Talentless Nana – 04 – A Useful Idiot

Nana contemplates her next target when the two class Gals pick on Inukai Michiru, the meekest, most guileless member of the class, with a love letter Nana knows is just a fake. Michuru spots a scrape on Nana’s leg and proceeds to reveal her Talent: a tongue that heals all wounds. It’s a scene that happens so suddenly you almost overlook the yuri/BDSM subtext.

Nana also determines that Michiru could cause the deaths of 150k (still not sure how that algorithm works), and thus as good a next target as any. The only problem is, Kyouya is still breathing down her neck. Nana decides she’ll play her part, first in informing poor Michuru that her after-school rendezvous will be a bust (the love letter was fake), then cheer her up with some lunch.

That night, Nana arms herself with an icepick to do the deed, but finds Kyouya sitting right outside her door, “guarding”, i.e. watching her out of “concern”, i.e. suspicion. She then proceeds to play loud music and sneak out her window—which she should have done in the first place! It appears as though Nana is going to stab Michiru in the back, and Kyouya hears a scream from Michiru’s dorm…but when he arrives, it is Nana on the floor with a stab wound.

She claims she heard the Enemy’s inner-voice and raced to save its target, Michiru. Detective Kyouya can use this latest incident and connect it to past info however he wishes, but everyone else in the girl’s dorm is immediately united behind Nana when they see what she did for Michiru.

Kyouya later considers that Nana could have stabbed herself—which of course she did—but Nana presents to him and everyone else a lie (an invisible monster) more feasible than the truth.

Kyouya’s lack of concrete evidence to support his accurate suspicions to a class now fully trusting of Nana essentially paralyzes him. His theories remain in his brain, harmless to her efforts. She’s even able to get Ice Prince and Fire Thug to agree on something: that SHE should be their new leader in Nanao’s stead. Since her self-inflicted attack is accepted as an attack by an invisible Enemy of Humanity, she can use them as cover for all subsequent killings. Nana is flying high—ultimately too high.

Her arrogance gets the better of her when she instructs an enthusiastically willing Michiru to talk with all of the other students and record their Talents in a book. This would seem to be a no-brainer considering what a Chatty Kathy Michiru is (and she can be offed when no longer useful), but the benefits are quickly nullified by an unexpected setback: Michiru’s probing tips off Hatadaira Tsunekichi, a psychic photographer who has acquired a photo of her killing him in the future.

Whelp, there’s the concrete evidence Kyouya needs so desperately to prove his suspicions! Thankfully for Nana, Tsunekichi comes to her first. He demonstrates with devastating accuracy that every photo he takes ends up happening without fail. Even when Nana changes her order, she ends up with a face-full of soba. Then he pulls out one more dagger: a photo of her shoving Nanao off the cliff.

This would put Nana in check, but for the fact that, as far as we know, only she and Tsunekichi have seen these photos. Tsunekichi also seems to have doomed himself: If there’s a photo of him being killed, and everything in his photos happens, then he must be resigned to die. So, will Nana succeed in killing him before anyone else sees the photos? Or will they be leaked, forcing her to use all her leader capital to defend herself?

It’s definitely a tricky new corner she’s been pushed into. Like Michiru, Nana considers Tsunekichi an imbecile, and I definitely can’t rule out her managing to outwit him and turn him into another victim of the Enemy. But his power exposes a huge flaw in her execution of this mission: Why the heck did she start killing anyone before she learned the powers of everyone? Assuming she gets out of this fix, what other surprise Talents could compromise her, all because she killed too fast?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 03 – What’s This F-Boy’s Deal?!

With two enemies of humanity eliminated in short order, Nana knows she must be careful not to incite panic or draw suspicion upon herself. But that’s hard when Onodera Kyouya is snooping around, especially when he’s almost if not as good as her at deduction, as evidenced by how he knows the Ice Prince is dating.

She can’t have this guy breathing down her neck, so she makes him her next target, and begins the process of learning his talent and weakness. But following him leads her to discover he’s the kind of guy who goes out of his way to give warm milk to a stray cat.

As Nana tries to figure Kyouya out, he invites her into his dorm, which is a bit of a mess, but is also full of potentially useful clues. She seems to spot them, but she’s also consistently kept off balance by Kyouya, even going so far as to call him a “low-level f-boy”.

What’s fun about these two interacting when we only have access to Nana’s thoughts is that we’re not sure if Kyouya is putting on a big act for Nana, just as she’s putting on an act for him. This is only heightened when Kyouya produces an issue of the manga Humanity’s Girl, which is obviously Nana’s favorite, because she considers herself humanity’s savior.

Kyouya also pulls the power move where Nana thinks she’s about to leave scot-free, only for him to say “Oh, one last thing…” and then whipping out Nanao’s fancy Rolex. Nana can’t hide her true shock at seeing the Velben good in Kyouya’s hand, since it means Kyouya has been busy.

He also tells her about how it’s strange that the government set up a “training” facility where very little structured training goes on. Since agents like Nana are the Talentless’ last chance to get rid of the Talented, any Talented as curious and suspicious as Kyouya have to go.

Just to confirm her suspicions, we finally hear Kyouya’s inner voice. In a way, that’s a shame, since now we know for sure he’s not already 100% on to her. But he’s definitely getting there!

The next day, Nana sets a clever trap based on Kyouya’s weakness, gleaned by observing his dorm: he’s an anosmiac. That means the next time he heats up the milk in the abandoned janitor’s shed, he doesn’t detect the gas leak, or the closed window, until it’s too late. BOOM.

Bye-bye  Kyouya, right? Wrong. He may have no sense of smell, but that’s not a weakness one can use to kill him, due to his Talent: he’s freakin’ invincible. The explosion covers his body in burns, but he quickly heals, and when Nana runs to the wreckage, she all but confirms to him that she was the one who caused the explosion. Who else knew he was here but Nana, who mentioned the cat earlier?

Even so, Kyouya isn’t totally convinced, and so doesn’t retaliate against Nana…yet. After all, he can’t discount the fact she knew he was in the fire because she read his mind. His parting words to her—“I’m so glad we’re friends.”—is a clear threat. It’s almost like he could out her now if he wanted, but would prefer to keep their cat-and-mouse game going.

Now we know for certain that Kyouya isn’t a fellow Talented hunter like Nana. And Nana definitely has no taste for games; she’s here to do a job as quickly and efficiently as possible. The question is, how is she going to find his real weakness and kill him now that his defenses are up?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 02 – A Matter of Time

Talentless Nana let the cat out of the bag in its first episode, and while that was an excellent twist, it also made it much harder for subsequent episodes to deliver the same impact. We’re told about the history of the Talented in an infodump, and it’s not pretty: after a five year war that the Non-Talented won, remaining Talented were basically isolated on islands. Missing from this story is exactly HOW they won against an army of superheroes. Sheer numbers? Kryptonite?

Hiiragi Nana stood before a dark and foreboding Talentless government entity, and given the directive to eliminate the Talented on the island, and threatened with serious consequences if she failed. Not explained: That said, she chose to take the mission and is determined to carry it out. What we don’t quite know yet is why her and only her. Did Supes Talented kill her family?

I mention “Supes” because Nana is giving me some Hughie vibes from Amazon’s The Boys: an unpowered individual seeking to bring down the superpowered despite being at a overwhelming disadvantage. The difference is the Supes in The Boys are almost all horrible people; the kids at the school are arrogant but are ultimately innocent.

They could go bad when they grow up, like their forbears back during the war, but preemptively eliminating them before they’ve done anything wrong is ethnic cleansing, at best! That creates a conflict when it comes to routing for Nana, especially since we don’t know of any motivation she has besides a sense of loyalty duty to the Non-Talented race.

At any rate, the moment Nana pushed Nanao off a cliff, the show transformed completely. Right now, it’s about Nana identifying the most powerful Talented and rubbing them out one by one (though she’d probably take a twofer if conditions were right!) At first her next target would seem to be the Ice Prince, but Shibusawa Youhei is even more dangerous, since he can manipulate time.

Nana does the same thing she did to Nanao and gets friendly and bubbly with Shibusawa. The difference is, this week we get her full internal monologue. While I’m not opposed to this shift in the way the story is told, she withdraws into her thoughts a lot, and often what she has to say is obvious or redundant, like Icy Prince’s tell, or the threat Shubusawa represents.

Still, Nana is good at her job or she wouldn’t be alive, and manages to not only wrest the true nature of Shibusawa’s ability: he can only go back in time. But she soon attracts the attention of the ever aloof and suspicious Onodera Kyouya. He knows Nanao has disappeared because their dorms are adjacent and he never returned home, and he believes Nana was the last person who saw him.

Nana would seem to be in a bind when Kyouya asks Shibusawa if he could investigate Nanao’s disappearance by going back in time. But even as Kyouya caresses her pigtails, she manages to regain control of the narrative by delicately turning suspicions onto Kyouya. He even seems to realize what she’s done and makes a tactical withdrawal, but his business with her isn’t over.

For now, Nana has two objectives: prevent Shibusawa from discovering she killed Nanao, and eliminating him. Pretending to cooperate with his investigation, she learns more about his abilities. He becomes fatigued and short of breath whenever he jumps, and the further back in time he goes, the more pronounced the side effects. More than twelve hours makes him vomit.

Ultimately, Nana can’t stop Shibusawa from going back to the time when she and Nanao were on the cliff. Indeed, last week someone was hiding behind a tree nearby; now we know it was him. But there’s one other key limitation to his time traveling: if anyone from that time spots him, he’s automatically sent back to the present.

Nana can’t warn her past self, she can only trust that she’ll be diligent and observant regardless of the situation. Nanao may have been an easy win for her, but she still followed the best practices of all assassins, namely to make sure you’re not being watched when you do the deed. Sure enough, Shibusawa returns automatically; Nana noticed him after she held hands with Nanao, but before she let go and shoved him to his death.

Still, considering how Shibusawa initially harbored suspicions of Nana since she was the last one with Nanao, it’s odd how he all but drops those suspicions simply because he saw them lovey-dovey together. His abrupt exit from that scene before he saw it play out would seem to be a gaping hole Nana’s testimony—and that’s before considering questions like why he can’t go back again and again, in the off-chance past Nana doesn’t spot him.

Instead, Shibusawa’s satisfied she had nothing to do with Nanao’s disappearance and they call it a night, making it certain too much time will pass by morning for him to go back again. But of course, that’s only one of Nana’s two objectives is complete. To kill him, she devises a dastardly plot that utilizes everything she’s learned about him.

Later that night, Nana goes to Shibusawa’s dorm to tell him the full story: after visiting the cliffs, she and Nanao were ambushed by an Enemy of Humanity, and it ate him. She rushes out to show him where it happened so he can jump back in time to save Nanao, and Shibusawa, with his strong sense of justice, follows her…to the precise spot she prepared.

When he time jumps at that spot, too much time passes and he doesn’t come back, indicating he won’t be coming back. That’s because the spot is really a section of the lake Kori Seiya had frozen Nana covered with earth earlier in the night. She recalled that Shibusawa couldn’t swim, which combined with his shortness of breath after jumping, resulted in him drowning in the past, unfrozen lake, and his body was then entombed within the ice.

It’s an clever, elegant, poetic, and utterly diabolical assassination—and Nana’s superiors estimate she saved 800,000 lives by getting rid of Mr. Time Travel. I still have reservations about whether either Nana or TA can keep this up before things get truly ridiculous, but if they keep delivering fun yarns like this, I’ll keep coming back for more!

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 11

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I don’t believe the first and second halves of an episode of RKC have been as different as the the ones in this week’s outing. Things certainly start out foreboding with Ikki and Stella getting photographed kissing and the director warning him about the Ethics Committee chief Akaza (the gangster in the fedora we’ve seen in the shadows) snooping around, while promising she’ll protect him should the need arise.

But then the episode takes a turn for the lighthearted and fluffy, with Ikki and Stella officially meeting Toudo Touka for the first time, and learning she’s not at all the same person when not in the arena. She’s clumsy and highly susceptible to instances of fanservice, but also friendly, kind, and compassionate.

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To whit, she and the council spend a day with underprivileged children from a local orphanage, and Ikki and Stella are invited along; Stella because she’ll be a hit with the kids, and Ikki…well, Ikki helps out with the cooking. It lets him further observe what a generous and wonderful person Touka is (he also hears about it from the tiny white-haired council member, whose humanity Touka restored in his darkest hour).

To him, Touka’s trump card isn’t her lightning or her ability to essentially read the minds of her opponents. It’s a far less easily quantifiable power to make everyone around her better, and more importantly make them feel like they can be better, than their humble origins. Proving it and inspiring people every day is her source of strength, which makes Ikki ponder what his own source might be.

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And boy, is his strength tested in the second half, when things take such a dark and sinister turn, the very palette of the show dissolves into stark black and white with harsh spot color and the grainy texture of film, complete with multiple title cards documenting the passage of time.

After the newspaper with their kissing photo on it is circulated, Ikki is incarcerated by the Ethics Committee and forced to endure days, then weeks of interrogation before a tribunal led by Akaza (his fathers’ henchman), then locked in a room with no furniture and strange noises coming from the walls. The intent is clear: get Ikki out of the picture.

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On its face, his accusers’ case is ridiculously arbitrary and unsubstantiated; it’s all trumped up rumor and intrigue and public opinion. But that’s exactly what those accusers want, and those who control the levers of power and information have their way with Ikki; he never had a chance.

Back at school, Stella, Shizuku, Alice, and the newspaper girl read about Ikki still wining selection matches in captivity, but the cloud of rumors and looks and laughs and side comments eventually gets to Stella, to the point she wonders if it would be best for Ikki if she broke up with him, blaming herself for his treatment.

At this, Shizuku hits her with a splash of cold ultrapure water, and warns her she won’t forgive her if she betrays Ikki, who decided to willingly face his accusers out of his love of Stella, and his desire to be with her out in the open. Of course, with scandal in the air and the subtle truth of their relationship drowned out by innuendo, that may no longer be possible.

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Even so, Stella realizes she erred in considering a breakup as the solution. Ikki is fighting for her, in the arena and the courtroom, so she sends him a lock of her hair (relayed to him by the blood-puking teacher in a neat bit of guard misdirection) as a symbol of her solidarity in his efforts.

Seeing that Stella is still out there fighting for him and for them as well, he decides to swallow his pride and speak to his father Itsuki one-on-one; a request that is granted despite Akaza’s objections. There, Ikki plays the Good Son and tells him of his exploits and victories at school, hoping it’ll be enough for his dad to finally acknowledge his strength.

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Then the final hammer is brought down: his father has always acknowledged him, but only as a mediocre talent not deserving of instruction, who would only create a mediocre result. If he were to succeed, it would create hope in others who aren’t optimally skilled, putting strain on his organization. His father has the opposite aim of Touka: to keep those who are low low, “in their rightful place.” He considers Ikki one of those people who aren’t worth his time, effort, or love.

It’s a devastating blow to Ikki, who thought, perhaps unreasonably, that his father still had a loving bone in his body for him, but no. Further more, that Touka, who works to lift people up rather than let them keep being trampled on? She will be Ikki’s opponent in his 20th and final selection match. Akaza says if he wins, all charges will be dropped.

I know what my first reaction to this was: Maybe Touka will let him win? But I only thought that a viable possibility for a moment; there’s no way Touka would throw a duel. Still, if one is to believe Ikki’s dad, that Shizuku is the superior talent in their family, and she couldn’t come close to defeating Touka, what hope does Ikki have, who still doesn’t know his source of strength (maybe Stella, buddy?) and has just been crushed by his “father?”

First Half:
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Second Half:
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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 05

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“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

I’m reminded of that line by Kay from Men In Black because it’s true. The larger a group of people gets, the more they’re able to do, but at the same time, the dumber they get as a collective. It’s a concept that’s demonstrated in this very action-light, politics-heavy episode of Gatchaman, in which Gelsadra challenges the incumbent Sugayama in the smartphone election for the next Japanese PM.

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I put Sugane’s harem up top not because they had any significant role to play this week, but because they’re an example of what Kay was talking about. First the three girls are united in their support of Sugiyama, reflecting the opinion of the general public. Then, after a few gaffes from Sugayama and some good PR from Gel-san and Tsubasa, all of a sudden they’re for Gel-san. They go with the flow, where everyone else seems to be going. And in the meantime, they burn Sugane’s meat.

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It’s six months until the first primaries here in the states, but there have already been some notable gaffes that candidates continue to pay for due to the echo chamber of the media, from O’Malley’s “#WhiteLivesMatter” to Trump’s “Mexican Rapists” tirade. Similarly, in the world of Gatchaman, if you screw up on camera, those words will haunt you the rest of your days.

Sugayama calls his naysayers “dumb” on live television (believing the camera was no longer rolling), and it proves his undoing, as the media proceeds to pick apart every other thing he says and does, creating a pattern of missteps that erodes the public trust he once enjoyed.

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Meanwhile, there’s nothing particularly special about what Gel-san and Tsubasa do to rise in the polls, aside form the fact Gel-san can simply yell “GE-RU-RU-RU-RU-RU” from a rooftop and collect everyone’s desires. From there, he uses simple arithmetic to determine the best policy position: that Crowds should be abolished. Tsubasa and Jou are with Gel on this, while Hajime is neutral (of course) and Utsutsu helps Paiman out with his own campaign, which doesn’t go far because let’s face it, even if he dominates the little kid vote, he’s not getting much adult support.

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When Rui and Hajime visit Suzuki Rizumu in his cell, his position on people is similar to MiB’s Kay; with collective intelligence decreasing as the size of the sample increases. He’s harsher, calling them “apes”, who like any other animal in nature, goes with the flow of nature.

Despite Gel’s promise to abolish Crowds, Rizumu still believe Gel is “dangerous” and calls him the “Master Ape,” because all he’s doing is going along with what the majority of people want. Sometimes that’s not what’s best, or even right. But Gel wins in a landslide, so we’re about to find out just how wrong it is.

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