Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 04 – Be Our Guest

In a cryptic and haunting Blade Runner-esque cold open, Estella holds a bird in her hand beside a second caged bird, and when she smiles, another AI lying on a medical bed smiles as well. Researchers’ voices report they’ve “failed”.

The second AI ends up in a junkyard, surrounded by other discarded AIs in various states of disrepair. A light shines on her once-beautiful, now-ruined face: four armed men have come for her, to give her a new mission.

Vivy decides to lie to Yuzuka about knowing her sister, insisting she’s mistaken. Before Yuzuka can argue, the entire ship shakes. Estella informs all hands that a malfunction of unknown origin has occurred, and all guests are to head to the main hall as a staging area for evacuation.

The crash of the Sunrise is beginning, but Matsumoto is confused; it’s far too early. Events have diverged too far from history. Then Vivy and Yuzuka meet Estella in a corridor, and immediately after Vivy notices she’s not wearing a staff bracelet, Estella attacks her.

After doing some digging, Matsumoto discovers the culprits behind “Estella’s” manipulation and the impending crash of the Sunrise: the anti-AI terrorist group Toak, led by an operative from fifteen years ago.

Vivy and Yuzuka escape the evil “Estella” double and soon find the beheaded LeClerc. Vivy removes her ruined arm and attaches LeClerc’s functioning one, then asks Matsumoto to prepare the anti-personnel combat program he tried to forcefully upload before. Yuzuka on the verge of wigging out, so Vivy gently presses their foreheads together and calmly promises her she’ll get her safely back to Earth without fail.

Upon receiving the combat program, Vivy’s entire aura shifts. She’s still Vivy, just considerably more badass. Ditching her glasses and putting her jacket back on, she heads out into a corridor and the Toak agents are absolutely no match for her superior speed and strength as she dodges bullets and delivers vicious blows.

Vivy revives the real Estella in her office, and when Vivy says the terrorists have control of the Sunrise and are bringing her down, Estella realizes only one person besides herself could make that possible: her younger twin sister, Elizabeth. They were created to determine if copying over one AI’s accumulated experience data to another AI would produce a perfect clone of the original. This puts the cold open into context.

Meanwhile in the control room, Elizabeth sets the drop trajectory to crash the Sunrise, just as her Toak “master” recognizes Vivy on a security monitor; turns out he’s Kakitani, the operative whose life she saved fifteen years ago. As Matsumoto would probably put it, her “unnecessary calculation” resulted in Kakitani coming up with this new scheme.

But Beth has some unnecessary calculations of her own, sedating Kakitani and warning the other Toak agents to take him and hurry to the evacuation ship. She wasn’t prepared to let her master sacrifice himself.

She leaves them, ditches her blonde wig, and changes into more comfortable threads for her confrontation with Estella and Vivy. Beth cops to convincing LeClerc that Estella killed the previous owner, giving her all the systems access she needed. Vivy uses her combat skills to protect Estella, and Matsumoto infects Beth with a reformatting virus that affects her motor skills.

Unlike Estella, the free bird who had a mission, Beth had nothing until Kakitani brought her in. She considers herself Master’s “lifekeeper”, defining him as the only member of “humankind” it became her mission to protect. There’s no doubt she got the short shrift, but Vivy and Matsumoto simply don’t have time for the sisters to hash it out, so Vivy headbutts Beth, knocking her out.

In the control room, Estella discovers that the die is cast: Sunrise’s mass won’t allow it to pull out of its descent. Even worse, it’s headed not for the ocean, but a coastal city. To fulfill her lifekeeper mission, Estella decides to systematically separate the Sunrise into its constituent modules, so the smaller pieces will burn up in the atmosphere.

It’s an operation that can only be performed by her, in the control room, so she’ll be going down with the ship. When Vivy tells her they’re sisters too, Estella reminds her, they’re AIs. They live for their missions, not one another.

With another gentle meeting of foreheads—possibly exchanging data—Estella urges Vivy to board one of the departing evac ships. Shortly after, Beth joins her in the control room, her Toak conditioning purged, and the sisters meet in person for the first time.

Vivy reunites with Yuzuka aboard an evac ship, and Estella’s warm and calming voice comes over the PA, apologizing to the guests for all of the inconvenience they’ve suffered, but assuring them that they’ll be alright. She then opens the ships’ observation windows and directs their attention to the sun rising over the Earth.

As Beth begins to sing a sad and beautiful song about the stars with her sister by her side, the evac ships are on course for the airports on the surface, and the human guests aren’t just remaining calm, they’re smiling as they behold Earth’s majesty—and smiling guests was always Estella’s greatest wish.

As the several dozen decoupled components Space Hotel Sunrise burn up in the atmosphere shortly after the song concludes, Matsumoto declares their Singularity Project mission accomplished, and shuts down until their next mission in the future.

Vivy confesses to Yuzuka, that she was lying before about not being Diva; not she did know Momoka, she was her only human friend, who gave her her name and the bear. Vivy gives Yuzuka the bear for safekeeping, and the two await their return to humankind’s proper place: Dear Old Earth. So ends another fine chapter in Vivy’s epic time-traversing odyssey to save humankind.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 03 – Space Hotel Sunrise

Fifteen years have passed since Diva rescued the assemblyman, Momoka died in a plane crash, and Matsumoto beat the ever-loving shit out of Diva to prove the point that they can’t meddle excessively in the timeline. He had her body repaired and she returned to NiaLand, where she continued to perform and attracted larger crowds over the years.

She’s still wrestling with the concept of singing “with all one’s heart” when Matsumoto returns to report the next “Singularity Point” requiring action. He also scolds her for influencing the assemblyman to push for even more pro-AI human rights legislation. But the more pressing crisis is that of Space Hotel Sunrise, whose AI director crashes into the earth, killing thousands.

Matsumoto arranges for Diva to join the space hotel’s all-AI hospitality staff under the name Vivy, going Full Temporal Secret Agent in a thrilling space venue that calls to mind the Fhloston Paradise space cruise in The Fifth Element. She meets the director, Estella, and learns that she’s her successor model—essentially, her little sister.

While Estella reminds Vivy to keep smiling for human guests who may be on edge from being in space for the first time, Matsumoto’s assignment for her is simple: prevent Estella from crashing the Space Hotel Sunrise by eliminating her. The crash is a major catalyst in anti-Ai sentiment that will eventually lead to the AI uprising.

The problem is, Vivy simply can’t reconcile the Estella she’s met—and observes playing with children in a Zero-G bubble room—with the Estella later remembered as “the single most grievously defective AI in history”. Matsumoto considers this irrelevant.

They’re here to destroy Estella and prevent the crash; anything else is “needless calculations” he warned her about. Still, while fulfilling her hospitality duties, Vivy learns from her co-worker Leclerc that there are rumors Estella took over the hotel and was involved in the death of the previous human owner.

Vivy decides to investigate Estella on her own, but Matsumoto follows her into Estella’s quarters just as Estella arrives. When Estella picks him up, he prepares to hack her and cause a system failure, but Vivy casts him aside and asks Estella straight-up about the previous owner.

She maintains that the owner died in an EVA accident, which Matsumoto later confirms she had no involvement. Estella asked his family for permission to keep the hotel going under her management to keep a promise he made to him before he died. When she says anyone would laugh at an AI talking about such things, Vivy, genuinely moved, says she wouldn’t laugh.

Just then, an alarm sounds, some 23 hours before the crash is slated to occur. Estella runs a scan and determines a malfunction in a security wall. She asks the rest of the staff to double check all systems while she opens up the roof of the main hall to reveal the dazzling night sky. Then she sings a song to calm and soothe the stressed guests—a true professional all the way.

However—and this will probably be important next week—Matsumoto is right beside her when she opens the roof. Did he do something to her while they were in physical contact? Also, a girl recognizes Vivy as Diva and introduces herself as Momoka’s younger sister. For Vivy, that seals it: she isn’t going to let another Kirishima die, no matter what.

However, something is very rotten in the state of Leclerc, as she meets secretly with Estella in a cargo bay and holds out some kind of device Estella presses with her thumb. Moments later, as Leclerc walks away, Estella rushes up to her as if to gather her into an embrace, the shears Leclerc’s goddamn head off and sighs in a thoroughly sinister way.

This sudden carnage occurs while we’re still hearing Estella’s lovely song about the stars, providing a wonderful clash of the beautiful and the horrific. Whether it’s Leclerc who caused Estella to malfunction with that little thumbpad or Estella just snapped, Vivy’s trials aboard Space Hotel Sunrise have just begun.

Golden Kamuy – 31 – Borscht and Babes

Thus far, the two separate parties have enjoyed fairly easy going across the subarctic lands of Karafuto, but Sugimoto’s team finally runs out of good luck when their dogsled convey hits a nasty blizzard. The two sleds are separated, and Sugimoto, Tanigaki, and Cikapasi must dig a hole in the frozen ground and destroy their sled to build a fire, which Tanigaki quickly buries so it will burn slower.

They pile the dogs on top and wait for one of two things: the blizzard to let up, or death. Tanigaki warns Sugimoto not to fall asleep or he’ll die, but he still has a semi-waking dream about his time in the trenches with Toraji, followed by a vision of Asirpa which underscores his longing to return “home”—i.e. to her side.

The second group, composed of Tsukishima, Koito, Enonoka and Henke, manage to find shelter in the form of an old pre-war lighthouse occupied by a kindly Russian couple. They put the soldiers to work cleaning the soot off the old lens so they can activate the light, which Sugimoto and Tanigaki eventually see and realize to be their salvation.

Up here in the colder wastes when the weather turns, there are no flags or allegiances beyond to your fellow man, and the hospitable Russian husband and wife are truly a welcome salve in a show packed with double-crossers and chiselers. The Japanese and Ainu kids get to taste borscht for the first time, and find it very vkusno (yummy).

They learn the couple aren’t empty-nesters by choice; one day a Russian defector came upon their home and took away their only daughter, Svetlana. As soon as we saw her photo I suspected we’ll meet her at some point in the future. As thanks for their kindness, Sugimoto tells the couple he’ll ask around for Svetlana’s whereabouts. In exchange, should Asirpa visit the lighthouse, he gives them a photo of himself along with the message that he’s still alive.

From there, Sugimoto’s group camps at an Ainu village near Niitoi, still well south of the border Asirpa & Co. have already crossed. There, Enonoka regales a weary Cikapasi of the local legend of the meko oyasi, or thieving mountain cat. Koito likens the cat to Ogata, since “mountain cat” was not only army slang for “geisha”, of which Ogata is a son, but because a mountain cat is synonymous with deception.

We learn that Asirpa heard the same story of the meko oyasi from her dad that Enonoka tells Cikapasi, and she even shared Cikapasi’s replies. Kiroranke tells her he and Wilk once made bank selling a cat’s pelt, though the meat wasn’t anything to write home about. Asirpa wants to know more, so Kiroranke is taking them to a woman who knew Wilk well: their boss Sofia, currently imprisoned in the prison in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, AKA Ako.

Like the meko oyasi, Sofia was an accomplished thief who stole to fund their anti-imperialist operations, earning her the nickname “Golden Hand”. We cut to her being whipped by a prison guard but laughing off the lashes; time and prison have clearly hardened her considerably. And while she’s no longer a young beauty, she just so happens to share a cell with none other than Svetlana, whom we see when Sofia receives a letter in invisible ink from her old subordinate Yulbars, AKA Kiroranke.

For all the raging testosterone of Sugimoto and the other soldiers, this season continues to cultivate a strong theme of feminism. Wilk and Kiroranke were led by a woman, and Wilk in turn raised his daughter to lead the Ainu into a new era. The introduction of Ako Prison, Sofia, and Svetlana presents the possibility that after Sugimoto and Asirpa split apart at one prison, they’re poised to reunite at another.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 13

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Despite the very dreamlike imagery, I was pretty convinced for some reason that the training camp was finished and this thirteenth episode, bridging the gap between the first and second halves of this show, would take it easy. That misunderstanding only lasted until we learn Isshiki really was just having a dream.

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The first years have a long way to go: Chef Doujima has arranged a challenge that will surely thin the already thin herds: having to create an innovative breakfast dish using eggs worthy of acknowledgement by a huge cross-section of diverse customers, from the growers and producers of the Totsuki resorts’ foodstuffs, to the resorts’ service staff, all of whom are extremely keen, experienced food critics. They also have to serve 200 servings of their dish—which they have all night to devise and prepare—in order to complete the challenge.

This episode does a good job rendering an incredibly tense and difficult situation being tackled by people who are already exhausted from the day’s challenges. But the intent is clear: the chefs who pass the training camp have to have ample backbone and endurance to go with their talent, taste, resourcefulness, and speed.

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The episode also branches out, affording us dozens of little mini-stories happening to all of the various characters, none of whom are as simple as enemies or friends anymore. Even Erina has multiple facets, and the personification of one of those is a mysterious new character I’ll call “Snow White,” whose looks and air of confidence suggests she’s quite a chef to be reckoned with. Naturally, Souma treats her like he’d treat anyone else: with courtesy, friendliness, and respect, irregardless of her hidden motives for him.

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For the second straight episode, Food Wars doesn’t simply focus on Souma. Everyone gets a chance to show off their breakfast-innovation skillz: there’s Takumi’s “Insalata Frittata” (which is almost so corny it almost comes all the way around to being cool); Megumi’s delectable looking “bite-size oden” (which capitalizes on her nurturing cuisine); Nikumi’s “loco moco donburi” (I loved her look of nervous anticipation as the judges tasted), all the way to Erina’s exquisite Eggs Benedict (made with a dried mullet roe-infused muffin that shimmers like gold and tastes like million bucks).

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Erina is the first to pass, with Takumi right on her heels, and Megumi doing particularly well, still flush with confidence after her near-as-makes-no-difference win against Shino. But Snow White has an odd dish made up of various plain-looking eggs, which doesn’t seem to be popular. And that brings us to Souma, who by episode’s end has served less than ten of his “souffle omelette”, which showed promise but may have fizzled out, as some of his ideas sometimes do (peanut butter squid, anyone?).

Could the pressure of wanting to get better be negatively effecting Souma’s focus and ability to power through the challenges? Is that constant worry he’s not yet good enough stifling his creativity rather than stoking it? It looks like he’s in a very bad way, and he’s on his own. While I’m sure he’ll pull out of it next week, it isn’t the “whether” but the “how” that I’m most interested in; along with what Snow White’s game is.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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