Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 06

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This latest episode of ARISE further reinforces the quality that make it by turns engrossing an frustrating: its complexity. The show is to be commended for not compromising its narrative principles or pandering to a lower common denominator. But that rigidness makes it more practical as a binge than stepping in every week, especially when there are a lot of other shows, anime or otherwise, on one’s weekly watchlist. This makes sense, considering this show was originally a series of movies.

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I’d argue the “alternative architecture” was a blessing and a curse to ARISE: while I feel it might be more cohesive and easier to follow in its previous format, without airing as television broadcast, I would have never been exposed to it to begin with. That being said, its translated structure lends a certain uniqueness that can’t be ignored.

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I also have to commend ARISE for not holding back in the action department, though I do wish quieter scenes could have been animated with as great care as said action scenes were composed. The amazing stunts Kusanagi & Co. pull off as if it’s just another day at the office really pull me in and make me feel comfortable, despite the fact there’s a bit too much AI in the world being portrayed to be too comfortable.

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But yeah, this week things get very complex indeed, with the operation to retrieve colonel’s module being hamstrung by an illusory world before Kusanagi can break free, and is then saved by her new ally VV, whom I described as the CIA equivalent of Kusanagi. They work well together; as well as I imagine Kusanagi and Batou would work together if they weren’t on opposite sides for most of this episode.

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This complex scene of Kusanagi, Batou, Paz and VV all trying to get the upper hand on each other best illustrates the attention to detail and creativity of the direction. Not to mention, this is a show where many characters don’t have flesh-and-blood bodies, and thus can take quite a bit more punishment, not to mention lose a limb or two and keep on tickin’.

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The plot is even more complex than the action, but boils down the Colonel, Ishikawa, Batou, and everyone else in their unit being infected with fales memories of a humanitarian mission, when they were actually confronted with guerillas.

The Colonel takes his life so he can’t be used by whomever infected him to cause any more harm. Batou wouldn’t mind keeping memories that portrayed him as something other than a “dog trained to kill”, even if they’re fake. Kusanagi’s response is both cold and accurate: he’s a whiny bitch.

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As for the final twist: VV, who had helped Kusanagi up until now, was in actuality an AI infected with false memories that allowed her to masquerade as a human, who won’t rest until she’s found out why; ironically one of the more human compulsions for self-discovery and validation for one’s existence.

Unfortunately, achieving her goal would mean throwing the world into more political turmoil than it’s already in, so she’s gunned down. It’s certainly an unexpected twist—almost too unexpected—but I appreciated the guts of the show to take things one step deeper.

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Even if the mastermind behind the insidious false memory-producing virus remains at large, thanks to Kusanagi and her variably loyal (looking at you, Saito) fledgling unit, Pandora wasn’t fully unleashed to the world and Japan is safe for another week.

In a common problem in anime, Kusanagi needs to recruit more members for her club or its registration will be revoked, so she reaches out to another one of the bes tin the business, Batou, with an enticing offer: to let him feel like more than a trained killing dog…without the aid of false memories.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 05

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In our next arc, Kusanagi has yet to form her “best defense is a good offense” unit, but has to react to a new threat in which another disgraced colonel is using city-wide Domination to control nearly all of the city’s 20 million vehicles, thus holding their occupants hostage, while he works to air all of the Japanese military’s dirty laundry to the world. Clearly, the public story of what happened in Qhardistan differes from what really happened.

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It’s an episode in which a lot of the mundance automation technology both the people of Japan and Kusanagi herself take for granted is suddenly all messed up. Luckily for Motoko, an older-model motorcycle passes her by when he late model slows down and refuses to respond to her inputs, and one of her many badass moments of this week, she manages to maneuver the bike into and through a delivery van trying to take out Logicoma (whose memory apparently contains incriminating data). Oh, and Batou’s driving the van. I guess these two still aren’t quite friends yet, huh?

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It’s on to the next badass moment, as Motoko and her comparatively pint-sized Logicoma have to take on not one but two heavy-duty military mechas that would like nothing else than to take her out. She seems to be in a bad way when all of a sudden an ally leaps out of the shadows and disables the enemy mechs.

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This ally, code named “VV”, looks like the American equivalent of Kusanagi, and wants to assist her in locating and deactivating or destroying Colonel Soga’s means of hacking the city’s systems and prevent Pandora from being opened, as such an action would likely cause problems for America’s government as well. VV’s arrival inspires Kusanagi to finally assemble her team; one member by gunpoint (Saito), another who volunteers (Pazu).

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But in the middle of their op, once they successfully infiltrate the suspected enemy base, Kusanagi herself is trapped in a mental construct of Soga’s making. He knows she’s after him, and warns her she won’t succeed in stopping him from carrying out his mission. Soga is certainly a tech whiz, and may even have a good reason for doing what he’s doing; a reason Kusanagi can relate to. But her first loyalty is to the state, and despite this initial setback I expect her to give Soga a run for his money.

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