Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 10

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The I-401 is sinking and Iona cannot repair herself. Gunzou orders her to cut life support and complete the mission without him, but she cannot obey. Meanwhile, Takao and the others are unable to find the I-401. Takao decides to take Hyuuga’s pod underwater to search. She finds that Iona has sacrificed her mental model to create a life-support pod for Gunzou and her core. Takao then sacrifices herself, merging with I-401 to restore her. Meanwhile, I-400 and I-402, convinced Kongou has lost her objectivity and is violation of the Admiralty code, relieve her of her command and detain her when she tries to go after I-401.

We knew this outing would explore the “we’re so screwed” scenario, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of emotional depth we got along with the physical depths into which I-401 sank. The emotions involved were nothing fancy, but that’s what made them work: Gunzou has changed Iona so much, she’s willing to disobey his orders to save him. She’s basically in love with the guy, and doesn’t want to live in a world he isn’t alive in. The use of silence throughout the episode, particularly during Iona and Gunzou’s descent, was outstanding—not bad for a show that’s been at its best when it’s loud and explode-y. Devoid of explosions or fanservice, the episode was able to breathe (even as Gunzou increasingly couldn’t) and provided serviceable interpersonal drama.

But this wasn’t just about Iona and her captain. The show also demonstrated a degree of efficiency and pragmatism by not only eliminating Takao, the tragically extraneous love interest (let’s face it, she wasn’t getting Gunzou as long as Iona was around, and wasn’t heartless enough to yank him from her), but also serving up Kongou’s just desserts, courtesy of Iona’s twin sisters. Whether Kongou likes it or not, she’s become one of the very “defectives” she sought to purge, while her companion Maya was merely an emotionless spy puppet (not surprising at all, considering how vapid she was). Now that Kongo has met her downfall and is in the same boat as the other misfits, we may just start rooting for her…unless she ends up merely seeking revenge.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 09

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Hyuuga defends Iwoto against Kongou’s attacks, buying time for I-401 to make a an escape while Takao engages Maya. Kongou senses Hyuuga and Takao are merely diversions, and once she detects I-401 she heads after her at full speed, enduring the punishment of the minefield set by Hyuuga. She admits to Iona that she too feels emotions, and says she hates her. She fires her supergravity cannon a second time, Hyuuga hacks her systems, and she misses I-401, who escapes at full burst. Takao reveals to Kongou that Gunzou entrusted her with the vibration torpedo and his crew, while Iona was only another decoy. All is for naught when I-400 and I-402 ambush I-401, sinking her.

With the previous week serving as a “calm before the storm” prologue, this week’s battle with Kongou was being built up as the biggest challenge to the I-401 yet. The fleet of Blue Steel is officially forged but suffers a difficult infancy, as Kongou holds no quarter. We’re reminded that Haruna and Kirishima don’t have physical ships at the moment, so they can’t participate in the battle. However, Hyuuga and Takao prove enough to keep Kongou and Maya at bay, and more importantly, grind Kongou’s gears. If they can feel emotions, so can Kongou, which means she can lose her temper and let it affect her judgement. Tired of all the delays and frivolous gum-flapping, Kongou goes straight for Iona with extreme prejudice, and ends up paying for it. It was a hell of a battle, replete with layers of tactics, obfuscation, momentum shifts, and the aforementioned psychological warfare.

Mind you, Iona doesn’t mean to mess with Kongou; she just can’t comprehend what her deal is. In their philosophical debate, one could see Iona as being just as guilty as Kongou of trying to impose her values on others. The major differences, of course, are that  Kongou wants to kill all humans, and is acting out of hatred for Iona and the chaos she’s caused; Iona is acting out of unswerving devotion to—and perhaps love for—Gunzou. The battle may end with the I-401 safely away and Kongou beaten and humiliated, but after yet another new ED we’re treated to a harrowing post-credits sequence that sends I-401 out of the frying pan and straight into the freezer. To have victory so abruptly torn away and to see such ugly chunks taken out of I-401 by her sister subs made for a gut-punch of a cliffhanger, but whatever happens, Takao now holds humanity’s trump card.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

 

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 08

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When Kongou’s fleet surrounds Iwoto, Chihaya invites her and Maya ashore to talk. He serves them tea and throws a beach barbecue party, giving Kongou an opportunity to observe the other Fog mental models interact and even have “fun.” However, Gunzou’s “trap” to “contaminate” Kongou and Maya are for naught, as they are merely decoys; their cores remain aboard their ships offshore. They return and begin bombarding the island. When Hyuuga’s shields weaken, Takao, Haruna and Kirishima combine their strength to reinforce them.

Chihaya’s mission is to get that weapon to America in hopes it will ultimately create a situation whereby the Fog will be forced to negotiate and the human race will be saved, not take on Kongou’s fleet when he only has half the numbers. With that in mind, he does everything humanly possible to try to neutralize her without fighting. He may have failed this week, but not before a lot of valuable facetime (or at least decoy-facetime) with the stern, humorless, ruthless flagship. Despite her confidence her time with Chihaya and the misfit Fog had no effect, the fact is, Kongou saw and heard what she saw and heard. It seems to us that’s enough to plant a tiny seed of rebellion in her core.

When she felt the heat of the tea, watched Hyuuga and Takao fight over grilled meat, or Makie and Maya having fun taking away Haruna’s coat (she’s apparently quite attached to that coat), or took a nibble of that kabob, she was experiencing things for the first time, which should stay with her. Hell, the inviolable “Admiralty Code” she speaks of says nothing about meeting with humans, talking with them, or going through all of the seemingly pointless motions she went through this week. We’re not ready to give up on Miss Kongou; she’s merely a tougher nut to crack, that’s all. Of course, at the moment Chihaya and the Blue Fleet just needs to slip past her; not convert her.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • As we suspected, all the Fog ships thus far have had female mental models because of the human penchant for referring to ships as female. That being said, watch Kongou’s superior be a dude…
  • So one of Iona’s special powers is that she can see into the future. Kongou also seems to think she’s responsible for that dream-like mental contruct the Fog use to communicate.
  • Maya doesn’t seem particularly swayed by Chihya’s tactics either, but only because there doesn’t seem to be anything in her head whatsoever.
  • It’s a shame Kirishima is still a teddy; we relly dug her regular character design. Still, getting heavy from the water was pretty funny.
  • It seems like Iona was “born” (or whatever) without the need to follow the Admiralty Code, but only her own code, which was to be Chihaya’s ship.
  • The cut from Iona to Takao suggests Iona fights for Chihaya because she “loves” him, but still can’t quite comprehend what that is. Maybe if she hung out with less cardboard humans?

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 07

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With Makie, Haruna, and Kirishima aboard, I-401 docks at her secret home base on Iwoto. The fast battleship Hyuuga, a former fog flagship, is there to welcome them, and she has the wayward Takao in custody. In a virtual meeting with Kongou, Haruna refuses to return to the fleet, vowing to stay by Makie’s side, while Kirishima wishes to continue observing Haruna. Chihaya gives Takao the choice to return to the Fog or stay with what Hyuuga calls the “Blue Fleet.” As repairs on Iona near completion, Kongou orders Maya to rendezvous at Iwoto. Gunzou intends to abandon the base and get the vibration warhead to America.

“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those are the words that precede the end credits, the visuals of which this week went from being the Fog ships’ mental models to their true ship forms, which we thought was an interestingly-timed switch. Those same three questions are recited by Hyuuga, discussing with Takao why she’s abandoned her the original mission. From the first time she spots and gropes Iona, Hyuuga’s hots for her are played for laughs that never occur, but she’s genuinely interested in Iona; at this point, more interested than she ever was in subjugating humans, because that route was never going to help her answer those nagging questions. Hyuuga isn’t the only one with those questions rattling around in her head.

At this point, Iona’s crew has basically been supplanted in show precedence by all the Fog ships, now wrestling with emotions. Chihaya & Co. were merely the catalyst that started what could be a major Fog revolution, or evolution, as Hyuuga supposes it could be. Iona was a mutation: a Fog ship that rather than destroy humans, sought one out and was genetically predisposed to following every order. Iona’s always been comfortable in this role, but when the competitive Takao asks her if she has feelings for her, she can’t answer, and it troubles her. Meanwhile, Kongou is clearly getting annoyed by losing so many Fog ships. But all the events since Iona and Chihaya joined forces suggests she could be on the wrong side of history. Iona is most likely the harbinger (intentional or not) of a future in which Fog and human coexist in harmony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Chihaya is delivering the warhead to America in hopes that its mass-production will even the playing field and force Kongou to enter negotiations. But that’s pretty naive of him. Who’s to say the humans won’t use their new superweapon to simply annihilate the Fleet of Fog?
  • This show is no stranger to superfluous fanservice, and this week it drives that point home with Hyuuga’s attempted undressing of Iona as well as Takao, Haruna, and Iona relaxing on the beach in swimsuits, just ’cause…
  • That said, we hope Kirishima gets her regular body back at some point.
  • We really enjoyed the dinner scene: humans and Fog putting aside their past conflicts and simply sitting down for a meal. This could be a glimpse of the future.

Ozuma – 06 (Fin)

Ozuma arrives in the Zone, and Mimay and Sam fly Maya to it’s “head” to speak to it. The giant whale-like machine opens its jaws and swallows the three of them whole. Maya reveals her purpose as an original human: she has chosen to awaken all of the life stored in the Zone and release it into the environement, creating a new ecosystem where humans are no longer the highest form of life. She joins with Ozuma just as Denga’s fleet carpets the Zone with depth charges and missiles.

Ozuma becomes enraged and lashes out, threatening the structure of the Zone and destroying Denga and his fleet. Dick awakens from Gido, only to sacrifice himself by launching Monokeros, which calms Ozuma. Maya then completes her duty, and the Zone explodes with green life. A new world has begun.

Add up the six episodes of Ozuma and you’ve got the equivalent of a full-length feature film that runs just over two hours, which just happens to be the same link as some of our favorite Miyazaki films (Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, Mononoke, etc.) And as a whole Ozuma works quite well as a film: confident in its storytelling while cognizant of the limits of a short run. It’s efficient and doesn’t try to do too much. It also does what any film worth watching must do: hold our interest and be entertaining. After previous episodes focused on individual battles, the tactics therein, and politics, the climactic final episode takes everything that’s been set up thus far and brings everything to its logical conclusion.

Ozuma is shown in all its awesome, mechanical whale-like glory (its ‘eyes’ even change from blue to red when angered, like the Ohmu), Maya does what she needs to do; Sam protests but is held back by Mimei, Dick returns to finish what he set out to start, the bad guy is brought to justice, and the barren planet is given a new lease on life, as long as the humans who live there can get along. None of this is revolutionary stuff, but like we said, it absorbs and stimulates well enough.


Rating: 4

Ozuma – 05

A standoff betwen Gido and Bainos is interrupted by Ozuma. Both ships make emergency dives and end up in a mysterious underground paradise with clean air, water, and greenery. Sam and Mimei reconnoitre and find that Gido’s ship is stuck in the solid rock wall. Sam goes aboard the ship and is quickly captured. Bainos offers Gido assistance, but he wants the Bardanos, and will trade Sam for her. A firefight ensues, and Bainos shoots Gido’s mask off, revealing Dick. Maya tells her Theseus has taken to putting the minds of Ideal Children in the bodies of abducted Natura, like Dick. She herself is one of the original humans, who has stayed alive for centuries thanks to cloning. As General Denga’s fleet nears, Bainos prepares to use Monokeros against Ozuma.

When you only have six episodes to work with, it’s important to keep things uncomplicated. And to its credit, Ozuma has done just that, while still keeping things interesting. Case in point: Sam’s brother Dick isn’t Dick anymore, he’s Gido. Gido’s mind controlling what was Dick’s body. It’s pretty diabolical technology, but considering the Ideal Children system is coming apart at the seams, they apparently didn’t see any alternative. And since Gido isn’t the product of brainwashing, it would seem the Dick Sam and Bainos know is gone for good.

This week we were treated to another dimension of the awesome setting in the surreal “Zone”, some kind of underground seed bank. Again, we were reminded of the pure, clean, and peaceful realm beneath the Sea of Decay in Nausicaa. It’s a very cool-looking place we wouldn’t mind exploring ourselves, and what has been a consistently-excellent orchestral score really sells it here. The big finale next week will involve Maya running out of time in her current body, the Ozuma she can somewhat control, the ultimate fate of the power-hungry Gido, and, of course, General Denga. Should be fun.


Rating: 3.5

Ozuma – 04

Not long after they find him, Sam flies off again in Fluke Fish to save Maya, but this time Mimei jumps aboard and accompanies him. Bardanos lets him go, and remembers that Sam’s older brother Dick told her the “Goddess of Theseus” could communicate with Ozma before he left, never to return. After Gido reports the successful retrieval of Maya, General Danga orders him back home, but instead, Gido lets Maya decide their course. She wants to go to the zone, and en route they encounter the Bardanos, equipped with Monokeros. An undersand battle ensues, ending with the Bardanos slipping beneath Gido’s ship and ramming her from below. Both Bainos and Gido step out onto the top deck to see their opponent face-to-face.

This week gives us our first glimpse of Dick, Sam’s older brother, who apparently had a thing with Captain Bainos, and then went off to find the goddess, or Ozuma, or both, but never came back. Judging from his hair and voice, we have a pretty good feeling that yes, this Gido fella is indeed actually Dick, having perhaps undergone a similar amnesia/identity change similar to Mu La Flaga in Gundam SEED Destiny. Gido seems to be rebelling against his tight-lipped superiors out of personal ambition. He wants to see firsthand what makes Maya so important and what makes her tick, and he’s willing to risk his military career to make that happen.

Meanwhile, Sam, like his brother, yearns to strike out and save the girl and the world all at once, but at least this week Mimei is there to stop him from getting himself killed. And then we have another superlative, heated naval duel in which Bainos and Gido match wits once again with torpedoes, decoys, sonar, magnetic probes, and depth charges. That they’re able to match each other move for move right up to the point Bainos resorts to a near-suicidal ramming also supports the theory that all of Dick’s instincts and knowledge and even feelings for Bainos may be lurking somewhere under that silly mask. We may be wrong, but we don’t think we are. Someone needs to pry that mask off.


Rating: 3.5

Ozuma – 03

The doctor tells Bainos that Maya is not normal; she appears to be a Natura clone, not one of the designer clones called “Ideal Children” the population of Theseus is composed of. Bainos confronts Maya as Sam shows her around the shelter. Sam tells Maya he wants to defeat the Ozuma – the great sand whale – as a tribute to his older brother.

Not wanting to get Sam or the Bardanos crew involved in her problems, Maya sneaks away in a Fluke Fish. Sam follows her, but they’re intercepted by a Theseus submersible, and Gido recaptures her. Her cries seem to be answered by the Ozuma itself, but Gido escapes before it can do anything, leaving Sam to flee. He wakes up in the sand, and Mimei finds him.

Some of Maya’s many mysteries are revealed this week; as expected, her genetic profile is crucial to the future of her people, who are all clones (as opposed to Natura). As such, she has physical characteristics of Natura, only, different. The Bardanos’ doctor is concerned to the point she may believe Sam has brought them more serious trouble than they thought. She’s not just the president’s daughter, for instance. She may be their last hope.

We also got a clear look at the infamous Ozuma, which appears to be a massive machine of some kind (or perhaps something cybernetic). Sam wants to defeat it, but we don’t see how, unless they get that Monokeros thing working. It’s less of a quest for vengence than a quest to see if Sam has what his older brother (not father) had. He feels like he’ll never live up to his bro’s greatness unless he gives this Ozuma hunt a try. Maya, meanwhle, wants to meet with it for some reason, perhaps to tell her what to do.


Rating: 3.5

Ozuma – 02

The Bardanos dives into the sand, but the Theseus commander Gido is determined to flush them out with a variety of tactics. Sam and Mimei keep Maya safe, but when Captain Bainos orders the QT drive shut down its QT drive, the buried ship begins to overheat, as does Maya. Not wanting to harm Maya, Gido withdraws just as the Bardanos’ temp passes 50°C (122°F). He returns to Theseus High Command, where his superior reiterates Maya’s importance. Gido promises he will retrieve her.

This week was a stirring twist on the surface ship vs. submarine battle, with an ocean of sand rather than water, and an equally tense battle of wits. A kind of game of Chicken is played between the shrewd Captain Bainos and her Theseus adversary: and the latter must blink first to avoid killing his quarry. As if Theseus’s attack wasn’t proof enough, Bainos now knows for certain that Maya is a very important and valuable hostage – and there’s something “special” about her that she could use to her advantage. Of course, had Maya died, things would be simpler: the Bardanos would be hunted down and destroyed…but that’s not much different from any other day when you’re sand pirates with contraband technology!

We liked the military procedural scenario that took place, with Bainos using every trick at her disposal and Gido attempting to counter each one with a seemingly endless series of measures, including the use of sonar, depth charges, sand anchors, and finally, the waiting game. The technobabble is a little thick, but not enough to sour the tension. Sam doesn’t get much to do this week (as Mimei astutely points out when the danger passes!), but that’s okay, as we’re more interested in Maya’s secret and Bainos’ motives and plans for her, if any. The old crew/family photo is a nice way of quickly giving the characters some backstory; Bainos may even be Sam’s mother, judging from the eyes.


Rating: 3.5

Ozuma – 01

In a future where the world has become a desert and oceans are sand, humans cling to survival in remote oases. Sand pirate Sam Coin seeks to bag an Ozma, the gargantuan sand whales that lurk beneath the surface. Instead, he comes across a woman being pursued by the Theseus military. He rescues her and brings her back to his home of Port Oase, and aboard the ship he serves on, the Bardanos. After a tour, Theseus ships return in force to collect Maya. Maya surrenders, but Bardanos Captain Bainas refuses to give her up, and orders the ship to dive into the sand using its Quantum Transition (QT) drive.

We’ve been watching sky pirates and space pirates, so why not sand pirates? The sci-fi world of Ozuma is bleaker than Aquarion, Lagrange, or Moretsu. When we first saw Sam Coin on his flying contraption, we immediately thought of Princess Nausicaa on her jet-glider. His hometown of Port Oase, with its windmills, is similar to the Valley of the Wind. The huge Ozuma, well, they’re like Nausicaa’s ohmu; mysterious and awe-inspiring, much like ocean whales. Sam Coin’s a archetypal good guy; if he sees someone weak being bullied by the strong, he’s going to help. Doing so nets him a beautiful but potentially troublesome fugitive in Maya (voiced by none other than Lacus Clyne), and irks his childhood friend Mimei (who also voices Aquarion’s MIX and Bakuman’s Iwase). We also like the tough Captain Bainas, who decides to protect Maya – who may have important info. It’s also a chance to thumb her nose at authority.

Frankly, we don’t have a problem with Ozuma’s borrowing of elements from Nausicaa, along with Gundam and Dune. Its character design and score are decidedly, unapologetically old-school. Side characters come in every shape and size, while the core characters all have different color eyes. It looks and sounds like the eighties, only the picture is crystal clear and in widescreen, adding majesty. Whether the nostalgia is intentional on the part of the producers, they’ve regardless crafted a wonderful setting and a fun and colorful cast. The throwback aesthetic is the icing on the cake. Ozuma will only run for six episodes, and this first one was also very efficient and got much of the introductions out of the way. We’re definitely looking forward to whatever comes next.


Rating: 4