Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Sagrada Reset – 24 (Fin)

Haruki knows she faces a problem if she believes Asai Kei to be perfect and without flaw: it puts an untenable pressure on him to be flawless in order to continue being the Asai Kei she knows. But until she finds out what that flaw or mistake is within him, she won’t know him as well as she wants.

Fortunately for her, the power of abilities enables her to do just that in this, the final episode of Sagrada Reset. Kei has shifted his focus from Urachi (no longer a threat) to Souma Sumire (who has collapse). He wants to save her, and would like Haruki to put aside her differences with Souma and help him.

Haruki agrees – if Kei shares the memories he has of pre-Reset Harukis, through Sakagami’s ability. Kei agrees, and before you know it, Haruki remembers when she first said she liked Kei (having said it a second time just then), but also finds his mistake, which happened two years ago: when Kei kissed her, she was happy.

Kei apologizes for being an indirect and cowardly; Haruki admits she was the same. It’s a lovely and vital new step forward for this beautifully subtle yet increasingly warm couple.

The easy part thus completed, the hard part commences: Kei wants to “save” Souma, but what does that mean? Apparently, he aims to save her from the weight of her own longing over not being the girl who “won” him, and the intense feelings of perceived inadequacy and budding nihilism that realization cultivates.

He isn’t saving her because he’s a hero; he’s saving her because she’s his friend, and he wishes for her happiness to be “second-best” in the world (Kei makes no bones about who is Number One in his heart).

In Kei’s apartment in the dream world, Souma is sitting in the dark, hiding her face because she’s been crying. Kei takes her face in his hand and tells her however she’s feeling now, he can see a future, however far off, where she’s happy and smiling, despite him not being hers.

Souma is afraid of the prospect of being able to smile under such circumstances—where she essentially has lost to Haruki, and always will, every time. So she challenges Kei to one last game: correctly say her name, and she’ll go along with his plan for her.

But if he fails, she wins, and he’ll become hers, living in the dream world with him, like two stones, never being bothered by the world outside in the least. Cut to the end of the game, when Haruki appears to speak to Souma, and Souma holds out a stone she says is Kei, and tells her she’s won.

Haruki isn’t buying it; there’s no way Souma Sumire would wish for such a thing, and accuses her of having a “tantrum” and waiting for her to come and hand Kei over. Haruki tells Souma that she used to be able to use her ability by herself…until a reset led to Souma’s death and hurt Kei.

It stands to reason then, that if Souma’s turning of Kei into a stone also hurts him, there’s no reason to hold back and reset by herself again. But before she gets the word out, she holds back, because she believes that despite the stone trick, Souma really does have Kei’s best interests in mind.

Since Haruki isn’t buying it, and sees the stone trick as a means to get her to use her Reset of her own will, Souma tells her why: If Kei is going to assume responsibility for all of Sakurada’s abilities, he’s going to need someone by his side to help him, and if necessary, provide a check against him hurting himself. Souma concedes that Haruki is the best candidate for that job.

With both Haruki and Souma affirming their roles regarding Kei, Souma wakes up first, and Kei is watching her because her bed is by the moon and she looks pretty. That’s…kinda weird, but Souma doesn’t mind (at least, in this one little instance, she “beat” Haruki for once), and pledges herself to providing a voice of council to Kei, who agrees to listen to that voice.

Souma then shuffles off, and Haruki emerges from behind the curtain around her bed. Souma thought it would be awkward to stick around, while Haruki was embarrassed of seeing her, and lets Kei know that even if he doesn’t (and may indeed never) understand, she and Souma being “moderately adversarial” is “good”, i.e. “natural.”

Finally, Haruki places her hands on the shoulders of her man and tells him she’s thinking of letting her hair grow out, now that she remembers him saying, long ago, how he liked it that way. Now that she has those memories back, Haruki can love Kei of both the past and present instead of merely the latter.

That deeper understanding and affection, as well as Urachi and Souma’s respective redemptions, were only made possible through the existence—and judicious use of—abilities. So even if Asai Kei isn’t righteous or just or a hero, he was right to work so diligently to preserve abilities in Sakurada. They were and are the key to his happiness. They are…sacred.

And thus concludes a sometimes slow, sometimes maddeningly opaque, yet also almost always strange, intriguing and wonderfully offbeat show. I appreciated that the finale not showing us the results of Kei accomplishing all he’s set out to do—that would have felt cheap to go down in just one ep.

Instead, all his relationships are now in good standing, putting him in the best position to succeed. I close the book on this series wishing him and his the best in their endeavors to Keep Sakurada Weird.

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 11 (Fin)

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Subete ga F ni Naru was a fun, engrossing, and above all thought-provoking show from beginning to end. Even though the main mystery has been solved, this episode trudges onward with some very long but solid character interactions: first between Saikawa and Miki Shiki, then between Saikawa and Moe. By the end, has introduced a whole new brace of head-scratching mysteries to ponder during the digital end credits.

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Dr. Magata makes good on her promise she and Saikawa will meet again far sooner than Saikawa expected, considering she’s on the lamb, but something he said in their sensory deprivation meeting intrigued her to the extent she felt the need to visit him in person and chat a little, before surrendering herself to the police. That something was “You can’t smoke underwater,” and she opts to try one of cigarettes (her first ever).

They talk of life and death; her view (though she doesn’t say it’s the only view) that the latter is the natural state of things, while life itself is “a kind of illness” that death cures. She also considers the human compulsion to want to interfere in the lives of others—or to want one’s own life interfered with by another—is essentially what love is.

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As we see the ship at sea for the first time since the pilot, I pondered what it represented, as Shiki tells Saikawa that they have similar “structures”—other selves created to protect “the real him.” But Saikawa isn’t Shiki, nor does she believe he could ever become her. At least, he’d need “far more than one hundred years” to do so. It’s not meant as an insult, just a fact, and Saikawa accepts it as the two part.

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The Lego Shiki leaves him with is another question mark, but after pondering his encounter in his office (during which time Moe tentatively enters, makes coffee, and promises to leave right afterwards), he realizes the three “policemen” who surrounded her weren’t policemen at all, but guys she hired to act that way. Shiki is still out in the wind. Saikawa laughs out loud, not just because she got him once more, but because I think he’s happy she’s still free.

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His talk with her got him thinking: “love has no single shape.” It could be being killed, as it might have been for Shiki and her daughter. Or it could be solving the magic trick someone else loved outsmarting others with, then being the one who saves the life of someone who had no one else,  and telling silly jokes that make her irritated or tear up.

Saikawa makes no bones about him and Moe being very different people, but that doesn’t matter; two people don’t need to be the same to be in love. He’s willing to accept all of Moe’s “contradictions” if she’s willing to have him. This was a love that has been brewing for some time, but only his experience with Dr. Magata shook him out of the impasse they were in and take the next step into something like a romance, which Moe has been ready to take for some time.

The camera plays with the positions of Moe and Saikawa as they go on an apparent date together, only showing them separate from each other at first, not quite in the same location at once, until they are in the frame together. Moe also learns that Gido is Saikawa’s little sister, so she never had any competition to begin with (not to mention Saikawa never wanted to kiss her).

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On that happy note, we leave Saikawa and Moe, and shift to a time and place we know not when or where. Shiki is on a camel in the desert with her daughter, teaching her that even though humans do not really exist for the sake of people and things around them, they cannot help but assign such reasons to exist as for the sake of others, or to help everyone. “They always want an answer”, and that want drives them. We cut to the two of them in the kitchen of her locked apartment in the lab, where Shiki urges her daughter never to stop seeking those answers even after she is gone, which is strange, because the theory was that she outlived her daughter when she murdered her.

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The final shot is the most perplexing, but not negatively so: “Michiru” introduces “Kishio”, the apparent name of her daughter, in that seascape with the giant shipwreck. Where is this place? Did it ever exist, or is it just in Shiki’s mind? We saw Shiki interact with Saikawa in the real world, but these last scenes threaten to upheave all that came before. Then again, Shiki did speak of dying without suffering and not fearing death.

After getting so many satisfying answers and explorations of philosophy, existence, life, death and time…there are still more questions. But as is the case with so much in life, we must be content with the answers we have, and with the fact that we’ll never find them all.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 10

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Here we are at last: the long-awaited, extended reunion between Yuu and Mika, and I have to say…I was not disappointed. While other events took place on the margins, this is all about them, essentially a two-person play, with Yuu’s philosophy winning the day, at least for now.

Mika, absolutely feening for blood, takes the still-unconscious Yuu into a grocery store where little kids are hiding out. It’s all he can do to stop from popping one of their heads off and drinking the insides. But being called a “monster” by that kid is enough to stop him. He still has a measure of control, but it’s weakening.

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After a brief chat with Asuramaru, Yuu wakes up, and Mika pounces on him as well. The difference is, Yuu doesn’t react the way the kid did. In fact, when Yuu figures out his blood will save Mika, he offers it willingly. It’s the least he can do for his family. Mika is appalled; he’s spent all this time resisting drinking human blood to avoid becoming a full, immortal vampire, and now Yuu is essentially telling him to toss aside the rest of his humanity to essentially scratch an itch that will never go away afterwards.

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But you know what? Yuu doesn’t want to hear it. He’s not going to let Mika die, and even if Mika becomes a vampire, that won’t change the fact that he’s family and means everything to him. So Mika gives into Yuu’s kindness and practicality, and drinks deep. It’s an pointedly sensual scene. After drinking, Mika’s eyes turn red, but he remains essentially Mika. But he’s also still alive, which is all Yuu wanted. Mika thinks it’s not normal, but Yuu offers, who cares? What matters is they’re together again.

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After being separated and being cared for by Guren, Yuu forced himself to survive (as the kids hiding in the store continue to do). He was driven by revenge but also lived in hope someone who needed him would one day come around. That someone was Mika, who wanted to save Yuu today but ends up being the one saved. He realizes Yuu has become much stronger than he was, and it gladdens him.

That doesn’t free Mika of his intense distrust and hatred of humans, but he can’t stop Yuu from returning to them, even at the edge of a sword. If Mika gets in the way of him and the rest of his family, he’ll push him aside. But he’ll also welcome assistance. Mika admits Shinoa and the others saved him, and agrees to help, but will only help save the four of them. That’s enough for Yuu; they can negotiate the details later.

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As Shinoa & Co. arrive at an ominously empty airport with no vehicles to assist their retreat, Mika and Yuu drive to their location, and Mika takes the drive as an opportunity to tell Yuu what he’s been meaning to tell him all along, which he hopes will finally sway him to his line of thinking: they, the Hyakuka kids, were subjects of human experimentation furthered by the vampires and Demon Army. The humans who started the experiments ended up screwing up and killing off the world’s adults. Yuu knew he was a subject, but didn’t know about the apocalypse it caused.

See, says Mika, this is why you can’t trust humans. Instead, he wants to pull a U-turn and run away with Yuu to someplace far away; another paradise where they can be happy and free together. But again, Yuu shows how much he’s grown; even moreso than Mika. There is no paradise awaiting them out there. There never was. The last time they tried, their family was killed, and all they had to show for it was the present situation.

There’s no place else to run. And while some humans, like Kureto, experimenting on Shiho’s sister Mirai to produce the Seraph of the End, aren’t to be trusted or relied upon to not end the world (or what’s left of it), Yuu is still a human himself, and there are other humans he does trust and love who need his help. They, along with Mika, are why he’s survived this long, against all odds. So he won’t run away; he’ll run to them.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 02

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Professor Saikawa leads a group of college students on a camping trip to Himaka Island, but as far as Moe is concerned, it’s a golden opportunity for just the two of them to spend some quality time together outside of the university, smitten as she is for the young professor.

As much as she was looking forward to this trip (according to her butler), she gets pouty whenever the subject of the island’s most (in)famous inhabitant, Magata Shiki, comes up. Could it be she pulled strings to contacte Magata and had that recorded conversation just to get to better know the person she’s battling for Saikawa’s attention and enthusiasm?

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Once they arrive at the island and set up camp, Saikawa is quick to branch off on his own, as is his wont, while Moe is just as quick to join him, the two of them alone like she prefers. Here Moe shows a little more dimension beyond infatuation when she calls Saikawa out, asking straight up why he keeps her around “if he doesn’t like her.”

Saikawa’s frank response—that he doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to outside of work hours, such as the present time—appeases Moe, but also emboldens her to want to go to the beach at night and drink alone with him; but Saikawa demurs, pulling the age card, even though he knows full well despite her looks Moe is nearly twenty, and capable of making these kind of decisions.

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Then there’s a raven-haired maiden in a white shift being driven by the director of the Magata Lab. Curiously, she demands the same basic things that Moe demands: to see the beach at night, drink alcohol, and the like. Furthermore, she inquires as to what the director’s wife is up to and what his own obligations for the evening are, then places her hands upon his as he clutches the gearshift and gives him a look that’s equal parts seduction and menace.

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To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on in that car, or even who the girl is: is it Magata’s little sister, whom the lab’s second-in-command helpfully informs Moe and Saikawa is off retrieving when Moe’s fake headache grants them access? Or is it Shiki herself? We see that Moe is either also interested in learning more about Magata, or is doing what she feels is the best way to get to Saikawa: by helping him meet his idol.

As for the lab itself, arriving there, exploring it, and being introduced to the various employees, it all has the flavor of an Agatha Christie novel, complete with shifty expressions, mysterious loyalties and backgrounds…and a locked room, wherein Magata Shiki herself has apparently dwelt for fifteen years without stepping outside…

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…A streak that appears to end after an apparent system-wide bug dramatically flashes the lights as a white-veiled, red-lipped Shiki, or something looking just like her which Moe insists is Shiki, blasts out atop one of the robotic trays that carried headache medicine to Moe not ten minutes earlier.

Naturally, Moe uses this frightening experience to grasp her beloved professor’s arm tightly, but something tells me that despite Shiki’s murderous past, she’s not going to be a physical threat so much as a psychological one, a possibility reinforced by the director’s monologue about his life being “ruled…and toyed with”, or rather wanting it to be “ruled…and toyed with”, by the girl in his car.

Again, still not entirely clear what’s going on, but I’m definitely intrigued, if a bit bemused.

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Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled from Paradise

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Hannah Brave (Braverade): It’s been a while since we last got together and watched a movie as a trio, so when I came upon a solid-looking film written by Urobuchi Gen (Aldnoah.Zero, Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass, Gargantia) and directed by Mizushima Seiji (Fullmetal Alchemist, Gundam 00, Natsuiro Kiseki, UN-GO), I thought I’d corral the staff (everyone but the busy Oigakkosan) and kick back for some shared big-budget sci-fi entertainment. Here’s Zane to start us off.

Zane Kalish (sesameacrylic): Let’s see…BOOBS! Agh, let me start over. 98% of humanity has left earth (or, to my mind, expelled themselves) and abandoned their physical bodies to live in the Utopian cyber-society called DEVA.

Our heroine, Angela Balzac (not un-ironically named for the author of The Human Comedy, and voiced by the awesome Kugimiya Rie), comes from that all-digital world, and as an officer in System Security, is responsible for preserving the status quo.

That means going where she’s sent. So when an Earth-based hacker named “Frontier Setter” offers the citizens of DEVA the chance to travel the stars aboard the Genesis Ark, Angela transfers her consciousness into a artificially-created body and travels to Earth to deal with the threat.

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Preston Yamazuka (MagicalChurlSukui): Once there, she meets her guide Dingo, a charming, Han Solo-esque rogue. Following close behind him is a huge swarm of giant sandworms, and he has her help slaughter them so he can sell the meat to locals. Then Dingo deactivates the network link on her mecha, rendering it a useless hulk that he sells for scrap.

At this point you may be saying “Wow, this guy’s a dick!”, but taking Angela off the network was actually a good idea considering she’s after a master hacker. And Angela gives as good as she gets, dick-wise

Hannah: Indeed. The opening act is all about the clash of cultures between Angela’s clean, gleaming, sterile Utopian DEVA and Dingo’s dusty, dirty, slimy, crude world. The Angela of this early part of the film is insuffrably arrogant and condescending, which makes sense considering where she’s from. She also refuses any kind of help or offers of food and rest, stating that time is of the essence and she wants to complete the mission by herself.

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Zane: Those refusals, borne out of her independent spirit and her pride (she’s not going to rely on some primitive earth ape!) come back to bite Angela pretty hard, as she learns that living on earth, in a body, isn’t so easy. When she gets cornered by some unsavory sorts in a town alley, she can only fight them so long (and a kick-ass fight it is) before she runs out of gas.

Either due to a lack of food and rest or some kind of bug, Angela takes ill, and Dingo must nurse her back to health. This is the first time her armor starts to crack and I feel sympathy for her, but it won’t be the last. But it wasn’t just arrogance that led to her illness; it was ignorance, having never been in a physical body, she had no baseline for what was supposed to feel normal or abnormal.

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Preston: Once Angela’s better, she and Dingo track down a supplier of a substance that can be used for rocket fuel, who lets them monitor a buy. Curiously, Frontier Setter sends only remote-controlled vintage robots, many of them custom-designed, on the deal.

Then the couple finds a lone robot that seems like more of a welcoming party than a sentry, and they learn the truth: “Frontier Setter” isn’t a human being, it’s the AI for the Genesis Ark project, which has been left on for more than a century, and is not only carrying out its original directive (remotely building the Ark up in orbit), but has gained sentience. Enter WALL-E comparisons (especially since DEVA is a lot like that film’s Axiom)!

Hannah: This encounter and revelation is the point at which the film becomes more than a sci-fi unlikely buddy flick and enters more philosophical ground, the likes of which Asimov and Dick often tread upon. Frontier Setter is an independent sentient artificial Intelligence in a world where most of humanity has adopted virtual collective existence out in orbit.

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Zane: What’s fascinating about Setter is how Dingo has more in common with him, with regards to everything form what humanity is and should be, to rock music (Setter even writes his own based on what he’s heard), than Dingo has with Angela. Angela, and the place she’s from, is far more alien. Body of flesh, body of metal, doesn’t matter; they think the same.

Hannah: The encounter also marks the successful completion of Angela’s mission. When Setter arranges the necessary equipment to zap her back to DEVA (he lives to serve humans, after all), Angela prepares to leave, but not without offering her heartfelt thanks to Dingo for all he’s done for her.

She also offers him DEVA citizenship, and without putting on the hard sell, simply asks him why he prefers Earth. His powerful response is a veritable thesis on the human condition and questions like “Where are we going?”.

Preston: Angela considers physical bodies a kind of “flesh prison”, but Dingo thinks she’s swapped that prison for an even more insidious prison of the mind, in which society is always assessing and judging itself and doling out resources proportional to a person’s usefulness to society.

That’s ideal for Angela, but anathema for Dingo, and probably Setter to, were he to upload to DEVA. It’s a great exchange because neither party is totally wrong or right; humanity has always survived by compromising between extremes.

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Zane: Angela was clearly on Earth too long, because upon making her report to her superiors, she is surprised to learn they don’t recognize the handshake promise of a “rogue AI” that could potentially destroy DEVA (even though he’d never ever do that), and consider Angela’s return to DEVA without “completing her mission” a serious blunder on her part. Then she refuses to return to Earth to destroy Frontier Setter, and the DEVA brass imprisons her into a frightening void that eventually takes the form of an eerie forest of loneliness.

Hannah: So Angela did catch a bug down on Earth: a bug in the form of a different way of thinking from the rigid dogma of DEVA, which believes all potential threats must be eliminated without review. And in her and particularly Dingo’s interaction with Setter, she’s come to think of the AI as just as much a person as any human, digitized or no.

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Preston: That new-found respect and empathy for Setter and his desire to explore the galaxy has thoroughly transformed Angela from smug, superior, arrogant, advancement-obsessed automaton to a passionate, independent, thinking, feeling human being.

Setter proves he deserves the esteem when he comes to rescue her from her prison, resulting in an awesome journey through cyberspace that briefly transforms Setter into a pixelated hat with an “F” and Angela into a blocky SD figure.

Zane: Blocky Angela was awesome! But so is regular Angela, who once Setter takes her to the armory of a DEVA defense ship, licks her chops like a kid in a candy store and starts to devise a way to repel DEVA’s massive attack on Setter’s launch site.

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Hannah: After so much time on God’s green earth, it was good to see the film move into space for some truly beautiful kinetic space battle scenes, in which Angela’s Setter-equipped and multiple support-ship-escorted mecha is a far better flyer and shooter than the virtual humans pursuing them.

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Preston: One thing the show is definitely very light on for such an expansive setting is actual human characters with lines, so it’s startling to suddenly see other DEVA security officers screaming across the desert in their mechas, headed Setter’s way.

These girls are exactly like Angela was earlier in the film: absolutely loyal and firm in their belief what they’re doing and only what they’re doing is right and good. As in The Matrix, anyone still “plugged in” is a threat to anyone who isn’t; there’s a relentlessness to their outright refusal to negotiate or even speak to their targets before opening fire.

They still have their proverbial heads in the sand where now Angela has popped hers out and now sees with her own eyes. But it says something about these DEVA humans that it’s just as likely these girls would undergo the very same transformation as Angela if they had the same experiences she had.

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Zane: The show wisely avoids adding a romantic angle to things, with Angela and Dingo having more of a platonic friendship of mutual respect/esteem and lots of mutual life-saving. This is good for two reasons.

First, there’s already a lot of stuff going on in this film, so we didn’t really need a love story as well. Second, in an effort to get a head start on her fellow officers, Angela stopped her physical clone body’s growth prematurely, leaving her with the appearance of a 16-year-old girl.

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Hannah: When confronted with lots and lots of awesome sci-fi action, I’m usually quick to say I could watch this stuff all day, but even I got a little fatigued by the final siege, exciting and amazing a technical achievement as it is. I respected the sequence more than I loved it, simply because it contributes to the fact this film was nearly two hours long and didn’t really have to be.

Preston:  Though things like Angela’s fierce battle faces, jumping from ammo store to ammo store, and Dingo doing what he can with his dune buggy and hidden arsenals, were all very impressive and fun, I won’t deny I too felt some tighter editing was in order leading up to the big finish.

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Zane: As for that big finish, I kinda assumed Setter would find some volunteers aboard DEVA to accompany him to the final frontier. Alas, there were zero takers. Dingo can’t go, ’cause he’s scared of heights. Even Angela declines.

Even though she’s been expelled from the “paradise” of DEVA to live a dirty physical world in a meat cage that requires daily sustenance and sleep, she already has plenty left to experience and explore on earth; she’s not ready to leave it.

Hannah: Setter laments that his century-long mission has failed, but his human friends disagree: to whomever he finds out there on his interstellar travels, Dingo and Angela are confident he’ll make a very good representative of mankind; certainly better than most DEVA inhabitants, and maybe even better than the two of them. He too is a child of humanity, with mechanical feet in both Angela’s world of rules and technology and Dingo’s world of dirt and guitar riffs.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 01 (First Impressions)

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Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is the title of a painting by Paul Gaugain, painted in Tahiti.  He considered the work his magnum opus, and he intended, tried, and failed to take his own life upon its completion. The title is an inscription in the top left corner of the piece, and may have been painted only after the attempted suicide. The three questions paraphrase those asked in a lesson by his liturgy teacher in school, which clearly stuck with the painter.

Those same three basic questions are asked several times in Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, an intriguing mystery show full of precise compositions, dramatic lighting, subtle facial expressions, complicated emotions, philosophical discussion, a striking opening image of a girl sitting beside a beached and decaying shipwreck, and a cute college student who drives an slick new Alfa Romeo 4C to work at the office of her professor, whom she is pretty obviously in love with.

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The cute college student with the bob is Nishinosono Moe. The object of her attentions and affection is Saikawa Souhei. We first see “Where They Were” separately: Saikawa in some kind of awful meeting, Moe getting up and driving to work. Then we see “Where They Are”: simply coexisting in the office; Saikawa reading something on his computer and smoking while Moe makes coffee and waters the plants. Then we go back to “Where Moe Was”, when she “meets” the enigmatic Professor Magata Shiki.

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I say “meet” because Magata communicates through a video feed. But Moe’s encounter with her establishes Moe as academically and philosophically sharp. She’s in over her head with someone of Magata’s towering academic stature, but she comes in confident and with a plan of action, and Magata notices.

Back in the present, Saikawa goes off somewhere, and a lady named Gido arrives whom Moe is pretty sure is her romantic competition, and her mood changes considerably as a result when Saikawa returns. She tries to hash it out with him, but is interrupted by another student, Kunieda.

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When Saikawa goes out to lunch, he invites Moe, who reveals she spoke to Magata, something Saikawa hasn’t done, despite his esteem for the famous professor. Magata also happens to be infamous, due to the allegations she murdered both of her parents (she tells Moe what she told authorities: “A doll did it,” but then she does look very doll-like).

Once again Moe’s alone time with Saikawa is disrupted by interlopers (students Hamanaka and Kushieda). But Moe exploits their presence to plan a trip to the very island where Magata self-exiled herself and now studies at her lab in seclusion. And so now we know “Where They’re Going.”

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Once there, they’re sure to learn more about Magata, who asked the big existential questions—and asked some of her own—when she was only five. Normally, that’d be an indication Magata now has a brain the size of a planet, were it not for Saikawa’s continuing assertion throughout the episode that everyone is born a genius, and grows progressively stupider as they age and learn to interact with others.

Magata, who is a hermit, may have avoided some of that society-driven degradation, and hence Saikawa considers everything he’s accomplished (and he’s a top young mind himself) to only be a drop in the ocean of Magata’s greatness. In other words, the perfect rival for Saikawa’s intellect, as well as Moe’s rival for Saikawa’s attention.

A quiet, mature, contemplative show about very smart adults, morality, mortality, intrigue, and a weird love triangle?—I like where Subete ga F ni Naru is. Will I like where it’s going?

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.