Gunslinger Stratos – 03

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Gunslinger Stratos is not a terrible show, but does seem a bit lazy at times, and doesn’t sweat the details when it comes to, say the clunky interior of a limo that doesn’t conform in size or shape to the exterior. After watching something with such precise animation as, say, Sidonia, such flaws stick out, and add up quickly.

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I’m glad I was wrong about Kyouka not opening her case though. She’s actually the one reason I continue watching this show, for no other reason than she’s got the strongest personality, doesn’t overly rely on the guys, and is a genuinely good fighter, if a bit reckless at times.

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For all of the under-designed elements in this show, the gunslingers sport over-designed, impractical uniforms that are both fussy and not particularly cool-looking. Kyouma’s bellbottoms and awkward giant gun, Kyouka’s earmuffs, Rindo’s baggy sleeves and Tooru’s stiff scarf all strike me as unnecessary, distracting details.

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The actual combat, with the gunslingers flying all over 2015 Shibuya emptying clips, isn’t the worst, but it’s also awfully random. For a show with so much uninteresting technobabble in the dialogue, there isn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the operation beyond “show up in the general vicinity of the enemy and have at it.”

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Most distressing, in the middle of battle Kyouma allows Tooru to leave the combat area and chase after the purple-haired ghost, which puts their team a man down, in addition to two of them being in their first real battle (Tooru and Kyouka) Tooru loses the ghost when she disappears, and his team loses Rindo when she takes a bullet (a big one) for Kyouka, fired by Tooru’s double.

Rindo’s death wasn’t entirely expected, but from her death flags to the whimsical, shlipshod tactics employed by her team, it wasn’t a huge surprise someone ended up KIA. We’ll see how the rookie Tooru deals with this early loss.

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Gunslinger Stratos – 02

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The wonder of Tooru and Kyouka’s journey to some kind of alternate world complete with Tooru’s doppelganger is ultimately somewhat undercut by a large amount of infodumping, which occurs after a brief bullet-dodging duel between the Toorus which is broken up by his and Kyouka’s classmate Remy, who escorts them back to their own world.

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There, Tooru and Kyouka are showered with exposition rather than bullets. Both Kyoka’s brother Kyouma and his friend Rindo Shizune are already part of a war being fought against the themselves of that parallel world, which was built by timekeepers who gave them a time machine but only for travelling to 2015 to fight each other with souped-up guns. The winners get to exist, while the losers are erased into oblivion.

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As Tooru says, “This is all insane!” And he’s absolutely right. But it’s also all a bit silly, and the ideas and concepts felt half-baked and disorganized. Tooru can’t make rhyme or reason of any of it, and nor can we, so the decision he’s faced with—join the fight or stand by and potentially watch your universe end—lacks the oomph it should have considering the practical stakes.

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Still, after having tea with Shizune, and telling Kyouka his parents died (wait; aren’t they old friends?) an abridged version of the infodump in montage form goes through Tooru’s head, and he decides he’ll open the case that contains his gun.

Then he picks up an Energy Cube (groan) and kinda holds it close to the gun and it makes it look cooler. The end product is cool enough looking, I guess (it looks a bit like those plastic light-and-sound guns you’d find at a dollar store), but the process of making it was kinda silly and awkward.

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Then he holds the gun at the mirror, as if to symbolize he’s ready to go after…himself in the war to decide which world survives sandifiction. The other Tooru does the same thing, only he blasts the mirror. I’m guessing he’s not superstitious…

The end credits show an adorable but sad and lonely Kyouka, and the preview mentions a breakup, so I’m assuming Kyouka doesn’t open her case, forcing the two would-be lovebirds to part. Which would suck, because I’d prefer these two fighting side-by-side.

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Kekkai Sensen – 02

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A giant Nausicaa-style beast flying over a Gothic/Art Deco alternate NYC skyline as if it were the most mundane thing in the world: This is one of the iconic, “nutshell” images of Kekkai Sensen, which joins the 10 Club this weekend with one hell of a second episode.

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After last week dropped us in the middle of Jerusalem’s (or Hellsalem’s) Lot with Leo and had at it, this week starts with formal introductions to his new co-workers at Libra, and they’re a fun, colorful bunch that also feels like a tight-knit family. Leo’s the ‘new adopted kid brother’ to Zapp, who is always butting heads with his ‘sister’ Chain, while Klaus has an undeniable dad-like quality to him. (He also looks like Beast from X-men.)

Rounding out the core of the Libra we know is organizer Steven A Starphase and Combat Butler…yes, Combat Butler, Gilbert F. Altstein (Alfred, anyone?) Leo seems a little overwhelmed with all the new names, but thanks to the helpful HUD-style character labeling, and the sheer variety of colorful personalities, it was a cinch for me to remember them.

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There’s more great world and character building as Leo continues his pizza delivery route, as the untold numbers of Libra members are all over Jerusalem’s/Hellsalem’s Lot but keep a low profile like the Dollars of Durarara!!, so it makes sense to keep living his regular life. The only thing is, every pizza he tries to deliver is intercepted by Zapp, who seems to be testing Leo’s reflexes (and patience!) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the boy with the Eyes That See All, a valuable new tool in the Libra arsenal.

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Those eyes pay immediate dividends, as while Leo is on his pizza route with Zapp in tow, he detects a dry cleaning van that doesn’t look right. In fact, he’s just seen past a form of camouflage previously unknown to and undetected by Libra, hiding a demonic courier van illegally transporting live humans.

Leo decides to retreat and regroup when he accidentaly meets eyes with the baddies, but it’s too late, and swiftly pounce on his Honda Gyro and nab him, leaving Zapp out of commision in a pool of his own blood. Tellingly, Zapp makes sure to get some of that blood on Leo’s clothes before the crims take him.

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From here we see the true awesome ability of Libra in action, utilizing far more than just brute strength to maintain the balance in the city. As a tied-up Leo protests the bad guy’s blatant violation of the “Chrysler-Galadona Accord”, Zapp is in contact with Chain, Klaus, and Steve. Chain has eyeballs on the van, but when it turns into a far less conspicuous vehicle (a Toyota Camry, LOL), she loses it. But Libra’s not done yet.

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The whole reason Zapp is in such a bad way, and furthermore seems to absorb every blood transfusion the hospital gives him, is that he’s got a thin strand of blood tied to the van that nabbed Leo. When Leo manages to stop (read: crash) the van by using his eyes to overwhelm the vision of his captors, all Zapp has to do is ignite that blood thread, but since he can’t move, it’s up to Chain to follow the fire to paydirt. Klaus, Steve, and Gil also follow in their jersey-barrier-busting, badass LXG-style custom pursuit vehicle.

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From there, the chase is on, which we follow both by watching Chain fly along the rooftops, in the crazily-driving butler’s instruments, and a nifty 3DCG map that tracks everyone. It’s a fantastically set-up and thrillingly staged chase scene that really capitalizes on the complexity of the city and the super-abilities of the cast. And it’s all set to Jazz. This show knows what it’s doing.

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So does Libra, and so once they catch up to the van of couriers (who weren’t prepared to be detected in the first place, let alone for serious combat), it doesn’t take long to take them out and recover the missing people, along with Leo, who was badly injured in the accident.

Still, by taking it upon himself to fight his captors rather than just sit and wait for help from others is something his Libra-mates admire, and they congratulate him on a job well done, which they couldn’t have done without him in the first place.

Leo also realizes Zapp was stalking him because it was his way of serving as his bodyguard, something Libra would never let Leo go around without, considering his valuable eyes.

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Having been officially accepted into Libra and proven both to them and himself that he belongs there and has something unique to offer, Leo wanders the hospital grounds while completing his convalescence.

In a gorgeous, ‘I so want to go to there’ cemetery, he meets a philosophical ghost, White (Kugimiya Rie!), who asks him whether it’s best to fear death despite is inevitability, or not fear it out of the belief it isn’t inevitable? Some interesting food for thought from another intriguing new character, and yet another layer from among Kekkai Sensen’s elaborate multitudes to explore.

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Kekkai Sensen – 01 (First Impressions)

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There’s so much stuff in Kekkai Sensen, and so many neat concepts and ideas and details, I couldn’t help but almost constantly be reminded of all of the stuff I’ve seen before that it reminded me of; none of it bad: from the obvious structural and stylistic parallels to Durarara!!, FLCL and Space Dandy, to the retro-futuristic New York and L.A. of Fifth Element and Blade Runner, respectively.

Put the crazy aliens of Space Dandy in a big city and you either have Star Wars’ Coruscant or the New York of Men In Black. Heck, let’s throw The Matrix in there for good measure, since we have a group of humans with super-powers who are also interested in lookin’ correct.

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Yet for all the stuff that flies by the screen, and all the other things all that stuff reminds me of, there are two themes that bind it all together and make Kekkai not only approachable, but compelling, and those are love and family. The same kind of love and family that Kyousogiga was suffused with in the midst of all its chaos and zaniness and colorful characters and places.

As it jumps back and forth through the timeline of the first episode, there’s a keen surefootedness in play. Kekkai keeps track of all of its pieces and knows exactly where it wants them to end up, and what to do with them when they’re there. In this way, hapless protagonist Leo Watch ends up right where he wants to be, either by luck or clever fate.

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New York/Jerusalem’s Lot is a bit foggy, but it’s also gorgeous, and the architecture just won’t quit. Even better, the show isn’t afraid to carve and peel and chop those comely skyscrapers up like vegetables for a chili.

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There’s a nice irreverent atmosphere to the proceedings, nicely demonstrated with some superb back-and-forth camera panning across the penthouse office atop one of those carved-up buildings. The three members of Libra whom Leo encounters take the building’s “haircut” pretty well.

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But back to love and family. Leo is pretty sure he and his family came to New York hoping to find a miracle. Specifically, to heal his sister Michella (Mizuki Nana…Hi Ange!) so she could walk. Things didn’t turn out so well: some kind of demon offered a pair of super-powered eyes to one sibling, but the other had to go blind. Ironically, it was Leo who was paralyzed by fear in that moment, and his paralyzed sister who sprang into action, telling the demon to take her eyes.

It’s an act of selflessness and unconditional love for her brother, but ever since that tragic day, Leo has also been acting out of love, searching for the answers that could lead to the restoration of his sister’s mobility and sight. And he’s spent enough time in New York to see the abnormal—and there’s certainly a lot of it—as the normal.

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As their name suggests, Libra works to maintain a balance between the underworld entities vying for power and the remaining normal human population. Their work would seem to never end, as guys like the self-styled “King of Depravity” Femt are always stirring up heaps of trouble. Fortunately, thanks to their “Blood Martial Arts”, Libra is able to keep those entities honest.

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They bring in Leo thinking he was “Johnny Landis”,  but because an upside-down photo of him closely resembles a right-side-up photo of a demon, it was an honest mistake. It’s a fortuitous one, though. Not only does Leo find just the people he wanted to talk with, but they gain someone with eyes powerful enough to detect a gate the size of a flea on a monkey and squish both gate and flea, leaving the monkey unharmed and ruining Femt’s “fun.”

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In a continuation of the show’s irreverent tone (except where Michella is concern, in which case things are more sober and serious), Leo ends the day by trekking back to the diner where he’s a regular, which is still open for business even though it’s been leveled by the recent ruckus. He promised his busybody waitress Vivian (Sawashiro Miyuki) he’d wash dishes, after all!

Kekkai Sensen is a lot of fun, and its opening episode really paralleled Libra’s role by balancing zaniness and chaos with heart, soul, and humor. If they can maintain that balance, and keep of the quality of the eye candy, it’s a Spring keeper for sure.

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Gunslinger Stratos – 01 (First Impressions)

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Aw man, this made two straight Spring premieres that take place in a strange future with bland male-protagonist. Seriously, this guy wants to be a sheep.

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Oh no…an inappropriately-dressed sexy teacher with a map of a fractured Japan run by mega-corporations? That’s two ani-cliches in one shot. Not a good start, GS.

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Okay, this is a little more like it. This school has combat training for P.E., which allows the two pairs of guys and girls have at each other with both paintball and lightsaber. The dynamics are straightforward and believable: Kyouka likes Tooru; Kyouka’s bro Kyouma doesn’t like Tooru; and Kyouma’s pint-sized acolyte resents Kyouka.

The character design is almost too simple, but at least the combat animation is smooth, crisp, and fun to watch.

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Things went a bit nuts from there, which reminded me of Patema Inverted, right down to the rickety bridge over a huge vertical shaft. While chasing what seems to be a hologram of a girl from Tooru’s surreal recurring dream in which she’s writing a large and complex mathematical proof on the sidewalk, Tooru and Kyouka fall down that shaft and end up in a totally different world, one that looks more like present day Japan than their futuristic, overly stuffy Utopia.

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While exploring, they find a recently-murdered guy and end up in a firefight. Again, they put their school training to good use. I’m not sure how you can dodge a steady stream of bullets with acrobatics, but nor do I care, because as I said, it’s fun to watch them twist and bound through the air.

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That brings us to the “DundunDUNNNN” moment at the end, where the gunman pursuing them shows his face and reveal that that he’s Tooru…too. There’s Two Toorus. To quote Neo: “Whoa.”

Unlike Plastic Memories, events unfolded in a way I was able to engage in, and without a wildly fluctuating tone. The characters here are pretty bland too,  but I prefer a couple who are on good terms in stories like this to, say, a dense dunce and a tsundere (or doll-like whitehair).

Tooru and Kyouka both like each other, and Tooru’s robot doesn’t too closely resemble a human. There are also a lot of weird sci-fi mysteries I’m eager to see explained, as long as it isn’t through infodumps. Gunslinger Stratos is nothing special, but it’s tolerable, has quantifiable strengths it largely sticks to, and most importantly, never rubbed me the wrong way.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita – 01

High school Momozono Nanami’s deadbeat father runs off and she is saddled with all his gambling debts and evicted from their apartment. She saves a man named Mikage in the park from a dog. He gives her a kiss on the forehead and a map to a place to stay. It turns out to be a shrine, and she has inhereted Mikage’s role as the local earth deity. Her first challenge is to get the divine messenger, the fox demon Tomoe – to accept it and contract with her. Doing so also requires a kiss, which she delivers while falling from a tree, and he saves her from a demon hag.

Like Chuunibyou, this first look at Kamisama Hajimemashita is an amusing, charming affair, centered on two disparate characters – a girl and a guy – who end up connecting in the end. In that series, it’s a weird girl and a guy trying to be normal; in this case it’s a normal human girl who has fallen backwards into godhood, and must contract with a weird guy with fox ears. Who is deliciously willful and selfish until that sealing peck on the forehead. Particularly funny is quick, cruel dismissal of Nanami’s sob story. Their dialogue is very snappy throughout.

Nanami makes a good impression as a down-on-her-luck girl who is willing to give this thing a go, but that initial gung-ho-ness bumps up against the massive duties her position entails; duties all but impossible without Tomoe’s help. But she also shows her stubborn in that she’s not about to grovel and beg to someone who’s been nothing but rude and contemptuous. Tomoe showed before that his “bark is worse than his bite” so she rolls the dice and falls off that tree betting he’ll follow her down, and that’s when she plants a big ol’ smooch on him. Not necessarily because she likes him (yet), but because she has to.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Dantalian no Shoka 9

Huey and Dalian travel to a fantastical land where they meet the young apprentice and granddaughter of a powerful shamaness. A plague of giant insects are threatening her town and its people, and even the poisonous herbal salve her grandma concocts is ineffective against the fearsome beasts. Huey eliminates the scourge by reading a book from Dalian. It’s then revealed that the two are back in Huey’s house, going through and fumigating books infested with bookworms; the entire story took place in the world of one of those books.

Hey, now that’s more like it! After an underwhelming, dawdling episode last week, the series goes a little high concept by dumping us in a totally new world, richy-animated in gorgeous hand-scrawled pencil and pastel. The world, and its heroine Ira, instantly reminded me if that nature-lovin’, ass-kickin’, heart-o-gold hippie princess, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. That’s a good thing. Ira doesn’t play a huge role here, but I do like how we’re first thrust into this world from her perspective, and we only meet up with Huey and Dalian when she meets them by pure chance.

The swarms of giant insects – or Baziumu – similarly reminded me of Nausicaä’s Ohmu. They don’t last long as a threat, but the brief period that they are, they’re sufficiently frightening. But the fact that they represent actual bookworms attacking the book – and the story and illustrations therein – is superb. In effect, this was another episode of Dalian and Huey hanging out in his house, only this week they were transported to another world rather than bothered by their imbecilic friends. Good stuff!


Rating: 4