathless, and led to one spectacular aerial vista after another, until they grow so close to the stars in the sky, they learn they’re actually lights from a huge network of structures. I have to say, I wasn’t expecting that.

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Preston: Actually, when Age and Patema watched the stars together for the first time, I was truly hoping against hope they were actually the lights of another city. That the film actually went there really made my evening. And in a glorious moment of continuity and coincidence edging on kismet, Patema finds her backpack, which just happened to land right beside the Age’s dad’s wrecked flying machine.

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Zane: Kismet or not, I really liked the way one life-threatening situation after another led to the Patema and Age growing to trust each other implicitly with their lives, and even becoming comfortable in their inverted hugging. The tender romance takes an important step forward up there in the “stars” where Age is the Inverted, and thus truly understands what Patema went through. As a recovering acrophobe, every instance of someone looking at their version of “down” generated a visceral response, a combination of primal fear and excitement. Unfortunately, there was no Spider-Man (or girl, in this case) kiss.

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Hannah: Part of me hoped the lovebirds could just stay up there, but not only did practical issues preclude that (it gets really hot up there during the day, plus there’s no food), they’re the hero and heroine of the story; they can’t just run away from their responsibility—and their desire—to serve as the bridge between their worlds. When they arrive at Patema’s village, it’s in the middle of her memorial service—now that right there is some Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer stuff!

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Zane: Yes, Duty Before Booty.

Preston: Please don’t type that. Also, you cut in line, it’s my turn to write something.

Zane: You going to subtract points and revoke my citizenship?

Preston: No, there’s no need to go Aiga on you. Ahem…anyway, yeah, Izamura’s plan to invade Patema’s realm with a handful of men using a flying device he has no idea how to operate seemed a bit short-sighted. You’d think someone who has that many weapons on his person would more carefully prepare for such an operation. It was akin to Dennis Hopper’s President Koopa travelling to Manhattan armed with Super Scopes in the live-action Super Mario film.

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Zane: Damn, nice reference. That was a properly nutty movie. But regarding Izamura, he was so obsessed with crushing the Inverted and taking personal possession of Patema (best illustrated by his tirade about why she chose Age – because he’s the same age and not a dick, duh!) it dulled the survival instincts he’d ostensibly cultivated as ruler of Aiga, resulting in his excellent death-by-falling-up into an endless sky.

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Hannah: Izamura’s was a Bad Guy Death you can set your watches to, made more deliciously ironic by his long-held belief the sky swallowed up sinners. By then, his right-hand man is fed up with his evil shit and saves Patema, Age, and Porta with his trusty casting-net gun. That leads to a happy ending in which the first steps towards amity between the worlds are taken. And at that point, Patema and Age have been holding each other to prevent the other from falling to their doom for so long it becomes second nature. What do you think guys: too tidy an ending?

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Preston: I don’t think so. The happy ending felt earned, after all the heavens and hells they went through together. Their success is also a handy allegory for real world conflict: Just because my up is your down and your down is my up doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. A difference of perspective, literal or not, will always lead to isolation and strife…but there will always be outliers in those groups who realize it doesn’t have to be that way, and work to unite rather than divide.

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Zane: I second Preston’s opinion. By the end, Patema and Age are sweethearts, pioneers, and diplomats, but also very important symbols of the viability, and benefits, of harmony and accord. Aiga’s hardcore Orwellian society is far more brittle than it looks when exposed to the sight of a cute couple soaring through the sky like birds. I like to imagine a sequel taking place a decade or so later, when the two societies coexist amicably in a new shared infrastructure resembling Escher’s Relativity.

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RABUJOI World Heritage List

MAL Score: 8.31