Shoumetsu Toshi – 01 (First Impressions) – High on Vespa Chases, Low on…Everything Else

Shoumetsu Toshi is the latest in a long string of anime in which mysterious phenomena put giant holes or voids in a city. After a brief flashback to the Akira-like mini-cataclysm, we’re suddenly in the present, and a guy named Takuya with a yellow Vespa straight out of FLCL is preparing to rescue Yuki, a blue-haired maiden from lonely confinement.

It goes without saying he meets some resistance, as those holding Yuki would rather she stay put, and a hectic chase ensues. The chase, involving esper monks and Apache helicopters, is at least exciting in its execution, but one does get the feeling the show is trying to use that excitement to occlude the fact we have no idea who anyone is or why anyone is doing anything.

Takuya is also capable of doing things with his Vespa a normal Vespa probably couldn’t do, but fine, perhaps it’s modified. He ollies the scooter into the back of a truck lab, where his researcher client(?) is pleased he’s delivered the “sample” (his rather inconsiderate name for Yuki, last survivor of that big boom in the beginning).

Yuki doesn’t take well to being treated like a scientific sample, and isn’t sure anyone has her back, so she wanders off alone. Fortunately, she doesn’t cover much ground, and Takuya is able to catch up to her and reaffirm his commitment to doing the job he’s been given.

That job is to get her safely to the site of the phenomenon, known as “Lost” (also the name of a popular former mystery series on ABC). Takuya also calls an apparent friend who is quick to betray him, as right behind her is a bad dude in a black trench coat and hood listening in.

Yuki gets back on Takuya’s scooter, choosing to stick with him, and another unlikely scooter chase ensues, which while packed with more Apache monk, and guy-with-dozens-of-submachine-guns action, left me scratching my head more than pumping my fist. Ultimately, there’s not enough behind the action to form much of a connection to anyone.

Had they reached the boundary of Lost, there might’ve been a feeling of something having been accomplished, but it’s not to be, as the hooded trench coat guy knocks both Yuki and Takuya off the bike, leaving the latter in very bad shape. I wish I cared where things go from here…but I can’t in good conscience say that I do. And that makes two duds to start my Spring. Not encouraging…

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Steins;Gate 0 – 21 – Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Lab Members

Thanks to Maho’s improvements, the time leap machine can send Rintarou back 336 hours instead of 48. It’s truly a case of Salieri surpassing Mozart. But he’ll still need to make three thousand such jumps to return to 2011 in order to foil Leskinen, Stratfor, and Durpa and get Mayuri and Suzuha safely off in the time machine on the roof.

That’s a lot of jumps, but Rintarou is committed. Nobody in 2036 particularly likes how things turned out (Rukako has bought it, and soon all of them will), so they’re all for him changing the world if he can. The first jump goes well, but it and many many more after it will require that Rintarou wake up after a long coma.

He gets better and better at convincing Amadeus that he’s indeed from the future, and each time, his friends send him on his way. He even gets to see Lil’ Suzuha! Eventually, he reaches the time where two weeks earlier he’ll no longer have Valkyrie HQ to rely on to time leap.

It’s the day he’s captured, tortured, and allegedly killed. However, things go differently this time, as Amakurisu suggests he uninstall her program and ditch all other tech the enemy is using to track him, while all of his friends act as decoys.

The Leskinen of that time knows he’s lost this round, while the Daru of that time and everyone else sees Rintarou off as he…well, he kinda runs all the way back to 2011. Not sure how that happened, actually, but I’m assuming he didn’t actually run back in time, but managed to escape the enemy and find another means of time leaping.

In any case, when he returns, he’s indistinguishable from the Rintarou of that time, so Maho and Daru think nothing of him showing up in the lab. However, he demands that one of them punch him for being such a whiny little bitch for so long, and Daru does just that.

Daru had no way of knowing what his right hook (or whatever; not a boxing expert) would lead to…the Awakening of Hououin Kyouma from a deep slumber. It took twenty and a half episodes, but we finally get to hear that ridiculous mad scientist laugh. It’s a sight for sore ears.

Not ten seconds after awakening, he’s giving Maho a nickname (“loli girl”) and a weird alternate name (“Safina”). He also dubs her Lab Member 009 and calls an all-hands meeting of the other members, who are just as happy as Daru that their Fearless Leader Kyouma is back.

Maho eventually gets it too: this “Kyouma” fellow has charisma, and rather than dragging everyone and the mood down, he’s galvanizing it. And yet, the same old Rintarou dwells within him, it’s just that he’s done running and cowering, and whining. It’s time for ACTION.

After meeting with the lab members, Kyouma talks with Ferdinand Braun downstairs and makes a number of arrangements roughly a half-hour before Akiba became a war zone in the other timelines. This time, the woman in black with the helmet isn’t Kagari, it’s Moeka, who is on Kyouma’s side in this World Line. Talk about an awesome reveal.

Yep, it sure looks like Hououin Kyouma was the missing variable in the formula to foil Leskinen’s plans and ensure Operation Arclight went off without a hitch. It’s a triumphant, righteous moment. It doesn’t last long.

Even though Mayuri and Suzuha get in the time machine and set off far earlier than previous times, that damned attack helicopter still peeks out from behind a building, launches its missile, and destroys the machine in front of Kyouma and Moeka.

Apparently, not enough conditions were met to avoid the convergence. Clearly it’s not enough to neutralize Kagari and Leskinen; something has to be done about the helicopter. I feel bad for Rintarou having to start all over again right after his grand awakening, but no one ever said changing the world was easy or pleasant.

Hinamatsuri – 12 (Fin) – Losing Your Balls is Snow Big Deal

Hinamatsuri ends on a hell of a high note, with two stories that while not very closely connected to one another, nevertheless ruled so hard. We pick up on Hina, Hitomi, and their two male classmates’ predicament of being lost in the snowy mountains. With Hitomi in charge, they soon have an igloo built, but unless they get help, they could die up there. Hina takes a rather casual view of their sitch (the “snow big deal” being a pun she seems particularly proud of)…until they tell her there’s no food.

Right then and there, Hina decides that this is one of those times when her telekinetic powers will be needed, and commits to finding a way to get fed rescued. She goes out to fly around and finds a light, but when she tells the others her secret, they think the cold has gotten to her. She eliminates all doubt by floating before them, then making Hitomi float.

The kids take this well, most likely because in as dire a situation as they are, she’s their only hope, and, well, she’s not crazy, her powers are real. After they try to recharge her powers by attempting to create the illusion of being in a cafe that serves ikura rolls, she makes a giant one out of snow.

A rescue helicopter easily spots the sculpture, and is extremely confused by it, but not so confused they crash! Hina and the others are picked up, and the next we see her, she’s safe in a hospital bed with a very relieved Nitta by her side. His nonchalance to the phone call about Hina was just putting on a tough-guy act; he really does care about her.

After that, and a montage of everyone in the city going on with their lives, we jump three years into the future and across the western sea to China, where Mao has lived and trained with a martial arts school. When she first arrived by raft, she scrapped together a living on the streets much as Anzu did, until taken in by the martial arts school’s master.

The rockstar dude who Hina once performed saw Mao’s feats of telekinesis on YouTube and has come along with many others to “learn the secrets”, even if it’s just a sham to sell regular old martial arts training. Mao is also still talking to handmade dolls representing Hina and Anzu.

Just when she was getting restless living such a regimented life as the golden goose for opportunist martial artists. Rocky reveals that he knows Hina, the girl with the same blue hair as her doll. Mao is overjoyed she finally has a lead.

Her handlers don’t want her going anywhere, however, so they chase her into the street and attempt to apprehend her. That’s when Hinamatsuri turns into a straight-up martial arts action show, with some of the best animation of the entire series as Mao takes down her ochre-suited opponents one-on-one and all at once.

While the latest-introduced and least utilized magic girl, with her Cast Away episode and now this extended segment, Mao has definitely had some pretty awesome adventures that have allowed her to efficiently demonstrate what a badass she is (as if we needed any reminders). It’s the best fight since Hina took on the whole of the rival yakuza organization.

Their master agrees to let Mao go with Rocky to Japan…if she can defeat a “metal man” that’s basically two rapidly spinning shafts no ordinary human could ever stop or even slow down, lest they get pulverized. Mao stops the thing dead with her powers, but makes sure to make it look like she used her martial arts to do it, positioning her arm and leg right where she stopped the shafts.

Her handlers buy it, and she and Rocky are off on a plane. Rocky to help Mao open new branches of the school (another stipulation of her release), and Mao so she can report to Ikuruga about losing the transport balls, and, more importantly, be reunited with her friends Hina and Anzu.

Things end so abruptly that I suspect the adventures of Mao, Hina, Anzu, Hitomi, Nitta, and the others aren’t over. I certainly hope not, anyway. A second season would be most welcome, especially if the show continues to be inventive in how it uses both the girls’ superhuman powers…and their humanity.

GOD EATER – 03

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GOD EATER follows up its slow, stretched-out, uninspired second episode with a big shot of adrenaline, as the entire third episode is one big aerial battle. It could also have been titled “Enter Underboob”, as after a couple of glimpses of her last week we finally see Alisa in her element (as opposed to sitting quietly on a plane) as a (mostly) efficient exterminator of Aragami.

The First Unit and Lenka in particular gawk from their helicopter as the one-woman army Alisa darts and jumps and repels about the giant transport plane. Not only does it get to show us the extent of her abilities (and her superiority to fellow new-type Lenka), but also the various tools at a new-type’s disposal. Alisa switches from sword to gun with ease, and when she tuns out of ammo, she simply uses her arc to devour an aragami and convert it into more ammo…which is a handy trick.

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When Lindow, Sakuya, and Lenka spot a gigantic swarm of fresh Aragami on the horizon, Lindow decides it’s time to grab Alisa and leave before they get there. It’s a practical and pragmatic call, considering Alisa’s importance to the war effort. But when Lenka jumps down to get her, Alisa pounces on him and proceeds to beat the everloving shit out of him. The message is clear: she’s not leaving the plane. Shortly thereafter we learn why, and see another side of Alisa: the plane is full of wounded survivors, and she won’t abandon them to save her own skin. She values their lives as much as her own (if not more).

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If Alisa won’t leave and they can’t make her, Lindow changes his orders: the four God Eaters will go all out in a defensive stand. They’ll either defeat all the Aragami after them and land safely at Fenrir east together, or they’ll die together.

We get a lot of badass shots of the team about to get to work, and then working. Lenka gradually gets the hang of his arc and is able to keep up with Alisa; while she had a head start I imagine his kill tally was comparable to hers when all was said and done. He even learns to devour.

There are also a lot of smooth moves, like Alisa and Lenka using both versions of their weapons to kill Aragami, or Lindow tossing one into Sakuya’s firing line so she can finish it off. Their flying battlefield, surrounded by sky on all sides, adds excitement and breathlessness to the proceedings.

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Speaking of breathless, how about that sunset, as seen from the plane’s cargo bay ramp? Or the shot of the absolutely massive Aragami taking the helicopter decoy bait, which definitely looks like a very very good thing to happen, as despite our heroes’ successes, there remain things well out of their league…at least for now.

So…why only an 8? Well, because GOD EATER is very one-dimensional. It’s hella cool and stylish and fun, but it’s ultimately empty calories: immediate satisfaction but no nutrition. The characters are very well-drawn and awesome looking, but there’s nothing below the surface. Alisa, like Lenka, is just another bland cipher we’ve seen a million times before (though Sakamoto Maaya does a good job voicing her).

And while I’m not really going to get into the hefty suspension of disbelief required to accept the physics of the battle (Are everyone’s shoes magnetic? Does no one need oxygen), it was pretty silly how last week the much faster fighter jets were immediately taken out by the Aragami, yet this week the helicopter was completely ignored. GOD EATER remains great fun and this was a far better episode than last week’s, but its core flaws remain, which can’t be ignored.

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Kill la Kill – 13

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In the previous episode, things went too far for Ryuko. She allowed her rage consume her, and were it not for Mako, she’d probably be dead. So for much of this episode, she’s out of commission; skulking in the dark, refusing to put Senketsu back on not because she fears him, but because she fears herself while wearing him.

Satsuki is not so idle this week: she’s mobilized Honnouji for war against the Kansai academies, moving at breakneck speed with a laser-focus on her goals while Ryuko stands still, defeated and paralyzed. When a free-speech-loving former school newspaper editor gets beaten badly enough in front of her to stir her to action protecting the weak from the forces of oppression, it looks for a moment like she’s got her groove back. But even that proves to be a deception.

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The show’s trend of having Ryuko falling victim to the machinations of others continues, with devastating results. Even with Satsuki paying a personal visit to her rainbow-haired mom Ragyo asking about Nui, we didn’t expect the newspaper guy to be Nui, and we certainly didn’t expect Ryuko’s rehab to be so quickly “cut” short by the destruction of Senketsu. By the time Satsuki collects the scraps for R&D and Mako is conscripted into Raid Trip service, Ryuko has hit rock bottom…which just means she has to stage an even more stunning comeback!

But while Satsuki sits high and mighty in her double-rotor helicopter, it’s clear she’s being played too. Her mother is obsessed with Kaizen and the notion 99% market share is a defeat; only 100% is victory. Satsuki is tool in Ragyo’s quest for world domination, and by letting Nui harass her, she’s hoping to witness the extent of a kamui’s power, so that they can harness and control it. Whether Satsuki is being the dutiful daughter or secretly vying for her mom’s throne top the World of Adults, it’s clear she won’t have to worry about Ryuko anytime soon.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)