AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

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AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

AICO – 06 – 99 Problems and a Burst Ain’t One

The closer the team gets to Primary Point, the more tricky it is to predict how the Matter will react, and what will work against it. Kaede’s recklessness puts the entire operation in danger when the Beetle is damaged and they lose precious time.

Maybe it’s the stress of their environment, but all of a sudden the Divers I touted as consummate professionals are bickering like siblings in the back seat. Ah well, Kaede gonna Kaede, I guess.

Back at Kiryu Hospital, Isazu and Nanbara complete their plot to edge Kurose out in order to maintain control of the Area situation. As villains go, these two are pretty dang dull, sitting in cars and offices and calmly betraying their college friend.

While I understand Isazu’s intense desire to save his daughter, what good will reviving her, or the Japanese economy, do if there’s no Japan, or world, in which to live or prosper? If he’s obsessed to the point of madness, he hides it well.

One thing made clear six episodes in is that AICO’s forte is clearly not characters. Nearly everyone is either derivative, generic, annoying, or a combination of same. Take Kanzaki. We still know almost nothing about him (though I somewhat suspect he may be artificial too), except that he loves bossing Aiko around and otherwise treating her like dirt.

The person he’s dealing with is Aiko’s real brain in a fake body, yet he treats her like she’s a full-on robot without a shred of humanity. He’s also oddly petty in that treatment, even scolding her for trying to make the Divers’ rations more palatable. Maybe he’s curt because time is an issue; maybe he’s an artificial dude who resents Aiko’s emotions…or maybe he’s just a dick.

The show’s saving grace continues to be its action and the heightened peril the nearly omnipresent Malignant Matter presents. Our infiltration team is a bunch of tiny, puny humans who are only kept alive by highly sophisticated technology, the proper training and experience to utilize it, nerves of steel, and a disturbingly high amount of luck.

This particular episode also benefits from having Aiko actually defy Kanzaki, not only by making a tasty meal for her protectors, but serving an ultimately decisive role as resident Matter Detector. If she’d listened to Kanzaki, and sat back and done nothing, the mission would have surely failed. Nice to finally see some agency from her.

Their successful passage through a devilish gauntlet of active Matter from above, below, and all sides, the Divers also manage to work out their interpersonal issues, particularly when it comes to Kaede being a loose cannon. Kaede almost runs out of her famous luck, but is saved by the same guy who grabbed her by the neck and chewed her out earlier, while the rich kid loses an arm, but it’s artificial and easily replaced.

Some may actually be disappointed by the show’s unwillingness to pare down the admittedly quite large Diver crew; losing some players would certainly raise the stakes. Perhaps it’s holding its powder until they get closer to Primary Point…and even then, mission success is not assured.

Aiko may have saved the day, but attacking Matter has a deleterious effect on her, and the surgery can’t proceed if she’s knocked out and can’t be revived. More pressing is the fact their way forward is blocked by more Matter, while a CAAC team is hot on their heels.

Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 12 (Fin)

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We left Nagate in a very bad, but at the same time very sexy way, with placenta in the precise form, sound, and probably even smell of his first love Shizuka, whom he’d once shared a very meaningful period of time while stranded in a cockpit. But the senses are deceiving; this is not Shizuka and never was, it’s a predator, and she looks primed to eat him.

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Or…well, do something with him. The French kiss she/it initiates, and the whole slow pace of her attack on Nagate, suggests something other than mere feeding. She’s taking her time with him, restraining him, and about to become one with him; I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Benisuzume either conducting an experiment of her own or something built into her genetic profile.

In any case, Beni didn’t count on Izana being inside Nagate’s frame. She’s able to use her bionic arm to activate aux power and close the neck airlock, separating the Shizuka placenta from the rest of Beni and releasing Nagate, who stabs her in her core, causing not one but two of those sweet, sweet bubble disintegration sounds that tell you a Gauna’s gone for good.

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That’s not the end of this decisive battle, however; Planet Nine remains a battlefield, and Nagate, the crippled Tsumugi, Izana, and whatshisname are soon surrounded by seemingly all the Gauna on the planet. Nagate prepares for another last stand, but he’s bailed out by a cavalry of Hayakazes led by Samari, who have finally arrived in orbit, one hundred strong (grouped in 25 Hayakazes). As Nagate and Tsumugi serve as bait, the rest of the planet’s Gauna are mopped up with overwhelming firepower.

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It’s a great feeling when that last Gauna disintegreates, but due to the nature of this show, it never felt quite right to let my guard down until everyone was back aboard Sidonia, and even then, there could have been some ginormous ship-to-ship battle in space to close us out.

Instead, Nagate (with a still-alive nude Placental Shizuka in his arms) carries Tsumugi and launches away from the planet to join the Hayakaze squad, and they return to the mothership without incident.

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With the titular Battle for Planet Nine won, the balance of the episode, and perhaps the Sidonia series, is spent in Epilogue Mode, similar to the last episode of UBW. Nagate is awarded a medal (the first awarded in decades) by Kobayashi in order to continue building him up as the Great Hero to inspire the rest of the soldiers; there’s a party where the Honoka clones cluster around Nagate to Izana’s disapproval.

Nagate asks what’s become of the new Placental Shizuka, and Kunato tells him she’s being treated as a valuable specimen for further research, citing “important things must have a spare.” The march of “progress” goes on, and I imagine it also entails one day creating a spare Nagate.

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The series then ends where it began, which I thought was a nice touch (though my one major gripe about this finale is that we didn’t get to see any more Izana after that awards ceremony). Nagate hadn’t just come a long way in becoming a decorated, respected, and fawned-over pilot and war hero; he also came a long way geographically, as the same journey through the bowels of Sidonia from his cloistered domicile to the rice thresher is played in reverse, only instead of an urchin on the run for theft, he has an entry pass and is welcomed with salutes once the staff knows who he is.

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Nagate inspects the simulator his grandfather and him used to learn how to fight Gauna, giving him the tools to make a contribution to society should he leave the confines of his sheltered home. He did, and he doesn’t regret it. He’s seen and done amazing, extraordinary things with a host amazing people of all stripes.

Yes, he’s still technically a pawn of the junta, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a Knight of Sidonia, who will keep fighting to protect his home and its inhabitants until he draws his last breath—or at least until his new-and-improved Chimera replacement takes over for him!

As for me, I shall deeply miss Sidonia’s dark, gritty, sexy, terrifying, and always gorgeous and impeccably-rendered sci-fi milieu. From the start it’s reminded me of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, only it managed to maintain the mystique of its primary foe (the Gauna remain alien and terrifying by the show’s end; the Cylons, not so much). Sidionia told and showed us a lot,  but never too much; it’s deepest mysteries remained so through to the end.

I really wouldn’t mind a third season, or failing that, a Blame! anime, a peek of which we saw on Nagate’s TV. I want this style of anime to continue.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 11

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Sidonia 2’s second-to-last episode is another brutal, no-holds-barred battle for survival between human and Gauna (and Chimera). Whether it’s in the duel between Tsumugi and Benisuzume or Nagate and seemingly all the other Gauna on the planet, it’s all about staying one step ahead, and constantly worried about looking over your shoulder at the next damn thing that could kill you in the blink on an eye.

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Izana’s battle is more of a race, as she and the lollygagging bearded redshirt pilot run for their lives from an absolutely terrifying Gauna Giant who seems intent on sampling a couple of hors d’oeuvres to go. The show actually subverts the predictable by  keeping the bearded guy alive throughout, but by the end of the episode, who knows who’ll survive this thing.

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They’re driven to the precipice of a cliff, and just when the Gauna’s tentacles are about to grab them, Nagate saves the day with his particle beam. But rescuing the two pilots is only a small and temporary victory; now he has to rendezvous with Tsumugi (who it’s assumed will make quick work of Benisuzume) past a humongous gauntlet of Gauna.

Nagate digs into one of the floating islands and lets loose with his cannon until he’s out of ammo, then takes care of the last three Gauna with his new sword, laughed off earlier as something one would use on themselves, but proving crucial to survival here. And once he defeats every last Gauna that surrounds him, he still has to meet up with Tsumugi.

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As Benisuzume giggles and grunts and gasps while locked in battle with Tsumugi, Mozuku is convinced it’s only a matter of time before the under-matched Beni slips up and gets her core penetrated. She, not Beni, is the “Ultimate Being,” or so it’s been drilled into her psyche. But that superiority affords a certain arrogance that proves decisive. After Tsumugi has blown most of her placenta away, Beni plays possum, and a seemingly human Shizuka crawls out of the placenta.

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In that moment of confusion and possibly fellow feeling, at the sight someone the same size and makeup as her friends, Tsumugi lets her guard down, and Beni jams a stake through her neck and starts sucking out all of her Hyggs particles (i.e. go juice). Now Benisuzume has the upper hand, presumably since she’s not bothered by sentiment, and proceeds to literally nail the poor outsmarted Tsumugi to the wall, almost as bait.

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Nagate saves Tsugumi in the nick of time, but again, only temporarily, as Beni has summoned thousands of her friends to their location, and she herself gloms onto Tsugumori. Nagate blasts her with the beam in his head, but she fires back, blinding him. She then sneaks up from behind and sticks all of her tentacles into his frame’s hull, and all of a sudden it looks like game over…but only if Benisuzume’s only goal was to kill him, which it clearly isn’t, because she forms another human Hoshijiro Shizuka inside his cockpit.

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When “Shizuka” opens her eyes to reveal they’re both human, it resparks debate on what elements of Nagate’s old flame are still extant, and the nature of what it means to be someone, especially someone you love. Is Benisuzume merely taking her time for creulty’s sake, or does she intend to mate with Nagate.

Nagate, for his part, is literally cornered, strapped into his cockpit with absolutely nowhere to go. But Izana and Beardy are still in there somewhere, so it’s not ridiculous to think they might have a role to play in the immediate future in freeing Nagate somehow.

Until then, we’re left with one strange, sexy, frightening scenario: Nagate either about to be killed, fucked, and/or eaten (in no particular order) by a monster with the face and body of his believed-dead first love. Yikes.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 10

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After a season and three-quarters of familiarization with its combat information displays, you know the Sidonia has hit the fan when pilots start turning red, including Izana. Sure, it’s due to a loss of communication, but I still found myself tensing up with apprehension at the sight of those graphics, especially considering you could call Izana and Nagate’s off-camera experience a death flag of sorts, and as I stated last week, none of the other three pilots are anyone we know, and are hence disposable.

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Kobayashi tends to agree with that assessment, as she orders Yuhata to formulate a plan to eliminate the Gauna, not support the recon platoon, a course of action that essentially abandons the platoon to their deaths, Izana included. This is certainly upsetting, but it keeping with Kobayashi’s M.O.

Surprisingly, it’s Kunato who manages to get Nagate and Tsumugi/Mozuku to sortie, stating that it’s as good an opportunity as ever to test both the Tsugumori Mk. III and chimera in non-zero-g anti-Gauna operations. Kunato couldn’t give two shits about Izana or the other recon pilots, but he knows the loss of Izana will negatively affect his “hold” on Tsumugi.

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As Nagati and Tsumugi enter formation and race to Planet Nine, Izana loses her kabi cannon when swarmed by Gauna, and notices they follow the cannon. When she releases her fuel tanks, they follow those as well. These moves buy her some survival time, but the planet is hardly hospitable-looking to humans, and with no fuel and very limited survival provisions, Izana is hoping for a speedy rescue.

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When Nagati and Tsumugi are suddenly separated by a powerful Hyggs beam, and Nagate starts hurtling backwards into the planet’s atmo, it looks like the rescuers are going to need rescuing as well…

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But even though his impact with one of the countless islets floating in the upper atmosphere (which look so tiny when far away, but are actually quite big compared to Tsugumori), his Mark III is tough enough to withstand that impact unscathed. Nagate himself is stunned, but eventually comes to his senses and stands up, very surprised he’s alive.

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But Considering the one who fired at him and Tsugumi turns out to be a resurrected Benisuzume, complete with giggles, will he regret surviving that impact? Tsugumi orders Nagate to find and save Izana while she duels with the red Gauna girl, but Beni looks like her equal in combat, if not her better.

Far from the relative safety of Sidonia, on a strange and hostile planet crawling with Gauna, faced with an old foe previously believed dead, and with Izana plummeting into the soupy clouds to an unknown fate, things couldn’t be worse for Tanikaze Nagate. Can he save his friend and maybe-lover, without losing Tsugumi to Benisuzume? It’s snuck up on us, but there are just two eps left to sort everything out.

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