ēlDLIVE – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kokonose Chuuta is a high schooler who avoids contact with others and is always talking to a voice no one else hears. One day he’s scooped up by ēlDLIVE, a space police force, who immediately put him to work apprehending an alien criminal, who turns out to be his buxom teacher.

The voice belongs to an alien who lives within him, and with its help Chuuta successfully arrests the alien and is formally accepted into ēlDLIVE. Among the bureau’s members is his classmate and crush Sonokata Misuzu.

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Isn’t it always the way: you try to keep your head down and lead a quiet life helping your auntie at her muffin shop, only to be recruited by a bizarre space police unit? ēlDLIVE presents that rather outlandish scenario, and does it with a brisk pace, confidence, and humor.

Not only that, the person who had been the least human-looking character – Chuuta’s teacher – turns out to be an alien perp in disguise. His crush is pretty generically hostile to him, but at least she’s voiced by Hayami Saori.

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ēlDLIVE is fine harmless fun, but there’s not much to it beyond its vivid candy coating, and while it tries to go out there with kooky alien designs, the weird alien that harmlessly pops out of Chuuta’s chest just…doesn’t look that cool. Nor does Chuuta himself, who I guess is supposed to be an innocent weenie.

Still, both the premise and the execution smacks of a show with limited appeal for actual adults – this has Saturday morning kid’s cartoon all over it, unlike something darker like Parasyte. I don’t foresee ēlDLIVE lasting long on my Winter watchlist, but it is inoffensive and decent for what it is.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 04

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In theory, Satoru’s task is simple: if he remains in close contact with Kayo consistently for one more week, and they can celebrate their birthdays together at his house, he believes he’ll be able to change history by preventing her kidnapping and murder.

He makes it a point to try to hang out with Kayo on a Saturday date to the museum, hoping to get her away from her home so her mother won’t be tempted to beat her. And in another amusing instance of Satoru-29 thinking out loud, Satoru doesn’t mince words in asking Kayo on a date.

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Kayo’s mother proves a formidable obstacle to that day of bliss – were it not for Satoru’s truly heroic mother stopping Kayo’s mom from striking her after she admits she wants to go out. With Sachiko there (who knows exactly what kind of person she is), Kayo’s mom, concerned with appearances, weighs her options and decides to allow the date.

Thank goodness after Satoru and his mom left the episode didn’t cut to Kayo’s mom taking out her anger on Kayo. When I saw Satoru and Kayo standing before the stuffed bear, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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Of course, this being far more than just a slice-of-life romantic tale, it’s not all peaches and sunshine at the museum. On numerous occasions, Satoru gets deja vu-style flashes of Kayo saying and doing things she’s already said and done, leading him (and me) to believe that he hasn’t yet taken Kayo off the path that leads to her death, and the future won’t be changed so easily.

The film reel pattern in the letterboxing and the visualization of the various timelines as a tangle of said film is effectively used but not overused, particularly when both fast-forward to the same outcome: Kayo’s funerary portrait and total defeat.

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Satoru sticks to the plan, his courage buoyed, not cowed by his sense of duty to protect and save Kayo. He thinks out loud, in front of the whole class, that Kayo is pretty (her reactions to these slip-ups are priceless), he walks her home before being intercepted by her mother, and he tells her he’ll be at her house in the morning – the morning of Day X, which will decide everything – so they can walk to school together, which they do hand in hand.

If one were to liken Satoru’s quest as a war, we would call his 29-year-old self a grizzled veteran, hardened by the despair of the bad future that didn’t just affect him and Kayo negatively. Yuuki’s in prison and his mom is dead. There’s a lot riding on his success, but his previous 10-year-old self would never have been able to achieve what he achieves during this week, because he lacked that foresight, that loss of innocence, that ability to see beyond himself. This Satoru can.

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So he only very grudingly breaks contact with Kayo on this last day, seeing her right to her door, getting up before midnight to watch over her house and wait for the stroke of midnight. This entire day and in particular those last moments of it, are positively brimming with suspence, so much so I had to make sure to control my breathing just in case something awful transpired.

The episode also made sure to show us what Kenya, Yashiro, and Kayo’s mom – all persons of interest with regards to her potential disappearance – but none of them are anywhere near Kayo, and aren’t doing anything suspicious. When the second hand ticked past the twelve, I felt I could relax a little…but only a little.

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Seeing Kayo in her jammies receive a waiting Satoru at her door was a moment of triumph, as well as another perfect use of her unofficial catchphrase “Are you stupid?” As the hours and minutes until their birthday party ticked away, the suspense started to build all over again, especially when Yashiro told the two to do cleaning duty after school.

Turns out both that, and the suspicious-at-the-time meeting between Yashiro and Kenya that ended last week, were perfectly innocent: Satoru’s friends planned a surprise party for him and Kayo. Isn’t that something? Gee, it’s really dusty in here…or maybe there’s an raw onion nearby? *sniffle*

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The joy and mirth of the festivities are matched, and then some, when the episode inevitably, mercilessly brings the hammer down. At some point Satoru has to walk Kayo home and wish her good night, she promises to give him his birthday present tomorrow, and waves goodbye wearing the mittens he got her.

The promise is never fulfilled. The next morning at school, Kayo is absent. Satoru was able to change the future, but only by one day. I’d say I can only imagine what became of her in those evening hours they were apart…but I honestly have no freakin’ clue.

When confronting Kayo’s mother, Satoru exclaims, beyond the years of his physical body, “when it comes to saving a friend, there are no gains and losses!” And he’s absolutely right. Just as he wrongly thought getting past the X-Day was a victory, he’s wrong if he thinks this latest development is a loss.

Even if it is, and even if he doesn’t have ready acces to an IBN 5100, the results of those past battles don’t matter. The war goes on. It has really only just begun.

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Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 03

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We bear witness to some truly dark, viscerally awful events in this episode from which my heart is still hurting, but also glimmers of brightness, joy, and hope, even as a vice seems to close around an unwitting Satoru. He may be 29 in a 10-year-old’s body, but there’s still so much he doesn’t know about Kayo’s disappearance, those glimmers can’t quite cut through the gloom of his predicament, especially considering this could be it; his last chance.

He will have to do his absolute best in order to save Kayo, something he does not do when he intentionally slows and lets his athletically-superior classmate beat him in a skating race, repeating the same mistake he made the first time he lived in this time. Everyone who worships the other kid just assumes it was a close race, but had Satoru won, they would have accused him of cheating, so he took the easy way out.

This, after promising to Kayo (doing her best to cheer for him, in her way), that he’d do his best. Afterwards, when he asks what Kayo’s birthday is, she accuses him of lying to her…which he did. And Satoru must think at this time: if he repeated the skiing mistake, what else would he repeat that would doom Kayo a second time? The variables are seemingly endless.

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However, the possibilities do thankfully narrow considerably for Satoru. Kayo’s body wasn’t discovered until Spring, but she hadn’t turned 11 when she disappeared. He’s determined the day she disappears is between March 1st and her birthday, and learns her birthday is the same as his: March 2. He has eleven days to save her. Will it be enough?

He learns, by the way, by checking the ledger of his teacher, Yashiro Gaku, one of the first people other than Kayo’s mother whom I suspected of being responsible for Kayo’s disappearance. This is due to Satoru’s observation that he’s a sharp, observant guy, but also because the camera lingers on him suspiciously.

Satoru learns more about Yuuki (whom he’d also save from Death Row if he stops the kidnappings), both good and bad. Turns out he wasn’t just some unemployed kid; he worked early hours at his dad’s bento store. He also has porn, which embarasses the 10-year-old in Satoru (who seems to take over a little more while he’s hanging out with Yuuki). But having a porn stash is normal; it certainly doesn’t make Yuuki a bad person, and it’s far from evidence he’s a murderer.

But Satoru, and I, for that matter, simply was not ready for the horror of discovering a skimpily-clad Kayo laying in a shed, exposed to the elements, covered with marks from a truly vicious beating from her nightmare of a mother.

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Forget 10-year-olds; this is hard for anyone of any age with any morals to witness and allow to stand. And yet, Satoru’s body betrays him. Were he 29, he could scoop Kayo away right there and then, take her to the police and tell them what he found. But he’s a puny little kid, and the mother tosses him aside like a ragdoll. Satoru can’t do anything right now, and it sickens him.

Back “home”, Kayo’s mom proceeds to shove Kayo’s head in icy water so the swelling of the wounds will go down in time for school. There’s both desperation and cold, evil calculation in the mother’s methods; perhaps she went further than she usually does with Kayo. The “man” watching TV in the living room, rather than act like an actual man and stop this, warns Kayo’s mother to save some ice for his booze. Truly disgusting people. Kayo is in hell.

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And yet, the marks and swelling is all covered up (as much as can be, anyway) the next day. Kayo is late, but she comes to school. Most of her classmates don’t notice the marks because they’re not really looking at her. But Satoru’s gaze goes straight to the welt on her neck.

When lunch money is misplaced, one girl, Misato, immediately accuses Kayo, because she’s “poor and hungry” all the time. Kayo’s mom may be a dispicable brute and a coward, but Misato is like a larval version, attacking with caustic words that spread across the class.

Satoru isn’t having it. He shuts Misato, making her cry (oh, boo-freakin’-who–brat!), but also restores Kayo’s faith in him. Satoru was able to do something (unlike before with her mom) and he did it, without worrying about how it would cause trouble for him.

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Satoru later speaks to Yashiro-sensei, who shares his concern for Kayo’s well-being, and may now have the evidence needed to have her removed from the danger by social services. During their talk, Old Satoru thinks out loud with his 10-year-old voice, talking beyond his years, but Yashiro doesn’t seem to think anything of it, instead agreeing that up to this point social services have been incompetent.

Also, Kayo’s mom is ruthlessly meticulous when it comes to hiding the abuse and not being around when they come to inspect the home). This is one of those glimmers of hope, but not knowing if Yashiro is hiding his true colors, they’re just that; glimmers. Besides, even if Yashiro is a saint, he won’t act to save Kayo as fast as Satoru knows she has to be saved.

Made up after he defended her in class (her memory about Misato’s stupid mechanical pencil was great, as well as underlying how terribly petty kids can be), Satoru invites Kayo to join him in the mountains to see a “Christmas tree”, after she also mentioned how she once went to Misato’s house for a Christmas party and saw a great big and beautiful one; obviously, there are no holidays in Kayo’s home; only blood and despair.

Satoru lets her forget about her everyday hell for just a little while, and when a pair of red foxes circle them numerous times, it almost seemed like part of the universe was placing some kind of protection on them. As for the real icicle-decorated tree, it’s not technically a real Christmas tree (leading Kayo to use her catchphrase “are you stupid?”), the grand sight of it does produce her first big smile of the show; a rare moment of pure joy that’s wonderful to behold. Kayo really needed this, and so did I.

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Unfortunately, there’s another part of the universe that has it in for Kayo and Satoru, as it’s all but confirmed that Yashiro may be up to no good, as the final shot of the episode features a camera looking through a murky window at Yashiro with his back turned to us, backed by a foreboding musical stab.

But it might be worse than I thought: Kenya is also there, with his black turtleneck; his eyes covered in shadow, and what looks like a smirk on his face. Old Satoru did say Kenya acted beyond his years. Could he and the similarly sharp, observant Yashiro be behind the kidnappings, and like Kayo’s mother, escaped justice in the original timeline? I know, I’m assuming the worst, but the episode isn’t making it easy not to.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 02

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Well, it didn’t take long for the season’s top pick to pull away from the field: Erased is the best new anime we’re watching at RABUJOI, and it isn’t really close. This week it raises the bar once more, throwing us along with Satoru back to 1988. The setting is perfectly retro, from the stoically practical structures to the efficient boxy cars.

Satoru is, naturally, quite disoriented by this latest (and by far furthest) revival, as anyone would bee if their 29-year-old consciousness suddenly found itself in the body of their 10-year-old self. The early camerawork, detached and dream-like, does a great job visualizing that disorientation.

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But once he realizes what being where and when he is means, he races home, where his mother finds him dozing on the floor, waiting for her to come home from work. I’ll admit, I was not prepared for the emotional punch of seeing Sachiko again, nor Satoru’s reaction to seeing her again. Tears fell from my eyes as they fell from his. That’s when you know you’re locked in a story.

He’s right; his mom will look pretty much the same as she does here 18 years later, and that’s some good-ass genes. But the emotional similarity ends there. The feeling of simply living with his mom in that cramped little apartment, smelling her cook dinner, and eating as a loving familial unit; he remembers it all, but now he sees it in a new light.

He now experiences this stuff through the eyes of a 29-year-old who, from his perspective, saw his mother lying dead in a pool of her own blood onl hours ago, not the 10-year-old boy she sees. As such, his good manners and loving, grateful attitude throw his mom off.

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Satoru also realizes that now he’s back in a time before Hinazuki Kayo was murdered, he can act to try to avoid that tragedy. But first things first; he has to introduce himself and become friends with her. His mates misinterpret his attention to and desire to speak with her as a crush, and manage to arrange a meeting, which goes…okay.

Satoru figures out she looks to be a bit of a handful (“this brat is a pain in the ass” was a brilliantly timed line from his inner voice), but Kayo quickly sees a bit of herself in him, specifically that they’re both “performing” to the world around them. Now, for a minute, I thought she might be aware his 29-year-old self is in there, or even be a 29-year-old herself inside.

But neither has to turn out to be true, because the fact remains: they have a connection. It’s one they might have had if Satoru had approached her the first time around. Now he has the benefit of foresight and hindsight.

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Kenya, the wisest-beyond-his-years member of Satoru’s group of friends, seems to know what his mate’s interest in Kayo is, and instructs him to read her essay in the class composition collection, a short, simple, utterly heartbreaking tale entitled “The Town Without Me” (or “The Town Where Only I am Missing”), which also happens to be the title of the show.

Had he read the essay 18 years ago, he may not have seen it for the obvious, top-of-her-lungs cry for help that it is; it’s also chillingly prophetic. But he’s not really 10, he’s 29, and now that he has a pretty good idea of Kayo’s situation, he can’t simply stand by and let her be erased a second time. Moreover, he believes saving Kayo will sufficiently alter the future to save his mother, not to mention his framing in the murder.

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So he tells his mom he’s going to have a party in the apartment with five of his friends. She only knows of his four friends, and immediately assumes the fifth is his girlfriend. But one step at a time. Satoru walks to the park where Kayo is reliably hanging out, not wanting to go home to her physically abusive mother (a harsh contrast with Sachiko).

There, Satoru tells her the truth: he does perform around others, pretending to like everybody so some of them will like him in return. She can relate, and elaborates on his thoughts by telling him she often wishes that one day, she won’t have to pretend; that the interactions will be genuine.

29-year-old Satoru can see what’s going on here: as he’s trying to hide his social awkwardness with forced affableness, she’s trying to hide her churning emotions by presenting a stoic, uncaring facade. The problem as he sees it is, a 10-year-old just isn’t strong enough to bear that burden.

Kayo needs a friend; someone who will be there to raise her spirits and restore hope that things will get better; that her suffering won’t be permanent; that she needn’t disappear from town, or from the world. Satoru wants to be that friend, and judging from their discussion and tender meeting of cold, ungloved hands, she’s open to such an arrangement.

I desperately want Satoru to suceed.

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