BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

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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.

Fruits Basket – 07 – On the Outside Looking In

Tooru arrives for her mysterious meeting with Hatori and is brought to her office by Momiji. Hatori doesn’t mince words: when most of the members of the Souma clan aren’t aware of the Zodiac members’ secret—only around fifty “insiders” do—it’s an “outrage” that Tooru knows, and she should leave the Soumas and never have anything to do with them again.

It seems like a classic case of trying to scare someone off by making things sound far worse than they are, but when Momiji explains why Hatori is so resolute. He once had a girlfriend named Kana, who was a Souma but an “outsider.”

They loved each other deeply, and asked Akito for permission to marry, but Akito blew up at them, resulting in Hatori being blinded in one eye by glass from a shattered mirror. Kana blamed herself, and that blame turned into an obsession and an illness. The only way Hatori could save her was by wiping her memories of loving him.

Tooru is empathetic of Hatori’s position, but doesn’t want to leave Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure, the latter of whom suspected Hatori was up to no good and comes to put Tooru’s mind at ease, as Hatori is prone to over-drama. Still, he and Momiji have New Years-related matters to attend to, so Hatori escorts Tooru back to the front gates.

While doing so, Tooru gets lost in thought and slips down some stairs, and Hatori catches her, which technically means hugging her, and transforms into his zodiac animal: a dragon. But not a big dragon; a tiny, defenseless seadragon. As Tooru rushes to get him in water, he remembers this is exactly how Kana first reacted when she learned his secret.

That takes us down memory road, to when Hatori’s ice-cold heart was warmed by Kana’s warmth. A man who neither knew nor felt he needed love suddenly found himself not just receiving it, but giving it back in return. Kana accepted him for who he was, and if anything only loved him more because of it.

Things went seriously pear-shaped when they attempted to ask for Akito’s approval, an absolute must, considering he’s the boss. But Akito sees Kana as nothing but an outsider, not someone who would do anything about “the curse.” He says a great many terrible things to Kana that day, including that she’s to blame for Hatori if he goes blind.

That sets Kana on a downward spiral that leads to her memory being wiped, which was probably what Akito was going for. I must say in my limited exposure to him I’m not a fan of Akito…but hey, I wasn’t a fan of Hatori last week and here we are, seeing him in all his humanity, passion, and tragedy. Perhaps Akito’s story is even worse than Hatori’s!

Hatori comes to on a bench beside a worried Tooru, who then runs off to find his shoes that she dropped. While she’s gone, a newly-engaged Kana walks past as her friends congratulate her. From her perspective, Hatori never loved her, but it doesn’t change the fact she finds him more handsome than the man she’s going to marry; his dream man.

Tooru returns, it starts to snow, and when Hatori asks what Kana told her, she has the same answer Kana had: when snow melts, it doesn’t simply  mean water, but that Spring is coming. Tooru reminds Hatori of Kana on more than one occasion; he just hopes she doesn’t suffer the same fate.

As for “the curse,” Tooru tries to ask Shigure about it but he demurs, stating it’s not quite time to tell her, should he choose to do so. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to learn the Soumas’ secret; perhaps she’ll learn about the curse through plain happenstance…

Sansha Sanyou – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch a show about three colorful characters, voiced by three young, hungry seiyuu, coming together and shooting the breeze about nothing in particular…but mostly food!

That’s what we have in Sansha Sanyou, a minimal-stakes slice-of-life comedy with cute design and crisp, clean visuals that I’m seriously considering as my feel-good pick of the Spring

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As I said, Hayama (blonde class prez with a well-concealed mean streak), Futaba (energetic girl who loves to eat) and Yoko (purple-haired former rich girl struggling with making friends) are all voiced by relatively new, inexperienced actresses (Futaba’s seiyu is a pure rookie).

You can hear their infectiously fresh exuberance in their line delivery, much like Sore ga Seiyu. They also happen to have decent chemistry, comic timing, and range. They’re young, but they’re talented. Their efforts are backed up by appealingly above-average, colorful character design and naturally-flowing dialog that takes some interesting and unexpected turns.

I like how Hayama and Futaba, already good friends, decided to become friends with Yoko just because various random circumstances brought them together, and…well, why not? At the same time, Yoko is working hard to fit into “commoner society” now that she’s no longer super-rich.

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Yoko’s doting worry-wort semi-stalker of a former servant is a nice touch, as is her legitimate elation over receiving freebies, her worries over the cost of everything (hence her bread crusts being her main repast) and her earnest attempts at cooking for her friends, who enjoy the variable results without complaint, as good friends do.

Hayama also shows she’s got a hard edge behind her adorable demeanor, making a challenging classmate cry off-camera then shrugging it off. And while Futaba is the simplest of the three characters, she knows Hayama well and they bounce off each other’s eccentricities nicely.

There’s nothing overly complicated here, and that’s the point. The only question is whether I’ll have enough time to watch it, because it’s definitely good enough to keep.

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