Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

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Nanbaka – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A super-sparkly, hyperactive action comedy focusing on a quirky quartet of inmates of the famously impossible-to-break-out-of Nanba Prison, Block 13: Ryugo (15), Uno (11), Nico (25) and Roku (69). They attempt to escape several times a day, but also seem to be fine simply living out their days at Nanba (except Ryugo, who wants to find the man who placed “black shackles” on him.

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Why You Should Watch: I hate to say it starts off slow, because things move at breakneck speed from the beginning. I guess it’s more accurate to say it takes a while to start laughing at the rapid-fire jokes and physical comedy of the brightly-colored characters and their just-competent-enough corrections officers.

But once I did, I fed off of Nanbaka’s frenetic, bodacious energy and its diverse comedy, which often goes right where I think it will (i.e. the cross-dressing brother) and sometimes goes to hilariously unexpected places (Nico turning guard hounds into lapdogs).

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Why You May Not Want To Watch: This can’t match the drabness or manic  darkness of Rainbow or Deadman Wonderland nor the debauchery or even over-the-topness of Prison School. It’s a straight-up comedy with some action sprinkled in, and its one attempt to get deep (with Ryugo’s story) ain’t exactly Lars von Trier. The sole female character is the vaunted Warden who contributes nothing to the comedy. And what the hell is up with all the SPARKLING?!?!

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The Verdict: Nanbaka provides occasionally clever or weird comedy, but is usually just slight, self-aware, stupid fun. I thought the four inmates would be annoying at first, but they grew on me fast. And if it keeps showing up on Tuesdays, I may well have time to follow it. If I don’t, maybe Franklin will.

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Kiznaiver – 12 (Fin)

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Nori has gone over the deep end, driven by the convictions she’s been developing since the Kizuna System was begun. It’s a flawed philosophy that everyone will be hunky-dory if only they shared each others pain, with her specifically.

She’s not going to stop, so it’s up to Katsuhira to stop her by setting the record straight about just what friendship and love are and what causes them (hint: not the Kizuna System). Nico leads the rest of the Kiznaivers in backing up Katsuhira.

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What seemed to be a far larger-scale operation, with the power going out, the bridge retracting, a random explosion, and Nori’s plan to connect everyone, turns out to be a lot smaller in the end: Nori on top of the bridge, Katsuhira climbing up to meet her, and a long and emotionally pitched conversation about why she’s wrong and should let go of the pain.

Whenever Nori counters one of Kacchon’s arguments, either Kacchon or one of his friends has the answer. The Kizuna System didn’t make them friends, or make Kacchon fall in love with Nori; it was merely a facilitation; a nudge in the direction of one another.

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After that, even after they were disconnected, the Kiznaivers cared about each other, what they thought, and even if they didn’t quite understand immediately, sought to understand, even if it caused them emotional pain. Nori doesn’t need Kizuna, and she never did; she just had to learn what it was to truly be friends with someone, something she never had the opportunity to do.

Because she was alone before Kizuna and not alone after, she made the corrolation that Kizuna could cure all the ails of the world. But it’s not that simple. Honoka puts it best: it’s not a constant connection, but a constant cycle of distancing out of frustration and coming together due to new epiphanies about one another. The former Kiznaivers aren’t friends in spite of no longer sharing each other’s physical pain, but because of it.

Once Kacchon reaches Nori, headbutts her (accidentally or not), and they go into the drink, the resulting plunge is a kind of new revelation for Nori. Now, at last, she can start letting go of everyone else’s pain, knowing they won’t disappear.

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Indeed, post pain release, her painless friends start to gradually “wake up” from their catatonia. Thankfully, the episode does not go into excruciating detail abotu the exact mechanism whereby Nori makes all this possible, but suffice it to say she’s on the right track now.

Just as gradual but steady will be the other Kiznaivers and how they interact with one another. Honoka seems willing to give Yuta a try (or at least tease him about it), Chodori has to admit she’s been thinking about Tenga a lot lately (to his delight), and Nico is willing to play the long game against Chidori for Tenga’s heart, cheered on by Hisomu (who likes the sound of that potential fistfight).

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As for Nori, she didn’t get as messed up by the fall off the bridge as Kacchon, but there’s no doubt it was a transformative experience, asking Kacchon what he’s thinking (because she doesn’t know), smiling, and possibly even preparing to lean in for a kiss—until the rest of the gang bursts in.

PDA aside, that gang seems willing to bring Nori into their circle, and it’s Honoka of all people to recover the photo booth photos they took together. Nori notes the add-on special effects that make them look more cartoonish; one could say the same of her now-discontinued Kizuna System and its army of Gomorin.

While such embellishments, be it to social experiments or photos, can be fun, there’s nothing like the genuine article. Genuine faces, genuine emotions, genuine friendships, and genuine love. Nori has gained far more than she lost.

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Kiznaiver – 11

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Noriko and Agata are two individuals whose lives have been dominated by close contact with one another. Agata had seemingly forgotten how much contact until he connected the girl in his dreams to Nori, while Nori herself clearly remembers everything, and how the only one she really needed seemed to be Agata. They were an inseparable pair, until they weren’t. Now, with one episode left they find themselves on potentially opposing ends of the game board.

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Hardly anything in his recent life has ever affected Agata as strongly as seeing his doll-ified friends. But it got him thinking, and he thinks a lot throughout the episode, something he hadn’t done much of before because he was too busy not having emotions and going with the flow.

Now he thinks he understands a little more how Chidori saw him, and why she always protected and defended him, and how much pain he caused her by being the way he was. He calls to thank her and apologize, which Chidori sees as a furtherance of his wider rejection of her.

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The mayor is telling (not asking) Yamada and Urushii that Kizuna is kaput, but wants them to soften the blow of the news. Of course, we know Noriko will not accept any news of that nature: The Kizuna System has been, is, and will continue to be her life. Taking Kizuna is like taking that life away.

The two researchers, able to look back and realize their overeagerness to achieve results for a world that needed them desperately, acknowledge the collateral damage done to Nori as a result, and Yamada is determined to make up for that by granting all of her wishes. Urushii seems to agree. Without knowing it, they’ve become more than minders or underlings to Nori; they’re her friends too.

That realization seems to come to the former Kiznaivers as well—that they’ve been friends for some time now, without knowing it. It’s the reason they were able to get through all their trials so easily, and it’s why even though their pain is no longer connected artificially by Kizuna, they still feel pain in their collective hearts when Agata bears his to them on the rooftop.

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That being said, they’re still incredulous, but when Urushii confirms they’re no longer connected, it’s hard to remain in denial: they have empathy for one another. Kizuna simply gave them the nudge in the right direction. Now these people who believed they could never have proper friends have friends.

But that’s not nearly enough for Noriko. After all, the world is full of conflict and rancor, all because people technically bear the pain in their hearts alone. Six people having the same emotions at once isn’t the same as being literally connected, via Kizuna.

Sensing the end of Kizuna is nigh without action, she gives an address to the entire town, announcing her intention to connect all of them, government and corporate interests be damned. This seems selfish on her part, and even paints her in the light of an antagonist, ready to impose her will on the masses.

But she is nothing more or less than what the system made her, and she’s not ready to give up on her ideal of a perfect happy future…whether anyone else wants it or not.

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Kiznaiver – 10

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After the seven Kiznaivers recovered from their collective “overload”, they decided to stay away from each other for the rest of the Summer. When they return to school, no longer bearing Kizna scars and no longer connected, Yamada seems to rub salt in the wound by describing all the crazy experiences they had over the Summer, even if things got a little too intense at the end.

Hisomu isn’t able to stay away from Katsuhiro, rightly worried he won’t properly feed himself (not that Hisomu does either, with those cans), and despite everything that’s happened—nay, because of it all—Nico still loves everyone and wants to stay connected. The pure joy she exhibits upon taking the hands of Hisomu and Kacchon, spinning around giddily, was infectious.

These three can be friends again without major issues. But what about the others? Harder to say. Tenga hopes that if Chidori gives him a strong, unambiguous rejection, she’ll feel better…but she knows she won’t. We barely see Yuta and Honoka, as the latter won’t talk or listen to the former.

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Then there’s Sonozaki. The mayor informs her of an imminent investigation, and in the meantime, the Kizuna Experiment is being shut down, meaning everything she’s worked for in her life is about to go down the drain into a sea of futility. She can’t bear that outcome, and so races to the nearest ledge, and as she seemingly falls, Kacchon feels her pain in his newly-appeared chest scar, as strong and horrible as ever.

His desire to find and help her leads him to the secret subway station to the school, where he finds an Urushii who, perhaps feeling a bit of guilt right about now, is receptive to giving him, along with Hisomu and Nico, more answers about what exactly they were a part of.

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This project isn’t just about pride for Sonozaki; it’s about her life, and the lives of those she lived with. Once she was connected to eighteen other kids, including Kacchon, she began to feel all of their combined pain as well as her own, multiplied nineteen times. Only with the use of harsh drugs that dull all her senses allow her to function.

Worse still, her body never returned any of the sensations she absorbed form the others, leaving some the ones who are still alive as serene mannequins, unable to function at all. Once Kacchon hears they’re still alive, is allowed to meet with them, and sees the hollow husks they’ve become, he breaks down and cries, as if Sonozaki’s hold on his emotions was weakened or suspended.

Kacchon clearly wants what Sonozaki wants: to undo what’s been done to their friends, as well as to end her suffering. The Kizuna System, it would seem, was always critically flawed and untenable. But maybe there’s hope for the unfortunate souls involved.

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Kiznaiver – 09

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What started this spiraling closed loop of intense pain that took down six of the seven Kiznaivers, leaving them writhing in the rain? Kacchon left Chidori. He left her at a critical time; when she was oh-so-close to telling him her past love for him is still present.

Worse, Kacchon left her to go after Noriko, whom she always suspected was a rival but now has to deal with the devastating reality that he chose Noriko, not her. He did it without even knowing what it would do to Chidori.

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Yamada twists the knife by getting the other six Kiznaivers into an A/W room and playing a live feed of Kacchon’s talk with Noriko, as they discuss whether he likes her. He’s not sure, but he can’t stop thinking about her, and the little girl in the dream he has has become clearer since he was Kizna’d. He knows it’s her now.

It’s too much for Chidori to watch, and seeing her so hurt makes Tenga pained and angry. Nico, in turn, is pained and angry by Tenga’s concern for Chidori and not her. But both Tenga and Nico decide to go to that gym, Tenga hoping something can be done, Nico so she can “get hurt properly.”

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Some shit is going down in that gym. The closer Kacchon gets to Nori, the more memories come flowing to the surface; the names of the other child subjects—those who weren’t so lucky—combine with Noriko’s rhythmic ball-bouncing that is a kind of heartbeat to transport Kacchon to that time.

A second Kizna scar, on his chest, glows just like the one on Noriko’s neck. These two are connected; they always were; long before the other connections. As his dream promised, Kacchon wonders if he’s finally getting his pain back. In any case, he can’t stop holding Noriko.

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At this point, the others arrive, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Chidori runs off; Tenga sucks it up and tells Kacchon to go after her; Nico runs off; Yuta tells Tenga to go after her; and Tenga learns for the first time Nico loves him. It’s a mess, and it’s wonderful how quickly a couple of initially cute love polygon vertices start to fray at the edges and become twisted into something far darker.

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Urushii can tell this isn’t going to end well, but Yamada insists the experiment continue, seemingly unconcerned with whether the subjects undergo full mental breaks. Thankfully, Urushii remembers a man’s weak spot and heads out.

She might be too late; the damage is done in the soupy, pounding rain tinged with industrial light; a striking venue for the things that transpire. At this point the Kizna scars turn blood red, and everyone can start hearing each others’ hearts. Chidori tells Kacchon to let go, but her heart wants him to hold her.

He listens to her heart, but that only makes things worse, since she knows he’s not doing it sincerely as with Noriko. Tenga, rather than go after a distraught Nico, starts beating the crap out of Kacchon. Nico and everyone else shows up, and the combined emotional pain starts coming in intolerable waves.

It’s even enough for Maki to reconsider getting any closer to anyone…and who can blame her, under such extreme, torturous circumstances? But what’s so sad is that Maki things this is what will always happen if people try to grow closer and closer.

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She forgets that they’re all young people, and what seems like world-ending emotional distress can be seen as frivolous to an adult, like, say, Yamada. How many teenagers have screamed through their parents’ hallway, before slamming the door to their room, something along the lines of “MY LIFE IS OVER”?

Even so…this situation looks pretty damn bad, no matter what your age. It’s interesting, though, that Kacchon outlasts everyone in staying upright. Is his pain lessened by the fact he’s also connected to Noriko, and has been already through something similar to this for years?

All I know is, our would-be friends came face-to-face with more secrets about who has feelings for who, things have gotten very weird and dark, and I would hope, with three episodes left, this is rock bottom. As to how things get better or how they’ll wear the wounds they sustained this week, I can only conjecture.

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Kiznaiver – 08

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The Kiznaivers have never been closer, even if they still tend to snipe at each other, they also all show up when Nico invites them to the mall to hang out take booth photos together (which is what regular friends do) even during a typhoon warning.

Back at Kizuna HQ, Yamada and Urushi are licking their chops at the opportunity to move the experiments to the next level, and the conditions are perfect, so they use the Gomorins to bring the team in.

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Before they do, the sight of an outdoor playcenter reminds Kacchon vividly of the time he was test subjects with Noriko. When Yamada nonchalantly explains more about the Kizuna Project and how they even went so far as to experiment on researchers’ and sponsors’ own children, it’s pretty clear what’s coming: some kind of epiphany between the currently frustrated Noriko and a Kacchon who is “disappointed” in her.

I must say, I’m not a big fan at all of Yamada or Urushi, who are way too laid back about the fact they essentially tortured children who had no say in the matter, not to mention all the adults who suffered from early experimentation. Morally speaking, the ends don’t usually justify the means…and they don’t even have any ends yet.

All they have are seven youths who have already demonstrated that they not only share each other’s physical pain, but also strong emotions, be they negative or positive. And Yamada and Urushi want to delve deeper into the positive by pairing everyone off. Again, it’s a bit icky, but they’re committed, as is Noriko, to ensuring the experiment is completed – regardless of how the subjects feel.

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The chart of Kiznaivers relationships reminded me of the character charts Zane used to spend way too much time making, but once they were complete really gave a concise picture of who liked whom (One instance that was at times a closed circle of one-sided relationships was Nagi no Asukara).

Here, Urushi lays out the obvious: Yuta likes Honoka; Honoka still likes Ruru; Nico likes Tenga; Tenga likes Chidori; Chidori likes Agata, and Hisomu likes pain. Noriko can figure out the last one for herself, to the surprise of the adults: Agata likes her.

She’s known for a while that he had strong emotions, but didn’t know they were romantic. Now, all of a sudden, the pieces are falling into place for her, and she heads to where the others are to “kickstart” the experiment.

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As Noriko purposefully makes her way, time runs out for Chidori to properly confess to Kacchon, despite the two being all alone for an extended period of time. Kacchon’s attention is turned elsewhere, quite suddenly, by a stronger sensation, and either the symbolic visualization or straight-up hallucination of his younger self and hi fellow test subjects leading him to where he needs to be.

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That precise time and place turns out to be crucial, as Kacchon arrives at the place just in time to save Noriko from being crushed by a falling statue just as she emerges from an abandoned metro station. Just like that, Noriko’s experiment has taken a huge step forward.

Why? Simply put, Kacchon has achieved a kind of “spidey-sense” vis-a-vis Noriko. Or rather, he’s always had it, and it has finally fully re-awakened. That explains the cryptic visions of the younger Noriko. It isn’t that her feelings reached him in time. She is a part of him and vice-versa.

To confirm, Noriko removes her choker to expose the Kizuna scar on her neck, glowing brighter and purer than any of the others’ wrist scars. That’s Kacchon in there, and that’s huge, as it not only progresses the experiment, ill-begotten as it was, but marks the loosening of a knot that had been festering in Kacchon’s heart for years. I for one am intrigued.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 10

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Our friends at Anteiku may have enjoyed a period of peace and calm in the time between Mado’s death and the previous episode…we just don’t get to see a lot of it. Thus, in this way, despite the disorientation of a time-jump and a crapload of new characters—some more interesting than others—the tension is kept up in a show that needs tension and peril to thrive.

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An all-out war between Ghouls and Doves isn’t just “coming”, it’s already here, as Aogiri Tree riads the CCG’s 11th Ward precinct and slaughters every last Dove. Marude, the guy put in charge of the response who very much looks like he’s trying to pop his skull out of his face, has decided to evacuate the ward of all humans in preparation for a massive strike.

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There’s a lot of sneering, eye-bulging, and yelling going on this week, as tempers run short and hot. Worse, Aogiri Tree’s aggression is utterly destroying any chance of detente between the races of the kind Anteiku has successfully achieved. Of course, by harboring Rize’s vessel Kaneki Kei, they made themselves a target of radical ghouls and “special” Doves like Suzuya Juzo, who I hope is insufferably repulsive on purpose.

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This episode also marks the end of a good run of episodes in which Ken wasn’t kidnapped, as a sequence of n’er-do-wells darken Anteiku’s door, starting with Banjou (who resembles a DRAMAtical Murder character), his three masked and numbered underlings, Touka’s brother Ayato, and then, in a case of Bad Guy Overkill, the comically huge and comically-attired Yamori (why a leisure suit?) and his gay stereotype partner Nico.

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We like Banjo’s volatile personality, kooky underlings, funny swirl beard, but he’s too quickly edged out by Ayato, who’s your typical cliched Evil Sibling who only seems to exist to make life more miserable for Touka, and the less seen of Yamori and Nico the better; they really class down the joint with their ridiculous, bordering-on-silly over-the-topness.

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Case in point, an inordinate amount of time is spent on Yamori beating the ever-loving shit out of Ken because, oh I don’t know, the episode has time to kill. And yet, despite varying between seven and ten feet tall, the bear-like Yamori isn’t even able to do much physical damage to Ken.We see showers of blood, but it’s hard to care about the beating when we know Ken isn’t really at risk of being killed. The show just likes using him as a punching bag a little too much.

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In a nice grasping of the concept of gender balance many other shows struggle with, this results in a case of the girl (Touka) having to go save the guy. She won’t be going alone, though. Yoshimura is tired of all these nutjobs messing up his lawn and hurting his friends. He’s closing Anteiku until further notice, and along with Yomo, Nishio, and even ‘lil Hinami, he’s going to help rescue Ken. We’ve seen the bad guys’ teeth, now it’s time to see what the good guys can do when fully mustered.

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