Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 15 – Dream Prisons

This week’s Boogiepop is a series of disorienting vignettes in which various visitors to the Moon Temple end up inhabiting old memories, first as their younger selves, then as their present selves. This enables them to do and say things they wanted to at the time, but didn’t.

We begin with a woman who knew Teratsuki Kyouichirou, who offered her money to care for her son Makoto before dying suddenly two years after he predicted. In the present, the King of Distortion takes Teratsuki’s form, but it was the past Teratsuki who spoke of leaving “one last parting gift”—most likely the Moon Temple.

We move on to Sakiko, walking along a train track with her best friend Hinako, who is tall and gorgeous…but Hinako never got to grow up into the woman Sakiko sees. She died in a car accident with her family before Sakiko could apologize for lashing out at her in jealousy. The King of Distortion offers her a chance to turn her bitter regrets into gold.

Next up, a younger Habara Kentarou, friend of Tanaka Shirou and student at Shinyou Academy. He used to hack into companies, but was caught by Kirima Nagi, in whose palm he was dancing all along. Suddenly Nagi, actually the King, turns into Saotome, who like Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi.

The King presents Kentarou with a riddle: if the world is a nightmare, how does one escape? To drive the nightmare point home, the ground starts to shake and windows crack; a giant kaiju appears in the streets. Kentarou finds Makoto, recognizes him from the Moon Temple, and they escape to the one place Kentarou believes he’ll be able to escape the nightmare…the Temple itself.

Upon arriving there, Kentarou finds…himself lying asleep on the ground, gives himself a kick, and wakes up. He wakes up Shirou next to him, and the two are surrounded by sleeping people, every one of them trapped in their dreams by the King of Distortion.

Clearly it was the will of the King, or Teratsuki (or both, if there’s no difference between them) to entice a large number of people to come to the Moon Temple so he could put them to sleep and explore their memories, particularly those containing their regrets. But it remains to be seen where Boogiepop fits into all this. It the King simply another enemy for them to eliminate, or is there more going on here?

Trickster – 01 (First Impressions)

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Ahh, if only real city skies were like anime city skies

What is it: Trickster, based on the stories of Edogawa Ranpo, focuses on the “Boy’s Detective Club” as they pursue the famous master thief Twenty Faces (Gackt) and attempt to learn what he’s plotting. One member, Hanasaki Kensuke, meets Kobayashi Yoshio, a barefoot, suicidal boy with an invisible bubble around him that makes him invincible.

After Kobayashi comes to rescue him at a fire at a heavy industries facility, Hanasaki offers him a job at the detective club. In the incident, Kobayashi recieves a cut on his hand that starts to tingle.

Why You Should Watch: The Ranpo pedigree aside, this was a well-paced, well-plotted, and well-directed lark, which starts out super-dark (due to the initial Kobayashi POV) but is brightened by Akechi’s cavalier attitude and Hanasaki’s infectious optimism. The agency, its members, and its activities (another stalemate with Twenty Faces) are efficiently laid out while the story of the invincible kid takes the spotlight.

 

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ENHANCE

Rather than come off as annoying or arrogant, Hanasaki just seems like a decent kid who is always trying to see the best in people and situations, even when they can’t see it themselves. His crossing paths with a boy in Kobayashi who definitely sees his “ability” as nothing but a cruel curse seems to instill new purpose in the kid’s life…even if he promises to grant his wish by killing him someday.

To be specific about the animation, Trickster is definitely on a lower frame rate than ‘good’ anime. However, the gestures and the quality of the character designs (being stylish and specific but not over designed, which would break up gestures) make it a gem to watch  hear, with awesome music, including an OP sung by Gackt.

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Obligatory Quirky Hacker Girl

Why You Shouldn’t Watch: Twenty Faces’ part of the story feels more like a B-plot here; little more than a taste of what’s to come and a vehicle introduce how the detective agency operates and who they’re after.

The other characters perform their roles competently but no one other than Hanasaki really stands out yet. With 24 episodes ordered, if you’re in this, you’re in it for the long haul. That’s about all I can think of in Devil’s Advocate mode.

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—”Nice Bruce Lee jumpsuit.” —”Nice…whatever the heck you’re wearin’ over there.”

MagicalChurlSukui’s Verdict: Trickster is off to a slick, stylish, understated start, and I’m fully on board after just one episode. It can spin a good yarn, and there’s certainly a lot more where that came from.

Oigakkosan’s Verdict: its very easy for me to draw comparisons with Ronpo’s Bungou Stray Dogs, which feels very similar. However, Stray Dogs ultimately (and quickly) fell apart because it was ‘too quirky for it’s own good.’ I do not think that will be the case here. The mood is just more serious – Not brooding or drama-grim – TAKEN more seriously.

Thumbs up!

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Comet Lucifer – 03

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After plucking their host’s last straw by knocking over his perfect pot of curry, Sogo, Kaon, Felia, and the very irritatingly-voiced Moura are kicked out of the cafe, which thankfully still shows signs of the damage Moura caused. They take Felia downtown and show her the sights, and we get a very pleasant, detailed, yet wordless montage of their fun, and likely expensive, day to keep Felia entertained.

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Everything is chipper until in her excitement Felia bumps into a passerby, sending her pigeon-cat cake flying. She tries to use her telekinesis to save it, but Moura startles her, and the cake is dumped on a purple-haired cafe patron, who seemed annoyed but not unreasonably angry with the incident. Turns out he’s a master hacker-terrorist who has been watching Felia for some time, and judging from his expressions and gestures in his dark office, he’s also quite unhinged in the “creepy unhinged villain” kind of way.

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In order to induce as many expressions of fear and worry on his “mademoiselle” Felia (which he watches with relish on cameras, which…ew), he throws the entire city’s traffic control system into chaos, thus turning the city into a game board and the kids game pieces he moves around by controlling the ample technology around them. Even Gus and his blonde buddy aren’t immune from the disarray.

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But every time the Bad Guy tries to close in on Felia, Sogo and Kaon split up and misdirect and serve as decoys to keep him off balance, until he gets angry and steps up his game, activating a spider-type mecha to pursue Kaon and Felia on a cable car. Sogo gets as high up into the air as possible and Kaon throws Soura to him, activating Soura’s mecha transformation.

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Once Soura is in play, it’s Game Over for the bad guy, as his mecha is beaten back and the cable breaks. Felia uses her “force power” to give the cable car a soft landing, while the bad guy falls victim to the cable’s recoil, which gives him a reverse mohawk.

The physics (magic hoverboards and telekinesis aside, of course) were pretty solid, right up until here; such a huge cable would surely have taken off his head, if not more. Instead he gets an old-style anime villain comeuppance, even though he surely put dozens of people in the hospital with his reckless antics…all for his personal entertainment.

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Even the most gorgeous sunsets of the Fall season can’t save this episode, or this show, from the inescapable fact that it is artful, attractive, and often thrilling (and thus watchable) but utterly lacking in substance, making it my Fall guilty pleasure. It’s cotton candy; empty calories with no payoff; a bunch of elaborate fun stuff that happens, and then it’s over. Sure, Alfried joins Gus’ dream team, but we just saw Alfried fail miserably to a couple of kids, so it’s not like he’s that much of a threat. He’s just an overwrought creeper.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is now the third “magic academy” anime we’ve come across this Fall. But unlike Zane’s two shows Rakudai and Asterisk, TG35 focuses less on school and more on the occupation they’re all training for: which amounts to witch-hunting and preventing the smuggling of magical items. It’s the most regimental, but also the most like a typical school anime in that the titular platoon is like a club, complete with a clubroom HQ where they hang out.

Naturally, this is a club of misfits, mocked as the “Small Fry Platoon” at their academy for racking up zero points in a half a year of ops. Their captain is the katana-wielding Kusanagi Takeru, Saionji Usagi is the girly sniper, and Suginami Ikaruga is the tech whiz. The trio becomes a quartet when they are joined by Ootori Ouka, a prodigy who’d already advanced to the rank of inquisitor, but has been recently knocked back to the bottom for killing prisoners.

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Under orders from the academy director (and her guardian), Ootori makes nice as best she can, and Kusanagi plugs her into an ambitious (for the 35th) interdiction operation, which is played straight and seems to be going quite well right up until Kusanagi gives Saionji the order to start sniping…

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…Which she does…into the wrong window. Instantly, we see why this platoon has zero points. Kusanagi ends up on the wrong end of several mafia handguns, but is able to halve their bullets with his sword. Halving bullets is a great skill, but halving bullets alone can’t get you points; for that, the whole platoon needs to hum like a well-oiled machine. No slip-ups, no emotional outbursts.

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There’s plenty of both on the op, as Saionji crumbles under pressure and Kusanagi almost lets the gangsters’ barbs get the best of him, while Suginami, back at HQ, is a non-factor. They only manage to salvage the op when Ootori puts it on her shoulders, taking out all the gangsters and even quickly, efficiently disabling the culprit’s stolen Inquisition mecha. The show then manages to get Kusanagi to grab Ootori’s boob when he trips on a shell casing (groan).

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The next day, Ootori dresses down the rest of the platoon (verbally, not literally), putting particular emphasis on Kusanagi being a disgrace of a leader. When they try to win her over with a welcoming party, she scolds them for goofing off. Kusanagi catches sight of her bleeding arm wound and flags her down, making it clear that however she feels, he is her comrade, and her captain, and they’re going to make this work, somehow.

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She brushes him off, but lets him accompany her to an op she was going to take on herself. It’s a good thing she doesn’t. Sure, she has to save Kusanagi from a booby trap, but his bullet-slicing comes in handy against the henchmen. Moreover, when Ootori discovers the appalling handiwork of their targets—buckets of children’s body parts, perhaps for necromancy—she loses her cool and is about to kill everyone in sight.

Only Kusanagi, her CO and comrade in spite of her protests, restrains her. He posits that if she exacts revenge in this way, she’ll never be an Inquisitor again, and there will be more victims. Then she reveals the reason for wanting revenge: witches killed her family.

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Kusanagi doesn’t pretend to know what she’s feeling—he’s only trying to become an Inquisitor because the pay is good and his family needs money, not revenge—but he won’t stop trying to understand, nor will he stop trying to be her comrade and captain no matter what, because that’s what they are. The words move her as outside, a witch-looking girl with glowing purple eyes looks on, apparently observing all.

So yeah, definitely the darkest (out of the gate) and most serious of the three magical academy shows RABUJOI is reviewing, and the second with a more-than-decent opening episode. Despite the familiar character types and unimaginative fanservice, there’s a degree of promise here, as long as you enjoy misfit-rising stories, which I myself happen to. It executes capably on action, character design (no one’s boobs are too big), and music (the ED theme in particular is pretty sweet). We’ll see!

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Steins Gate – 12

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Steins;Gate reaches its halfway mark with a disappointingly uneventful outing, as–oh, God, what am I saying? I’ll be serious, as Okabe Rintarou has started to become by necessity: this was an effing classic. It was the choice of Steins Gate that the wool be fully pulled from my eyes…and my heart be ripped out of my chest.

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For all its humble looks and composition, this thing is lit like a terrible world-upending weapon

 

Rintarou had already drastically cut down on his chuunibyou mad scientist silliness last week, when he was too damned shaken by the threatening text messages to be embarrassed about walking in on the girls in the bath.

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It’s a sudden change in his demeanor not lost on Kurisu. Even if Rintarou hasn’t told her anything, she knows. After fully explaining the completed Time Leap Machine, including the need for a living human subject—no more bananas—she turns to Rintarou for the Lab’s next move.

No maniacal laugh, no fake cell phone call: his decision is this: they’re backing out of this. They’ll announce their discovery and leave the rest to the ‘appropriate’ entities.

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It’s a tough call, and a very un-Hououin Kyouma call, but it’s the right call. Itaru agrees. On a grocery run, Kurisu sees Rintarou’s relief and admits to being a little disappointed, but she agrees too. Mayuri definitely agrees. Mayuri, whom they both agree has seen more than either one of them, and probably wanted them to stop a long time ago.

Things will be different, that’s for sure. The Future Gadget Lab accomplished something momentous. Kurisu fears her father’s reaction to her latest and greatest success; Rintarou assures her they’ll be able to visit him and work things out, because he takes care of his lab members. In this beautiful exchange, Kurisu refers to herself as his assistant, and he shoots back that she’s his dear companion. These two really were meant for each other.

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Rintarou’s decision calls for a party, and a party is what they have. Suzuha even comes along, and after some posturing and growling between her and Kurisu, Mayuri defuses the situation with her usual eloquence: “Mayushii…doesn’t like fighting…when we’re all together, I think it’d be more fun if we were all friends!”

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And so they are friends this night, as Kurisu helps Suzuha beat Rintarou at Rai-Net Battler, simply by knowing the kind of personality Rintarou has. When Rintarou skulks away in defeat, Kurisu has Mayuri go after him, telling her how both she and Rintarou believe she’s always had the clearest view of the lab.

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Mayushii approaches Rintarou on the roof armed with a lightsaber Cyalume Saber. They talk about how much fun everyone is having, and about all the things they’ll be able to buy once they go public with the discovery (Chairs! Utensils!).

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Then Mayushii brings up the Spring (it’s August at this point), when it was just the two of them, but Rintarou seemed really lonely to her, and how the club has grown so much that it’s okay now, even if she isn’t his ‘hostage’ anymore.

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As Mayuri is saying this last bit, he has a flash of his daydream from the cold open, which may well have been far more than a mere daydream: 70 million years in the future, he and Mayuri are alone in the middle of a wasteland, about to die. She tells him they’re the originals, but there are infinite other Rintarous and Mayuris in other world lines that will carry on their legacy even if they crumbled to dust then and there.

So…it’s okay. It’s all okay. Until it isn’t.

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Itaru dashes up to the roof (yes I used dash and Itaru in the same sentence): there’s a bomb threat; all trains in and out of Akiba are stopped. So the party becomes a sleepover now…Yay, right? Nay. When Itaru confirms he’s deep into SERN, Suzuha seems on the cusp of telling them to do something very important, but instead she bolts out of the lab without an explanation. That’s not good. There’s no way that’s a good sign.

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Then Rintarou notices sand has stopped flowing down an hourglass. Mayuri’s recently-wound pocketwatch stops. Something is extremely wrong.

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A group of masked gunmen in casualwear race up the stairs and bust into the lab. If they didn’t have the guns and masks, they’d look like ordinary people. Is this SERN? Was Rintarou too late in giving up the game?

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It’s a volatile situation, made even more surreal by the arrival of the apparent leader of the gunmen: Kiryuu Moeka, donning black leather from neck to toe, stylish as always, as Mayuri once remarked. “SERN will take the time machine”, she mutters softly. She’s taking Kurisu, Rintarou, and Itaru as well.

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As for Mayuri? She’s…”not needed.” Shining Finger puts her finger on the trigger, muttering “For FB…FB…FB…” and puts a bullet in Mayuri’s head. Just like that, the beating heart and warm, fuzzy soul of the lab, Rintarou’s dear childhood friend, is gone, and the fun and games are over.

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I expected something to happen in that standoff, but for the life of me I didn’t expect that. But why the hell didn’t I? It was all here, in previous episodes and all over this one: she was pulling out death flags like there was no tomorrow, because for her, there wouldn’t be.

And what’s so crushing about this is that in a twisted way, Moeka was right: Mayuri was no longer needed. As Mayuri said, “it’s okay”: now that he has friends, he’ll be alright, even if she isn’t by his side anymore. The close-ups of Mayuri in her last moments are painted with neither shock nor fear, but expectation; of inevitability. 

This is the closing of a chapter and a time of new and terrifying trials for Okabe Rintarou and the rest of the lab. But perhaps, with Kurisu by his side, he’ll be okay. But I just can’t see it yet. No one could ever see as clearly as Shiina Mayuri.

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P.S. With twelve episodes down, twelve to go, and Winter season starting to pick up steam, now is as good a time as any to exhale and take a break from the show. How long a break? I won’t be sure until Winter settles down and I have a better idea of which parts of the week are the slowest…but probably not long. In any case, I have yet to watch anything after this, so spoilers in the comments are strictly prohibited. Finally, it cannot be said enough, thanks for reading as I play catch-up with a classic—H.B.

Steins Gate – 10

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This episode gets off to a rather…ahem…inauspicious start, with Okarin, still convinced Ruka is a guy, does terrible things to her to prove that fact, only to cower in terror at the fact that yup, she is, in point of fact, a girl, then accept whatever off-camera punishment Kurisu arranges for him, because frankly, he’s lucky he gets to keep that hand.

In his defense, Okarin is understandably having increasing difficulty keeping track of all the changes, and while Akiba’s flavor has fundamentally changed, his relationships seem to be pretty much the same, so he must have assumed their genders stayed the same as well.

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It’s not surprising then, for Okarin to take up Suzuha’s offer of a bike ride, even if he’s to do the pedaling: some fresh air will do him good. But instead of clearing his head, it introduces a fresh dilemma which his D-mail technology may be able to solve: Suzuha’s absent father.

His mad scientist schtick is fooling no one: Okarin is a nice guywho will do everything in his power to help his friends, and Suzuha is one of them. So he makes her Member #008 and orders her to come to the lab and text her father not to leave. Sure, her dad may not have had a cell phone back when he left, but maybe he has a pager.

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Suzuha is touched by Okarin’s offer, but departs on her own, in a gorgeously-composed shot that just screams “Sayonara.”

Okarin musters the rest of the lab to arrange a party for Suzuha. He gets a troubling text from an unknown sender saying he’s being watched, with a photo of red jello attached (apparently aware of Okarin’s experience with green jello). But he can’t be troubled too long, since he has a feeling Suzuha won’t come back unless he follows her. Kurisu forbids him to do this, and sends him out to the stores with Mayushii.

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While on the way home, Mayushii reminisces about a time years ago when Okarin had a fever so bad she feared he’d die. She believes her prayers to the sky saved his life (though he gives Steins Gate credit). Is it just me, or are Okarin and Mayushii’s one-on-ones are getting more and more…wistful? It almost feels like she’s trying to remind Okarin how important he is to her, so he’d better not leave her behind.

But it’s more than that: Okarin’s behavior right after Feyris sent her D-mail reminded Mayushii of when he had the fever. Okarin takes that to mean that time he had the fever must have been when his “Reading Steiner” ability first awakened.

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Back in the lab, we get some lovely slice-of-lify dinner prep, with the implication that Kurisu isn’t the best cook despite her scientific genius. It’s fluffy, but it’s good fluff that reminds us how tight-knit a family the Future Gadget Lab has become.

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When futzing some of the lab’s other invented gadgets, the power goes out, which nets us a very intimate exchange between Okarin and Kurisu. It’s as if the darkness has given her cover to say things she wouldn’t say in the light. Again, the camerawork excels, as we get awesome closeups Okarin and Kurisu’s barely lit faces.

When the lights come on we see that for a lot of that time, their faces were merely inches apart, and those shots of them were from their own points of view. For all we know, Kurisu could have been leaning in for a kiss; really nice stuff. Okarin said his relationships have remained the same through all these world lines…but I’d argue that his relationship Kurisu is steadily growing.

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I also find Okarin’s rationale for continuing the D-mail experiments even in the face of all the risks: He’s a mad scientist, dammit, and he’s not going to let Ruka becoming a girl, Akiba ceasing to be an otaku haven, or even threatening red jello texts stop his march to destiny. But really, as I said, he wants to help his friends out, and more to the point, simply wants those friends around, and happy.

To that end, when Suzu is a no-show, he D-mails himself to keep tabs on her, and the next morning learns she attended the party after all. Even though she doesn’t know her dad’s phone number, she had a lot of fun. But what did this latest favor to a friend cost him? The beauty of S;G is that changes need not be immediately apparent; indeed, it’s more fun when they sneak up when least expected.

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Steins Gate – 08

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As S;G is a slow-burn sci-fi mystery with an absolutely kick-ass cast and world-class dialogue, I’m quite content with only incremental changes to the status quo. Big changes too soon mean we risk losing the people we’ve come to know and love. But as the rabbit hole widens, it seems more and more likely that we’re working towards that kind of result. After all, the changes the D-mails have been cumulative…at least so far.

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While John Titor’s words about powers and messiahs unsettled Okarin, it’s still way too soon to start confronting something of that magnitude yet. He sticks with science, which is repeating a process over and over, observing and recording the changes, and forming a theories around that data. In other words, we’re still in trial-and-error mode.

To her credit, the Kurisu of this new world line Okarin finds himself in doesn’t doubt what he says about the D-mail already being sent. One thing that can often bog down time travel themed shows is when the time traveler has to continually explain and re-explain to others what is going on, without being dismissed as crazy.

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Kurisu may think Okarin is crazy anyway—among other things—but she trusts him in this, especially because there’s concrete proof. So they press on with the experiments, with Moeka enthusiastically volunteering to send a D-mail to herself, warning her not to buy the new phone she presently wishes she hadn’t bought. Just before they begin, Ruka stops by with a watermelon to apologize for screwing up the lotto numbers.

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Once the phone microwave is activated and the d-mail sent, Okarin ‘travels’ yet again, to a world line where Moeka is absent from the lab and no one’s ever heard of her.

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Okarin is initially worried she ceased to exist, but the change was far more minor: she’s still around and still knows him, she just never visited the lab and thus never became Member 005 or met the others.

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Kurisu picks up on his behavior quicker this time, suspecting another d-mail was sent and puts the pieces together. But she’s still incredulous about whether his power to retain memories across world lines “Reading Steiner”, is real. Okarin himself can’t be sure yet, nor can he take everything Titor says as the gospel. More experimentation is needed.

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Ruka does come by in this timeline, having actually come by before with the watermelon, but turned back home when he accidentally eavesdropped on Okarin’s outburst about Moeka being missing (accidental eavesdropping seems to be a common thing on this show).

Mayushii pounces on him and makes him try on cosplay outfits, but Ruka is eventually able to tell Okarin his real reason for coming: he wants to send a d-mail. Specifically, one that will make him a girl.

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Kurisu is confused by his request, because all this time she thought Ruka was a girl, and was the only lab member still in the dark. Her reaction to learning the truth is suitably priceless, with simple yet effective comic timing.

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Okarin isn’t opposed to sending a text to Ruka’s mother asking her to eat more vegetables (which some believe increases the chances of having a girl), and officially recruits him Member #006, but they run into an interesting technological hitch: Ruka was born in 1993, three years before cell phones took off in Japan, making a typical d-mail impossible.

The gang arrives at a very elegant and clever solution on the fly: paring down the message so it can be sent as a sequence of numbers to his mom’s pocket pager.

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The D-mail is sent, and the world line changes (a previous mail Daru sent to himself doesn’t cause this effect). For a moment, Okarin appears alone in the dark lab. Did Ruka’s D-mail end up negating all of Okarin’s relationships as well as the Future Gadget Lab itself? 

Then he turns around, and no, they’re all still there, just in different positions. Whew. Ruka is still wearing androgynous clothes, too, so he can’t discern whether his gender changed to female (and Kurisu scolds him for starting). But if he asks them, it’s a good bet they’ve still never met Moeka, and Daru still lost the Feyris cup, and Ruka still lost the lottery by one number.

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So far, the effects seem to be cumulative, though I may be grossly oversimplifying things. The bottom line is, D-mails sent for one specific purpose end up causing totally unpredictable side effects. Okarin can’t even immediately detect what changed, only that something must have changed.

If the timeline he’s familiar with is a sheet of ice he’s treading upon, the D-mails are creating small cracks. How many more will that sheet bear before it collapses under his weight? Or are D-mails just as likely to seal cracks as create them?

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Steins Gate – 07

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‘Cursed with success’…that is where we find Okabe Rintarou at this stage in the game. He wanted to open “Steins Gate”…well, now he has. The question becomes, what to do with this new-found ‘power to change the past’…and how he handles the humongous burden of responsibility that comes with it. Oh, and how to deal with a new lab member who texts him a constant stream of questions with the odd request snuck in.

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Naturally, Okarin decides to use the Phone Microwave try to win the lottery! Not the 200 million-yen jackpot, but the 700K one two tiers down; less conspicuous. But what I like about this is that it’s not just about money. It’s far easier to send lottery numbers to the past to prove the system works than attempting to send, say, instructions for achieving world peace. There’s a much bigger margin of error with something complex like that.

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Mayushii and Kurisu object, but can’t think of a more practical means of testing the phone, so they go with that. During the expeiment, the same hesitation that led to Okarin requesting a lower-tier lottery takes grip, and he wonders if this is really okay after all. Just because one can do something doesn’t meant he must, right?

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In the end, he sends the text…and something happens, something only he is aware of: he finds himself in a time when the experiment they just tried never occurred. This is the first time since the stabbing incident that time has moved to such a dramatic extent. This is no longer the exclusive realm of gel-banas.

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It’s confirmed that this is a brand-new timeline (or world line) when Ruka arrives to report that the lotto ticket Okarin told him to buy was off by just one number. A glance at the coffee table shows a Dr. Pepper, when previously Kurisu said it was sold out and bought veggie juice instead. Yes, a character’s beverage preference factored into his assessment of the timeline changing.

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Far from jubilant or pumped up over another momentous victory, Okarin seems lost and disoriented, and probably due in no small part to the fact that only he remembers the previous timeline, when he sent the lotto numbers back. Just like before with Kurisu being stabbed, he’s all alone in possessing that knowledge.

Suzuha notices he’s not quite right, and even takes the extraordinary step of closely examining his eyes for ‘chips’ or other evidence of brainwashing, finding nothing. If he’s looking for some stability and answers, she suggests he contact John Titor.

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Okarin does just that, but not before shutting down all experiments until further notice and dismissing the lab staff; only Kurisu stays, perhaps worried about Okarin. In the dark the two sit; Kurisu skimming a magazine, Okarin sending a detailed text to Titor and eagerly awating a response. He gets one from Titor, but not before he gets a string of messages from nearly everyone else.

From Ruka’s apology to Daru calling about leaving his wallet in the lab (big mistake!) to a loving chat with Mayushii (curiously nothing from Moeka in that time), it’s almost a showcase of the bonds he’s forged thus far, along with Kurisu being right there in the room with him. Bonds that could crumble or cease to exist if he fiddles too much with the past.

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Titor’s message does little to allay Okarin’s anxiety. His talk of Okarin’s apparent ‘power’ to maintain his memories across world lines and the ‘freedom’ that lies beyond Divergence 1% causes Okarin to slam his phone down in incredulity, half-unwilling to listen to any more (ironic, considering the weird crap he always spews. But then again, he and everyone know that’s nonsense. In this case, he’s not sure.)

The kicker: Titor wants Okarin to become ‘the messiah’ and change the future. He should have added at the end: “No pressure, dog.”

At this point I can see Okarin going in one of two possible directions. He could either press forward, having faith in his abilities and leaning on his friends, or retreat from the whole enterprise, inviting SERN or others to futz with the future in his stead. Neither path is without risk, but I’m hoping he takes the former. Better the devil I know.

9_brav

Steins Gate – 06

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At this point, Suzu is about as close as you can get to being an FGL member without being one, which might be tricky what with her apparent incompatibility with Kurisu. But as she overhears from the lab’s open window, much of the “round table” is spent figuring out what to name the time-travelling email.

References to other time travel-related media fly, from Back to the Future to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, before Kurisu settles the matter with the short but memorable “D-Mail.”

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With the phenomenon thus named, they proceed experimentation, operating under Okarin’s prediction that if the microwave is opened at a specific window of time the D-mails point to, the text and banana will be sent back. And sure enough, it works, depositing the d-mail in pieces to five days ago, and depositing a gel-bana back on the bunch.

It’s the latest among increasingly common examples of one of the simplest answers being the correct one. That it was wrought by Okarin, who prefers to “feel” science rather than show his work, adds credence to his indispensability as the one lab member with the faith—or will—to come to such conclusions.

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But as he and Daru hit the store to resupply their food stores, Okarin notices cups of green gelatin, shaking him from his high of victory ordinary life he’s always embellished with the baroque trappings of chuunibyou suddenly isn’t ordinary anymore. Shit is real, and it’s dangerous.

I for one appreciate S;G for maintaining that while Okarin has gotten by through various means outside of his control, he still doesn’t have any control. He may well be in over his head, and he knows it.

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What he doesn’t quite know is who Kiryuu Moeka is and why she insists on texting him so persistently. I love how she even tries to communicate with him in person through texts, and is crestfallen to learn his cell phone isn’t on him (but of course it isn’t enough for him to say, ‘it’s not on me’, he has to mention ‘it’s being used for a history-making experiment’. I also like how Moeka pretends Daru isn’t there, which is the proper response to someone looking you up and down.

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While Daru was leering at Moeka and Okarin was wigging out over green jello, prodigal perverted genius girl Kurisu was continuing the experiments, which leads Tennouji to complain about the intense vibrations. Okarin appeases him for the time being, but Kurisu already has the jist of the D-mail process, including the fact that one second on the microwave timer equals one hour back in time. Her work here makes me glad someone in the lab has the diligence and the attention span to…do the work.

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Okarin celebrates the occasion with another grand declaration that is in no way shape for form accurate (they weren’t the first to develop time machine, and they didn’t ‘develop’ it so much as ‘stumble upon it’). But it seems again like the general putting on a brave face in order to maintain morale.

The fear and doubt he’s hiding manifests in a bizarre dream that is equal parts disturbing and cryptically informative. A voice from the event horizon of a black hole urges him to look forward, not back, and ‘reach the end.’

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He awakes to a one-sided text conversation by Moeka on his phone that is still in progress, right up to the point he’s able to open his door after she sends a text saying she’s about to knock, but before she actually knocks, requesting to see the 5100.

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Her explanation that texting is easier for her than talking seems to hold water, as her texts are a lot more expressive. This idea of such an expressive personality hiding behind a stoic, taciturn mask, yet asserting itself digitally, is highly intriguing. Moeka is the type who believes the proper combo of emoji will be enough to convince Okarin to lend her the 5100.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch Daru, Mayushii and Kurisu arrive at the lab one by one and immediately start talking about their top-secret time machine. It’s not particularly irresponsible behavior on the part of the three, just an overabundance of casualness that comes from a group gelling (no pun intended) nicely in a short time.

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But that also means Okarin has to bring Moeka into the fold as Member #005. I like the choice, sudden that it is, but one of these days, someone is going to hear too much who isn’t so harmless. And that’s assuming Moeka is harmless.

Kurisu has brought scientific discipline to the operation which is key, but someone will eventually have to be thinking about security, beyond recruiting anyone within earshot. I just hope they don’t think about it too late.

9_brav

Steins Gate – 05

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So…what’s that little thing in your hand, Suzuha? As if she’d just sit there and tell us. This isn’t Recon in G, no siree. S;G isn’t just a show with a clever, intricate strategy for presenting its story. It’s also keen to influence our own strategy for watching it, keeping things light and breezy for the most part but ensuring the occasional “Suzuha Battle Stance” pops up, to get the gears in our head turning; to keep us on our toes.

S;G wants us entertained, but it also wants us alert and thinking. And for a tense few seconds, as the camera closes in on what sure looks like Suzuha’s killing intent, I thought the show was about to blow everything up.

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Hey, get that off the floor…it was just washed!

 

What if Tennouji hadn’t snapped the part-timer out of it? Maybe nothing; maybe something I shudder to think about. But anything seems possible now, so I am now on my guard: assigning increased worry about anyone venturing beyond the walls of the lab henceforth.

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When Okarin and Kurisu return with the PC, Daru speaks of an Okarin as if it was some kind of mythological creature that can do things “only an Okarin can do”, which is why they love him. Kurisu can’t help but blurt out “I don’t admire him, though.”

Not only is Daru aptly describing Okarin’s significant but not immediately apparent value, but Kurisu is unable to stop herself from answering a question no one asked, thus betraying her growing affection for the guy.

Daru also helpfully points out the yuri possibilities now that there are two female lab members, while Mayushii’s claim of being a ‘hostage’ almost leads Kurisu to call the cops. It’s not just that Okarin’s value isn’t immediately apparent: it takes a lot of digging and enduring to find it. It takes time.

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Suzuha has far less trouble peacefully conversing with Okarin; not surprising considering it sure seems like she’s there to be his friend and confidant. Her dead friend who knew about the 5100; the fact that she instinctively reacted to Kurisu as if she were an imminent threat (and reacts to a helicopter the same way); her hint that Kurisu doesn’t know anything…yet; her warning Okarin to be wary of her; they’re all more tiny gears and sprockets being set into place, within some elaborate timepiece.

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It actually feels like a pretty momentous occasion when Kurisu dons a spare lab coat. For one thing, she herself can’t help but comment how wearing such coats ‘always calms her down’. It’s an opening for Okarin to espouse his own affinity for them, even going so far as to call Kurisu “perfect”, which is, context aside, one of the nicest things he’s ever said to her.

But the coat is also a symbol that she’s being drawn closer and closer into the Future Gadget Lab. I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever Kurisu did in one world line or another that Suzuha is aware of, it all started with Okarin encouraging Kurisu to join their crusade.

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That’s ultimately Okarin’s not-so-secret ability thus far: his ‘gravity’, as in his ‘gravitational pull’: Mayushii; Daru; Feyris; Suzuha; Moeka…they’ve all been drawn into the orbit of Planet Kyouma. He may suck at debating physics, or playing Rai-Net Battler; he may even be just a man-child playing at science; confident the lab coat and some BS are all the qualifications necessary.

But he and only he has made all of these people join him willingly, and together they can accomplish great, or terrible, or terribly great things. He…just…really has to watch it with the yelling at women for calling him by the wrong name. There’s no need for that.

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Most of all, I just like how clear the show makes its characters’ roles. Okarin and Kurisu brought the 5100, and now it’s up to Daru to make it sing; all the others can do is wait and kill time in the interim, playing games and confessing their mutual love for the bold flavor of Dr. Pepper.

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When Daru is done, SERN’s dark secrets are revealed. Kurisu is shocked enough that they achieved a degree of time travel, setting aside the fact that all fourteen human test subjects ended up in another time, turned into the same green jelly as the microwave bananas.

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As for why they’re green jelly, she explains in concise layman’s terms what’s going on: the subjects are being send through a very tight hole. Like trying to fit a large sponge through a small hole in one’s hands, the contents gush out.

It’s an explanation Daru finds really erotic (which…it kind of is, dirty mind or not), but it’s also an apt way to describe how I see Steins;Gate story so far: something dense and saturated being eased through the television screen, gradually so far, but with no indication of when the flow will increase; only suspicions.

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Faced with the chilling discovery of not one but fourteen terrible, covered-up deaths as the result of a top-secret time travel experiment, Kurisu can understand Okarin leaving the lab to get some air. She joins him to ask what their next move should be, but I definitely detected genuine concern for him in the visit.

So it’s a shock to both her and me when we hear that trademark demented laugh of his rise up from the solemn silence, along with the pronouncement that they, the Future Gadget Club, will beat SERN to viable time travel and ‘change the world’s ruling structure.’ It’s the same Okarin Mad Scientist bluster we know and love…but this time, it feels more than anything else like he’s putting up a brave front.

9_brav

Steins Gate – 04

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Yes, Okarin has discovered a dark secret that involves at least one death, but to Steins;Gate‘s credit, the higher stakes aren’t used as an excuse to suck all the fun and joy out of the episode. In fact, this might be the funniest episode yet, as Okarin goes to great lengths to acquire the infamous IBN 5100 Portable PC.

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The plan to pursue the 5100 is a seed in part planted by his new neighbor Suzuha, who insists to her boss and Okarin that she’s an adult and a soldier, respectively. Does this mean she’s, like, a real soldier? Why is she really there? It can’t just be because she loves CRTS…

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Daru is like the universe—constantly expanding.

As for Mayushii, she isn’t throwing out any weird vibes this week, though she does reach for the sky again, something she does often enough that Okarin gives the ‘move’ a nickname: Stardust Handshake. Of course, Okarin seems to give everyone and everything nicknames…some more than one.

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Meanwhile, Kurisu sulks in her hotel room. She’s held the belief that time travel is theoretically impossible for so long, and then that tall, crazy man-child had to come into her life and throw everything into doubt. Or rather, he’s forcing doors open she’d rather were kept closed.

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With Daru out cold after his hacking binge and Mayshii having to work at the cafe, Okarin goes out into Akiba in search of a 5100 and as fate would have it, crosses paths with Kurisu. He asks her to come back to the lab and assist them, but she’s wishy-washy, which is apropos, since their next stop is a laundromat.

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Here, Okarin finally gets his ‘assistant’ “Christina” to reveal why she doesn’t want to accept what she saw: because she doesn’t want to ‘make the same mistake’ her father made. Did her father get into time travel research and was laughed out of the scientific community? Or did he actually travel through time? We don’t get that much, but we do get this:

You don’t have to come anymore. But I’ll tell you this…No one else will ever have the title of Lab Member 004. That number will be yours forever.

That’s one awesome parting speech. So awesome, in fact, that Okarin couldn’t help using it even though he still had to wait for the laundry. Kurisu is the one who leaves, but not before he tells her about the importance of the IBN 5100, which she dismisses as more nonsense.

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Okarin gets a tip from Mayushii that Feyris may have info on the old PC, so Okarin, already on his cell in a no-cell restaurant, spills nowhere near enough change to pay for his meal on the table and books it to the cat-maid cafe, where a “Feyris Cup” is underway. Feyris makes him play her at Rai-Net Battler in exchange or information. Okarin explains his laughably quick defeat with the exuse that he’s short on time.

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Feyris’ info is scant at best, but the last thing she mentions—that she last saw the PC at an Akibahara shrine—is all Okarin needs to know to determine his next destination.

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After a phone conversation in which Okarin and Kurisu bicker over the phone like an old married couple (and they truly are fun to listen to), Kurisu gets that destination out of him and meets him there, much to his surprise and her…well…self-disappointment?

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A programmer friend of hers confirmed what he was saying about the 5100 wasn’t nonsense, so there she is, giving him yet another chance. We also get to see the friendly and far less combative Kurisu as she formally meets Ruka—without learning his true gender.

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According to Ruka’s father, the IBN 5100 was donated to the shrine by a man ten years ago, who said one day a young man would come asking about it. Ruka’s dad has no problem letting Okarin borrow it. The only hitch is that the old ‘portable’ PC is quite bulky. As Kurisu balks at Okarin’s orders to assist him with it and the two bicker some more, Ruka’s dad also remarks how the two must be old friends.

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Truly, they must have been fated to meet and bicker. Okarin wins this particular battle, and Kurisu helps him drag the 5100 back to the lab. Soon, Daru will be rested and have clean clothes, and SERN’s secrets will be laid bare. If the damn thing works, that is.

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Stray Observations:

  • Okarin considers an exchange of information with “Shining Finger”, but she has no information to share, so Moeka remains in the background this week.
  • He also calls Kurisu “Assistant”, “Christina”, and “The Zombie”. Kurisu would rather he call him one of those than keep alternating, while I think Okarin prefers to alternate, depending on the situation.
  • Okarin seems disappointed that the spinning of the clothes doesn’t ‘change’ them.
  • “Christina was struck by lightning on the grassy plains of Arkansas…” I wouldn’t have minded him going on a little bit further with this tale.
  • “Theories are nothing more than words.”

Steins Gate – 02

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We the audience are totally on board with the fact time has somehow shifted, and can fully appreciate how the presence of a suddenly-alive Makise Kurisu is a highly strange occurrence to Rintarou, and evidence of a very strange phenomenon afoot.

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However, Rintarou has a way of going about things precisely the wrong way, getting all up in Kurisu’s face and poking and prodding her like a test subject. If it wasn’t for Daru’s interceding, he would have likely ended up with a bloody nose at best or arrested at worst. Put simply: this exchange shows that Rintarou has a lot of work to do before he can start convincing people strange things are happening, and a lot of that is in the presentation.

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Total Defeat

When Kurisu is the one who ends up talking at the re-scheduled lecture, she starts in an undesirable direction for Rintarou: calling the very concept of time machines “foolish”. Rintarou rudely interrupts, but Kurisu is ready to take him down in a calculation-laced argument she dominates utterly, undercutting his credibility even more.

Here is a fellow scientific mind with published articles who would have possibly lent at least a half-open ear, had Rintarou simply interacted with her in a more civil manner. The message here is clear: whatever is going on, he’s the wrong messenger for it; he’s not ready for the big leagues.

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“But he’s a guy…”

Steins;Gate takenth away from Rintarou, but it also giveth, by introducing the very feminine Urushibara Ruka. Unlike Kurisu or even Daru, she’s fully invested in his Chuunibyou delusions, taking the 980-yen sword he ‘bestowed’ upon her and promising to swing it every day until she ‘awakens its power’. The only problem is Ruka isn’t a ‘she’ but a ‘he’.

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Whoa…that was an incredible hand-touch right there.

Ruka and Mayuri both seem to harbor romantic feelings for Rintarou, which explains their higher ‘tolerance’ for his tomfoolery. It also makes them biased in the eyes and minds of others, meaning they wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than Rintarou himself if they vouched for his story. More likely, Ruka and Mayuri would ‘believe’ what he said, but just like they ‘believe’ in everything else he says, out of a kind of obligation.

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Add Amane Suzuha to that list. While only the thinnest of love interests so far, she is a real-life girl of an age with Rintarou, who was just hired (as in, right in front of him in the shortest job interview ever) to help the landlord’s TV repair shop. Suzuha’s comments on ‘what’s popular these days’ and unfamiliarity with fresh produce suggest a certain precociousness that could make her another member of what I’ll call, for now, “Okarin’s Panel of Scientific Peers.”

They’re not like-minded for a multitude of reasons…but they do like his mind. Rintarou tossing her an ear of corn to Suzuha at the last minute demonstrates that for all his ranting and maniacal laughing, he can be a kind and affable fellow, not to mention fun.

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While on a Dr. Pepper-fueled all-night internet excavation, Rintarou confirms that the lecture was cancelled due to the satellite crash, that Kurisu was never stabbed, making him wonder if he simply hallucinated the whole thing.

Then things get stranger when he finds an “@chan” poster posing as his hero, John Titor, an alleged time traveller who arrived in 2000 and wrote several books expousing theories about “World Lines”, the infinite timelines one can travel through and manipulate with the proper means.

However, a Google search of “John Titor” brings up almost nothing, while his shelf of John Titor books is empty. The John Titor he knew simply doesn’t exist.

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The next morning, while on an intersection, he hears the clicks of a smartphone camera from a bespectacled lady, who retreats. He catches up to her and learns she’s documenting everywhere she’s been and everything she’s seen. My immediate impression is, ‘this lady is going through something like the same thing as Rintarou.” She also shows him an old-fashioned PC, and when he doesn’t recognize it, asks him if he knows who does.

Here, again, Rintarou shows his capacity to function not only as a normal member of society in spite of his apparently permanent Chuunibyou syndrome: instead of simply giving this random stranger Daru’s contact info, he acts as a go-between instead.

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He meets with Daru at the cat maid cafe where Mayuri works (wearing a blond wig) , along with another member of Rintarou’s ‘fan club’, “Feyris”, who is also fully-invested in an ongoing chuunibyou conversation about her training. Daru, for his part, curses RIntarou, apparently for inflicting such nonsense upon one of the girls at his preferred cat maid cafe. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement.

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But I’m not sure Feyris is necessarily a ‘victim’ of Rintarou’s nonsense; she may have been into it before and is simply happy to have someone on the same ‘wavelength’. There’s also a certain portentousness to the message “The World’s In Danger!” written in ketchup on their omelette rice; as if Feyris is subconsciously attuned to matters she’s not conciously aware of yet.

In any case, Daru identifies the PC as an extremely rare and commercially unsuccessful early model that may not have actually ever existed, something he’s probably right about. Rintarou also gets an extremely florid text from the mysterious girl, one Kiryuu Moeka, and tells Daru to thank him for not exposing him to a potential nutcase. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement, as well.

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Daru: Why would you think that?
Rintarou: It’s my intuition as a mad scientist.
Daru: So, no reason.

That’s the relationship of these two, in a nutshell, so far. Daru is willing to go along with all these strange inventions, but he reserves the right to provide skeptical/snarky commentary in the process.

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But when the banana (CLEARLY MARKED as the EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY of Mayushii, yet stolen anyway) they put in the newly-adjusted Phone Microwave (name subject to change), and it disappears, only to show up in green ‘gel-bana’ form, yet fully attached to the bunch, Rintarou suddenly gains a degree of credibility…even though he’s just as freaked out as Daru.

I’ll admit the first episode was a little awkward, but this one made great strides, efficiently introducing vibrant new faces, nudging forward the engrossing time travel mystery, and employing lots of witty banter that had be laughing a lot more than I was expecting.

9_brav

Steins Gate – 01

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Back in Spring of 2011 I missed the Steins;Gate boat, but its MAL score of 9.18 (presently good for second all-time) got my attention, and I’ve been meaning to give it a look for a while now. Look for occasional retro reviews this Winter.

I found the first episode of Steins;Gate a bit dizzying, temporally speaking, and a bit drab aesthetically, but what stood out as an immediate strength was is characters, starting with Okabe Rintarou, AKA “Hououin Kyouma”, AKA “Okarin”, AKA “Mad Scientist”, voiced with bawdy relish by Miyano Mamoru.

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That’s a lot of nicknames, but he gave two of them to himself, while Okarin is how his two friends usually address him. That self-appointing of nicknames is part in parcel of Rintarou’s apparent self-importance and intricate attention to self-image. His overly colorful, often paranoid rants point to severe chuunibyou despite the fact he’s college age. I also love the fact that he talks to himself on the phone without shame.

His cheerful childhood friend Shiina Mayuri, AKA “Mayushii” (Hanazawa Kana), is a nice foil, down-to-earth yet adorably air-headed, and also supportive in a ‘not sure what you’re saying Rintarou, but you got it, teehee!’ kind of way. She also calls herself Okarin’s “hostage”, a chuuni term she probably got from him.

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This opening episode not only introduces the core trio, but a fourth named Makise Kurisu who takes Rintarou aside and asks him what he was going to tell her fifteen minutes ago, even though he’s never met her and only knows her name from a science magazine.

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The show makes a strong statement when their innocuous first encounter is followed up by Rintarou discovering Makise in a pool of her own blood, stabbed to death. Even stranger, when he hits “send” on a text message reporting the stabbing, it seems to affect the very flow of time.

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When he bumps into Mayuri, she has no answers for him about what exactly happened and where all the people on the street went, but they’re interrupted by falling debris, after a goddamn satellite crashed into the very building where they just were to hear a lecture about time machines.

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After an OP that’s smack-dab in the middle of the episode, we find ourselves on the other end of a camera where Rintarou is introducing himself and his colleagues, including Hashida Itaru, or “Daru”, a hacker, otaku, and friend since high school, who seems to highly value comfort, convenience, and girls both 2D and 3D.

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After unsuccessfully trying to get their weird “Braun tube” TV fixed on the cheap by their brawny landlord (he charges two thousand), Rintarou and Mayuri enjoy the curiously de-saturated sunlight in the park. (Mayuri also gives Rintarou his second Dr. Pepper of the episode, which he (rightly!) proclaims to be “an intellectual drink, for the chosen ones.” Watching Mayuri gives him a glimpse of her looking upon a grave from god only knows what time.

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We also get a look at their “Future Gadget Research Laboratory” in Akiba…which kinda just looks suspiciously like a normal apartment, aside from strange inventions laying around. One of those inventions is the “Phone Microwave”, which is just what it sounds like, only it turns bananas green, soft, and slimy. Why they’re microwaving bananas in the first place isn’t explained.

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While running errands with Daru, Rintarou compares their cell phones and sees the text he sent about Makise’s stabbing which caused a time jump only he is aware of. Even more bizarre, the text he sent was broken up into three separate texts and sent to the past.

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And who should come into view when they alight from the elevator but Makise Kurisu, alive and well, if a bit pensive. Something very odd and most likely inadvertent is going on, having something to do with Rintarou’s weird inventions, and again, since even his two closest friends only take a fraction of what he says seriously, he’s probably going to have trouble talking about it without them laughing/shrugging it off as ‘Crazy Ol’ Okarin’.

But we know…as ridiculous as Rintarou can be, he’s not crazy…this stuff is going down, and it’s probably just the beginning. I am looking forward to where this ride takes us.

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