Akudama Drive – 03 – Ocean’s Seven

As the Black Cat continues to describe the plan to infiltrate Kansai Station, the Ordinary Person tries not to stand out too much, lest her Swindler persona be exposed as a fraud. She later admits alone (with the gorgeous skyline as a backdrop) she’s strayed quite far into the world of criminals, but as Courier tells her, he does what he does because it’s “where he belongs.”

Ordinary Girl probably hadn’t led a particularly interesting life up until now, and even though these are all insane criminals, they’ve collectively been nice enough to make her feel like she belongs too. It’s nothing groundbreaking, characterization-wise, but Kurosawa Tomoyo really brings a lot of brightness and personality to “Ordina.”

This week we watch the gang infiltrate the station, which earns the episode the title “Mission: Impossible” for good reason: this motley crew of crazy people will have to work together, and well, in order to have a chance at success. Not only that, Ordina plays a key role at several points in the episode. She’s no passive observer.

Once the split group reaches the two elevators, they rely on precise countdowns to time the pressing of two switches on two levels at the exact same time. The switches are protected by glass-like forcefields, which are defeated in different ways.

Brawler simply destroys the unshielded supports for the fields, while Cutthroat pierces through them one by one. Ordina has to borrow Hacker’s drone to deliver a decisive fastball into the line of suspended blades so the one at the front hits the switch just as Hoodlum’s temple hits the other.

Once they reach the Shinkansen platform, they activate an EMP provided by Black Cat, knocking out power for the entire city, but also Hacker’s connection. With Hacker unable to increase the allowed weight of the cargo to permit it to pass through the train’s plasma field, the only person lighter than him—Ordina—has to take his place in the cargo crate.

She makes it inside without incident and drops the field just in time to allow Courier to speed in on his bike; then everyone else boards right before the train’s emergency start kicks in. Again, the train actually moving wasn’t part of the plan, but it will have to be now. There’s no going back from this point.

While this episode only covers the first half of the Shinkansen heist, I’m glad it slowed things down so we could not only watch the details of the infiltration go down, but also have more fun interactions between the characters. Both the Kansai station and the music the heist is set to elevate the sense of occasion and importance to the mission, which is about to kick into a higher gear with next week’s “Speed”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 02 – 1.5 Meters for a Billion

With all the players introduced, the robotic Black Cat reveals she’s the mastermind who had them all collared as an insurance policy. The mission to rescue Cutthroat was a test they all passed. Unfortunately for the lower-level Akudama Hoodlum and non-Akudama Ordinary Girl, the fact they’re still alive and played a role means they could prove useful, so they’re not allowed to walk away.

The cat suggests a change of venue to discuss their next job, which will pay a cool billion (100 million is already in everyone’s accounts, indicating the cat isn’t altogether untrustworthy. Brawler secures them some transport by hijacking a bus (all of which fly here) and Hacker handles the piloting. Their trip across town is just the latest in a nearly constant feast for the eyes. There’s too much detail to catch it all in one viewing.

The airbus trip also allows our colorful characters to interact a bit. Hoodlum and Brawler become fast friends, Courier and Doctor don’t, and Cutthroat is enamored of Ordinary Girl’s pink eyes, hair highlights, and clothes. Though pink isn’t as good as (blood) red, and his fixation on that color leads him to hit all the red buttons on the bus, resulting in the activation of its emergency afterburners.

After a quick history lesson with stick puppets about Kanto and Kansai (the former bombed and then totally rebuilt the latter), the gang emerges from the airbus, which has crashed into the upper level of a seven-star hotel. After disposing of all the human and robotic guards, they all gather in a suite so the cat can brief them on their next mission.

They are to infiltrate the Shinkansen, the only way to travel to Kanto from Kansai, and revered by most of the latter’s inhabitants as a “sacred entity”. There’s a 1.5-meter vault containing cargo the cat wants, but won’t disclose exactly what that cargo is. A successful attack of the Shinkansen has never been accomplished, but everyone gets $9 million if they can pull it off.

Their briefing is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Executioners: a male Master and female Pupil who have a License to Kill Akudama. The Pupil takes the lead and goes after Brawler, and the suite’s trippy mood lighting is accidentally activated, making their brawl even more cool and stylish. Pupil proves at least an equal fighter to Brawler, and cuts Doctor’s throat, while Hacker and the cat escape.

Before Pupil or Master can determine why an Ordinary Person with no criminal record and a four-year Hoodlum are hanging out with a bunch of elite Akudama, Courier remotely calls in his bike, which flies up to the suite, crashes through the window, and fires its railgun at the Executioners. In the ensuing explosion, the Girl and Akudama get away, and Master and Pupil vow to get them next time.

We end up in an abandoned warehouse—what was to be the original site of the briefing before Cutthroat caused a detour to the hotel. Everyone is fine, even Doctor, who stitched up her own throat. All that’s left is to await the Shinkansen’s next stop in Kansai. They’ll only have twenty minutes until it starts back up for Kanto, so they should at least go in with a plan…even if the more chaotic members of the gang inevitably mess that plan up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 01 (First Impressions) – Too Much is Not Enough

From its opening moments when it presents a stark futuristic urban landscape a la Blade Runner 2049, then the camera dives into an impossibly lively and kinetic future cityscape, I knew we’d be in for a lush eyefeast. The gaudy visuals are always on the cusp of causing sensory overload, but the direction wisely finds “rest spots”, such as when the camera angles stay level at an alleyway takoyaki stand.

It’s there where our unnamed female protagonist is grabbing a bite to eat, and the course of her night—and the rest of her life—is suddenly changed forever, all thanks to a ¥500 piece dropped by a gray taciturn young man on a purple Akira superbike. He refuses the coin from the girl, saying “dropped change is bad luck”. After what happens to the girl, I really can’t dispute that!

We learn Mr.Poutybike is really Courier, whose bike is equipped with omni-directional mobility gear to essentially Spider-Man his way over and through Kansai’s endless labyrinth of concrete canyons. We also meet Brawler creating an impressive, ever-growing pile of busted-up police bots; Hacker, hacking into the Kansai Central Bank; and sultry sadist Doctor performing an impromptu heart bypass in public transit airship.

These four super-cool, ultra-colorful characters (none of them named; their jobs are their names) each have centuries worth of estimated sentences for their myriad crimes. After they show off their stuff, each receives a mysterious text for a new job: Whomever of them rescues the murderer Cutthroat from his public execution later that night will be rewarded a cool ¥100 million.

The four criminals, designated S-Class Akudama, converge on Kansai Police HQ…where our Ordinary Girl ended up after being arrested for not paying for her takoyaki. The fact she didn’t pay when she had the ¥500 coin suggests to a police bot that she may be a Swindler. When Brawler starts throwing bots through windows, the Girl is caught in the middle of the fray.

When she spots a black cat—the same one she saved while almost getting hit by a car earlier—she chases after it and protects it, because between those selfless acts and not feeling right spending Courier’s ¥500, Ordinary Girl is a good person—maybe the only good person in this whole insane city!

That, however, doesn’t save her from the bad luck of picking up that dropped coin, which puts her literally in the crossfire of all four Akudama, who had been busy fighting each other until she presented them with a mutual target to kill. She manages to save herself (for the moment) by lying about being an Akudama like them named Swindler, so-called because she even tricked the computer system.

Before they start pressing her for proof, a giant police robot emerges from the elevator, missiles firing. Cutthroat was only a second or two from being beheaded by guillotine when the other four Akudama, the megabot, and Ordinary Girl all spill out into the public execution arena, much to the police cheif’s chagrin. They also end up destroying part of the underground prison, freeing, among others, the D-Class Akudama Hoodlum.

Courier leads the attack on the megabot, winding his bike around the giant overhead scoreboard display, sending it plummeting on top of everyone else. At first Ordinary Girl can just watch gobsmacked as all this chaos happens around her with the cat in her arms, but when she spots Courier about to be killed by the bot, she remembers her duty to get him back his coin.

She distracts the bot by pointing out Hoodlum, giving Courier enough time to activate his bike’s built-in railgun (but notably not activated with the coin—a missed opportunity to be sure). The bot is destroyed, the cops are in disarray, and all the Akudama are still breathing. Courier refuses to thank the Girl for helping him. Dick!

But how long will each of them be breathing? When Cutthroat emerges free from his binds and is given the briefcase by Courier, he immediately fits its contents (necklaces) on himself, the Akudama, and the Girl, and a guard. When the the guard tries to pry it off his head explodes, indicating the chokers are bombs. Then the theretofore silent cat finally speaks up—apparently the mastermind of this job and the scenario in which the criminals and Ordinary Girl find themselves.

You may not find a more indulgently EXTRA show than Akudama Drive (AKA “A.D.D.”) this Fall, and its first episode surpasses even K in pure delicious eye candy. I knew going in this had the same director as Persona, the character designer of Danganronpa, and Railgun’s composer.

Kurosawa Tomoyo (Sound! Euphonium’s Kumiko, Amaburi’s Sylphy) does a tremendous job infusing Ordinary Girl with a crisp, bright, expressive voice. So there’s a ton of talent here. One of my favorite unnecessary-but-awesome flexes are the transitions between parts of the city in which the different layers of the landscape are fitted together like Tetris pieces.

One thing that may turn some off besides the visuals that border on too cool and trying too hard: the fact there’s no attempt to give dimension to any of these characters, who basically start and end at their names and are embellished with their individual style and methods. No amount of intricate spinning signs can distract from the fact there’s not much below the surface.

That said, I found Ordinary Girl an effective and sympathetic audience surrogate, and whatever deadly game into which she’s stumbled backwards is one I can’t wait to watch unfold…even if it may be best to switch off the ol’ brain and enjoy the empty neon calorie airship ride.

Rating: 4/5

Kiznaiver – 02

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As the Kiznaivers’ teachers deal with the guilt of allowing their precious students to be appropriated in such an extreme manner, Sonozaki assigns the Kiznaivers themselves their very first mission: self-introductions. And she’s not talking about giving your name, class, and blood type.

She wants the deepest, darkest secret each of them carry within them, for if they’re really going to be All for One and One for All, they need to grasp the essence of who one another are, as well, perhaps, to experience the catharsis of finally releasing that which has never been released in their lives.

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And no, they don’t get a choice in the matter. Dishonesty and incomplete answers result in penalties in the form of the continued shocking of Agata, who is still in the control room with Sonozaki.

When she sics a pair of attack dogs at “Mad Dog” Tenga, Tenga accidentally goes first when, in a fit of panic he confesses to being a cynophobe. The next trial involves demolishing the facility they currently occupy.

Meanwhile, Agata doubts he has anything he doesn’t want to say, because he “doesn’t know himself.” Sonozaki releases him, with what is sure to be a catch.

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When a countdown nears zero for the next confession after Tenga’s, it’s Niko’s turn to reveal her secret, or at least what she thinksis her secret: she’s a Phony Eccentric; she only dresses and moves and talks weird because she’s worried with her looks and smarts and wealth could cause more trouble for her and others.

Just as they do with Tenga, the others don’t see the confession as a big deal. In fact, they consider Niko eccentric simply because she thought it necessary to pretent to be eccentric rather than act in a more socially normal way.

Yuta is next, as Niko notices a poster with a smiling fat kid. That fat kid is Yuta, and his dark secret—that he was once round—was something he felt would cripple his school prince status. The thing is, plenty of princes were/are fat. Again, it’s no big deal to the others.

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That leaves Agata, Chidori, and Maki. Maki runs off rather than be the next one to confess, and ends up in a morgue where a female corpse in a school uniform calls out to her creepily. I must say, Sonozaki and the organization she works for really put a lot of effort into this house-of-horrors, considering it’s only necessary for this one mission.

The other Kizzies head to the roof, where Agata is hanging precariously in a gondola and will plummet to his death until the self-intros are complete. He attempts to give one by confessing he doesn’t care or feel anything about anyone, probably because he doesn’t care about himself.

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This doesn’t get a ding-ding, but it does prompt Chidori to climb over to Agata and begin a rant about how cool and cheerful he used to be, and how he used to take care of her and be there for her.

This culminates in a confession that she loved that Kacchon and wants him back more than anything; a confession we all knew was coming a mile away. All of us, that is, except for Agata, who never realized Chidori liked him even as she stayed by his side though all his struggles.

He amends his confession to state that he feels happy about how she felt/feels about him, and feels happy that he feels happy, and since becoming a Kiznaiver made that happen, maybe it’s not so bad, aside from all the danger games.

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And so there, after falling to their not-deaths onto a big landing cushion, Agata and Chidori and the other three all celebrate their catharses. Of course, there’s one more who needs to reveal her secret: Maki. And it’s what I expected when I saw her in that morgue: she murdered someone.

Now, clearly, being a murderer is, in the grand scheme of things, far worse than having been fat in their earlier years. But the fact everyone put the same weight and importance on their closest secrets, no matter how varied they were, is another important lesson about what it is to be Kiznaivers.

Before, they kept the most difficult things to say inside. Now the facades have fallen, those things have been said. The group was skeptical of being able to open up to virtual strangers, but no matter what else they were or are, they are a lot more than strangers now.

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Kiznaiver – 01 (First Impressions)

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Hmmm…now this is more like it: a bold, brash, imaginative, absorbing counterstrike to the comparatively staid, restrained Kuromukuro. Space Patrol Luluco isn’t all Trigger is up to this Spring; in fact, that’s just an appetizer for this, the main course…KIZNAIVER.

Rather than beating around the bush, Kiz gets right down to brass tacks: this is a story about youth, pain, and the ability or inability to fell and share in it, as part of a larger plan to eliminate interpersonal conflict in the world, which has been around since we were in caves.

Rather than a literal cave, Agata Katsuhira inhabits an figurative one that protects him from physical pain at the cost of not feeling any emotional pain either, to the consternation of his friend and classmate Takashiro Chidori.

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His insulation from the work and from true bonds with other humans makes him a ripe target for bullies, since he offers no resistance to their blows or demands for money.

One such instance of this happens immediately after Chidori storms off (disgusted by Kocchan’s passivity) but another classmate, the Kamina-esque Tenga Hajime, steps in to rescue him unsolicited with the kind of stylish action Trigger is known for.

It’s here where Tenga learns Agata literally can’t feel pain, and starts having fun successfully testing that claim…when a striking, silver-haired class prez type appears.

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Agata comes to on a roof with the girl, one Sonozaki Noriko, who asks him if he’s heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. He has, of course, but she believes those sins have evolved along with humanity since their inception in biblical times.

Rather than pride, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, and sloth, she names new-style sins such as “The Cunning Normal”, “High-and-Mighty”, “Goody-Two-Shoes”, “Eccentric Headcase”, “Musclehead Thug”, and “The Imbecile (g/udon)”.

These aren’t just “sins”, they’re the actual personalities of five other classmates: Yuta Tsughuhito, Maki Honoka, Chidori, Niiyama Niko, Tenga, and Agata himself. The show does not shy away from specific, elemental personality types because it is the uniting of those disparate types that is to be Kiznaiver’s core dynamic.

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“Everyone wants to carve their scares into someone else…connect with someone else,” says Sonozaki. Agata’s inability to do so to this is the reason he’s…the way he is, but that’s about to come to an end.

In Agata, Sonozaki has found the missing piece in her plan to make the union of personalities official. She does so by shoving Agata down a flight of steps, an act of violence he’ll likely feel, even with his formidable pain threshold.

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After the town mascot “Gomorins” wheel an injured Agata through a disco ball-festooned hospital, he awakes to find Sonozaki, along with all of the five “sinners” she “quickly and precisely secured” (i.e. kidnapped) and performed identical operations on, installing something called the “Kizuna System” into their bodies.

She goes on to inform the other six that Sugomori City has always been an experimental testbed for the system, but she is implimenting it for the first time here and now. Kizuna System allows separate people to share one another’s pain. She says Agata only survived his fall because the pain of the trauma was spread among the other five.

She hopes that if pain and wounds were divided evenly and everyone could feel the pain of others, it could lead to peace in a battle-ridden world. The six she’s assembled are the first step. Notably, it doesn’t seem like she’s a part of this union.

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The other five subjects take off, unwilling or unable to comprehend what Sonozaki has told them. But when Niko suggests she’s just having a weird dream, and Tenga threatens to grope her, she smacks him with all her might, and all six subjects feel the sting of her strike, including Niko herself. After a couple more tests, it’s clear: they are now sharing their pain. This is no dream. “All for one and one for all” is their new motto.

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Not only that, but Agata is feeling pain now, something a girl in the very red cold open told him would come to pass one day. That day has arrived, now that he and the other five have the Kizuna System within them, making them…KIZNAIVERS.

The combo of Trigger and Okada Mari is an auspicious one, it’s fun to hear Boom Boom Satellites score an OP again (their OP in Xam’d is still one of my favorites), and the cast is stacked with talent.

Brisk, funky,stylish, and full of beautiful lighting, settings, and animations, Kiznaiver is a top Spring pick out of the gate, and may well bump a couple shows off my list going forward.

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 01

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The nations of the world have been splintered, isolated, and pushed to the brink by the technologically advanced naval “Fleet of Fog”, who go on to rule the seas. Promising military student Chihaya Gunzou is shown a top secret fog submarine I-401 that activates when he touches it. The next day, an ethereal girl Iona confronts Gunzou, telling him she is the embodiment of the I-401, and her only order is to obey him. For the next two years Iona, Gunzou, and a crew of his classmates battle the Fleet of Fog as an independent ship. The Japanese military hires them to transport a new, potentially game-changing weapon to America for mass production.

It’s always been a custom to refer to the vast majority of boats, ships, and naval vessels as female in gender. We don’t know why for sure, but it feels right for some reason, as there’s something maternal about how they bear their crews and cargo and protect them from the harsh seas. This series takes that tradition to its quasi-logical conclusion: giving vessels actual human avatars. Rather than a mother, Iona comes off as more like a highly dutiful little sister to Chihaya Gunzou. In the flashback when they meet, once he realizes the power at his disposal, he wastes no time agreeing to be her captain. The setup is very efficient, quickly establishing their rapport and then showing the product of two years of collaboration.

We can see the cel-shaded CGI being off-putting to many, like Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping. It almost suits the not-really-human Iona, but the problem is everyone moves in pretty much the same mechanical way, and their gazes are a bit dead-eyed. Their movement aside, the character and costume designs are top-notch; the colorful crew reminded us of Eureka Seven, both in their look and the way they roam the seas (mostly) free of government masters. Gunzou is dedicated to shattering the status quo by taking the fight to Fleet of Fog – a gang of haughty ladies in elaborate garb going after Iona the deserter. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but it looks like a solid, professional series.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Gunzou’s dad is believed to have defected to the Fog, which made things rough for Gunzou growing up but also seems to be responsible for Iona defecting from the Fog and going to Gunzou. 
  • It’s not even mentioned, but we like how despite the shadow his father cast over him, there were still some who decided to befriend Gunzou. They became his crew.
  • This show takes itself very seriously most of the time, but we liked the lighter moments in which a freshly-awakened Iona answers everyone’s queries quite literally. We also liked how she admitted to being nervous in her first battle; she’s clearly more than just a machine.
  • We liked the lived-in, personalised nature of the various crew members’ kiosks on the bridge.
  • It goes without saying, but the naval battles and ship models were really well done and expensive-looking.

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – 01

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Team Rabbits is a group of underachieving GDF AHSMB (mecha) trainee pilots who don’t gel well and score poorly in training exercises. When a huge Wulgaru (alien) fleet attacks the GDF’s forward base at Undina, they are sent into active duty in real-deal AHSMBs; each pilot given a specific role. Their mission is to simply buy enough time for Undina’s forces to evacuate, but they notice civilians were left behind, and they stand their ground. They do enough damage to force the Wulgaru fleet to retreat.

This series immediately immerses us in the middle of a heated space battle, and we’re thinking “alright, this could be cool.” Then we start seeing characters in the quite-unmistakable style of Hirai Hisahi of the excellent Gundam SEED/Destiny saga, and we take in their snappy interactions and very simple but well-defined personalities and we start warming up to it. Like Gundam, these are mecha pilots whose circumstances lead them to accomplish great things. Unlike SEED, these guys start out as slackers, who haven’t yet figured out how to work as a team or fully exploit their innate talents.

But whether it’s beginners luck or something just clicking, all five of them rise to the occasion when it matters most: when lifes are depending on them. They even go beyond the call of duty when they realize how awesome their new mecha are. They end up surprising everyone, including themselves. Color us surprised, too: while the characters have that unique, simple look of Gundam Seed, this is a fully modern series with suitably up-to-date production values. When the real fighting begins and the misfits find themselves in the big leagues, the pace quickens and after some initial disorientation, the team finds a groove and goes for it, which seems to be what their commander Simon was hoping for. But mostly this outing was just flat-out FUN.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • While the characters look very Gundam SEEDy, they’re way more lively and free to show goofy emotions, which they do in rapid succession.
  • At the same time, the space procedural operations-speak Gundam is known for is here in force during deployment sequences and lots of lingo, although not an oppresive amount of it.
  • The episode is also very efficient; Vividred insisted on showing each of its girls transforming individually; this one shows everyone launching at the same time in a 4-way split screen, multiplayer-style. More of this.
  • The bad guys are pretty one-dimensional so far, but that’s okay.
  • PEW PEW! KABLAMO!