Astra Lost in Space – 03 – This Is NOT It!

Aries has heterochromia. It’s a detail I never noticed in the first two episodes, until it was explicitly mentioned this week. I thought I was so sure they were the same color, but I looked back on those episodes, and sure enough, one of her eyes is more yellow; the other more green. My eyes just…didn’t notice.

It’s a subtle and clever way for the show to communicate not only that one’s eyes (or other senses) can fool them, but that things could be going on right out in the open and we may not even notice them until it’s too late. The same goes for Kanata, who both suspects and doesn’t suspect everyone. Like us, he may suspect Yunhua and Ulgar the most, but just because we know the least about them.

On their twenty-fourth day in space, Zack anounces that the Astra has arrived at Planet #2, Shummoor, but the rest of the crew is too busy shooting the breeze, which should be seen as progress. Then Funi (and her puppet) start talking about how she was adopted the same day she arrived an an orphanage, and how she overheard adults saying “put her on Beego and we’ll illuminate them all.”

Change “Beego” to “B-go (or 5)” and “illuminate” to “eliminate”, and it sure looks like everyone was put on this ship because they wanted to get rid of them in one fell swoop. With this theory afoot, Kanata decides to tell the others that there’s a traitor in their midst. Ulgar finally reveals something about himself: he’s the estranged son of the school vice principal, a man able to transfer students and choose who goes on what team.

I loved that this exchange marked the return of the haunting music that backed up the first episode’s cold open; a piece that captures both the unfathomable size of space and the equally unfathomable variety of perils it offers. And yet the greatest danger to everyone may be someone among them, not anything out there.

All this talk of a traitor is too much for Quitterie, who loses her composure, even pushing Aries away when she tries to comfort her. The fact is, no one can prove they are or are not the traitor. So Aries decides to table that particular dilemma for now, and have some snacks before heading down to the planet.

Both in this defusing of a volatile situation and in the insight she offers vis-a-vis the possibility of the traitor being on the kill list themselves, making theirs a suicide mission—Aries proves she’s far brainier and tougher than her space-cadet-with-a-photographic memory exterior would suggest.

In the midst of the discussion about this potentially suicidal traitor, another act of apparent sabotage goes down: a hole is blown in the ship’s hull, rupturing a water pipe.

Charce finds fragments and determines that it was an accident, not treachery from one of their own: a meteor pierced the hull, causing damage that if not repaired will spell the end of the ship. It’s actually comforting that it was a truly random, chaotic event, something that happens in space all the time, and something even the traitor did not expect to happen when it happened.

After reciting a couple more lame, vague “survival tips,” Kanata quickly and decisively assigns tasks to each member of the crew, each according to their strengths as he knows them. And after the events of last week, where he made decisions and acted when no one else could, the crew responds by going along with his assignments without protest. He also instills in everyone a palpable sense of “we can do this” by dint of sheer charisma.

The crew springs into action…well, all but Yunhua. Yunhua gets water in her face and some of it ends up down her throat. Because water forms balls in zero-G, she starts to drown, but Quitterie, the closest thing to a medic on the crew, acts quickly to save her, absorbing the water with a cloth. Yunhua is left alone to rest, and while it’s highly unlikely she meant to almost drown, I couldn’t help but think she was up to something arranging to be left on the bridge with no one watching.

Once a series of cables connect the backup generator with the gravity reactor thingamajig (technobabble), the system still throws and error due to a weird bird/bug-like critter flying about that the computer does not recognize. If they can’t nab it, they’ll plummet to their deaths.

The resident marksman, Ulgar, volunteers to shoot the thingy with Luca’s glue gun, as Luca and Kanata keep him steady. He succeeds, and the ship’s gravity and power are restored, halting its death dive into the planet’s atmosphere. Thanks to the talents of the individual crew, and their ability to work together as a unity under Kanata’s direction, the latest crisis is averted.

But that doesn’t change the fact there’s a traitor in their midst. As Luca praises Ulgar’s marksmanship and claims that with a real gun he’d be “unstoppable,” Kanata retorts that guns haven’t been legal in a very long time. And yet there Ulgar goes, into his quarters, to pull out a case containing…a gun.

Could it be as simple as one of the most obvious suspects in the crew actually being the traitor? Or is the reveal of the gun more misdirection? Like Aries’ different colored eyes, the answers may have already stared me in the face long before I discover them for myself…

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

One Punch Man – 07

opm71

This week’s threat to the annihilation of City Z and its neighbors isn’t a villain or monster, but a meteor. Just…a meteor. Nothing fancy or ironic about it, except that it shifted course to land right in Saitama’s backyard (so to speak). This initially feels like this threat lacks the imagination of previous foes, but it offers the opportunity to see what happens when Saitama saves the city and is actually recognized for it.

opm72

Only Genos and other Class S heroes are summoned to Z in a last-ditch effort, and only three Class S’s actually show up: Bang, Bofoi, and Genos. Third-ranked Fang’s martial arts are of no help; seventh-ranked Bofoi only sends a drone to perform a weapons test. Genos takes Fang’s advice to go all out and not worry about failure or repercussions, but he also comes up short. It falls to Saitama, who shows up randomly and blasts the meteor to bits.

opm73

Now, Saitama has destroyed cities before, most notably in the first episode when the colossus he knocks out falls on one. But now his name is out there as the one who stopped the meteor and saved millions of lives but also the one who devastated City Z. The HA also assumes he had help from the Class S’s, so he only rises within his own Class C, albeit a healthy jump from 342nd to fifth.

Rankings aside, when heroes near and far hear of a Class C barging into a Class S matter, they’re understandably pissed, and suspect foul play. Enter the Tank Top Brothers, Tiger and Black Hole. Rather than challenge him to a fight, they start yelling abou how Saitama is responsible for all the destruction around them, gathering a crowd that turns against Saitama and starts to chant “give it up”.

opm74

The true test of Saitama’s greatness as a hero is not in his victories over impossible foes like the meteor. Rather, it is in his ability to withstand the indignity of not only hardly ever being recognized for his efforts, but on the contrary, blamed for secondary issues, when if it weren’t for him, every man, woman, child, and building in City Z would have been toast.

Bang witnesses the Brothers turning the crowd against Saitama, but does not interfere, knowing sometimes being the bad guy in spite of being the good guy is part of the job. But the Bros’ scheme backfires when they try to put their hands on Saitama, and they very publicly show how much weaker they are.

Saitama uses the opportunity to tell the stunned crowd he’s a hero because he wants to be one, not for admiration. If they have a problem, they can either say it to his face or go to hell. It’s the first real case of Saitama, who has the clear moral high ground, addressing a good-size crowd of people directly. He probably swayed few minds, but perhaps being known and despised is preferable to not being known at all.

8_ses