Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mekakucity Actors – 02

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Mekakucity fields a large, color-coded cast of characters, and through two episodes has chosen to focus on one character at a time: Shintaro last week, his little sister Momo this week. But while the Shintaro episode didn’t delve too deeply into what made Shintaro tick, I got a far more intimate portrait of Momo’s psyche as the episode flitted between her past and present; her memory and imagination.

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In a couple of comedic scenes that I felt hung around a little too long, we learn that Momo isn’t good at taking tests and really fears being held back. But part of her difficulties could be attributed to her ability to gather huge groups of people who center their attention on her, which is why she was recruited from a young age to become an idol. The particulars of her peculiar “curse” aren’t explained in depth, but the practical and psychological drawbacks are.

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Put simply, Momo suffers from the same issues she did in school: an overabundance attention to her style. Because no one has any interest in the substance of her personality—only style—there are those who question its very existence; a doubt that seeps into her own thoughts. But just as Shintaro utilized his “curse” (Ene) to his advantage, Momo’s happiness, or at least sanity, may lie her ability to accept and embrace hers.

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On the periphery of this episode other characters observe her from afar, suggesting her recruitment by the same organization that snagged her brother. Curses are often blessings as well; Shintaro and Momo are both blessed with potentially very useful skills to an organization aiming to do…er…whatever it is it’s aiming to do. Perhaps we’ll be filled in about that if and when the two siblings are…

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No Game No Life – 02

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

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

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

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Mekakucity Actors – 01

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Kisaragi Shintaro is a hikikomori haunted by two girls. One is a mysterious dark-haired girl in a sailor fuku who talks to him in strange, melancholy dreamscapes. The other is the puckish Ene, a boisterous computer program he downloaded out of curiosity, but has since become a constant (and often quite irritating) presence in his life. When Ene causes him to spill Coke all over his keyboard, he must brave the outside world and a crowded department store to procure a new one.

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That store is taken over by terrorists who hacked the computer-controlled security, and he suddenly finds himself a hostage the first time he’s left his apartment in a year, which seems to confirm many hikikomoris’ worst fears. Despite their apparent proficiency with technology, the crims don’t bother taking away Shintaro’s smartphone, which also contains Ene. When two game fellow hostages arrange a diversion, Shintaro springs into action, hooking Ene into the store’s computers and canceling the lockdown.

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Leaving aside the fact those looked like display units in an electronic store (and hence normally wouldn’t be connected in any way to the store’s security system), this was a low-key yet engrossing introduction to this world, which looks like a city just a few towns over from Naoetsu, the setting for most of the Monogatari Series. Like that and other SHAFT shows, we’re shown a plethora of bumper cards, wide shots, detailed expressive close-ups. I’m a fan of this precise, schematic aesthetic.

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Unlike other first episodes this season that lay out fairly clearly what they’re about through various kinds of exposition, Mekakucity prefers to present most of its first episode without excessive comment or explanation. I know how Shintaro and Ene “met”, that there’s something to that girl in Shintaro’s mind, and that he’ll surely cross paths with the hooded people he meets in the store; but why he’s a hikikomori, who he was before, and where all of this is going are things the show decided not to reveal from the get-go.

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As if to underline its deliberateness, we get what will likely be the show’s OP presented as the ED (a fairly common first episode thing to do), and a rainbow cornucopia of cool-looking characters flash across the screen, most of whom only appeared in this episode for a moment, if that. It’s a little overwhelming, but also enticing and invigorating, like getting used to the interface of a new video game you just cracked open. My questions are many, but answers are sure to come…along with more questions.

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No Game No Life – 01

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I wasn’t planning on watching this as I’ve never heard of it, but that seems to happen about once a season here at RABUJOI. Unlike WizBar, I’ve caught this right at the beginning. If every episode hence appoaches being as good as this first one, this could be a hell of a show. Here’s hoping this doesn’t crash and burn in the production values department in episode 11, too, because the visuals rock.

The show stars Sora and Shiro, a brother-sister pair of NEET shut-ins (or hikikomori) who are as otherworldly good at gaming as they are otherworldly bad at living in the real world (or caring about it, for that matter). The visuals establish their primacy right from the get-go: the outside world is bright, bleak, washed-out; the Lain-like interior (no coolant pools though) of the siblings is dark, but far more vivid in hue.

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They already have one foot out of the world they were born into, defeating 1200 elite MMORPG players while controlling only four mid-level players themselves, when they’re contacted by a stranger who knows far more about them than they should. This isn’t Heartbleed at work though, it’s Tet, the god of the world where Sora and Shiro truly belong: a world of games called Disboard. There’s a great sense of wonder and adventure as we’re suddenly thrust into that new world along with them; ending up 10,000 meters above it.

As Sora remarks, when a protagonist often finds himself in a new world, stories tend to depict that person’s return home. But this world feels more like home to them than the old one; right down to the color scheme. They waste no time putting their not inconsiderable gaming skills to good use, procuring supplies, cash, and a room with ease, and analyzing a game between players vying to become the next King of the world.

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This episode was an energetic,000 snazzy trip from start to finish, wasting no time getting Sora and Shiro out of one world, into the next, and into the thick of the action. While there was a glut of world-specific info for me to process (including Tet’s “ten commandments”), the show kept my eyes nice and busy while dispensing it, helping the necessarily medicine go down. My ears were also treated to the best soundtrack so far; broody and ethereal and brash and booming depending on the situation.

While Sora and Shiro are cocky and successful now (and would dismiss charges of beginner’s luck), things will really get interesting for me when they face off with a worthy or possibly even superior opponent. I look forward to that, and to the episodes with this pair of siblings being more than three minutes long, and containing no brother flesh-eating!

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Vividred Operation – 04

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While playing softball, Akane’s home run that destroys the camera of the secluded hacker Shinomiya Himawari, whom Kenjirou just happened to ID as the the culprit in the theft of confidential Alone data. Akane, Aoi and Wakaba pay her a visit to apologize, and they end up visiting the site of the Streamer plant, which distributes energy to the world from the Manifester engine. When an Alone attacks the site, the three fly off to fight it, leaving Himawari to shut the plant down. Afterwards, Kuroki Rei powers up the Alone, and Himawari gains and quickly masters the Vivid System, docking with Akane to become Vividyellow and defeat the Alone.

And then there were four. We had a red, blue, and green techno shoujo (our own term for what they are, since it’s science and tech, not magic, that they use), so for completion’s sake, we needed a yellow. She turns out to be the egghead of the bunch, being a total Isshiki Kenjirou groupie and hardcore Manifester engine nerd. He brief backstory illustrates how a former friend she trusted betrayed her and turned her into a pariah, and so she’s been skittish about trusting or even interacting with people ever since. Himawari refutes Akane’s claim she loves the Manifester engine, not knowing Akane is its inventor’s granddaughter.

When Akane leaves her behind to shut down the plant while she fights the Alone, Himawari is convinced she won’t come back, even though she promised, because people have promised her things before and let her down. But Akane doesn’t let her down, and as a result of their newly-formed friendship, Himawari becomes the yellow one. Interestingly, the episode points out how quickly she learns the ropes of the Vivid system, though Saegusa learned it just as quickly last week. Her weapon, which reflects the Alone’s weapons back on itself, are suitably badass, and stuff get blow’d up good, as it should in such a series.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 03

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Sasami types about her family, the Tsukuyomi clan, descended from the first human to have the power of Amaterasu. She was given intense training at a remote shrine to become the latest vessel for her powers, but she got sick of it and left with her brother. When a third arm comes out of her chest as she’s typing, it represents a part of her personality that was repressed as part of her training – a sense of desire. It tells her her brother has returned to the shrine. Sasami follows him, accompanied by the Yagami sisters, who destroy the shrine. Tsusugi reveals she is actually Amaterasu, and she and her “sisters” came into being because of Sasami’s wish. With that, Sasami learns she, not her brother, had Amaterasu’s power all along.

This episode finally provides some concrete context for what the hell has been going on in the first two. It contains a lot of exposition and backstory and revealed identities, but still contains just as much excitement and action as its predecessors. A ton of revelations are dished out, not the least of which is Tsurugi’s true identity as Amaterasu incarnate, and her sisters aren’t really sisters, but gods she created from parts of herself she tore off. Tsurugi, Kagami, and Tama are here because of Sasami. She desired a normal life free of the responsibilities of being a vessel Amaterasu’s powers, and they coalesced to protect that life.

Her brother was a MacGuffin all along, having no divinity at all. Instead, he remains her steadfast, loyal, obedient, loving brother, whose duty is to protect her from sadness and harm. Even knowing he has no divine powers, Sasami seems to give herself a kick in the pants and march outside to make her brother’s efforts worthwhile. It turns out a curse made her a hikikomori, so now she can go outside with ease. But how far will she “try at life” before she finds herself with responsibilities and duties once again? If that happens, the Yagami sisters will be there to stamp it out, preserving Sasami’s god-given right to be as lazy and useless as she cares to be.


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 02

Tsurugi notes that an unusual number of students are skipping school, including her colleague Kamiomi’s sister Sasami. Kagami believes they have become addicted to an MMORPG, so the Yagami sisters travel to Kamiomi’s home to investigate, using Sasami’s many computers. Worried they’ll shut the game down and erase all her progress, she attempts to sabotage their efforts, but fails. Eventually, everyone is sucked into the game, where a divine monster is keeping the game alive. Kagami deduces that the monster is the produce of Sasami’s wish for the game to never be shut down, as it was when the company was in financial trouble three years ago. She bids the monster rest in peace and the MMO is shut down.

After primarily showing last week, the beginning of this episode is all about telling. Specifically, that Sasami is most likely “unmotivated” beause she once possessed the powers of Amaterasu, the most powerful of the myriad gods that inhabit the world (In the Shinto religion, sheis the goddess of the sun and universe, from whom the Emperor of Japan is directly descended.) Emphasis on once. Now, apparently, her faceless brother Kamiomi has that power, and he accidentally used it to turn the world into chocolate last week. This week Sasami must deal with something accidentally done in service of her wish for an MMO game to never be shut down.The game was her escape three years ago, and all the other lesser gods heard that wish and made it come true.

It resulted in an unpopular game suddenly becoming all the rage, and that game’s central monster trapping the 10,000 players inside, thus the game will never end as she wished. From what little we see of it, it’s not the best game, and Sasami seems to realize that when the time comes to free all those people. Keeping the game alive was nice and all, but she didn’t need it anymore. And so we have another instance of the entire world being altered because of a misinterpreted whim made by those who just happen to have the powers of Amaterasu. or was this just the three Yagami sisters inviting themselves into Sasami’s house, messing up all her shit, and playing video games in the dark? It was both, and more.


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 01

Tsukuyomi Sasami (Asuma Kana) is a demanding hikikomori (shut-in) who has her faceless older brother Kamiomi do everything for her. When he goes to school, she uses the Oni-chan Kanshi (Brother Surveillance) System to keep tabs on him as he interacts with the three Yagami sisters – Tsurugi (Chiwa Saito), Kagami (Hanazawa Kana), and Tama (Nonaka Ai). When Sasami accidentally turns the world into chocolate, the three of them have to fight the chocolate and return the world to normal.

“Sasami@Unmotivated” is exceedingly bizarre and quirky, but also a heckuva lot of fun to watch, and beautifully rendered, with extensive use of watercolor washes for backgrounds and textures. We were reminded quite a bit of Arakawa Under the Bridge, and not just because Sasami’s brother is voiced by Whitey. Both revel in the absurd, whether it’s a shut-in girl being waited on hand and foot by her brother, or that he is absolutely devoted and obsessed with her, almost to a fault, or that the Sasami has a “brother surveillance system”, or the simple fact that the brother never, ever shows his faaaace. Perhaps most interesting: Sasami may have to stay inside to avoid altering the world.

And that’s only part of the nuttiness. For some reason, all the discussion of Valentine’s Day chocolates suddenly has the world itself turning to chocolate, much to Sasami’s dismay. And after Sasami hangs out with the colorful and eccentric Yagami sisters one by one (although really, everyone’s pretty equally eccentric here), they whip out superpowers and save the world by encasing Sasami in chocolate, which makes her brother ecstatic. Yup, it almost wouldn’t be a proper Shinbou joint without the complicated brother-sister relationship. Like we said, this looked great, sounded great, and moved at a good clip. We’ll see if this quality – and lunacy – can be sustained.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)