AICO – 01 (First Impressions)

Implacable organic masses don’t tend to be the most compelling villains…but we’ll see

Thanks in no small part to streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, there’s just too damn much television to watch. And if Netflix has anything to say about it, there’s going to be too much anime as well. A.I.C.O.: Incarnation is a Bones-produced original anime tailor-made for Netflix-style binge watching.

That’s quite evident from this first episode, which unloads an awful lot (and jumps around multiple genres) but doesn’t settle on any one thing, yet moves around at a good enough clip to entice you to watch more, provided you don’t get immediately irritated by the number of cliches that unfold.

A Bridal Carry? That was quick.

Mind you, many conventional network-airing anime give you this same kind of kind of thrown-into-the-deep-end, action-packed pilot, but it’s very much intentional here. There’s bits and pieces of characters and story in AICO’s first outing, but not quite enough to be satisfied with just … one … episode. You really want to watch on.

“You aren’t…a stoic Gary Stu by any chance?”

But it’s fairly late, and I typically like to space things out for the sake of my eyes and sanity, so I’ll be watching one episode at a time, unless I can’t resist to watch more for some reason. In that regard, I think I’ll be safe; thus far the presentation of AICO is such that I’d probably benefit from a slight respite between episodes, even if it goes against the Netflix credo of simply sitting in the same place until an entire season is done.

NOT THE FACE

Oh, sorry, I haven’t said much about what AICO is about, just how I felt about watching it. Suffice it to say, there’s a huge threat to humanity in the form of some kind of formless ambulatory mass of gore called “matter” that consumes everything in its path. It’s believed their only hope against this scourge is Tachibana Aiko, who at first appears to be an ordinary high school girl gradually regaining the ability to stand and walk after some unspecified injury.

The reality, however, is that Aiko no longer possesses a natural body; hers is an extremely realistic, intricate, and above all tough artificial body, in which any bruises, blows or cuts are quickly healed. A rake to her face with a knife shatters the knife. This all comes as a shock to Aiko, who already has her plate full as the lone member of her family to survive some kind of calamity likely caused by the Matter.

As I said, the show moves relatively well, even if it moves a bit too much in one sitting; it’s decent-looking enough and the music is adequately atmospheric. Perhaps I’ll take another look or two soon…just not all at once, as prescribed.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – 01

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Sunrise had a Christmas present of a kind ready for me today: another Gundam series that looks and feels like it could take place in the same universe and timeline as IBO, even exist in the same debris field that show’s cast is currently engaged in. In fact, IBO takes place in “P.D.” (Post Disaster) 323, while Thunderbolt takes place in U.C. 0079, the same year as the original Gundam, making it a direct spin-off.

Unlike Recon in G, but like the new Star Wars movie, it’s easy to settle into this world, which comes down to the juicy details. A melange of the ordinary (smoking, romances, jazz drumming on consoles, waiting on standby) and the extraordinary (the tremendous speed of battle, how quickly tides can turn, the blood-and-guts brutality of the battles) create a rich world in a scant fifteen minutes and change.

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The show also makes clear there’s no good or bad guy here, only two different warring sides who each have their reasons to fight. The Federation ace Io Fleming loves the freedom of space combat. Zeon’s Daryl Lorenz, who like many of his comrades has prosthetic legs, seems more serious, duty- and honor-bound. Many of their comrades die beside them in this episode, causing a great deal of grief for everyone who knew them but they keep on ticking.

Above all Thunderbolt portrays this futuristic life as a hard one, no matter which side you’re on, and no matter what you’re fighting for. It’s scuffed and gritty and bleak, so one living in such a world would tend to retreat into the embrace of the opposite sex, or porn, or carve out a little hollow of peace, be it girls or plants or music. Notably, Io prefers free jazz, while Daryl’s tastes hew more towards more structured pop music.

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After his own suit is destroyed, Io manages to EVA over to the Zeon snipers, take one out, and steal his suit to return to his ship. His captain (with whom he seems to be on close terms with) assigns him to a new prototype, Gundam, because everyone who outranked him is dead.

Whether it’s mobile suits, trained pilots, or simply flesh-and-blood limbs, everything is in short supply here in Thunderbolt, on the bleeding edge. And while Io embraces the increased  power of his iconic new suit, Daryl plans revenge against him for the death of his comrade.

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P.S. If the music reminded you of Cowboy Bebop, that’s because it was composed by Kikuchi Naruyoshi, saxophonist for The Seatbelts.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren Lite – 01-06 Bento

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As with the first season, Ren’s “Lite” mini-episodes air separately on KyoAni’s YouTube channel, rather than taking up 2-3 minutes of the regular episodes. And like the first set, these six mini-episodes explore other regions of the Chu2Koi universe.

01: When Shinka enters the club room to clean up, she has trouble separating Kumin from the kotatsu, only to find Rikka and Sanae are under there too. We have to side with Shinka; it probably stinks under there, and needs cleaning.

02: When her left eye gets infected, Rikka tries to get by wearing two eyepatches. Yuuta is rightfully dubious, and later helps her apply eye drops, resulting in dialogue misconstrued as amorous by Shinka and Kumin.

03: Flashback to Rikka in middle school, trying to learn ESP clairvoyance, and foresight. Because it is middle school, her strange behavior isn’t as looked down upon. Of course, we know she’ll continue to refine her skills well into high school.

04: Back in the present, it’s a stormy day and the club is playing a particularly tense game of Old Maid; tense because the loser has to go out in the rain to buy everyone else snacks. Sanae and Shinka duke it out, but both lose when they tear a card.

05: Another flashback, this time with Yuuta back when he was full-on Dark Flame Master. For the record, we really enjoy watching him act out so sincerely; as opposed to his more forced manner in the present. Kuzuha’s friend thinks he’s cool, and for a moment, so does she, until he does something klutzy.

06: Flashback #3, this time with Shinka as Mori Summer, and again, it’s nice to see her being earnest and unashamed with her Chuunibyouness. She also has an answer for all of her skeptical friend’s questions relating to angel summoning. Turns out Satone is recounting this to Kumin in the present, much to Shinka’s embarrassment.

Kyousogiga – 05 (Fin)

Myoue first meets Lady Koto, the human form of a black rabbit his master once painted which came to life. The three lived in seclusion as the seasons passed. Lady Koto stands on an unknown world with the earth in full view, holding an infant that looks like Koto, promising her they’ll meet again someday.

This was probably the most cryptic of the five Kyousogiga segments – one in which the majority goes without spoken dialogue, only a song sung in English. The different seasons are beautifully rendered in the frame of the temple, and we liked the concept of the entire strange city we’ve seen thus far being a painting by Myoue’s master, painted piece by piece and pasted to the wall.

There are probably a lot of ways to interpret everything that went on in this last few minutes (carrying lady Koto with a trail of blood behind her, followed by the appearance of a young Myoue…was she pregnant?) but it drove home the point that the whole series, brief as it was, was a nice, trippy, ephemeral look at another world and the colorful lives that inhabit it – and didn’t get bogged down in excessive explanation.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Kyousogiga – 04

This segment is told from the perspective of the monk Myoue of Taganoo. His master bestowed the title of high priest upon him, and told him to watch over things until he came back at a time he did not specify. Myoue has waited ever since, in a manner similar to that of Hachiko, a real-life dog so faithful, it kept coming to the station to meet its owner long after that owner died (and whose statue stands outside Shibuya Station). He wonders if his master in fact returned in the form of Koto, so he takes care of her while waiting for confirmation of some kind, which comes when Koto echoes words his master left him with about returning with “a beginning and an end”; Koto’s twin “brothers” are named A and Un (beginning and end).

This was a far quieter, more wistful episode than the last two, which were more manic and action-packed. It’s basically a day in the life of Myoue, a monk who spends his days waiting for something he knows not what; something that may have already come in Koto; he’s just not sure. Pride, honor, and a sense of duty and loyalty drive his actions, qualities he resents at times but cannot fight off, so he waits. Like the previous episodes, we only get a small slice of the whole picture here, with much left unspecified and unexplained, but so far the series has excelled at building an achingly gorgeous, wondrous, fun world, with no fewer mysteries than our own; just different ones.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Kyousogiga – 03

One of Douji Yase’s animal-like youkai records video of a special day in the world on the other side of the looking glass: a day when unwanted or unneeded…stuff is relased into the air, where it drifts away towards a train station which will take it further away still. One of these objects is a stuffed animal a mother wants her daughter to let go, but she won’t, and floats off with it. Koto, A and Un fly up to grab her, and it isn’t long before Shouko and her suited legion also assist; finally Shouko shoots the plushie, and the girl and Koto fall back down to earth. Also among the objects that shouldn’t have flown away: Douji Yase’s favorite teacup.

This really captured the grandeur and whimsy of the strange world Koto is now at home in (the awesome soundtrack really helps sell it). There’s a very fable-like vibe to it, and it’s also very much the opposite of how the real world operates. Our waste falls to the earth, both due to gravity and due to the nature of municipal sanitation and decomposition. We as a modern society toss out a lot that may still be useful to others, but is wasted anyway, due to convenience. Still, it would be great if, once a year, all the unnecessary clutter that had accumulated that year could be released into the sky, to find its own way…somewhere else.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Kyousogiga – 02

We got so hung up with Fall series that Kyousogiga almost slipped through the cracks. Well, with one episode left to air, we’re taking the opportunity to catch up on this excellent ONA.

In this piece, Shouko, the geek who runs Kurama Temple, has lost her PSP. She suspects she lost it when she was tackled post-lunch by Koto/A/Un. She deploys legions of well-dressed henchmen to leave no stone unturned. They spot a PSP in the talons of a bird, but after a sustained pursuit and much discharging of firearms, when they catch the bird, the PSP is not hers. Eventually it’s found by a man named Fushimi, who simply searched for its GPS signal. The tracking device is a must for Shouko, who is very active and has a tendency to lose things.

Like a rich dessert, this episodelet was dense, compact, and full of complex flavors surrounding a very simple concept: losing something important along one’s daily travels. In Shouko’s case, having her PSP is a matter of utmost importance, and she is also fortunate to have virtually unlimited resources at her disposal for whatever petty purpose she chooses. We liked her brief, outwardly pleasant, inwardly tense chat with Douji Yase, as well as her knee-jerk reaction to remembering she was jostled by Koto:  destroying her house and holding her at gunpoint.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Kyousogiga ONA

Armed with a magical giant hammer, a girl named Koto and her two brothers roam ‘Mirror Kyoto’ wreaking havoc. They’re searching for a ‘rabbit’ that will get them home. Their temporary guardian Myoe confers with Yase and Kurama, who together form the Assembly of 3. They believe Koto and their ‘mother’ Lady Koto are one and the same.

“I don’t really get it”...so says one of Koto’s brothers at the end of this frenetic visual feast. Neither do we, but we were surely entertained. With the Fall 2011 season fizzling out, here’s the first taste of something totally new. Sure there’s plenty of works one can list as inspiration, from FLCL to the upcoming Black Rock Shooter. But as a single, original, 26-minute one-shot, Kyousogiga has a style and energy all its own, combining the retro and the psycho.

The ambiguous ending leaves open the possibility of an anime down the road, but for now we’ll stick to what we saw, and also not worry too much about understanding all of it. Suffice it to say lil’ Koto is a bit of a hellraiser with her ludicrously oversized hammer; her brothers are equally bombastic, and Mirror Kyoto is full of psychadelic…stuff that never stops shimmering. Indeed, the ONA hardly ever stops moving, making the few moments that it does all the more powerful. It was a fun, if brief, ride.


Rating: 3.5

Yozakura Quartet ~ Hoshi no Umi ~ OVA 2

Ye gods, the first YQ OVA was pretty damn gorgeous in its own right, but this next one took the pretty visuals up to eleven. The character design is downright bangin’, the combat is as creative as it is lyrical, and the stakes for the town of Sakurashin have also been raised. Rin has become the puppet of the one who originally took her in, Zakuro. She’s under the control of Enjin, and has turned bad. She’s come to claim Rin back, but the YQ won’t let her have her without a fight.

And what a fight. Hime chasing her across rooftops was fancy enough, just as Yae’s awesome little battle in the first OVA. But the bulk of the fighting was done by everyone’s favorite half-youkai, Kotoha, who simply puts on a clinic of conjuring, sending, among other things, thousands of B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers, an Airbus A380 Superjumbo, and a bunker buster into Zakuro’s summoned earth golem. I can’t overstate how sweet animation for this fight was.

But it was all for naught, as Rin finally surrenders herself to Zakuro in order to forestall future killing. But despite being momentarily touched by the gesture, Zakuro isn’t her own boss, and Enjin soups her up into an even more powerful killing machine, who promises to wipe out every single life in the town. While I’m confident Hime and the rest of the YQ will be able to deal, we won’t find out how until OVA #3. Rating: 4