Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 07 – Hebimori Unplugged

Hebimori loves the sound of guitars, especially electric ones, but didn’t join the music club, preferring to simply listen to the music of others. But when Akebi notices the magazine she’s reading with her headphones on has sheet music, Akebi assumes Hebimori can play, and with eyes sparkling, states that she’s looking forward to hearing Hebimori play for her.

If Hebimori had simply said “Actually, Akebi-chan, I don’t know how to play at all,” Akebi would have surely understood. And yet Hebimori decides to use this opportunity to dust off her father’s old guitar and give it a strum. Once she does, she finds it so fun she dances around the dorm when her roommate, the quiet basketball clubber Togano, comes home.

Unlike Akebi and Erika, the skills they’ve chosen to master don’t come easily for Togano and Hebimori. Togano wonders whether it made sense for Hebimori to keep her inability to play from Akebi, but also understands how frustrating it can be to not be great at something upon first trying it. Like her shooting, Hebimori simply needs to put in the practice, starting a little at a time and not letting oneself get discouraged or overwhelmed.

And as Akebi practices annunciating and projecting with her voice outside and Togano keeps taking shots in the gym, Hebimori repairs the old string she broke, finds some beginner lessons, and gradually teaches herself to play the guitar. In one particularly heartwarming moment, Togano turns away from her studies to find her roommate asleep on the floor and gently lays a blanket on her.

When the time comes for Hebimori to finally play for Akebi, her jitters aren’t helped by Erika entering the music room and playing something on the piano just for the heck of it; because the piano was there. Akebi and Hebimori are hidden under the piano, and while Akebi learns that Erika can be scary when she’s mad (something she’s never seen), Hebimori decides she can’t follow Erika’s act with her shaky guitar, and confesses to being a complete newbie.

As she prepares to flee the room Akebi takes her hand and says, simply, “I want to hear.” Hebimori understands that Akebi isn’t looking to be wowed by a stellar, virtuoso performance. She’s there to hear her friend doing something she loves that she’s finally learned to do, and support her. Hebimori proceeds to play and sing with a lovely rawness and vulnerability.

It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and from the heart, which is why Akebi stands up and applauds emphatically. There are a lot fo things Akebi can’t do, and playing guitar is one of them. In this way, Akebi is a muse to all her classmates, providing the enthusiasm, encouragement, inspiration, and motivation needed to carry through, while they in turn inspire her to work harder at what she’s invested in—a marvelous cycle of love, support, and good vibes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 05 – Dark Mode


Last week we learn that among the two paths Kunai believes lie before him—art or crime—Kunai has chosen the latter. This week we learn why, starting over a decade ago when he and Ran were just kids. Ran, inspired by fellow Shantytown native Zeroth, quickly asserted his artistic talent. Kunai knew he couldn’t keep up in the realm of graffiti, so he became a hacker.

But he soon learned, to his unending despair, that despite both his best friend Ran and his eventual business partner Tarki calling his hacking ability “art”, his work could be corrupted into something awful. To whit: Drug D isn’t a physical drug at all, but the result of his theraputic music app being modified so that its users go nuts, resulting in the huge rise in Shantytown crime.

Kunai may have been shortsighted when he sold the IP of his app to the suspicious-looking businessman, but Tarki offered him everything he wanted: financial freedom and comfort for his grandmother suffering from dementia. He always admired Ran’s art’s ability to change the world, but Kunai knew that change wouldn’t come quickly enough to save Shantytown from Tarki and the developers. So he made a bomb.

Ran eventually tracks down Kunai’s hiding spot on a train car Zeroth tagged on the outside, preserved like a museum piece. It happens to be the same car where Kunai first launched a “bomb”, hacking all the video advertisement screens with DoRed tags. Ran wants to stop Kunai, but it’s too late; all of his words sound like lip service to Kunai. Ran would have been too late to stop Kunai from detonating the bomb that destoryed the cruise ship…but Kouki found the train car too, and a SARG sniper takes Kunai out before he can hit the “detonate” button.

Shuuta, who didn’t really play much of an active role in the operation (beyond almost getting shot up by Tarki and Win’s goons), learns that the terrorist was killed and the people aboard the ship saved. Yet he still feels uneasy, and he should: most of the people on that ship are bad people.

Absent any contact from Ran or Kouki, he instead hangs out with Kozue, who has posted her photos of Ran’s tags and written about her father as a means of processing her grief in a healthy way. As for the rift that the death of Kunai is sure to cause for the R and G of RGB, it will likely be up to Shuuta to bridge his old friends’ differences.

As for Shuutas father, he seems ready to put the KANAE System into “full operation”, thus creating some kind of “revolution” in the 24th Ward. Will Kouki go along with this, or will RGB be the check against his pops’ unbridled corporate and political power? And what of Carneades, who makes no appearance this week?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 08 – Call Her By Her Name

Despite being worn down by a combination of sleep deprivation and Destiny, Takt makes the first move against Felix, and would have socked him in the face with a speed and force Felix didn’t expect, were it not for his trusty sadistic bodyguard, Hell, who breaks his ribs with a kick. Destiny retreats with Takt in her arms, and Hell lets them go, because killing them now won’t be as fun as waiting until they’ve recovered.

When Takt comes to (after she administers water to him with a kiss), Destiny has returned to Normal Girl Mode and made a fire, but her bandage wrapping leaves much to be desired. She acknowledges this, and her shortcomings outside of battle in general. When Takt asks why she didn’t continue fighting without him, she says when she saw him crumpled on the ground, her body moved on its own: to him, and away from the fighting.

Takt tells Destiny more about Cosette, and how now that she’s gone, there’s no one left around to hear his music he might compose. Of course, he’s wrong; not only are Anna and Destiny there, but a whole lot of people who want and need to hear his music so it can warm their hearts like the fire in the cave.

The next morning, Destiny meets Felix and Hell back in the woods with two axes and tries her best to fight. Alas, without her Musicart Mode she’s no match for Hell, who merely toys with her. Just when she’s about to be choked out, Takt arrives, and the two get into a lover’s quarrel, completely ignoring Felix. Lenny and Titan arrive to keep Felix and Hell busy while the two talk things out.

Takt asks Destiny—by name, for the first time—if she also needs to hear his song like all those other people out there. Destiny says she doesn’t simply need to; she wants to hear it. With Felix and Hell standing in the way of that, Takt tells Desinty to use as much of his life as she needs to dispatch them. And what do you know, Destiny actually takes it to Hell, overpowering her giant attack with one of her own and  burning her arm.

Hell is ready to go another round, but the fight is stopped by the ethereally calm and gentle voice of Heaven, Grand Maestro Sagan’s Musicart. Speaking for Sagan, Heaven relieves Felix of his position and fires him from the Symphonia with immediate effect.

Just like that, Hell turns her back on her former Maestro and snaps his baton, and departs with Heaven. There’s an ominous to Heaven’s presence (aided by the music that plays when she arrives) and to the fact that Felix was officially relieved for disobeying orders…not for trying to kill Takt and Destiny.

Still, it’s probably not the last we’ll see of him, and I was a little miffed Takt wasn’t able to land a punch to his smug, villainous face. But in the end I was just glad Takt and Destiny made it out of the predicament alive, and doubly glad to see them reunite with a ridiculously relieved Anna. Like Takt, she calls Destiny by her name for the first time. She lost a little sister, but now realized she gained another.

Watching Destiny evolve before our eyes with an essentially full suite of emotions, and watching Takt and Anna shed their denial and accept Destiny for Destiny, was as fun as watching Destiny, Takt, and Titan kick ass. After all this excitement, could another comparatively relaxing road trip episode be in the offing?

Takt Op. Destiny – 07 – Post-Cosette

Anna, Takt, and Destiny’s road trip takes through the South, passing larges swaths of recent D2 destruction. Once they reach a larger city (Charlotte, North Carolina, I believe) they find it full of refugees living in shanty towns in the park. Takt has also developed the annoying habit of tapping his finger constantly, rather than only most of the time. No wonder Anna puts him in a seperate hotel room!

With Anna about to snap, Destiny nearly snaps Takt’s neck, then insists he tell them what’s going on. Turns out he’s composing a song, but can’t get it on to the page. While he composes in his head night and day, his eye bags growing larger and darker, Destiny drives off some D2s on her own. WHen she mentions “very important plans”, he can’t help but follow her.

What he discovers is shocking: Destiny doing something other than simply fighting D2s. She buys groceries for a refugee and her baby son, and sweets for the displaced little ones. Just little things you woldn’t expect something that is supposedly just a weapon to do. Anna sidles up to Takt and tells him this is nothing new: Destiny hasn’t just improved as a Musicart, she’s evolving as a person.

Anna also tells Takt that the one who found a musical instrument for him—a melodica to aid with his composing—was Destiny. She even waited outside his hotel room, looking nervous. It’s enough to make Anna wonder out loud…what if their Cosette is still in there somewhere, gradually adding humanity to the anti-D2-weapon that is Destiny?

The show’s “rules” may have already established that the Musicart replaces the person who used to own the body…but who’s to say Cosette/Destiny aren’t different? Grand Maestro Sagan himself is so certain of Takt and Destiny’s uniqueness and potential that he orders Schindler to leave them alone and let them do their thing.

In what initially looked like (owing in part to the dramatic lighting) what was going to be a groundbreaking conversation between Destiny and Takt is suddenly cut short, if only because Destiny asks too many sensitive questions too quickly and directly, and the memories that dredges up in Takt makes him shut down.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of Takt not wanting to talk about Cosette at all, just the curt manner in which Destiny was trying to extract biological information about the original occupant of her body. It’s pretty clear that the intended audience for his new piece is Cosette, but Destiny (and Anna) will have to do.

In the meantime, sirens blare outside, indicating a D2 attack in progress. Thankfully it’s only one small unit that Cosette is able to deal with swiftly…but due to Takt’s sleep deprivation even this amount of fighting takes him close to his usual limit. Things get worse when Destiny detects a whole herd of D2 up in the forested mountains.

Once there, they both hear a clear and unnerving tone, which turns out to be the tuning fork of Hell. Apparently Schindler has gone completely off the reservation, and not just in terms of disobeying the Grand Maestro’s orders to leave Takt and Destiny alone.

No, Schindler has decided it’s up to him and Hell to attract D2s in order to get rid of the lower-class, lower-income human “garbage” who in his twisted mind are consuming too much of the world’s very limited resources. He’s trying to make a new world of just the “chosen”—i.e. 1%—with obviously himself being the sole judge of who is worthy of continuing to live or not.

Oh, and he attracted the D2s that interrupted the Symphonica roadshow…and resulted in the death of Cosette. It’s clear that this show has decided to make Schindler (which it’s clear now is not the best name for this guy, considering the reputation of the most famous figure with that name) the Evilest Evil Guy Who Ever Eviled, and while Hell at least looks cool when she’s kicking ass, the pair of them are pretty dull and one-dimensional as villains go.

It remains to be seen if there’s any redeeming them at this point, but Takt and Destiny are in uncharted territory: they’ve only killed D2s…never people, and as angry as Takt is, killing anyone for any reason changes you forever. I imagine Lenny and Titan will make it there in time before Takt has to decide if the Cosette he knew and loved would really want him to kill, even if Schindler deserves it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 06 – Rhapsody in New Orleans

Cosette may not be Cosette anymore, but she is definitely forming a new bond with Takt, day by day. So much so, in fact, that he’s caught off guard when she understands enough about him to make a stupid joke about calling the D2 to their location. She knows he’s not restless about there being no battles (and there are no battles this week), but because he wants to play music. Tapping out notes on the window glass just ain’t cutting it.

It’s fortunate, then, that their next destination of New Orleans happens to be one of the most musical cities on Earth…or at least it was. Now it’s on the verge of being a ghost town. The entire population is senior citizens, as everyone else left long ago when they were younger, and either settled elsewhere, or were killed by the D2 attacks.

While Anna, Cosette and Takt are ostensibly here to stock up on provisions, the former two end up performing one kind task for elderly people after another, starting with delivering groceries, fixing an old front step, and rescuing a kitten. In what seemed like a barren husk of the city turns out to be full of friendly, warm souls you can’t help but want to help.

Takt elected to wait in the car, but eventually had to stretch his legs. While walking down Bourbon Street, he sees someone enter a club from which he can detect the faint sound of music. Turns out it’s an underground jazz club where a handful of cool cats drink and vibe out on the substantial tune collection.

All of them remember the conductor Asahina Kenji, “The Rooster”, who visited the city to perform only once. We learn in dribs and drabs that Kenji, Takt’s father, was also killed in some kind of calamity in Boston. When the audiophiles learn that he’s none other than the Rooster’s son, the entire place goes still…not with resentment…but with veneration.

These people assumed that the “Asahina sound” died with Kenji, so they’re eager to hear if his son can reproduce that sound. They show him to a soundproof studio/concert space where everyone gathers around tables with little lamps…reminders of a “golden age” that’s now gone.

One of the men in the club played the tuba in the orchestra when Ken visited New Orleans. But since the D2 disaster, he feels he’s done nothing but let time go by; without music, he has no purpose in life. Then Takt comes along, brings a sound everyone thought dead back to life, and instills a little hope; reminds everyone of the Pride of Bourbon Street.

As Takt found his spot and his people, Anna was flagged down in the street by another older woman who mistakes her for her daughter, Maria. Initially Anna is too nice to drop the truth on the mother, but even when she does, the mother pretends she didn’t hear anything.

As Cosette gives a very heartfelt speech in her robotic meter about how dear Anna is to her as a big sister and protector, the mother’s husband comes home, and tells Anna that their daughter left with her young family years ago and later died. Maria’s mother couldn’t accept that loss, and as her husband heartbreakingly puts it, Maria “lifes on” only in her mother’s mind. I’d like to think both Anna and Cosette enjoyed having a mom, if only for a very short time.

When it’s polite to do so, Anna and Cosette eventually take their leave of the husband and wife, having both given and received something out of the interaction. Then Cosette uses her Takt Detector (Detakter?) and they find him exactly where he belongs, doing what he loves.

Cosette says, with genuine affection behind the cold logic of her voice, that she loves when Takt gets to play music. So do I…especially when it’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the first pieces of music I remember listening to on our baby Fisher-Price phonograph. Like Peter and the Wolf and Beethoven’s Ninth, Blue was one of the formative pieces that made me truly understand the power of music.

Because Cosette wants Takt to play more, she’ll keep fighitng until all the D2s are gone and everyone can play music. In the meantime, Takt is given some blank musical sheets with which to finally commit his window glass-tapping reveries to paper. The break from D2 battles was perfectly timed after last week’s barnburner. New Orleans wasn’t just some random stop on their journey, it felt real and alive, and as we see, it’s strength enduring in the people who remain. Their next stop will have big shoes to fill!.

Takt Op. Destiny – 05 – Train Ride of the Valkyrie

The road trip continues until Anna catches a flat tire, and Takt, chivalrous as always, is sitting on the car as she tries to jack it up. We learn how dangerous it is to not be mobile when D2s almost immediately show up, but after learning something from Lenny and Titan, Cosette is able to dispatch the baddies with pinpoint accuracy and efficiency.

At the end of the battle Cosette finds herself standing on a train track, and an incoming train is forced to stop—and good thing it did, as it would have definitely borne the brunt of their collision! She’s met by a tall and honorable-looking fellow Musicart in knight’s armor. It’s a Symphonica train.

In charge is the blond, arrogant Commander Felix Schindler, who considers this unregistered Musicart and Conductor to be valuable pawns if managed properly. The train is on its way to Houston, so he offers Anna, Takt and Cosette a ride as they’re ultimately headed to New Orleans.

Schindler tries to keep things cordial, but while Cosette is easily distracted by a super-rich chocolate confection, neither Takt nor Anna particularly like or trust this guy…especially when the knight Musicart basically tells them to stay in their cabin like glorified prisoners.

Of course, when Cosette detects D2s outside, the leather, glass, wood, and metal of the train cabin are no match for her, and we get an awesome new kind of battle for this series: a battle on a moving train. Again, Takt and Cosette prove they were paying attention to Lenny and Titan’s instruction.

The uptight knight Musicart doesn’t care at all for their constant insolence, but the other Musicart, Schindler’s personal guard, takes a liking to the pair. She also reveals that the knight Musicart is actually a big ol’ softie who has yet to bond with a Conductor, and recommends Takt basically bring her to heel. This Musicart also wants Cosette’s eyes…so…yeah. She’s a bit of a wild card!

While Cosette was far more precise than her first battles, she still caused damage to the track that takes a half day to repair. With valuable D2-luring material on board a train that’s now a sitting duck, when the sun starts to set a properly massive swarm of aerial D2s descends upon the train.

Cosette and the Knight go to town, but even the latter eliminating D2s quickly and efficiently, the sheer numbers they’re up against mean Takt is soon exhausted. The Knight, with no Conductor to draw energy from, starts to fade even faster.

Even so, neither of them give up, and the Knight seems to admire how Takt continues to conduct even while lying prone on the dirt, for the sake of protecting the train. When the battle is won thanks to some unconventional thinking from Takt (having Cosette blast a couple of nearby cliffs to dust most of the D2s), she even flashes a smile and properly introduces herself as Walkure. When Takt voices his approval with that Wagner piece, Walkure (who I think I’ll just start calling Wally) blushes and swoons despite herself.

When a giant D2 boss shows up, with Takt and Wally basically running on fumes, Schindler turns to his trump card, Hell. Voiced with a seductive unhingedness by Ueda Reina, Hell activates her wheel boots, climbs up the cliff to where the boss is, and absolutely kicks the shit out of it, laughing maniacally all the while, and seemingly experiencing a measure of ecstasy upon defeating it. This is clearly a Musicart who absolutely loves to fight and destroy. Unlike Cosette, this isn’t duty; it’s pleasure.

When the train reaches Houston (or what’s left of it), Schindler is determined to claim Cosette and Takt as his pawns in a larger political game. So it’s extremely rewarding to see Takt refuse any and all offers. The three get in the car and motor out of there.

Rather than place a collar on a couple of “stray dogs”, Schindler got growled at and utterly rejected. He’s pissed, but Hell is more amused than anything. As for Wally, she seems to be the odd Musicart out, as her services are no longer required by Schindler, but she doesn’t join the road trip either. I hope we’ll see her again soon. But first…time to hit the Big Easy!

Takt Op. Destiny – 04 – An Efficient Harmony

Lenny and Titan begin training Takt and Destiny out in the desert, but between Takt’s general recalcitrance, Destiny’s tendency to take things up to 11, and Titan’s description of what a Conductor should do to properly conduct a Musicart, well…let’s just say the results are mixed!

We’re then treated to the rather bizarre reality of a D2-ruined Las Vegas surrounded by cornfields of all things. Lenny and Titan meet some old friends in Jonathan and Maggie, who invite the two of them and Lenny’s “kids” over for a home-cooked dinner that’s mostly…corn. Kinda like Interstellar!

That night Lenny and Titan meet with Mr. Lang, who is clearly more than just a nice old guy who runs the farm. Anna and Takt are about to go to bed when Destiny senses vibrations and smashes through the wall of the house. The bouncers in suits at the door where those vibes are coming from are no match for Destiny, who sends one of them flying and crushes the other’s handgun like a soda can.

This secret casino, where Mr. Lang is basically embezzling the subsidized corn farm to fatten his own pockets, is what Lenny and Titan wanted to have a look at, but not to hit the slots. No, with three mid-level D2 bursting out of the casino floor, it’s the perfect venue to teach Takt and Destiny about the proper way to fight: by getting on the same wavelength.

As Titan keeps the three D2s from causing too much damage but pointedly doesn’t defeat them, Lenny carefully, patiently directs Takt on how to direct Destiny in order to create “a beautiful, efficient harmony.” With Takt being precise about where to point her, Destiny doesn’t suck up all of Takt’s life force halfway through the victorious battle. Indeed, he’s still standing at the end, like he could take on three more!

The next morning, Lenny and Titan and Takt, Destiny and Anna go their separate ways, but last night’s battle proved to Lenny that they’ll be okay as long as they keep fighting like that and continually improving. Leny also knows that Takt is the son of a famous musician. He sees potential in Takt as a conductor and musician, and is confident he’ll make it to New York in one piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 03 – Defend on Titan

No sooner have Cosette and Takt transformed into Musicart and Conductor than they engage in battle with the swarming D2. Cosette proves utterly incapable of tempering her power output, and soon passes out, followed closely thereafter by Takt. She’s like an OP summoned beast with Auto-Berserk that you can use in some RPG situations, but it’ll probably end up costing you.

Takt comes to in his bed, with his arm back and a strange red scar on his hand. He meets his and Cosette’s saviors, fellow Conductor and Musicart duo Lenny and Titan. Interestingly, Titan seems to have plenty of personality while Cosette—excuse me, Destiny—has none. Turns out the Cosette that was really is dead; this Musicart, born from music, simply took her form. That’s a blow not just to her big sis Anna, but Takt as well.

While Lenny, Anna, and Takt plan a road trip to New York, Destiny eats some tarte tartin with the friendly Titan, but detects D2 in the nearby woods and rushes off on her own to eliminate them. When Takt catches up to her, she tells him his presence is unnecessary, but it’s pretty clear she’s drawing her ridiculously inefficient power by feeding off his life force—an untenable dynamic, as cool as it looks.

Lenny and Titan bail her and Takt out once more, but one D2 escapes and heads straight for Takt’s house and Anna. Destiny makes it in time to save Anna, but when she destroys the D2 she takes the entire house with it. This basically makes the three found siblings’ fate official: they’re going on a cross-country drive to NYC, where it’s believed the Symphonia can help Desinty with her little fuel economy problem.

The first stop on their journey will be Las Vegas. On the way, Destiny, who remember is a completely different person than Cosette, remarks on Takt playing air piano, and expresses a wish to hear him play. Could it be there is some small bit of Cosette left within her? Anna and Takt kinda have to think so…otherwise she’s a stranger wearing their dead sister’s skin.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 02 – Cancrizans

This week Takt takes a look back earlier in the year 2047, when Takt, Cosette and Anna shared an idyllic middle class nuclear family home in Anytown, USA. There’s a human-D2 truce in effect and music is mostly banned, but Takt only lives to play his grand piano in the garage. Cosette, who has a lot more personality in this flashback, does her best to keep his lair clean, resulting in the two getting into bickerfests that Anna tries to stamp out.

Not too different from their dynamic in the first episode that takes place some months later…but again, the big difference here is past Cosette being a delightfully bright and cheerful person. It’s not clearly explained what brought Takt into their home, but you can tell beyond the bickering that Cosette deeply cares about Takt and wants to share his talent with others. We also learn that she can play too…the same time Takt learns, and seems both annoyed and intrigued.

Cosette ends up booking Takt for the Symphonia’s traveling music festival, a rare joyful respite from the totally music-less norm. How this is even possible—a huge military buildup around the town?—is not made clear. All that’s clear is that Cosette is absolutely certain Takt will show up, even when he’s late and she has to play in order to stall for time. When he does arrive and hits those four famous Beethoven notes to interrupt her, she beams with the power of a thousand happy suns!

After Takt ditches the classical for some early modern jams that wouldn’t be out of place in a speakeasy, he invites Cosette to join him for four-hands, wowing the crowd with their talent (and piquing the interest of the Grand Maestro, Sagan). Before, Takt could only imagine in his head playing before a rapt audience and then basking in their applause upon reaching the coda. Now that it’s actually happening thanks to Cosette, he can’t hide his elation.

Just when Takt and Cosette are at their highest point, it all goes to shit when a D2 fires right on their position, destroying the piano and causing a huge explosion. The episode expertly lulled me into a toe-tapping false sense of security as we watched Take and Cosette play and blush and beam. Don’t get me wrong, I knew something would happen, I just didn’t know how, where, or when. The direction exploited that to the hilt.

When the smoke clears, Takt, one of his arms and hands mangled, is lying on the charred ground bleeding. Cosette is on top of him, in even worse shape (it could be she tried to shield Takt). Cosette ends up dying in his arms, but he refuses to accept that, and demans she wake back up. With this, her mysterious pendant suddenly shines and she rises Castle in the Sky-like out of a gobsmacked Takt’s arms.

Some kind of spirit emerges from the rock, decides to claim Takt’s injured arm by ripping it off, then merges with Cosette to become the titular Destiny. While he outfit is a damn sight more expressive, much of the Cosette Take and Anna knew—and loved—is lost. And that’s how Cosette became a Musicart and Takt her conductor: when tragedy struck. The next time we’re back in the present it will be tinged with melancholy, now that we know who Cosette was, and is no more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 01 (First Impressions) – Settling the Score

It’s 2047, and music is banned. If it’s ever played, fearsome alien monsters called D2 arrive and fuck shit up. So when young man sits at a lovely upright piano and bangs out some Beethoven, a D2 comes running…right in the middle of an unassuming town full of unassuming people. The D2 looks like it’s about to obliterate the pianist for sure…but he’s saved by a ridiculously strong young woman.

She is Colette, AKA Destiny, a Musicart, and he is Takt, her Conductor. Transforming into a Musical Magical Girl, Destiny easily defeats the mid-level D2. The brief but wonderfully precussive battle set to a more symphonic arrangement of Symphony No. 5 IV. Allegro is a feast for eye and ear. This is what happens when Madhouse and Mappa join forces.

Takt and Destiny were just passing by the town while on a long and interminable road trip to New York City, where their self-appointed leader Anna hopes they can have Destiny “tuned” to be more efficient in her fighting, as she always ends up exhausting Takt. Destiny loves eating, but also has to due to her extremely fast metabolism. Takt should train, but all he cares about is music.

Destiny is feeling particularly brash, and Takt is sufficiently beat and confident in her skills, that she goes off on her own while he and Anna wait in a remote highway diner (one wall of which Destiny destroys as she exits). She ultimately fails to eliminate the D2 in the area due to their boss being a particularly tough customer, as she regales to them with cute Panty & Stocking-style visuals.

Her mistake was going off without Takt, or rather Takt not accompanying her (neither of them listen to Anna’s directives, a fun running gag). But then Destiny rushes back to town with her super speed, picks up the piano with her super strength, and rushes it back to the abandoned factory where the boss lurks. There, her Conductor starts to play Moonlight Sonata, and it’s off to the races with a sakuga-fest of a boss battle that ends in a victory.

As a weapon, Destiny comes off like a piano: capable of great bluntness and great precision; capable of being extremely quiet or loud. More than anything, she’s only as good as the person making use of her. Takt is a brilliant musician, but has a lot to learn about Conducting. If they’re ever going to get to New York—much less save the world from the D2—they’re both going to have to step up their games.

Takt Op. Destiny is a crisp, bright disco ball of luscious anime goodness. Will every episode look this good? Who knows, but if you want to hook an audience right from the get-go, this is how you do it! Play it again, Takt.

Sonny Boy – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Say Goodbye…

Sonny Boy’s finale begins boldly, with what amounts to a stirring five-minute music video. We follow Nagara, who has slipped right back into his usual existence. Things are so normal, he sometimes wonders if he was ever really adrift in the first place.

Notably absent from Nagara’s high school is Mizuho, whom Nagara looks up and waits outside her school’s gates, only for her to not have any idea who he is. You and I know how much Nagara grew while adrift with Mizuho, Nozomi, and Asakaze, and yet this world seems almost cruelly intent on keeping him isolated and alone.

His present existence back in his original world lies in stark contrast to the surreal, beautiful, and fantastical journey he and Mizuho undertake to get back to a world they’re certain hasn’t changed, even if they have. They tie themselves together, run out of the space elevator, and keep running, even when God tries to stop them. Asakaze bids them farewell, unable to follow even though there’s nothing left for him there.

The flashback to Nagara and Mizuho’s escape serves as a bridge between Nagara’s post-return life and Mizuho’s. Mizuho notes that “everything is gone” from the two-years-plus they were drifting. While Nagara has a part-time job, Mizuho spends her evenings sneaking into their old school and breaking a glass. But a cat doesn’t come delivering a new one; it just stays broken. That’s as it should be…so why is it so sad?

At least we learn that Mizuho was simply messing with Nagara when she pretended not to know him; maybe it was just that seeing him again got her old defenses up. And yet these two people who suddenly find themselves strangers in a simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable world can’t help but spend time together, basking in both that contradiction and in the knowledge that the two of them are different from everyone else in terms of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There’s a elegiac quality to their interaction, like they were the last surviving members of their unit in some long-finished war. Yet Nagara can’t help but worry that one day he’ll forget what he and Mizuho are feeling right now, and go adrift all over again. Before they part, possibly for good, Mizuho tells him as long as a part of him is still on that island, he’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine.

The episode ends with a third music video, focusing on Nozomi, but wordlessly, until we cut to Nagara preparing to inspect a bird’s nest at the station, only to find Nozomi has already rescued a surviving chick. Nozomi recognizes Nagara from middle school, but unlike him and Mizuho seems to have no other memories of their time in those other dimensions.

Ultimately, Nagara seems fine with that, and fine with the fact Nozomi quickly runs to another guy who I believe is Asakaze. It would seem that by dying in that world, Nozomi’s existence transferred to this one…or something. No matter; I too am glad she’s still alive, bringing light and energy to dark and sullen places.

What I’m not glad about is that this spells the end of Sonny Boy…or at least it should. This just felt like such a wonderfully self-contained and authoritative twelve episodes, my urge for a sequel is tempered. Like Nagara back in his home dimension, everything that should happen will happen.

Those Snow White Notes – 12 (Fin) – An Abrupt Coda

Last week I railed against Notes for splitting Setsu’s climactic performance across two episodes, since it left us hanging in the middle with no cathartic payoff. Now I understand that such a choice was probably intentional: the last episode marked the end of him merely imitating his gramps, and this final one marked the first time we’ve heard Setsu at 100% His Own Sound.

Kudos to the musical direction and performance here; Setsu As Setsu sounds like no one else, and this sound not only fills the physical venue, but summons long-forgotten memories in one of the judges, moves Sakura and Shuri to tears, makes Mai to make a face that screams “I KNEW it!”…and pisses off his mom royally. It also makes young master Kamiki want to play the shamisen in the worst way.

It’s a triumphant performance, and I’ll admit I was as caught up in it as Setsu and his friends, to the point I felt it impossible that he would lose. Alas, he’s not the final performer, and the best was saved for last. I was fully prepared to listen to Souichi and declare him inferior, but credit where it’s due: Souichi’s performance was better the Setsu’s and everyone else’s.

More to the point, Souichi is confident, even after hearing Setsu (or maybe because of hearing him,), that he would win. I have no problem with that. But like Sakura, I was super-steamed that Setsu came not in second but in third, behind that twangy jackass Arakawa Ushio, who might be tied with Mai for most one-dimensional character of the season.

Umeko hands out the rewards, but intentionally drops Setsu’s and lets it shatter between their feet. Never mind that this was the first time he ever played in a competition, has no teacher, and can’t read music. She leans in and tells him he’s pathetic and he embarrassed her. What a mom!

But while Umeko gives off SAO villain vibes, Setsu’s dad—whom we only found out a couple of weeks ago even was his dad—is more Ikari Gendo. [Soup Nazi Voice]: NO LOVE FOR YOU! Honestly, both of Setsu’s parents should be jailed. Once it’s Kamiki’s turn to point out to Setsu how such a two-faced performance was always giong to suffer in a competition, well…

Having your angsty protagonist reach his highest high only to be ground into the dirt by evil adults is a strange way to end a series it’s by no means guaranteed will get a second season. There isn’t even any glimmer of hope that things will look up for him, as the episode ends with him sulking in the darkness, too immersed in his own despair to notice Sakura is on the other side of his door.

The musical performances were spellbinding, but they were overshadowed by all the doom and gloom at the end. Even if everything Kamiki said about Setsu was absolutely right, I don’t watch anime to get depressed, man! We’re rewarded for watching for twelve weeks with a big ‘ol F-You. If this is a one-and-done season, this finale is as big of a failure as Umeko perceives her son to be.

I’ll end with another Simpsons quote, which perfectly encapsulates Setsu’s journey:

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Those Snow White Notes – 11 – Get To the Good Part!

I don’t usually harp on structural issues, unless they’re detrimental to an episode on a level that can’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, this was one of those episodes. It just…wasn’t built right, and that starts with last week ending with Kaji breaking a string, instead of ending with him and all the other stiffs getting the hell off the stage and giving way to Setsu.

So, instead of getting all of the other stuff out of the way and giving us a climactic musical performance in which Setsu finally figures out the happy medium between imitating Gramps and building his own sound from what he’s experienced since Gramps…get get more other stuff.

Look, Kaji’s a nice guy, but I just don’t really care about him that much, and I’m certainly not that chuffed about having to watch him finish out his song on two strings. I could have also done without Umeko stepping up to Setsu when he’s just trying to eat the love-filled onigiri Sakura made for him and basically telling him he’d better resurrect her dead unsung father or else.

That said, I’ve never had a problem with the fact that Setsu’s mom is both a literal Bond Villain and Bond Girl, isn’t the issue, nor to I mind her fantastic royal blue dress or surpassingly cheesy hired cheer team. It’s just I wish Setsu could just have some time to himself to organize his thoughts and play however he was planning to play.

Instead, his mom’s unmistakable hold over him kicks in, and I was fully expecting him to lay an egg up there by constantly wavering between his own uncertain sound and perfectly imitating what he could never perfectly imitate, and coming off forced, boring, or even pathetic!

Once Setsu finally does take the stage—fifteen minutes into the episode!—I knew whatever performance he had, we were only going to get half of it, tops, due to the perfectly avoidable time constraints.

At the same time, we see that Setsu truly does love playing like his Gramps, or at least as close as he can come. He remembers a day he came home with a skinned knee, the victim of bullies, and his Gramps welcoming him with a soft smile and permission to cry as much as he wants, get angry at those who caused him to cry, and when he’s done, simply smile.

Setsu doesn’t turn in an embarrassing performance, but he is initially playing right into his mom’s hands by doing the best darn Matsugorou imitation anyone alive could ever do, which simply comes down to him having heard his gramps play for years. Umeko smirks her Dr. Evil smirk and holds her hands out to clutch not her son, but the tool with which she’ll show the world her father’s—not his—sound.

In the midst of his music, everyone who has heard Setsu’s real sound acknowledge that his performance is amazing, but also somehow deeply wrong. Those who haven’t heard him before are amazed a 16-year-old is producing such a simple yet mature sound. Setsu knows it’s wrong too; that even his Gramps told him simple imitation of the kind Umeko is demanding was “disgraceful”.

Perhaps Gramps could have chosen better words than that and “never play again”, but by taking a break from the instrument, Setsu got to live his life, meet new friends, experience new things and make new memories. Those, combined with past memories of Gramps and not just how he played but why—because he loved doing it, not to win—can be used to craft his own sound.

Now that Setsu has a blueprint, his performance suddenly changes to his more youthful, mercurial sound. Alas, that’s all the time we’ve got for this week, and so we cut to credits in the middle of a performance. The magic and the power of these musical performance scenes is in how they draw you in and cover you in goosebumps. To suddenly end in the middle without that needed final payoff (or climax, if you must) saps the scene of that immersive power.

Also constantly pulling us in and out of Setsu’s performance is the running commentary. I get it: this isn’t just about the awesome, sakugo-filled performances; the show is trying to tell more stories than that and wants us to be invested in a larger group of characters. But that doesn’t change the fact that filling scenes with dialogue, lowering the music he’s playing and replacing it with a comparatively subpar score, and cutting the performance off just feels like a real bummer, and a needless one to boot.

If I were the showrunner, I’d have wrapped up Kaji and the others plus Setsu’s scenes with Umeko and his friends, and ended last week with Setsu taking the stage, but not yet playing. Then this episode could have been his performance in its entirety. But this is the end of my ranting, and so I’ll close by saying for all its frustrating choices I still enjoyed this episode, and look forward to seeing where the second, more personal, more mom-enraging half Setsu’s performance takes everyone—and him—next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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