Banana Fish – 06 – All the Good Ones Die First

Ash, Eiji, Shorter, Max and Ibe head north to Ash’s birthplace at Cape Cod, far from the blood and chaos of NYC. The scenery is gorgeous and the air is clean, but the family dynamics have a few warts.

Ash and Griff had different mothers; Ash’s mother forced Griff’s mother out, but then left their Dad. Ash’s Dad welcomes him by calling him a “whore” about six times in two minutes of contact. Ash doesn’t care; he just wants the keys to their now-abandoned birthplace.

It’s a sad, lonely little house. His Dad’s kindly companion Jennifer assures him he’s actually happy to see him; I have no reason to doubt her. She lives with the guy, plus it’s always hard for Dads to express their true feelings, and often cover them up with a bunch of machismo and faux loathing.

At the house they find the clue that indicates that their next destination in discovering the truth of Banana Fish will be Los Angeles, but the truck needs to be fixed before they can set off. Ash and Eiji share a sunset, but Ash tells him there’s nothing there, and he has no feelings for it.

Ash gives Eiji a shooting lesson the next morning, while Ibe talks with Max about how he wants to help Eiji after he lost ability to pole vault competitively. When Max tells Ash’s Dad that he was in Iraq with Griff, he loosens up a little, has a drink with Max, Eiji, Ibe and Shorter.

He tells them how Ash was raped when he was 7 by a coach. It went on for some time but eventually Ash killed him, and the coach was exposed as a serial rapist and murderer. Considering what a cruel and violent childhood Ash endured, it’s no surprise he’s gone on to live a cruel and violent life.

Not only that, but people close to him tend to get caught up in it. Case in point, Golzine’s goons catch up to him and take his Dad and Jen hostage. IN the ensuing fracas Jen gets shot dead and Ash’s Dad takes a bullet in the chest. So yeah, Ash’s record with hostage situations clearly sucks ass.

No matter, when the chips were down  his Pops came through for his son, stalling the authorities so Ash & Co. can escape and get on with their mission. But while Golzine has nobody out west, he forges a quick alliance with Mr. Lee, who does have men in L.A.’s Chinatown. One wonders who among the five-man group will kick the bucket there.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

Banana Fish – 04 – Thoroughly Punished

Arthur gives Eiji a choice—tell him what he knows or watch one of the white coats die—but even when Eiji relents, he still orders the woman’s death, only cementing the axiom that a traitor like Arthur can never be trusted. Shorter manages to rescue Eiji and the two white coats, but at great cost: Griffin is shot when he bursts into the middle of the standoff, and eventually dies from his wounds.

It seemed like a great deal of what Ash was doing was for the sake of his brother, but he doesn’t learn until after he defeats his new bunkmate Bull. Ibe feels responsible for Eiji and wants him to return to Japan now that his life is in danger, but Eiji wants to stay put; he can’t leave Ash now. Ash is also attacked by convicts loyal to Golzine but he manages to handle them thanks to a fork he hid. After that, Max lets him know about Griff’s death, and the two have it out, each giving in to the grief.

As Ash and Max reach a kind of detente, bunkmates once more, the wheels of justice may be slowly turning in Ash’s favor. I certainly hope he’s out of prison soon; the fights and threats of rape have grown stale, especially since it’s clear Ash can handle himself. Even with Griffin dead, Ash probably won’t stop scratching at this itch of a mystery once he gets out, and Eiji will no doubt be by his side in the search for the truth, no matter how many dangers accompany their path.

Banana Fish – 03 – Survive, But Never Repent

When Ash is thrown in the slammer indefinitely, without a trial, Eiji, Ibe and Charlie reach out to Max Lobo, a rough-and-tumble guerrilla journalist who happens to be in the same prison for punching a cop. Max isn’t confident he can actually protect Ash, and when he meets the kid, that confidence withers even more, though he’s impressed that he’s read his column in the Bulletin.

Ash doesn’t particularly help his own case while in prison, lashing out at the first guy who lays hands on him and earning a night in solitary. When he’s out, that same guy finds Ash and rapes him, with Max finding him naked and bruised.

It’s very likely Max had an impossible job; he can never be in the same place as Ash at all times, and even if he is, he’s just one man; easily outnumbered and out-muscled. As for Ash, he takes the assault he’d been dealt out as just doing what had to be done to survive; he’s not dyin

While in medical eating a banana, Ash mutters “Banana Fish”, a term Max knows about and has been researching for the last decade. He’s been able to learn is that it’s the name of a person or organization related to a drug route, but unfortunately the man he was going to meet with after release was the man Ash watched die muttering the words “Banana Fish.”

Max also learns that Griffin—whom he knew while in Iraq and who wigged out from the drug and attacked him, forcing him to shoot back—is Ash’s big brother. Ash is not pleased with how Max handled things with Griffin, and vows to kill him when he gets out. Max seems halfway willing to let him.

During a visit, Ash makes a big show of French kissing Eiji to conceal the fact he used the kiss to get Eiji a message written and rolled into a medicine capsule. That message leads Eiji on a fruitless search for Ash’s at-large ally Shorter Wong…and eventually, right into the clutches of Ash’s betrayer and new boss of the gang, Arthur. D’oh!

I wonder what Ash was thinking, having Eiji go on such a dangerous mission alone (if that was his intention). The kid’s greener than Ed Begley Jr.! Now Ash’s enemies have someone in whose well-being he is invested.

Banana Fish – 02 – Nothing But Trouble

Ash seems like a do-things-for/by-himself kinda guy, so he goes after Skip and Eiji’s kidnappers all on his own…which is not smart. He’s captured immediately, unable to make a move lest the captors (Arthur and Marvin) kill either of their hostages.

While Ash may not possess the strongest strategic mind, he is able to outsmart Marvin, whom he convinces he’ll roll in the hay with but takes the guy down and steps over him. When he, Skip, and Eiji hit a dead end, Eiji reveals his hidden talent: he’s a pole-vaulter. LOL WUT.

He gets over what looks like a 14′-15′ wall, which is pretty good (the all-time record is 20′) but with no padding, Eiji is injured and eventually passes out in the street from blood loss. When he comes to, he gets word to the cops of Ash and Skip’s location, but Ash’s buddy Shorter and his friends make it there first.

In the ensuing fray between Dino’s guys and Ash’s, Marvin puts two bullets in lil’ Skip, and just like that, the kid I thought would be a mildy-annoying recurring sidekick is gone. A couple minutes later, at the end of a chase, so is Marvin—but not by Ash’s hands. He’s framed for murder by Dino’s many minions.

He’s wrapped in a neat-little murder package, what with the overwhelming motive of wanting to kill Marvin. A dirty cop owned by Dino happens to preside over the jurisdiction where Ash was arrested, and sees fit to play videos of porn involving Ash as a child (definitely not NYPD protocol), filling in the blanks of his past quite devastatingly concisely.

Ash knows he can plead innocence all he likes, but the bottom line is Dino has too many people in his pocket. Ash is refreshingly self-aware in his ineptness at staying on top of the game (even if he spent time there due to sheer will and charisma). Also, he fully admits even if he was framed and someone else killed Marvin, that person merely kept him from doing something he’d planned to do one day anyway.

Eiji is deployed by the cops in an attempt to get Ash to blab about Dino & Co., but Ash isn’t having it. He may hate his “dad’s” guts, but he still has his personal integrity to consider. Yet he doesn’t blame Eiji for being the transparent pawn he is; instead, he’s still goddamned impressed Eiji was able to vault himself over that huge wall!

Things continue to not go particularly swell at all for young Ash, as Dino gets a judge he’s friendly with to make Ash’s process as undue as possible, transferring him to a state prison where plenty of Dino’s men are waiting to kill him. (On the subject of men- unless I’m being grossly unobservant, I have yet to a single female character in these two episodes. I’m wondering if we’ll ever see one…)

The cops prepare to reach out to Max Lobo, the convict Eiji’s boss was planning to interview, who’s in the same slammer. I’m sure Ash would like to think he can take care of himself, but particularly in prison I hope he avails himself of any and all assistance offered him. In any case, dude’s an elite-level trouble magnet.

Sagrada Reset – 15

Katagiri Honoka has gotten to a state where she’ll soon stop using her ability, essentially rejecting her “Fake Eden”, an action akin to suicide. The Stray Cat House Man is awake, but insists to Nonoo that she carry on and not worry about him; he doesn’t mind being alone.

Kei calls for a Reset, but before doing so, asks Haruki if there’s anything of note she told Chiruchiru. She lies to his face that there’s nothing, despite the fact the talk with the fake god led to the discovery of her true desire: to “grow up” and become the person with the “greatest worth” to him.

Kei knows she’s hiding something, but lets it go, and the Reset happens. Kei and the others go back in, and Kei tells the Michiru who greets him he wants to help her find her blue bird—her real blue bird.

With the help of Souma, Kei gets a meeting with Chiruchiru and informs him of Katagiri’s impending rejection of the world and the steps that need to be taken to save her—part of their deal where he helps with Michiru’s problem and Chiruchiru will lend him a hand with his “Souma Exit Project” research.

Meanwhile, Nonoo meets back with the STHM and they talk again of friendship, specifically the role of friends: to rid one another of their loneliness. As she asks him for a favor, Michiru, who ran away from Kei, is chased by the monster, only to be rescued in heroic fashion by…Kei.

It’s all part of Kei’s plan to show Michiru, or rather Katagiri Honoka, that the “One Hand Eden” will never be as stable as a “Two Hand” one, of the kind that can only be made and shared between friends, not on one’s own.

While Kei carries out his plan, Haruki has nothing to do so she confronts Souma on a rooftop, asking her her objective (a secret), whether her actions will sadden Kei (maybe, but so be it), and whether she’s Kei’s enemy (she’s not). Okay then, glad we had that little chat! I tell ya, this is one bizarre love triangle…

Kei bows out and is replaced by SHCM, who tells Michiru he was sent to help his friend’s friend who was crying. He talks of the difference between gods (smile for others) and demons (for themselves), and that he considers her the god of this world.

As such, he asks the god to do something about the monster, which destroyed his house…and she does. Katagiri has her real blue bird back and now accepts who she is. The monster is gone, SHCM’s house is back. It would seem Kei has fulfilled his end of the bargain, which means now Chiruchiru will help him with his Souma experiment.

Only we don’t see Chiruchiru again, and Souma herself doesn’t actually want to leave Sakurada, ever. Furthermore, as if twisting a knife, Souma casually points out what Kei erased in the last reset: a Haruki on the cusp of escaping her own One Hand Eden and becoming the “normal girl he had wanted two years ago”.


Ouch. Of course, that’s not to say she’ll never reach that point again; just that it took a unique individual like Chiruchiru to bring it out there and then. And the fact remains, no one is affected more by a reset than Haruki herself.

By resetting again and again, one could say she is going two steps back after one step forward; forever the ideal, perfectly “pure good” human that would otherwise be impossible. And Kei is the one directing those resets.

That final jab by Souma—both its implications for Haruki’s growth and its role in bringing into focus what kind of character Souma has become (or always was)—was compelling, but I’m not sure four episodes of dream world lead-up were quite worth it.

Rather than crescendo, this arc was pretty steady and level throughout before falling off, groaning under the weight all of its plot machinations. I’ll also admit to having not gotten much out of the B-plot involving Nonoo and the SCHM.

Sagrada Reset – 14

As was fairly evident the first time we entered Michiru’s Dream World, said world is a kind of prison (or birdcage) isolating her from the outside world and from any connections to anyone.

Ukawa, who can alter anything that’s not living, decides this isn’t any kind of world to live in, and so, by placing a ring on her finger and activating her ability, erases all of the buildings in the world in an effort to “rectify” it.

In doing so, Ukawa doesn’t really destroy the dream world but only the buildings, but hopes that the shock will drive Michiru to remember that she’s Katagiri Honoka.

As Urachi uses abilities like Ukawa’s and Kagaya’s to further his goals, he tells his underling Sakuin that it’s good that she hates her ability, because all ability users should hate their own abilities. It makes me wonder what, if anything, is Urachi’s ability…beyond being an ominous jerk.


But hey, at least he doesn’t follow through on his desire to “snuff out” a troublemaker like Kei…at least this week. Rather, he pretty much leaves Kei alone, and Kei capitalizes by figuring out that the inverted world they’ve been in is actually a world within the dream world, which isn’t inverted.

Approaching the wall of white wind with Haruki (who describes the building-less place they’re in as looking “like the end of the world”), Kei appeals to Chiruchiru for an audience, and a hole in the wall appears.

Kei and Haruki go through, and after jumping on a bus with a destination marked “Chiruchiru” find themselves at school… another Monogatari quality to go with all the lengthy dialogue.

In a dark classroom, Chiruchiru, fake god and creation of Michiru, isolates Kei and Haruki, and tries to play some mind games with both, perhaps to test their mettle. He hits a lot of nails on the head with Haruki in particular, even taking her form, resulting in Haruki debating with Haruki the merits of—and threats to—her special relationship with Kei.

While it’s clear she just plain likes the guy, it’s never been as explicitly stated what her situation is than by Chiruchiru: “strongly tied down by one boy”; a “facade of not wanting anything”; “two contradicting selves” (hence the two Harukis); the thought of Souma Sumire dominating Kei’s attentions; “the possibility that [she] personally might not be making Kei’s happiness [her] top priority”; hating “the geeling of wanting to keep him all to [her]self”…

“Chiruchiru Haruki” tries to make the argument that Haruki, like Katagiri Honoka, created an “easygoing paradise”—the titular “one-handed Eden”—but Haruki is never all that fazed by her pseudo-self-grilling, adamantly standing by her man; abiding by his decision, and claiming not to let jealousy or some perceived competition with Souma play a factor (Souma is notably absent all episode).

As for Kei, he turns his one-on-one with Chiruchiru into a negotiation; the “god” doesn’t take his form. Chiruchiru admits “the true objective [he] was meant to fulfill” is the only one he never can…but Kei believes he may be able to. Michiru wants to connect with people, but having created a god—and a monster, something the god must protect her from—has had the opposite effect.

So Kei tells Chiruchiru he’ll come up with a way to solve Michiru’s problem and erase her lonliness, if Chiruchiru helps him with Souma’s case, using the dream world as his testbed.

The dream world isn’t just Katagiri Honoka’s birdcage…it’s Katagiri Honoka. The buildings, the white wall, Chiruchiru, even the monster, it’s all her, because it’s all her dream. The monster represents the part of her that is sad, alone, and lashing out at world she’s made, which is a poor substitute for the real thing at the moment.

We’ll see what Kei manages to come up with. Whatever it is, Haruki seems sure to abide by it, while Urachi will continue to sneer at Kei and possibly even try to undermine his efforts. Just one episode left in this four-episode arc, which is already Sagrada’s most dense, ambitious, introspective, and intriguing.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 07

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Once Yukio has finished reading Tatsumi’s letter, Shura puts her trust in the master, removing the sword from safekeeping (within her body) and handing it to Rin, who wants to help defeat the Impure King, and heck, may be the only one who can.

There are only two problems: in Rin’s current state of fear and lack of confidence, he can’t physically draw the sword, and Mephisto Pheles pops in and throws Rin in an even more impenetrable prison, as the Vatican has sensed his tail seal from when he flared up, and have sentenced him to death.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way: Rin is not going to be executed. Shura and Yukio don’t want that, but they can only do so much in their positions. So Shura appeals to Rin’s friends, gives Bon his father’s letter and the sword, and tells them to go bust Rin out. If he’s their only hope, they’re his.

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Shiemi is the first to grab a camo poncho, and does so without hesitation. One by one the others agree with various levels of grudging. But once they reach the prison, the sentient door freezes everyone in their tracks, except the one person neither armed nor bearing hostile intent.

That’s right: Shiemi’s purported weakness is a strength here, as she can casually open the door to the prison and stroll in. Her gentle nature and loyalty and affection for Rin are the X-factor that enables everything that follows to occur.

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Once in Mephisto’s prison, there’s supposedly no way out, but Shiemi takes things one step at a time. First, she finds Rin, who starts wondering if maybe he should die before hurting more people; maybe that’s the best way for him to be useful.

Bollocks to that, says Shiemi. Just as she told all the others they’d all regret not trying to save Rin, she knows Rin will regret dying here and now. She also, for the first time, truly sees the weight of his flames, and when he lashes out to try to make her leave, rather than run from the blue flames, she leans into them, and they’re not hot…they’re warm.

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She believes Rin is keeping the flames controlled so as not to harm her, without even thinking about it. Sometimes, you gotta stop thinking and just be, and that seems to be the case here.

Rin’s flames won’t hurt people he cares about, so there’s nothing to fear. To drive the point home, Shiemi draws Rin into a big hug, showing him he has nothing to fear; she’s just fine.

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With that, Rin blasts them out of the “impenetrable” prison with ease Methinks Mephisto knew the conditions under which Rin could escape, and possibly even counted on it. For to get Rin out, his friends would have to band together, set aside their fears (either about him or repercussions from the Vat), and, as Shiemi did, get him to realize he can control his power.

Hell, even Ryuuji is ready to fight with Rin, and the two apologize for their earlier fight. Ryuuji reveals that he’s only mad at Rin because he bore his burdens alone for so long without telling his friends. No more of that. If they’re going to take out that Impure King on the mountain, they have to do it as one.

The second straight great episode from Ao, bringing us back into the present and getting Rin and friends to finally make up as a great battle looms. But Shiemi was the star, doing things no one else could or would do. Honorable mentions go to a gravely injured Mamushi racked by guilt, and a forgiving Juzo who’s not going to let her die.

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Nanbaka – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A super-sparkly, hyperactive action comedy focusing on a quirky quartet of inmates of the famously impossible-to-break-out-of Nanba Prison, Block 13: Ryugo (15), Uno (11), Nico (25) and Roku (69). They attempt to escape several times a day, but also seem to be fine simply living out their days at Nanba (except Ryugo, who wants to find the man who placed “black shackles” on him.

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Why You Should Watch: I hate to say it starts off slow, because things move at breakneck speed from the beginning. I guess it’s more accurate to say it takes a while to start laughing at the rapid-fire jokes and physical comedy of the brightly-colored characters and their just-competent-enough corrections officers.

But once I did, I fed off of Nanbaka’s frenetic, bodacious energy and its diverse comedy, which often goes right where I think it will (i.e. the cross-dressing brother) and sometimes goes to hilariously unexpected places (Nico turning guard hounds into lapdogs).

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Why You May Not Want To Watch: This can’t match the drabness or manic  darkness of Rainbow or Deadman Wonderland nor the debauchery or even over-the-topness of Prison School. It’s a straight-up comedy with some action sprinkled in, and its one attempt to get deep (with Ryugo’s story) ain’t exactly Lars von Trier. The sole female character is the vaunted Warden who contributes nothing to the comedy. And what the hell is up with all the SPARKLING?!?!

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The Verdict: Nanbaka provides occasionally clever or weird comedy, but is usually just slight, self-aware, stupid fun. I thought the four inmates would be annoying at first, but they grew on me fast. And if it keeps showing up on Tuesdays, I may well have time to follow it. If I don’t, maybe Franklin will.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 08

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After spending much of the previous episode apart, this episode almost revels in pairing up Moe with Saikawa once more. With dawn approaching and the police soon on their way, Moe believes she can get her uncle in the police department to keep Shiki’s murder a secret for the length of time the lab needs; that way no one has to lie. Moe goes to the roof to try to determine how Shindo’s killer could have gotten on or off the roof from the outside, but more than anything she’s just happy to be with Saikawa.

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As for that sunset, it’s a really lovely scene during which the sky gradually lightens and the sun comes up over the trees as Moe and Saikawa lean on the rail, enjoying each other’s company. Moe talks about how she hurt her when she lashed out in her mad grief all those years ago, but Saikawa never held it against her; “glasses can be fixed.” It was more important to him that Moe knew she wasn’t alone, even though her parents were gone.

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The pleasant domestic theme continues when Moe takes a shower and Saikawa makes a hearty breakfast of bacon & eggs, and then Saikawa lets Moe doze off for a few hours, then for the two to keep each other company during a slightly scary blackout as the lab’s computer is rebooted.

Saikawa notes how differently he and Moe think: he sees the path and carefully walks along it to find the answer, while Moe grasps at random facts and tries to make connections. Saikawa implies Moe has much to learn, but can’t deny that she presents ideas that he wouldn’t have come up with. They make a good team.

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With Moe, who feels much lighter since  by his side in the dark as he puffs away at a cigarette, Saikawa comes upon what he believes to be a truth that may turn everything on its head: the Magata Shiki Moe spoke to via teleconference wasn’t really Magata Shiki. The episode also brings up the possibility of passing Miki off as Shiki, despite being taller and more filled out…but what if Miki IS Shiki?

What if that whole English conversation Saikawa had was with Shiki? Could the whole “sister” thing be one long con? Or, even more distrubing, did Shiki cut off Miki’s longer limbs to pass her corpse off as her own, thus faking her death? Shiki considers bodies mere containers, so she’s definitely capable of it.

All this time I’ve been operating under the assumption Shiki was definitely dead, even if a part of her still existed in, say, the computer system. But now even that fact is in dispute. If Miki is Shiki, that’s a whole new ballgame.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

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I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

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I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

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After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

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Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

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Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

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Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

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This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

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That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

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Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

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Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

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Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

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The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

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When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

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It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

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Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

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In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

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So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

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The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 12

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I believe for the first time on Cross Ange, we get an Ominous Bigwig Conference, held in a pleasant holo-environment. which shows that Julio, whose name Misurugi is now synonymous with ‘criminal’, is very far down on the food chain. In fact, all the various leaders seem to defer to the apparently brilliant mind of one Embryo, a bishounen and dandy who proposes three options for humanity: surrender to DRAGON (unthinkable); wipe out DRAGON (impossible)…or scrap the world as it currently is and start over.

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Tusk bugged this meeting, and relays their decision to Jill. She reorganizes the surviving mail pilots into new troops, putting a released Hilda in charge and throwing Salia in the brig for insubordination. She wants the girls on full battle alert; but she’s not so much concerned with more DRAGON attacks as imminent action by her superiors, in service of the ‘world-rebuilding’ decision that was made.

Before Ange jumps to and mans her bird, Ange wants answers, and Jill promised to give them. Jill insists they talk in the bath, since the revealing of secrets requires ‘total exposure.’ Call it ‘Q&A with T&A’.

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Jill starts at the almost folktale-sounding beginning, in which a ‘god’ (Embryo) found a way to end war and suffering by engineering the ability to use mana in humans. When non-mana infant girls were born, the myth that these girls were dangerous society-rejecting monsters was propagated, in order to give the rest of humanity a common group to hate and discriminate against. But along with Norma girls, there was a faction of ‘old-fashioned’ humans who rejected mana (Tusk’s fam), and they joined forces in a rebellion.

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The rebellion continues to this day, mostly quietly (though Tusk’s Ange-rescuing stunt was pretty high profile). But back then storming the palace netted them a ragnamail, prototype to paramail. That mail was Villkiss, but no one could pilot it until a Norma of royal blood appeared: Princess Elektra Maria von [German name]. But even she ended up failing; losing her right arm and her ring.

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— “AAAAUGH!” — “AAAUUUUUGH!”

Ange mentions this is all well and good though she’s not ready to join “Libertus” movement yet, if ever, because she kinda likes her life. She also thanks Jill, whom she now knows was once a princess like her, for showing her what a stuck-up spoiled brat she was. Of course, Ange is still a brat, but whatever.

She also asks: What about the DRAGONs? On queue, Vivian wakes up and her hammock snaps under her weight. She lumbers about the barracks, wondering why she feels so big and bulky (we initially only see her POV, not her body). Then Vivi catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror: She’s a DRAGON. How very Kafkaesque. When Emma and the bridge staff see her, they scream… but she screams too. It’s good to have a sense of humor about such things.

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The trio of Hilda, Roselie and Chris…back in the same frame together, if not back in bed

DRAGON-Vivi escapes to the sky, and hums Ange’s song until Ange sings back; the song transforms Vivi back into human form, where she’s sedated and taken away by Maggie, who I’m sure already knew about this, having been the former Arzenal commander. But Ange connects the dots, then runs to the giant pit of DRAGON corpses Jasmine is about to set ablaze.

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Ange’s comrades accompany her to the burning pile, in which they find human bodies amongst the DRAGON. So yeah, DRAGONs are people too, man…including the DRAGON Ange savagely beat to death, and all the others she’s wasted in the air. Suddenly Ange’s contentment with her life of killing DRAGONS and making money isn’t so easy. Furthermore, ex-brother Julio (wearing a scar from Ange’s attack) is coming for her…for all of them.

There were times this felt like a long chore of an infodump, but in the end I don’t think I absorbed too many answers, but rather just enough to pique my interest for the second half of the show. More questions obviously remain. And the little Vivian reveal / action piece was as adorable as it was significant to the plot. Ange thought she could live a simpler life in Arzenal, but she’s still a princess with a right arm and a ring. In this world, that means something.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 10

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One reason I handed off Gundam-G review duties to Zane was that there was just too much going on, none of which made enough sense me to care, whether it was the endless parade of proper nouns or the endless arbitrary political machinations. Ange doesn’t make sense either sometimes, but it’s telling a far more cohesive tale that has actually drawn me in.

It’s also uncomplicated: by making the Norma out to be monsters, something not all of them are by a long shot) the arrogant, prejudice masses of mana-using humans are the real monsters, as demonstrated at the evening public whipping, mocking and hanging Ange must endure for basically causing ‘mild discomfort and unhappiness’ for a few people.

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Franklin: This is for you.

Yes, the people, including Ange’s former classmates, her brother, and even her little sister, are nothing but spoiled, petulant, hyper-sensitive shitstains and there’s nothing redeemable about them, nor is there meant to be anything redeeming about them. Uncomplicated.

Tusk also swoops in undeterred by any air defenses and actually takes his sweet time rescuing Ange like we knew he would.

The show doesn’t bother mussing its hair about details like ‘Ange did murder dozens of people’ (the scum deserved it), or ‘Tusk’s hoverbike is oddly quiet enough for Ange to give a “Fuck You” speech to the crowd’, and ‘its exhaust is cool enough not to burn her siblings on her way out’, or ‘Tusk buries his face in Ange’s crotch, making this kind of his running gag (which is terrible). Uncomplicated.

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Never mind how Ange and Momoka found the cabin attachment to Tusk’s paramail while he was unconscious, I think this is the question we all most wanted answered this week. While Tusk doesn’t have a satisfying answer, we must assume he either has extremely bad (or possibly in his case, good) luck, or is actually a pervert who targets Ange’s crotch any chance he gets.

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In any case, the joke is only used once, and our dealings with Tusk are thankfully limited to the first half. The rescue was ultimately swift and uncomplicated. And don’t say Jill doesn’t have a sense of humor, because when she locks Ange up for desertion, she has her share a cell with the also recently-recaptured (never mind how) Hilda.

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The balance of the episode are the two proud and tenacious women licking their wounds and laughing at their own pathetic stupidity, believing they could simply go back to the world like nothing changed. These scenes built up more reluctant camaraderie between Ange and Hilda, who in the end agree to form a loose accord to take on and destroy that world full of bullshit for fooling them both not once but twice.

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Of course, things won’t be quite the same at Arzenal, either, which didn’t stand still when Hilda and Ange deserted. Now they’re broke, possession-less, and at the bottom of the food chain. Chris takes over Hilda’s role taking over for Zola, which is an interestingly little twist as she always seemed so passive. But being betrayed changes people.

Salia and Ersha, Chris and Roselie; these are women who came to Arzenal as babies and have never seen the other world, let alone ever considered there was a place for them there. As such, none of them can quite fathom why Hilda and Ange did what they did.

Their isolation has also left them children on an emotional level, albeit children forced to fight. They put their trust into Ange and Hilda, and won’t forgive their treachery easily, if at all (Vivian already has).

Or maybe it will just take an episode. You know Ange; it likes to keep things…uncomplicated.

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