No Guns Life – 20 – A Beautiful Pipe Dream

When Juuzou runs off, Wachowski assumes Tetsuro is still controlling him. Juuzou has no problem taking care of the Spitzbergen operatives sent after him, but since he never speaks we’re not entirely sure either until a very awake Tetsuro speaks to Wachowski.

Since this is after Wachowski sent Kunugi to help fight Juuzou, that leaves the old man in the wheelchair to the mercy of the kid who hacked his own sub-brain in order to control his own body. Juuzou didn’t come here to solve all of his problems for him, but to help him solve them himself.

Tetsuro offers to cooperate until Seven is defeated (keeping Juuzou out of the equation) but only if Spitzbergen ceases their terrorist activities. Wachowski regales Tetsuro with the story how how Berühren became twisted into an eternal life-support system for its four founders, and how he founded Spitzbergen to expose that rot. Only Spitzbergen also became twisted by extremists and anarchists.

For this reason, Wachowski needs Device 13, which has a setting no other Gun Slave Unit has, and which is his fail-safe against Wurzel. 13’s sacrifice will thus eliminate Berühren and with it Spitzbergen’s need to keep fighting, ushering in a new era of peace. When Tetsuro doesn’t buy it and furthermore would accept Juuzou’s sacrifice, Wachowski reveals he’s an Extended and bursts out of the suit in a a super creepy, absolutely bad-ass sequence.

As Juuzou is content to fight Kunugi (who is apparently Kronen’s senpai) and his henchmen as long as they want, Tetsuro grabs hold of his pipe dream of getting everything he wants without losing anyone he cares about. Its “beauty” is something from which he can’t turn away, so he’ll fight for that dream until his last breath—or in this case, Harmony scream.

No Guns Life – 19 – For the Sake of the Selfish

While Tetsuro talks with Mary about her dealings with Victor (she’s satisfied for the time being but still wants to launch her boob rockets at him) Juuzou chats with Edmund, whom we learn was Five’s Hands. When Edmund abandoned him so he could be turned back to normal, Five took it as a betrayal, especially since the military tried to eliminate him and all the other Gun Slave Units.

Juuzou tells Ed that Five then started a rebellion with other GSUs and their Hands, whom Juuzou eventually dealt with. As Tetsuro tells Mary that of the thirteen pairs of GSUs and Hands, only four remain, two of whom are in Wunder Bender and the other two of whom are Juuzou and Seven.

We get a brief look at Juuzou back when his Hands named him, using the Japanese number 13 as the basis. Back in the office, Tetsuro confronts Juuzou about his role in the elimination of the nine GSU deserters, and his realization Juuzou is a resolver to atone for that crime, something to which Juuzou takes exception.

Having learned about his own role in financing Spitzbergen, Tetsuro considers how he can ever similarly atone for the death and suffering his past actions have caused. Juuzou assures Tetsuro that what was done in the past isn’t as important as what he’ll choose to do now that he knows. Whatever his worth was to others back then, now he gets to decide his own. Juuzou clearly speaks from experience.

At Berühren HQ Pepper and Seven prepare to move out, they seem to have a keen sense that they’re about to cross paths with Juuzou again soon. That’s because after their chat, Tetsuro makes his choice and uses Harmony to take control of Juuzou and have him carry his body to Andy Wachowski.

Wachowski gives us his backstory too (the pointless loss of his brother Larry’s legs drove him to invent Extension tech), then tells both Tetsuro and Juuzou how things are going to go: Spitzbergen will ensure the safety of everyone Tetsuro holds dear. In exchange, Tetsuro will use Harmony to release Juuzou’s limiter so he can fight and defeat Seven.

The same device that fixed Tetsuro’s voice also locks Harmony, paralyzing his ability to change his target. Whether Tetsuro expected this, one can’t deny that depriving Berühren of a GSU will probably save lives. If Tetsuro Harmony’d Juuzou without his consent, it means Juuzou has once more become an unwitting tool for the selfish wishes of others. That means Tetsuro himself chose to become the tool who brought Wachowski the weapon he needs to achieve his goals.

While full of talky scenes and little action, like any good noir fiction this episode laid out everyone’s motivations and how past events and actions have shaped their lives so far and led them to where they stand now—with very little of it being black-and-white. Even a monster-face like Wachowski carries deep emotional scars of personal trauma. It’s not a great episode, but it is an important one, and with its deft use of light, shadow, and color it also looks like a million bucks.

No Guns Life – 18 – Birds of a Feather

Tetsuro returns to Juuzou’s agency with an upgraded voice, and is shocked and moved to hear Juuzou not only apologize for putting him in harm’s way, but to thank him for everything he’s done to help him. It must be tough hearing these gestures now, when Wachowski and Spitzbergen have directed him to unleash his true monstrous form via Harmony.

But while Tetsuro wrestles with his friendship to Juuzou and newly split loyalties, an absolute DAME enters the office, with a classic noir case: find my lost husband. The dame in question is Emma Kurtz, and her husband Edmund is an over-Extended like Juuzou. Edmund was actually in the same unit as her fiancee Theodore during the war, but when both were caught in a bomb-disposal mishap, only Edmund returned, and Emma married him.

Juuzou checks the official records, but finds out that like him Edmund is restricted, which means higher-ups don’t want him found. It’s lucky, then, that Mary happens to find him lying unconscious in the street, having pumped himself full of sedatives.  It becomes apparent that Edmund is looking for Juuzou, and looking to fight him, but has nothing but nice things to say about Mary, who helped revive him.

Instead, Edmund leads Juuzou out into the alley, gives some kids candy money to buzz off, and launches right into a fight, using an innovative baseball bat-like club that injects little needles into Juuzou’s arms and chest (at first I thought they were fired bullets).  He then uses his Tesla Coil-like custom arm extension to prepare a massive attack—only for one of the kids to come back early, forcing Edmund to shoot straight up into the air, missing everyone.

When Ed sees that Juuzou saved a kid over himself, he realizes he’s fighting the wrong guy; the partner from his unit he’s looking for is named Five, whom Juuzou himself already killed years ago. Then Emma arrives to call Ed back, confessing to him that she’s known all along he wasn’t really “Edmund” at all, but Theodore. Despite the new body he came home in, she could still sense her fiancee within.

As the couple reunites, Juuzou and Tetsuro are very much out of their element, as romance simply isn’t anything with which either of them know how to deal. Another noiry case-of-the-week with ample, effective comedy and a nice side-helping of romance? I’d call this another successful outing.

Lapis Re:LiGHTs – 01 (First Impressions) – Color By Numbers

Tiara has traveled to the big city of Mamkestell to enroll at the prestigious Flora Girls’ Academy. To her delight she’s immediately accepted by the headmistress and placed in a group with her childhood friend (and past servant) Rosetta. This episode is a basic introduction to the characters, the academy and its rules and rankings, and the challenges that await Tiara.

Standout elements include the lovely rendering of the city at various times of day—it truly looks like a place where you’d want to live—and the grand and ornate facilities of the academy. There are also a number of magical classes that look like fun. I just wish all the characters had a little more oomph to them.

Everyone in LR:L comes off pleasantly bland. Having just come off watching PriConne—a show with no shortage of strong and clashing personalities, the bickering of Tiara’s two new teammates Ashley and Lavie feels like weak sauce. There’s also an odd visual effect of the five girls each having a different bold hair color; like a painting that contains too much of every color of paint, ultimately blending into a muddled green-gray.

The fact that Tiara’s group happens to be Lapis, the lowest of three school ranks, and all of them are on the verge of expulsion due to failing grades, present potential opportunities for interesting drama, while the class previews portend a degree of magical action. Tiara also has a nice singing voice without feeling too manufactured. I just wasn’t particularly wowed by anything, thus blunting my enthusiasm for the next episode.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

No Guns Life – 01 (First Impressions) – As the Cylinder Spins

No Guns Life is a somewhat awkwardly-titled cyberpunk noir series centered on Inui Juuzou, private detective-type guy called a resolver who also happens to have a gun for a head. That concept pays immediate comic dividends when we first see him lighting up a cigarette in his dingy office, or when we see a super-simplified version of his face when he expresses bashfulness over being kissed by a woman he helped out.

Juuzou may be an Extended with his gun head, indicating a past life as a tool of war, but seiyu Suwabe Junichi imparts a world-weary, warm and irreverent humanity to him—a heart of gold beneath all the gunmetal. The modifications made to his once fully-human form are the work of Berühren, a military megacorp whose monolithic headquarters called to mind Wallace Corp.’s in Blade Runner 2049.

Juuzou’s latest client is a seemingly “renegade” fellow Extended accused of kidnapping a boy named Tetsuro from an orphanage, but the scary-looking Extended’s meek disposition has Juuzou suspecting there’s more to it than that. Juuzou takes the job and custody of the unconscious Tetsuro while the Extended lures the Security Bureau away.

This scene hits all of the usual noir detective story points: a messed up office that wasn’t that nice to begin with, an immediate sense of peril, a new client who isn’t what they seem, and a job Juuzou can’t pass up if it pays, since he’s barely making rent. One key downside to the scene is that no one has any facial expressions, so the voices have to pull double duty.

We finally do see some facial expressions when Juuzou encounters Karen, a meek (but oddly not fearful) nun from the orphanage searching for Tetsuro. Juuzou doesn’t buy her cover, so she removes most of them to reveal she’s an evil badass Berühren operative tasked with retrieving a vital R&D asset, with a mean gun and an Extended eye that can see through his smoke bomb.

The Oni-faced Extended reappears to help Juuzou out, but Karen makes quick work of him, leaving Juuzou with no choice but to abandon Tetsuro as she shoots him, causing to fall down a very high ledge (also reminiscent of Blade Runner in its general dinginess and great height).

When he comes to, Oni-face has dressed his wounds, but is at the end of his rope. Then comes the twist: Oni-face was never an independent entity: it was being remote controlled all along by Tetsuro using something called Harmony. When Berühren, who rendered him incapable of escaping on his own legs, he manipulated the unoccupied Extended to aid his escape.

Before his remote Extended shuts down, Tetsuro thanks Juuzou for trying to help him, but is resigned to end up back in Berühren’s pokey-proddy clutches. Juuzou is not so resigned. Resolved to “finish the job” even if it ends up being pro bono, he locates Tetsuro (with a tracking device in his ear) aboard a train, and puts his Extended body to use stopping it in its tracks.

Comparisons to Cop Craft are there, only instead of a human-alien odd couple undertaking fairly conventional police missions, we have a cyborg P.I., in a world where his breed of cyborg isn’t particularly celebrated, trying to protect the weak in a world that will otherwise chew them up more viciously than our own. It swaps Cop Craft’s slick Range Murata design with the grittier style of Shino Masanori (Black Lagoon) and Iwasaki Taku’s soundtrack with Kawai Kenji’s (Gundam 00).

It’s a very fun (if sometimes dark and depressing world), again thanks to Juuzou’s irreverent attitude, and the story seems headed in a finite direction with confidence, something that definitely didn’t end up happening in Cop Craft. One episode’s not enough to judge whether it will succeed where that show failed, but that curiosity is thankfully not the only reason to keep watching.

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 18

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This week is—the second semifinal match, the second-to-last of the Phoenix Festa— The winner shall face Allekant’s AL-D and RM-C. The challengers? Ayato and Julis versus the two aces of Galadadworth Academy: Doroteo Lemus and Elliot Forster.

Wait…WHO are these dudes? Never mind; it doesn’t matter.

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That’s right, this match is a gimmie. The show doesn’t even pretend that the outcome is in doubt. If it had, these guys would have been built-up more in past episodes. These guys are comically weaksauce, to the point I hate to think about the chumps who had to lose to them in order for them to advance this far. Sure, Ayato and Julis have a tendency to make even great opponents look silly, but knowing they’d advance to the finals for sure made this whole match a bit perfunctory.

Elliot is very skilled but also very young, and Ayato senses and easily exploits his lightweight resolve, while Julis simply pops off standard attacks of gradually increasing intensity until Doroteo lets himself get roasted inside his suit of armor. Yes, he had a mecha-horse and a long lance, but couldn’t lay a finger on an opponent on foot with a sword.

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Indeed, this is an example of bad seeding. It would have been far more interesting to me if AR-D and RM-C faced off against Ayato and Julis in the semifinal, so that Saya and Kirin could waste these knights and the four friends could face off in the final. What would have been wrong with that?

I don’t know, but for now Saya and Kirin can only stew in the sting of their defeat to an opponent they should never have had to face to begin with (the Festa is clearly rigged to favor Allekant’s puppets), while they search for the kidnapped Flora. Did I mention I don’t much care for Flora, nor do I care for her basically showing up just so that she could get kidnapped?

Well, I don’t, but she’s just a little kid, and clearly important to Julis, so I understand Ayato wanting to go all out to track her down, even meeting all secretively with Irene, who laments she has no hard intel for Ayato (since Dirk never bothered to brief her), but she does manage to narrow his search to Rotlicht with a hunch.

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Meanwhile, Ernesta and Camilla work through the night preparing their puppets for the final with Ayato and Julis. This is the build-up scene (combined with the previous battles and scenes featuring these two) the Galahad guys didn’t get. These are the guys to beat.

In this scene we learn a lot more about these two Allekant scientists, how Camilla’s body was severely damaged in a terrorist attack, and how Ernesta built her half a body, leading Camilla to pledge half her life to Ernesta in return.

We also learn the two have different goals: Camilla wants to develop a universal lux anyone can wield; Ernesta wants no less than to create a new form of sentient artificial life. She’s already on her way, thanks in part to the puppets’ match with Saya and Kirin.

AR-D wants to keep his face scar to remind him of his imperfections; RM-C wants a less embarrasing way to transfer her luxes to AR-D during limit transfer. Ernesta is over the moon by this progress; Camilla is clearly more weary.

As for Ayato, his cover is quickly blown and he gets chased all over Rotlicht by Men In Black, before a gorgeous young woman pops out from behind a column offering safety.

That’s right, it’s yet another girl for Ayato—though at least one who has been foreshadowed not just by the inter-world signage of the show, but by the fact the OP and ED are sung by this girl, the famous idol Sylvia.

I got a kick out of the post-credits preview with an increasingly desperate CG-Claudia trying to impress Ayato with her own singing. Sorry Enfield, I don’t think you’ll feature much next week either!

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