GATE – 02

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When the JSDF force sets up fortifications around the Gate, the Emperor calls for his tributary states to form an allied army to attack them (joining his Imperial Army), and we see just how effective a woefully-outnumbered force modern weaponry is against a massive army of 100,000+ with nothing but Middle AQges-era arms. None of the troops get anywhere near the JSDF, who wipe out most of the force with artillery and machine gun fire, using flares at night.

It’s a bloodbath, but it seems the Emperor was hoping for one, because it means all of the surrounding nations are now significantly weaker, solidifying his reign (though he too lost thousands of soldiers). The Japanese essentially did his dirty work, but he knows he’ll to deal with them again sooner or later, and so sends his daughter (and leader of her own military order), Pinya (Tomatsu Haruka), to infiltrate the enemy force and learn more about them.

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Frankly, other than the lopsided battles, the first half was a little slow, with an awful lot of time spent in audience chambers and military tents full of old men yelling about stuff. Things pick up in the second half as the POV shifts back to Itami, who is given command of Recon Team 3 and the same basic assignment the Emperor gave Pinya: gather information on the other side.

First, Itami has time to stand amidst the utter destruction wrought in repelling the armies, estimating they killed over 120,000 both there and in Ginza; a figure very similar to the number who lost their lives in the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and certainly the most life taken by the Japanese military since WWII.

Of course, with tens of thousands of armored troops and cavalry charging your comparatively puny garrison, the JSDF’s options were obviously limited. This wasn’t a force that was going to back down, as we see from the badass general launching a defiant arrow at the spray of bullets before getting blown up by a shell.

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It’s a somber moment, but it passes, and Itami shows how he runs a laid back command that borders on unprofessional/disrespectful when he and his buddy Kurata sing lyrics to his favorite magical girl anime. Itami’s is an approach that irks one of the sergeants under his command, the far more serious Kurebayashi (Uchida Maaya, an inspired casting choice considering how big an otaku she plays in Chu2Koi).

Surprisingly, the recon team actually makes a bit of progress, though the first contact with the villages they visit are only shown briefly and wordlessly. Suffice it to say, they’re starting to get a rough estimate of the geography of the region. Before they’re about to camp for the night, they encounter a forest being burned by dragon-fire; a forest they know to contain a village. Itami puts two and two together and assumes a massacre is in progress.

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By the time they arrive, there’s nothing but a charred wasteland to welcome them, along with a nearly dry well, at the bottom of which, to Itami and Kurebayashi’s shock, lies a beautiful young woman with pointy elf ears. Is this maiden a member of Pinya’s order, or merely a villager who escaped the carnage the only way she could? Either way, their imminent meeting will likely represent the first persistent Special Region-JSDF interaction.

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GATE – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: “Otaku First, JSDF Soldier Second” Itami Youji is on his way to a doujinshi event when a mysterious gate opens in the Ginza, and an army of warriors and beasts from the fantasy world pour out and start attacking civilians. Itami saves a woman from being killed and further participates in getting everyone to safety before the Police and JSDF eliminate the enemy army.

Itami is promoted to second lieutenant and hailed as a national hero, but is unprepared and undesirous of all the attention that takes time from his precious hobby. But when his unit is chosen to enter the gate to investigate the “special region” beyond, his priorities start to shift as he realizes he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.

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Why you should watch: This show is built around a solid, fascinating, and clever idea: What if your real and fantasy worlds literally collided? It’s also built around a similarly solid and intriguing character in Itami, who could be called the ultimate Japanese Everyman, with the most serious of jobs and the most serious of hobbies.

The promo art and OP spoiled the fact that he was a soldier, but I enjoyed how he not only kept his job and his hobby separate, but at least initially, considered the latter far more important. His genuine distress at not making the doujinshi event, and later interest in the loot his comrade scored since he did get to go, all add a welcome levity that sets us at ease.

That ease is welcome, because things could have gotten very dark, very quick with that surprise attack by an army from the other side of the gate. What also struck me was that, as a real-life solider, Itami and his comrades are far closer to the world of war games people play on their phones, just as Tokyo is closer to the cities in those games, since it has an Imperial Palace where the people can—and do—seek refuge.

Itami’s pal’s line while they’re on their way in—”Think there are any catgirls on this side?” followed by Itami’s assertion there damn well should be—is a lovely microcosm of a great premise.

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Why you may not want to watch: I know this show probably runs on a family-friendly time slot, but the peril of the sudden attack and its aftermath were somewhat undermined by the almost total lack of overt lack of blood or violence. If a force like that were to burst into the middle of a crowded Ginza crossing, it would be a goddamn bloodbath, not anything that could be honestly portrayed with a PG-equivalent rating. Considering the lighter tones of the episode, I guess such a spectacle had to be sanitized to avoid tonal dissonance.

Perhaps more disconcerting, and possibly not a problem for many if not most, is the same problem Franklin and I debated at length with Kantai Collection, only brought into the present: parts of this episode, particularly the bright, shiny glamour shots of military equipment and personnel on the march to the sound of stirring orchestral music, had the somewhat unseemly whiff of…er…nationalist propaganda. Itami himself felt, at times, like an avatar carefully-crafted by the creators to deliver the message “Join the JSDF: Otakus Welcome!” Not that they shouldn’t be (they should), or that there aren’t otakus in the JSDF (there most certainly are).

While frightening, pale, mute monsters stood in for Americans in KanColle, the fantasy horde stands in for any invading enemy force, be it of state or non-state actors, and the entire episode is a flattering commercial for the JSDF, showing them at their very best. Not that they don’t deserve to be portrayed in this light (I’m, generally, a Might-Makes-Right kinda gal, with veteran relations), it’s just that it was laid on pretty thick, and I’m watching an anime, not a JSDF recruitment video.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for an anime military not being portrayed as dependable, virtuous, and capable, rather than the usual evil, corrupt, and/or incompetent.

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The Verdict: As with KanColle, I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t meant as insidious nationalist propaganda, because at the end of the day there’s still a very neat premise in play. I’m looking forward to seeing where GATE takes us, and how Itami befriends the real-life elf, sorceress, and gothic lolita he once only saw in media, and briefly hallucinated after hitting a subway pillar.

This was a solid first episode with plenty of exciting action and well-placed humor, and is even able to summon some solemnity, pathos, and gravitas, as Itami is well on his way to no longer thinking of being a soldier only to support his otaku life, but to protect, defend, and avenge his countrymen.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 45

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ATM! is best described as a show in which a lot of stuff happens. That stuff doesn’t always make sense or have any kind of narrative substance to it, but it does happen. There’s so much crammed into the show, apportioned a few scant minutes at a time, most everyone is bound to find something interesting. And I do, just about every time.

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ATM! throws stuff out there and sees what sticks. The Alien-inspired “facehugger” scene is one of its funnier pop culture references, and it only takes up a few moments.

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Less subtle is the lightsaber ‘duel’ between Tenchi and Momo, with ‘duel’ in quotes because they’re not really fighting; he’s trying to stabilize her physical form…or something.

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Like Washuu’s Alienesque booby trap, there’s an attempt to repurpose well-known icons to fit the bizarre story.

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Meanwhile, we’re meant to root for Washuu, even though she’s kinda guilty of murder on a mass scale…or crimes so diabolical there aren’t even laws in place for them. And in a nod to the show’s penchant for irrationality, Washuu is arrested by basically failing to account for Mihoshi’s utter lack of rationality. Airheads have baffled eggheads since time immemorial!

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That brings us to the big finish: the entire world appears to be halved, or possibly split between two dimensions. Tenchi and Momo are dangling precariously over the fissure, from which spouts peach flower petals. It could just be my depraved mind, but I can’t get over the possibility this is all elaborate symbolism for a ‘girl entering womanhood’, with Momo’s protector Beni being unable to ‘stop nature’.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 44

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With only five minutes left till the warhead hits its target, Ryouko is having trouble grabbing the dimensional controller (her body is too voluptuous to fit through the gap in the rock, ironically). While waiting, Momo’s body appears to de-compile before Tenchi touches her with his lightsaber, which cures her, at least temporarily. He’s trying to keep her together, but a more permanent solution is indicated.

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With Yuki and Rui in custody, Kurihara continues her reign of terror, but is stopped by the Jurai sisters, who exercise their authority as members of the royal family. Kurihara is unmoved and calls for their arrest too…

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…and then Gouriki shows up. Forgot about that guy! Washuu has him absorb the wreckage of a building to grow to enormous size and brandish a bat with which to knock out the warhead. He makes contact, and there’s a huge explosion, which the caves are shielded from — but the warhead remains intact and embedded in the earth. Crisis averted…for now. But now will be over soon.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 43

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The Galaxy Police SWAT team starts to besiege Washuu’s hideout in the old school buiding as Tenchi, Momo, Ryouko, Yuki, Rui and Beni arrive. The latter three learn who the voice of the monolith is as she recruits them to launch a counterattack.

Outside, a veteran GP officer tells a rookie that Washuu is responsible for the disappearance of several planets and solar systems, and should neither be taken lightly nor shown mercy.

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The SWAT team neutralizes Washuu’s booby traps, but Yuki is ready with some kind of cannon, while Rui has been fitted with a small spider dangling in front of her head, causing her to go into berserk mode on anyone in range of her stick – all to buy time for the others heading to the caverns.

Tenchi tells Momo and Beni that they’re really aliens who crashed there 1,300 years ago. He enlists Ryouko to climb through the fissure in the rock, where she finds the glowing, dildo-like “dimensional controller” that is supposedly the key to fixing everything.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 42

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As Ryouko surveys Takahashi from a high vantage point, you get the sense she senses something’s up. So when Yuki turns out to be absolutely right about there being a big government conspiracy (though people always sound crazy when they say that) and Kurihara has the Science Club and Momo arrested, Ryouko doesn’t stand idly by.

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Kurihara puts a lightsaber to Tenchi’s throat, insisting she’s done with his games, but Ryouko busts in and uses her diversionary magic to allow Tenchi to escape with the girls.

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Meanwhile, the GP Commander in charge of the operation to extract the “singularity points” finally zeroes in on Washuu, as the warhead is less than 45 minutes from reaching its target. But Washuu isn’t concerned…that is, with anything other than the fact these GP jokers are on her turf. Time and Space are her ‘playground’, and she won’t have interlopers. So what’s she got up her sleeves?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 41

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Half of this episode is spent aboard the Galaxy Police flagship now in orbit around earth, which has come to arrest the “singularity points” (Momo, Beni, and Washuu) before the “dimensional deficiency” they’re causing rises to catastrophic levels and the entire universe implodes. Are these stakes high enough for ya?!

There’s a great Star Trek-like feel to these space proceedings, helped not just by the barely-coherent technobabble, but by the prominent presence of okudagrams, which, to the non-Trekkie crowd, are cost-effective yet sleek and futuristic displays invented by technical adviser, scenic artist, and Japanese-American Michael Okuda.

The going-over of the mission is also a clever way to name-drop the show’s sponsor, Takahashi, Okayama, I believe for the first time.

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Okayama is where the GP is headed, and in cooperation with the government, has created an entire cover story for the operation: a old Russian space station’s orbit decaying. The debate and election are cancelled and the school is evacuated by what look like JSDF troops but are really GP officers in disguise.

The student council stops being a counter-scheming squad and fulfills their actual duty as student authorities. But when the last people besides them who have yet to evacuate are the Science Club of Rui, Yuki and Beni, Momo and Tenchi go after them…just as the GP launches a space-time fluctuation warhead. And those, my friend, are not something to be trifled with. I guess?

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Samurai Flamenco – 08

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King Torture orders the surrender of the government and the enslavement of the people, but the police rather than the JSDF are trusted with dealing with it. As Harazuka continually upgrades his gear, Flamenco and the Girls dispatch one monster after another without casualties, save the monsters themselves who self-destruct after defeat. Both Masayoshi and MMM’s careers start to skyrocket, though Mari is starting to get bored with fighting Flamenco’s leftovers, while Goto’s girlfriend warns him she’s scared of the new look in Masayoshi’s eyes.

We were caught off guard last week by the show’s sudden decision to introduce unrealistic monsters into the story without it being a dream or illusion, and were a little dubious of the execution, but after this week, we’ve come to like the suddenness. Being a superhero, Masayoshi focuses on defeating evil and protecting the people, so we don’t delve much into Torture’s origins or motives, which is good. They’re just the next level of baddies for Samumenco and the Samurai Girls to tangle with. We like how they’ve joined forces once again out of necessity for more muscle, but the same problems with their last teaming-up are still there: Mari doesn’t want to share the spotlight. This episode did a good job taking us by the hand and confidently guiding us smoothly through its new “monster milieu”, efficiently chronicling how things have gradually reached a new normalcy.

Torture’s declaration of war led the government to declare a state of emergency, but as the police and heroes polish off the monsters, the threat level is incrementally ratcheted, until they’re considering not even meeting about it every week. That could prove premature: because we know so little of King Torture, he’s basically capable of anything. Speaking of which, Masayoshi is feeling very invincible at the moment, fueled by Sumi’s encouragement, Jouji’s praise, and Harazuka’s gadgets. But his intention to barrel forward and take full advantage of this auspicious time in his life, while admirable, could also lead to his downfall. Things seem to be working out almost too well for him, too fast. The only ones who see are Goto and his girlfriend. The show is wisely keeping the new monster threat’s effect on the characters as important as (if not more so than) the threat itself.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Zetsuen no Tempest – 08

The JSDF launches a major offensive against the Kusaribe clan, bombarding the barrier that protects them and the Tree of Exodus. Mahiro and Yoshino break through with a wad of talismans, and not soon thereafter encounter Samon. Mahiro aims the talisman rifle at him and demands he bring back Hakaze. Samon tries to convince them they’re on the wrong side; it is her Tree of Genesis that will reset civilization and destroy the world as they know it, and Exodus that will save the world. Mahiro doesn’t care, as he’s heard the story already. But then Samon presents them with Hakaze’s skeleton in the barrel beside him, and informs Mahiro, Yoshino and Hakaze that she’s communicating with them from two years in the past, and she has since died.

The fate of the world rests in the hands of Mahiro, who hates the world’s guts because it killed Aika. Hakaze is the one who has convinced him she can help him make things right. So whatever Samon says, or no matter how many times he smacks his scabbard against the rock (and he does that a lot) it won’t convince Mahiro to stray from the plan. So Samon’s cornered, right? Checkmate? Game Over? Notsofast…Samon has to whip out that damn skeleton again; the elephant in the room. We were willing to hear Samon out as much as Mahiro, but only as a courtesy. Now…we don’t know who or what to believe. His revelation even spooks Hakaze, who stands on the beach as a storm arrives, literally raining on her parade.

She’s carefully counted her days, adding up to four months, but the year she gives the others was two years ago. So all this time, Mahiro’s been talking to someone just as dead as Aika? If so, how can she help him? This all depends on how seriously Mahiro takes Samon’s insistence that she’s dead. She isn’t dead in the past; perhaps there’s a way to avoid her death and make that skeleton disappear, BTTF-style? So Mahiro may well press on. But Yoshino’s a different story. He had his doubts before he learned this – now he may not be able to let Mahiro wield the power destroy the world he knows – even if the world he wants is also one where Aika is still alive.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Super 8: The Anime?

Sometimes our minds wander here at RABUJOI, and we think about anime that might work – or decidedly not work – as American TV shows and films, or vice versa. We’re not talking about particularly financially successful shows and films…just interesting ones. And sometimes we just draw parallels from existing anime to existing Americana, or vice versa.

A few for instances: there are tinges of Harry Potter in Occult Academy and Blue Exorcist. True Blood, while a good show, would be far scarier and less goofy if it followed Shiki’s storyline rather than Charlene Harris’s books. I was so turned off by the Marvel-backed Heroman (Bones) and Iron Man (Madhouse) anime, I didn’t even bother with Wolverine (which some may say was a mistake, but I still don’t really regret skipping it).

And then there’s Super 8: a perfectly decent and well-executed sci-fi mystery thriller that amazingly stars a bunch of middle schoolers – including Dakota Fanning’s little sis Elle – that manage not to annoy the hell out of me. The film wasn’t perfect, and the whole time I was watching it I was cursing J.J. Abrams for taking the time to make this film instead of the new Star Trek sequel (Classically a Trek film came out once every two years…the next one better be good for the extra year-plus we have to wait).

Super 8 was a very charming, engaging, and entertaining film, and for some reason I think it would make a great anime. Not a long one, mind you; an 11-episode series in the Noitamina timeslot would suffice in building up and laying out the nicely self-contained story. There are a lot of subtle changes that would have to be made that wouldn’t affect that story in the least. To wit: JSDF instead of USAF; a rural Japanese town instead of a rural American one; a HDV camera instead of a Super 8.

Other things could be left alone. There’s a lot to love: A romance between a boy and girl that’s forbidden by no fault of their own, but by their fathers, due to bad blood? Check. Love triangle that doesn’t get in the way? Check. Train wreck? Check. Weird happenings in a small, quiet town? Check. Classmates making a movie? Check (it worked in Haruhi Suzumiya). Aliens? Check. The town policeman bumping up against the industrial military complex? Check A shonen having to work up the courage to not just defy his and her dads, but to save said girl from said angsty alien? Check and check!

I think Super 8 has great potential moving to the anime medium. Realistically, the chances of J.J. Abrams licensing his script to a Japanese production company are probably slim to nil, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Fortunately, and this is why I watch far more anime than American television, there is no shortage of great stories that already inhabit the anime world.