Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 03 – Space Hotel Sunrise

Fifteen years have passed since Diva rescued the assemblyman, Momoka died in a plane crash, and Matsumoto beat the ever-loving shit out of Diva to prove the point that they can’t meddle excessively in the timeline. He had her body repaired and she returned to NiaLand, where she continued to perform and attracted larger crowds over the years.

She’s still wrestling with the concept of singing “with all one’s heart” when Matsumoto returns to report the next “Singularity Point” requiring action. He also scolds her for influencing the assemblyman to push for even more pro-AI human rights legislation. But the more pressing crisis is that of Space Hotel Sunrise, whose AI director crashes into the earth, killing thousands.

Matsumoto arranges for Diva to join the space hotel’s all-AI hospitality staff under the name Vivy, going Full Temporal Secret Agent in a thrilling space venue that calls to mind the Fhloston Paradise space cruise in The Fifth Element. She meets the director, Estella, and learns that she’s her successor model—essentially, her little sister.

While Estella reminds Vivy to keep smiling for human guests who may be on edge from being in space for the first time, Matsumoto’s assignment for her is simple: prevent Estella from crashing the Space Hotel Sunrise by eliminating her. The crash is a major catalyst in anti-Ai sentiment that will eventually lead to the AI uprising.

The problem is, Vivy simply can’t reconcile the Estella she’s met—and observes playing with children in a Zero-G bubble room—with the Estella later remembered as “the single most grievously defective AI in history”. Matsumoto considers this irrelevant.

They’re here to destroy Estella and prevent the crash; anything else is “needless calculations” he warned her about. Still, while fulfilling her hospitality duties, Vivy learns from her co-worker Leclerc that there are rumors Estella took over the hotel and was involved in the death of the previous human owner.

Vivy decides to investigate Estella on her own, but Matsumoto follows her into Estella’s quarters just as Estella arrives. When Estella picks him up, he prepares to hack her and cause a system failure, but Vivy casts him aside and asks Estella straight-up about the previous owner.

She maintains that the owner died in an EVA accident, which Matsumoto later confirms she had no involvement. Estella asked his family for permission to keep the hotel going under her management to keep a promise he made to him before he died. When she says anyone would laugh at an AI talking about such things, Vivy, genuinely moved, says she wouldn’t laugh.

Just then, an alarm sounds, some 23 hours before the crash is slated to occur. Estella runs a scan and determines a malfunction in a security wall. She asks the rest of the staff to double check all systems while she opens up the roof of the main hall to reveal the dazzling night sky. Then she sings a song to calm and soothe the stressed guests—a true professional all the way.

However—and this will probably be important next week—Matsumoto is right beside her when she opens the roof. Did he do something to her while they were in physical contact? Also, a girl recognizes Vivy as Diva and introduces herself as Momoka’s younger sister. For Vivy, that seals it: she isn’t going to let another Kirishima die, no matter what.

However, something is very rotten in the state of Leclerc, as she meets secretly with Estella in a cargo bay and holds out some kind of device Estella presses with her thumb. Moments later, as Leclerc walks away, Estella rushes up to her as if to gather her into an embrace, the shears Leclerc’s goddamn head off and sighs in a thoroughly sinister way.

This sudden carnage occurs while we’re still hearing Estella’s lovely song about the stars, providing a wonderful clash of the beautiful and the horrific. Whether it’s Leclerc who caused Estella to malfunction with that little thumbpad or Estella just snapped, Vivy’s trials aboard Space Hotel Sunrise have just begun.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 08 – What Friends Are For

This week all the disparate parties involved in this arc begin to confront and communicate with one another, starting with Suema meeting Jin. She watches one of the girls Jin “initiated” walk by while engaged in a phone call, and decides she can’t let this go on. She wants answers. Boogiepop momentarily speaks through Touka offering help, but Suema insists she’s got this.

In the case of Imaginator, I consider it fine for Suema to ask for any help offered; she’s quite out of her depth here. While Jin is initially taken aback by how much she’s been able to figure out for herself, he manages to successfully gaslight her, and even if she doesn’t walk away a convert, it remains to be seen if his plan-reveal-couched-in-artistic-rhetoric proves useful to her solving the case.

Then again, maybe I’m underestimating Suema just as Jin is, or just as Spooky-KotoE underestimates Masaki when he realizes he’s being followed by six or more people. He heads underground to confront them, and uses a nice bit of misdirection to catch KotoE’s goons off-guard (Towa should invest in less disposable goons) and put KotoE herself on her back.

The only problem is, she won’t talk, he can’t really make her talk, and if he kills her he’ll be branded a murderer. Like Suema, Masaki seems doomed to be disappointed in his efforts to crack the case. He’s only caught a pawn, just as Jin can shrug off everything he told Suema as messing around.

When Nagi suddenly shows up to keep his half-brother in check, he slips away, and KotoE reveals she was keeping some goons in reserve. But these goons aren’t any match for Nagi’s skills any more than the first wave were to Masaki’s. She makes quick work of them, including KotoE’s attempts to attack her with a butterfly knife, but isn’t interested in getting any information from her. Her focus is probably catching up to her brother.

When KotoE wakes up, she’s still in her brainwashed mode, but Jin appears and manages to snap her out of it by reaching into her soul and taking note of the missing blooms on her rose (much like Suema’s problem). But while he’s always known of Kotoe’s feelings and yearning, she was mistaken in thinking her sadness mirrored his own; he’s never been able to feel sadness; only despair.

Jin also laments he can’t save her, but will change the world to a place where no one has to feel like she feels ever again. With Spooky E’s brainwashing undone, Kotoe breaks down, but engenders no more sympathy from Jin than a stranger, which is a devastating sight to see. Then Jin moves on to Spooky E’s command center atop the amusement park tower, apparently led there by the part of Spooky that copied his will into Kotoe in the first place.

Jin introduces himself as Imaginator, the one Spooky and Towa have been looking for, but calmly warns Spooky that they’re on completely different levels. They may possess similar brainwashing abilities, but while Spooky basically mind-rapes people by shoving information into their brains, Jin’s is far more…therapeutic? Horticultural? Since he can see everyone’s plant—even Spooky’s—he can control them as he sees fit, adding or removing parts with Imaginator’s help.

Rather than stuff info in the brain, he finds what is lacking, and offers whatever a person desperately desires: to be whole. The result of this: Imaginator will “normalize the psyche” of the human race, eliminating all emotional want and yearning. There are a LOT of problems with such a world, so it goes without saying Imaginator can’t get away with this.

But Spooky E can’t do shit about it; Jin removes his aggression in the blink of an eye, intending to use him to take over Towa, in order to expand his reach and accelerate his plans. While unable to attack Jin, Spooky E decides it better to attack and kill himself, so at least he won’t be the conduit through which the enemy takes control of Towa.

Jin, however, doesn’t believe in enemies, except as parties who exist to be turned into allies with the right manipulation. His plan to use Spooky E as an ally thus backfired, he discovers Orihata tied up in that same location. She begs for help, but Jin isn’t there to save her. He’s there to use her as a sacrifice; the kind that will propel his dreams forward and make them a reality for the next generation.

Poor Orihata: poised to become a tool for Imaginator immediately after Spooky E and Towa did the same. Is there any saving her or Kotoe, and are Suema and Masaki up to the task?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 07 – Great Kid! Don’t Get Cocky

Aya and Masaki have begun running a little act where she serves as bait against drug dealers while he swoops in as Boogiepop and takes them out. It’s worked so far, and Masaki is happy they’re keeping hundreds of people from being hurt or destroyed by the drugs they steal. You even get the sense that Aya’s taking a shine to Masaki, since she seems hesitant when Spooky E orders her to cut off ties with him pending new orders.

Meanwhile, Spooky E is trying to get his hands on Imaginator, and finds an in in Kinukawa Kotoe. We get a little backstory about how she’s known Jin since she was five and fell in love at first sight. Unfortunately, Spooky E gets a hold of her, and doesn’t turn her into a terminal, but copies himself into her body, so he can more easily gather information from a local bar.

Using cash from the vast Kinukata coffers to bribe someone in the know, Spooky KotoE learns that Imaginator can control peoples’ minds and turn former allies against one another, in addition to sending them flying without touching them.

The next day Masaki finds KotoE with Aya, and she knows about their Boogiepop charade. Spooky tells Aya, a synthetic human who has been trying for some time to crossbreed with normal ones, to try crossbreeding with Masaki before they “cut him loose.” But Masaki doesn’t want to stop the Boogiepop act; he wants to do it alone, without exposing Aya to danger.

Of course, Aya’s already in a heap of danger, as is he; Spooky E switches up the plans once again; he’ll let Masaki go off and keep being Boogiepop, right up until he ends up a corpse in an alley. Aya wants to go after Masaki to help him, but Spooky E disables her, informing her that Towa and Axis have abandoned her. As far as he’s concerned she’s a tool he no longer needs.

As for Masaki, everyone may think he’s stupid, a moron, or according to Nagi, in danger of getting too cocky, something clicks about what Jin said to him about Aya not being as calm as she seems. To properly protect her, he’ll need to learn more about what’s going on…a lot more.

This week didn’t close the Imaginator arc, but by eschewing Touka/Boogiepop, Jin, and Anou Shinjirou, it felt a bit more focused and grounded than last week, while still propelling the story. I don’t know if the classic shounen hero in Masaki will be able to prevail, but I’m pretty sure it will involve the real Boogiepop at some point.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 06 – Protecting Unstable Hearts

For whatever reason Orihata Aya, AKA “Camille”, is beholden to the Towa Organization’s Spooky E, and he treats her like a disposable tool, urging her to hurry up and sleep with Anou Shinjirou, as well as gather clues that will lead to finding Boogiepop. Already, we see that “Camille” is bound in chains of fear, deference, and servitude. Who will break her chains, and is that even what she wants?

At least in this instance, Masaki intervenes, “saving” Aya from Spooky, who assumes the kid is an enemy of Towa when he’s just good at martial arts. Spooky shocks Masaki unconscious, and when he comes to he doesn’t remember his assailant. She apologizes, but Masaki likes her, and wants to do anything he can for her. So she asks him if he knows anything about Boogiepop.

Back at Shinyou Academy, Asukai Jin’s cousin Kinukawa Kotoe reaches out to Suema Kazuko, the school’s resident researcher of weird tings, regarding Jin’s odd and suspicious behavior of late. Suema promises to look into it, and before you know it, she’s hiding in a classroom into which Jin invites two girls, who promptly remove their tops and undergo some kind of magical ritual.

When it’s over, they feel like all the weight of their lives has been lifted and that they can do anything…for Jin. This is how Jin and Imaginator are taking over the world: one schoolgirl—one fragile adolescent mind—at a time. At some point someone’s going to have to stop them, but I imaging Boogiepop will again only play a supporting role. Suema, for her part, has always longed to “take on the darkness [her]self.”

In an auspicious crossing of paths, Suema encounters Anou as she’s talking with Niitoki Kei. Kei has kept her distance from Suema’s friend Touka (and vice versa), but not just because Touka’s guy rejected her, but because she knows Touka’s “other side.” Anou still seems pretty out of it, unable to remember what he’s doing at the academy while feeling like something important is missing.

Scenes of Aya talking to Masaki are intercut with scenes of Suema finding Aya on the roof, ready to die. Aya wants death to free others from her, not to free herself from Spooky E and Towa. Her self seems to the least important thing to her, whether that self has been tampered with by supernatural forces, or if it was always in a troubled, fragile, easily manipulated state…as most kids entering adulthood after all.

Both Aya and Masaki have initially believed the rumors going around that Boogiepop is a reaper that takes the lives of girls at the peak of their beauty so they’ll never become ugly, but Suema corrects her: Boogiepop is there to lend the helping hand to fragile young hearts that adults won’t provide, as adults they feel adolescence is just a phase everyone goes through, and will pass.

The reality is that sometimes it doesn’t pass, and you either get kids who kill themselves rather than continue suffering, or try to make others suffer as a salve to their own. In that regard, Boogiepop is there to protect them from themselves as much as those forces that would hurt or use them.

Rather than Boogiepop, the one doing the reaping here, or rather gardening, is Jin/Imaginator, as we see him “convert” more and more willing and in some cases eager young women to “their side.” The fact that this is visualized as Jin tending the roses so that they have roots, stems, leaves, and blooms – the height of their beauty.

Their hearts may thus be said to be complete and at peace, but they’re paying for it with their free will. It’s swapping one set of chains for another. I for one hope Suema, no doubt with help from Boogiepop (and others), can manage to shine a light on that darkness.

So…everything’s starting to make a little more sense, but this still felt like yet more setup, and with so many characters shuffling around, it’s hard to find firm ground on which to plant my feet and actually care about anything consistently.

Hopefully, as with previous mini-arcs, the payoff will be satisfying enough to make it worth all the setup. This seems like a show in which the destination is better than the journeys, or at least in which the destinations must be known before the journeys can be fully understood or appreciated.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 05 – Love at First Sight

This week the POV shifts from Asukai Jin to Taniguchi Masaki, the kid he saved from bullies along with the girl he was with. We learn more about both Masaki and the girl, Orihata Aya, who had actually just met him in that alley and tried to save him by offering her body to the guys.

Masaki is a transfer student from abroad who is just trying to do well, but gains some unwanted attention. Fortunately for him he not only had Asukai on his side when things got rough, but met Aya and basically fell for her the day he met her, due to her courage in that situation.

While Masaki seems normal enough (and is apparently Kirima Nagi’s brother, another interesting connection) there’s something off about Aya, and even he, who likes her, notices it. She’s extremely eager to please, as if she has no will of her own, but is rather driven by a curious pair of edicts: no one is allowed to hate her, and she has no right to fall in love.

Shift again to Anou Shinjirou, who played along with the other classmates who eventually beat up Masaki in the alley, but didn’t get killed by Asukai because he didn’t participate. He was just putting up a front for the other guys; in reality, he fell for Masaki as quickly as Masaki fell for Aya, and wanted to get closer to him. But he found that hard due to Aya, whom he learns is famous at her school for being promiscuous.

Anou finds where Aya lives and spies on her, but is interrupted by a very large, very ugly man who looks like a roadie for Aerosmith in the 90s. The roadie, whom we later learn has the name “Spooky E”, proceeds to “reprogram” Anou’s mind, wiping all his personal desires and ordering him to attend Shinyou Academy to await further instructions.

Now Anou is a part of the Towa Organization as a sleeper agent, only with no agency…essentially a puppet (Spooky calls him a “terminal”). His change in behavior endears him to a girl, who sends him a love letter that Spooky makes him forget. But Asukai has been watching Anou since the alley incident, and intentionally or not manages to remove the Towa programming, restoring his memories and free will.

Anou re-discovers the love letter and answers it, meeting the girl in question in a dark, deserted office building. But the “girl” there is Boogiepop in disguise, and when Spooky E appears to re-reprogram Anou (he set a trap), Boogiepop stops him and decides to go on the attack. Spooky gets away, but Anou is still of sound mind…for now.

Boogiepop promises if Anou gets in trouble again, she’ll be there for him. Then she gives him the real love letter, urging him to show up on the actual meeting date the day after tomorrow. Meanwhile, Masaki asks Aya out again, and of course Aya agrees. But while apparently waiting for Masaki, she’s confronted by Spooky E, who calls her “Camile” and wonders what she’s doing there.

This episode connected a few more strings in an increasingly dense narrative web, bringing into focus players that were present in last week’s events but not given emphasis until now, and seemingly opening a third party in the present situation. You have Boogiepop, Asukai/Imaginator, and now Towa Organization.

And then there’s Aya: is she one of Towa’s terminals, whose emotional engagement with Masaki may be degrading her programming? Will she stop worrying about being hated and let herself be loved? Lots of question marks floating around.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Knight’s & Magic – 04

With Telestale development hampered by a mana-leakage problem, Eru stays sharp by pivoting to other projects, like his Silhouette Gear. In a backyard presumably owned by someone they know, Eru demonstrates the mobility potential of a Gear armed with a grappling hook, as well as the destructive power of the siege weapon attachment, which blows holes in a perfectly good wall for no good reason! Eru even all but admits to Addy that he just came up with these improvements for fun, not for a specific purpose.

Addy and Kid decide to inform their father of Eru’s rapid progress, and word gets to Marquis Dixgard, who sends his knights of the Order of the Scarlet Rabbit to escort Eru and the new units to Fort Casadesus for evaluation. On the way, they’re attacked by Giant wormlike Demon Beasts, but Eru makes quick work of them between all the gadgets he has on his person and the Telestale Knight Runners.

Eru ends up staying behind with the Marquis, who seems like an imperious, possibly dangerous figure. And while he’s suspicious about whether Eru is really a little kid (and he’s right, he’s not, at least not mentally), Marquis is eventually convinced beyond all doubt that Eru is merely an extremely talented and driven young man with a thirst for constant improvement in technology. Dixgard can relate: he used to be like Eru…he just never soared as high.

Not only that, but Eru doesn’t seem angry in the least that the Marquis is taking over the project; after all, Telestale is only one of many ambitious projects Eru has lined up in the future. Whether he completes those projects unfettered by outside forces remains to be seen, as we see the Order of the Bronze Fang on the margins of this episode, and their purple-cloaked female leader is itching to start a war, armed with special Silhouette Knights of her own.

Knight’s & Magic – 03

After defeating a Behemoth almost entirely on his own, the King can’t just not acknowledge Ernesti, so he grants him and his gramps an audience to thank him and ask if there’s any reward he would like. Since Ernesti has the mind of an adult (and a mecha otaku to boot) he asks for the one thing only the King can grant: the secret to creating the Ether Reactor, the heart of a Silhouette Knight.

To everyone’s surprise, the king grants Eru’s wish, but first he must prove himself worthy of such knowledge by building everything around that Ether Reactor before learning how to build it. Eru accepts the challenge with relish, calling such work his “hobby” to the bemusement of all.

From there, Eru works with the Dwarf mechanics and engineers, knight Runners, and his friends and comrades to develop improvements to the Silhouette Knights, including a second set of arms to wield energy staves and a new kind of muscle construction that will make the knights stronger.

Things accelerate fast when he comes up with the design for a smaller “personal” mech he dubs Silhouette Gear, which Addy and Kid get the hang of almost too fast, eager to shoulder some of the burdens their friend is taking on.

Another who gets into the spirit of this inventive binge is Dietrich, who is determined to make amends for his cowardice, which Eru and others have kept largely a secret; now he’s working hard to be strong enough notto run away from a threat next time.

Helvi pilots the newly-redesigned SilKnight that Eru was instrumental in developing, in a suite of tests including a mock battle with the school’s Runner ace Edgar in an unmodified Knight. Helvi only loses because she runs out of mana, but it’s a great first step towards Eru’s goal of learning the secrets of the Ether Reactor.

Notably, there aren’t really any “threats” this week, nor even any technological setbacks that frustrate Eru or slow him down in any way. But trouble looms as there’s a mole within the development team feeding info to a seedier group of people. Eru didn’t really run into any significant problems this week, but it looks like that may change in the near future.

Knight’s & Magic – 02

Last week’s K&M was conspicuous in its lack of serious mortal peril, but this week brought the danger from the beginning, as a “Division-Class” Demon Beast (called a “Behemoth” but really more of an Adamantoise) rampages on a fort protecting the capital and several knight runners end up squashed and/or smashed to death.

As that same beast nears the forest where the students are training, Sefania and Addy fight over Eru until the order to get the hell out of dodge is given…only Eru doesn’t leave with the others. Instead, he sees one of the runners protecting them running away. It’s Dietrich, a pilot who saw his comrade get hit by the Behemoth’s breath and simply lost his nerve and turned tail.

Eru helps himself to Dietrich’s cockpit, using his dual gunblades to customize the robot to his smaller frame in a nifty bit of MacGyver-like innovation rife with less-nifty technobabble. Bottom line, Eru is able to increase the robot’s speed, agility, and strength, and with the aid of reinforcements, is able to bring the beast down by sending a pulse of lightning through its eye, leading to a monster aneurysm and Game Over for Mr. Behemoth.

Dietrich’s comrades lament his death and sacrifice and curse themselves for thinking ill of him for running…until Eru emerges with an unconscious Dietrich. I’m sure Eru won’t tell them he’s the one who brought the robot back into the fight, while when the cards were down, Dietrich was a coward. But whatever comes out of it, word of a child outperforming all the other knight runners gets to the king, and he wishes to meet Eru ASAP.

This K&M was fun in its execution of the boss battle, but there was no getting around the fact it was a rehash of the first episode’s “Eru Is Good At Everything And Everybody Loves Him”, and it felt smaller and less sprawling than the first, which covered several years. Maybe Eru’s dealings with the kings and/or the knight runner elite will provide some challenge for him, but as he never struggled that mightily against a damn Behemoth, I’m not holding my breath!


Knight’s & Magic – 01 (First Impressions)

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: the title of this show is stupid. What’s with the apostrophe? That doesn’t belong there, before an ampersand! That aside, even if it were Knights & Magic, that’s still a painfully generic title, which does an otherwise fun and inventive show no favors.

Yes, it’s true: aside from the awful title and the oft-overused “killed in real world, reincarnated in the fantasy world” trope, K&M turns in a damned entertaining and absorbing first episode, covering no less than three different timelines in the life of one Ernesti Echevarria, a very pretty, short-statured boy who happens to have the soul and intellect of an elite video game programmer…and mecha otaku.

In “Eru’s” new world, magic works a lot like programming, so he’s a wiz who not only quickly rises in the ranks of the youth in magical training, but spreads the wealth around. Quickly befriending twins Ady and Kid Olter, he teaches them magic and they get quite good at it.

He also befriends a dwarf, Baston, whose father makes him a gunblade with which he basically tests out of the fundamentals class so he can be in the more advanced silhouette knight design course. Eru is a kid who’s going places, but he’s a very modest, decent sort of kid without a shred of arrogance, as so far, hes able to back up his words with action every time.

Three-quarters in, and it seems K&M‘s only casualty will be a dead horse at the hands of Demon Beasts, but Eru & Co. get their first taste of combat, with him and the twins helping to save their older (and legitimate) sister Stefania from a suspiciously huge horde of the beasts, while and even larger boss-level monster looms for next week.

Just as Eru gets his first taste of magical combat in which he’s the combatant, rather than someone being protected, we get a decent first taste of K&M, it’s world, its workings, and a surprisingly likable core cast (including Takahashi Rie’s voicing of Eru).

It did seem like an odd choice to have so much voiceover narration in the epsiode, and to only show Kurata “inside the head” of Eru just once. However, the real world prologue does serve a purpose in that the reincarnated protagonist possesses gifts and perspective neither a boy nor anyone in his new world would otherwise have.

Overall, a pleasant, upbeat, and attractive first outing. I’ll be back!