Appare-Ranman! – 04 – Win With Something Else

While working diligently at the diner, Kosame learns how expensive automobiles are, and gets the idea to simply sell the car they won from Al Lyon. Even with just his half share he’s sure he can book passage back home. Alas, Appare has already dissected the BNW down to the last bolt, and is already preparing to integrate its components into his custom racer.

Meanwhile, Xialian’s boss turns her down simply because “women don’t race.” She just wants a chance to prove she’s capable, and thanks to getting into a fight with lead driver David, the team owner decides to allow an informal race before practice Wednesday. If Xialian loses, she’s fired.

The owner also lends Xialian the team’s infamous Number 0 car, which has engine gremlins so bad it doesn’t even make it to Appare’s garage. The odds are certainly stacked against her, but all the elements are present for an vital upset against the sexist good-old-boy club of racing.

When Xialian arrives pushing Number 0, laughing in the face of those odds, Appare recommends giving it acceleration mods so she can easily win the race, but she just wants it serviced normally. Appare, an engineer first and driver second, doesn’t see the point, but he has Al Lyon’s team work on the car.

Then he shows that while he’s not a driver first, he knows what it means to drive, and win, despite not having the best or fastest car. In the previous episode he used his technical know-how and the terrain. With no time for prototypes, he must visualize test driving his racer in his head, and Xialian follows along until the two are steering and shifting in unison.

Xialian takes the creatively-delivered advice to heart on the day of the race. David has his usual sexist comments ready, but she’s the one who gets of to a better start, which the men chalk up to her lighter weight. That may be the case, but no matter the gender a driver must exploit every advantage.

As Kosame, Hototo, Al and Sofia watch and cheer for Xialian, she lets David maintain a slim lead without letting him pull away. Since she started ahead of him, he wore his tires out aggressively driving to take that nominal lead. That puts her in his draft, so his car is displacing air hers doesn’t have to, lessening her fuel consumption and tire wear.

Xialian re-takes the lead and David can’t get it back, so on the last corner he makes contact with her car in order to take the lead. Her car spins, but she never loses control, keeping her foot on the gas and keeping the car out of the wall.

At the end, David is ready to celebrate his win while Xialian is ready to slug him. But to her shock, it’s the owner whose fist reaches David’s face first. He saw exactly what he did, and it nearly got two of his cars wrecked in an exhibition race.

Meanwhile, he also saw how Xialian handled herself, both during the race and when David hit her, and he’s impressed. His “hate the culture, not the owner” stance regarding a woman pro racer is still a cop-out, but he won’t deny she’s a true racer. He also decides to lend her Number 0 for the Trans American Race, while the similarly impressed mechanics offer to help outfit the car for cross-country racing.

The scenes in which Dylan and his ambitious business friend discuss the players in the upcoming race, and in which the press only has time for one hasty photo of Kosame shielding his eyes from the camera flash, feel out of place at the end of this episode, and more like a prologue of the next.

Nevertheless, Appare-Ranman! emerges from its three-month hiatus having not skipped a beat. It was cool to see two conventional race cars go at it on a track, and I’m glad Xialian’s hard work paid off. Appare was mostly his usual passive self, but his “mind-driving” session with Xialian was beautiful. It looks like we’ll be out of L.A. and on the road soon!

Appare-Ranman! – 03 – Taking Flight

Thanks to Dylan, Kosame and the native boy Hototo are saved. Appare repays him by promising he’ll be in the car ahead of him one day, to which Dylan says bring it on. Appare makes a lot of promises to a lot of  people, but considering how far he’s come on his ingenuity, he’s yet to make a claim he can’t back up. Kosame is learning that he’s not as crazy as he looks.

As for Hototo, he’s on a quest of vengeance, aiming to find the man who killed his father. In him Appare sees someone with knowledge of the terrain to the east, which will be part of the race. Like Appare and Kosame, Hototo has nowhere else to go, so he accepts their hospitality.

Their ability to offer Hototo a place to stay is disrupted when the young, rich BNW scion Al Lyon arrives in town with his kind Chaperone Sofia (Orisaka Fumiko…RUKIA!) and buys all the storehouses from the sea captain, including Appare and Kosame’s.

Al says he needs all of the space he’s bought, so Appare suggests they race in their respective machines in 10 days. If Al wins, he’ll get Kosame’s prized swords—which you’ll remember he can’t draw when he’s in a pinch. If Appare wins, they get the storehouse.

Appare knows he doesn’t need to build a machine that will beat Al’s sleek BNW in every aspect of performance. Al let him choose the course, so all he has to build is something that will achieve the objective of the race, no more or less. It can crumble to dust immediately after, as long as they win.

Grateful that he was able to repair her company’s car, Xialian gives Appare access to spare parts, which he picks up in his hastily-built Segway-like self-balancing scooter. Still, Xialian hasn’t driven since the incident, her team has no intention of entering, and she is certain Appare can’t beat BNW.

The day of the race in the dusty, rugged outskirts of L.A. finally comes. Appare and Kosame arrive a bit late in an ungainly (and above all very slow looking) contraption, fueling the fires of doubt in Xialian. Al is certain he’s got this, and amends the deal once more: he gets the swords, the Segway, and the car.

Al gets off to a quick lead with his straight-line speed, but has to go around a cliff that Appare’s car can leap over. Still, Al is closer to the finish when Appare has Kosame pull a lever that launches half of the car—and Kosame—ahead of Al. All Kosame has to do is run to the tree and touch it before Al, which he does. Notably, while racing Appare’s personality changes completely, to something more in line with his appearance.

Impressed by the win and acknowledging his complacency, Al takes the loss in stride, giving Appare his car and use of the storeroom to his heart’s content. Appare in turn is a good winner, and offers Al the Segway so he doesn’t have to walk home. Al refuses, but Sofia accepts, and you can’t blame her—that’s a long walk in a stuffy dress!

The win over Al lends further credibility to Appare’s capability, along with stability, as losing use of their garage is no longer a possibility. He must now set to work on a much more complex machine that will endure over the myriad terrains and conditions America will throw at them. He may have also convinced Xialian not to give up on her own dream to race.

With that, our three-part intro to Appare-Ranman! is complete, and we’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the story. It’s looking like other drivers will be more traditional good-natured rivals, while all of them will share a common enemy: a steam baron intent on squashing the automobile in its infancy to continue his hegemony.

Whatever the case, it’s a well-made, entertaining show and I’ll be looking forward to its return!

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Sakura Quest – 04

This week everyone helps Sanae move out of her old, bug-filled house. While helping out, Yoshino can’t help but notice the exquisite wood-carvings or ranma built into the house. Turns out Manoyama’s wood carving is one of Japan’s government-protected traditional art forms. How ’bout that!

Yoshino thinks they might be able to use that to boost tourism…er, somehow. In the meantime, after Shiori’s truck breaks down, they get it serviced by Doku, the local tinkerer and inventor, who also happens to have a frikkin’ perfectly functioning biomechanical exoskeleton in the bed of his, get this: Ford pickup truck. There’s all kinda wrong going on that preceding sentence.

In a show that’s going for simple slice-of-life realism, I failed to see the need for a Kuromukuro crossover. Yeah, this tech is out there, but some old guy in a shed in the sticks banging it out? It’s a bit far-fetched. But that’s not even the worst of it.

They get some poor young wood-carver to make decorative accessories to tack onto the exoskeleton to make it more appealing to the olds. Because if its one thing the elderly love, it’s really heavy impractical stuff that can fly out of control at a moment’s notice due to dubious R&D!

I realize the Board of Merchants’ chairwoman is supposed to be the curmudgeonly counterpart to Ushimatsu’s more openness to innovation, and the ideal philosophy, if there is one, is somewhere in between. But when Ririko’s grandmother asked them where their sense of pride is, I was kinda hoping she’d asked where their sense was, period.

Look, I understand the episode was trying to give each party in the woodcarving debate their fair shake, and Yoshino and her ministers aren’t the “good guys” by default, but they really didn’t help their case with such awful, cockamamie ideas.

The result of their failure is that Sanae tells Yoshino she’s out as minister, saying her heart isn’t in it. That’s ironic, because I don’t think my heart is in Sakura Quest anymore, either. Somehow the prospect of watching twenty more episodes of Yoshino and her cohorts fumbling around doesn’t seem all that appealing.

At this point, I think I’d rather do some woodcarving…the kind that doesn’t trample on centuries of tradition.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, here it is: one of the contenders for King of Spring. KnK had a little bit of everything that you want in a heart-pumping steampunk horror-action-thriller (even a dash of wit). But mostly it’s gorgeously-rendered, dark, brutal, bloody good fun.

KnK wastes no time dunking our heads into its not-so-ideal world and not letting us come up for air until the very end. A good way to get a good pace going to start is a train job of some kind. This train happens to be a mobile fortress, transporting humanity from one “station” (heavily fortitied settlements) to another.

What is everyone running and hiding behind iron and wood from? The Kabane: zombies who move at a pretty good clip and have metal cages around their hearts, making them really hard to kill (though as we learn apparently beheading works too). The Kabane are indeed fierce and fearsome, as it only takes one bite to turn you into one of them. Once that happens and your peers know about it, you’re expected to commit suicide immediately.

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One dude who is trying—perhaps in vain—to stem the tide of the vicious Kabane is Ikoma, a mechanic who in his spare time is working on a stea gun powerful enough to pierce the Kabane’s heart cages. He’s very very close, and in fact would have probably had a breakthrough had he not been distracted by the train raid.

Of course, he’s at the bottom of the food chain, society-wise, so only he and some of his friends even know what he’s working on and its importance to the future of humanity. When the aristocracy deigns to walk among the masses, it’s either to have their gun fixed, or to sit back and watch as bushi (a force of soldiers with steam guns who protect everyone else and the peace) gun down a suspected Kabane who turns out not to be one.

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For trying to defend this poor wretch, Ikoma gets the butt of a rifle and thrown in jail, but he also catches the eye of the catbell-adorned, carefree aristocrat Mumei, as well as Ayame-sama, a high-class lady with a gentle heart. While he’s in jail, unable to perfect his gun, another train enters the station—one I knew from the foreboding atmosphere of its approach was overrun by Kabane.

They are smart enough to operate the train, and ram it into the city in a stunning derailment set piece, followed by a gory massacre of the townsfolk nearest the gate. Mumei, who snuck away from the castle for a lovely evening June constitutional, pays a brief visit to Ikoma in his cell, but is soon back on her way to the armored train out of this lost station.

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Ikoma frees himself and prepares his new jet gun just in time for a Kabane to drop in on him. He wins the subsequent struggle with authority, blasting the Kabane’s caged heart to smithereens. It worked; but the Kabane took a nasty bite out of his arm.

What happens next…is a little odd and hard to grasp, but Ikoma, unlike most people, knows the Kabane affliction is a virus, not a curse, and so can be dealt with if acted upon quickly enough. He manages to seal off his arm and improvises a kind of self-exorcism of the virus from his body, drawing it out like steam out of a tank.

We also learn while he’s undergoing this highly painful procedure that he once ran before, back when he was a kid and his family was killed and his hometown destroyed by Kabane. Ikoma is done running, and he won’t let a little (or even a big) Kabane bite interfere in his quest of redemption and vengeance.

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Yeah, comparisons to another apocalyptic steampunk thriller, Attack on Titan, are very much inevitable, and were always in some part of my mind throughout this episode. Still, it’s hard to complain about KnK’s ambitious, kick-ass execution. Basically, KnK differentiated itself more than well enough for my satisfaction.

I don’t want to close without mentioning Mumei, who seemed like an entitled brat when the episode opened, but more than proved her mettle in a climax that ran parallel to Ikoma’s. When her attendant is bitten and has to kill himself, she races to the train on her own, but is cornered by a big ol’ Kabane.

Without flinching, she stands her ground and lets the beast come to her, whereupon she decapitates him with her shoe, which not only houses the catbells we were hearing the whole time, but a razor-sharp blade. Then, for giggles, she gets that shoe stuck in a wood pillar. Bad…ass…like this show’s opening salvo. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Ikoma and Mumei take it to the Kabane.

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