Full Dive – 02 – Hell’s Fruit Slicer

For someone supposedly there to help Hiro out, Reona has nothing but bad news for him: Kiwame Quest can’t be restarted unless he buys a new console, which she just happens to be willing to sell for ¥120,000, or ¥30K more than he paid for his. Considering how quickly easily Hiro ruined his game, it’s no wonder KQ is a dead game.

He also learns that in the city of Ted, AKA the Closed City, he’s already a wanted fugitive, and so must exercise caution when buying a cheap cloak to mask himself. The clothes merchant hikes up the price in exchange for staying mum about seeing him. It’s looking more and more like the enterprising Reona wrangled Hiro into this game in hopes he’d give up and spend more of the money he doesn’t give to school bullies to her.

Despite costing most of the cash he started with, the cloak does nothing to hide Hiro from his childhood friend Alicia, who arrives in heightened fruit-knife wielding psycho mode. Ai Fairouz brings a lovely chaotic intensity to the role, and after praising the ten-year old’s NPC AI magic, advises Hiro to run. Running makes him tired—just like real life—only since he’s never actually run for his life before, he’s doubly exhausted.

His title changes from “Best Friend Killer” to “Running Best Friend Killer: Fleet-footed Amicide.” Having had enough, Hiro tries to log out, but he’s still technically in combat with Alicia, who appears and slashes his hand. Despite Reona assuring him one doesn’t feel any more pain than a bruise from fallnig down stairs, Hiro is still caught off guard by the pain. Reona, invisible to Alicia, punche her in the face to allow Hiro to flee and log off.

Back in the real world, Hiro notes how he’s never run all-out like he just did in KQ. His friend tries to prod him into confronting the bullies using him as a wallet, and Kaede makes another brief appearance to complain about the noise he made last night, and look at him with disgust. He ultimately decides to go back to KQ, and not just to go all-out again…but perhaps so the shitty experience there makes real life seem not so bad?

Upon logging back on, he’s in the exact same pain as when he was last there, and his hand is still bleeding. Naturally, simply touching the medicinal herbs in his pocket doesn’t heal him. He then happens to bump into Ginji, another “best friend killer” who’s been playing the game for years. Ginji crushes the herbs and bandages Hiro’s hand, then takes him to a casino to drink a cola-like beverage he’s inexplicably drunk on.

Reona told Hiro to seek Ginji out to learn how he salvaged killing his best friend at start of the game, only to learn he didn’t. In fact, he also killed his childhood friend, and feels zero remorse over it. He also mentions that despite how hard this game is, and how you enter it with your real-world attributes, there is one man, named Kamui, who actually managed to clear the game 100%. But that’s enough chit-chat, as Ginji sells Hiro out by yelling that the fugitive killer is there.

Full Dive’s high concept asks me to suspend my disbelief so high, my arm muscles strain to keep it in the air. It doesn’t help that the visuals are underwhelming, or that the color palette and lighting are oppressively dark and drab—this may be the ugliest Spring show.

Still, if there’s one thing I buy just enough—for now—is the rationale for Hiro sticking with KQ: of all the people in real life, Reona is the only one we’ve seen who not approves of his video game hobby, and wants to play with him. In other words, the closest thing to a friend. He just needs to stay away from fruit knives!

Full Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Reality Bytes

Just as Tyrell Corporation’s replicants were billed as “more human than human”, Kiwame Quest was meant to be a full-dive VR RPG “more like real life than real life”—stimulating all five senses and capable of near-infinite routes. The problem is, video games are supposed to be like video games: a relaxing escape from the troubles of real life. So KQ was panned and receded into obscurity.

Our dull MC Yuuki Hiro’s life sucks. Something traumatic happened two years ago that everyone around him can’t help but keep bringing up and dancing around; he’s entering his final year of high school and still not sure what he’s going to do. He “lends” cash to two delinquents, so he’s a key short when it’s time to purchase Finalizing Quest 22 (the show’s FF equivalent).

Certain he won’t find FQ22 for sale at a lower price, he rolls the dice at the unassuming and deserted Kisaragi game store. The newest FQ on display is last year’s, and when he asks the gorgeous clerk Kisaragi Reona (Taketatsu Ayana) if they have 22 in stock, she goes on a passionate and unsolicited rant about how people just keep buying FQ out of habit despite diminishing returns.

Reona has something else in store for the low, low price of 10,000 yen: Kiwame Quest, which Hiro has never heard of. Dismissing FQ as “innocent”, she calls KQ “a super hardcore full-dive RPG for adults”, and since she logs in regularly, she’ll be there to teach him what he needs to know “attentively and patiently”. Hiro reluctantly agrees to the transaction and heads home.

Hiro’s home, by the way, seems to have been lit by Zack Snyder. After learning KQ is a decade old but not being able to reach Reona on her phone, and after the obligatory walking in on his sister in her underwear, Hiro settles into his room, switches on his VR gaming system, and dives in.

He’s initially underwhelmed by the opening spiel, telling him to begin the quest to defeat the Demon Lord by leaving the city and heading to Flora Castle. But once he coalesces in the game world, he is soon legitimately impressed by the realism, and the fact he can feel the metal of a window handle and the wind blowing in.

He soon meets Alicia, an NPC who is anything but. She’s his character’s childhood friend, and Martin is her “nice young man” big brother. They’ve come to invite Hiro to join them for apple picking. When he tells them ihis intent to leave the city and asks where Flora Castle is, they react like his head’s on backwards.

Apparently there’s no entering or leaving the city walls due to the heightened threat of goblin attacks. When Hiro waves that threat away, assuming it’s a low-level battle, Martin is convinced Hiro is mad and tries to beat him back into coherence. It’s here it’s confirmed that a punch to the face is every bit as painful as the real thing.

Thoroughly pissed off and out of patience by a game that’s not going the way these games usually go, Hiro lashes out at Martin, shoving him to the ground. When he doesn’t move, Hiro leans in to find the knife Martin was using to cut an apple went straight through his mouth and out the back of his throat, killing him.

Alicia freaks, and Hiro, still not sure how the hell things got to this particular place, decides the only thing to do for now is to run. A crazed Alicia chases him like the Terminator, but he eventually loses her in a downtown alley. It’s there where Reona finally joins him, but in a neat bit of camerawork it’s revealed she’s a tiny fairy, who is there to be his guide.

She also points out that the little tag around his neck is etched with a title to denote his game progress so far. Hiro is unable to tell her what has happened before she reads his tag and learns for herself: “Best Friend Killer.” Hiro’s been diving less than ten minutes, but it’s already Game Over, Man.

Full Dive is helped by its offbeat approach to VR game immersion, and by its crisp and highly expressive character designs and smooth animation. It is hurt more than anything else by its absolute flat-line of a protagonist. Granted, some of his reactions are fun and he’s supposed to be dull. Still, I want to watch the next episode, if nothing else to see whether he’ll start over or continue on from his bloody, disastrous start.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 12 (Fin) – The Multitudes of Me

Elaina’s final trip takes her to the suspiciously foggy “Country That Makes Your Wishes Come True”. Elaina enters the country wishing to become rich, and is utterly mystified when she happens upon a landscape comprised of all of the places from her travels thus far.

Things get even stranger when she enters Mirarosé’s palace to find no less than fifteen alternate versions of herself. Some of them represent individual personality traits she possesses, while others are just random like the gel and ghoul versions.

Hondo Kaede has a blast voicing all these different one-note versions of Elaina, but I have to admit…it’s all a bit much. The intros were fun, but the gimmick wore quickly. This wasn’t one of those dreaded Recap finales, but it did borrow elements from the previous episodes, without adding much new or compelling, which gave it the sheen of a recap.

Deemed “Protagonist Me” by her intellectual version, Elaina sits down on the throne and orders the others to go out and investigate, but all of a sudden the “Violent Me” everyone else had been avoiding bursts into the palace.

Violent Me’s hair is still short from being cut by the ripper, as apparently she never emotionally recovered from the events at the town with the clock tower. All the other versions kind of hang around while the Protagonist and Violent Elainas fight to a draw (as expected).

Only when both are completely exhausted of magic and can no longer fight does Elaina try to calmly discuss things with her violent self. While we heard Elaina wish to become “rich” back in the beginning, it seems the country interpreted that as becoming rich with different “experiences”.

As such, all of the versions Elaina has now encountered represent different paths and possibilities available to her on her journeys. She also believes her other selves wished for the same thing, which brought them all together to pool their stories into a single book: Wandering Witch.

Elaina then wakes up in a meadow; the whole ordeal with her versions was just an elaborate dream. She hops back on her broom and continues her travels, cognizant of and excited for all of the possibilities and choices those travels will present.

In an epilogue that seems to preview a second cour of Elaina I’m not sure it earned, Elaina (in plain clothes) bumps into someone with similarly ashen hair but green eyes. They’re both holding red books, and when they bump into each other, those books get switched. This person’s name is apparently “Amnesia.” Um…alright then!

It’s a curious yet also fitting way to end a show that was never quite sure what it wanted to be: episodic or serialized; lighthearted and comedic or dark and dramatic. It started strongly and had a couple of powerful episodes, but that lack of decisiveness and focus in the stories it wished to tell ultimately dulled its impact.

Read Crow’s episode 12 review here!

Persona 5 the Animation: The Day Breakers – 00

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What Is It:

A 24-minute anime special based on the Persona 5 RPG due out in Japan later this month and in the US next February. It follows a “story-of-the-week” format to introduce the “Phantom Thieves of Hearts”, who investigate an online tip to bring down the leader of a gang of cat burglars who also beats his little brother.

They do so by dropping him in the “perceived world”, summoning their Personas (powerful allies) to defeat his, and purging his heart of arrogance, so back in the real world he rats himself and his gang out to the police, and they’re promptly arrested.

Why You Should Watch:

If you’re a fan of the franchise and have been eagerly awaiting its 20th anniversary offering, this special may well pump you up for the games’ upcoming release. Sadly, I’m only a tourist in the world of Persona, having only caught the first 14 eps Persona 4 when it aired 2011 before I sorta lost interest (Reviews here).

I was actually surprised how similar the style of 5 is to 4. The jazzy, jaunty score, slick fashion, rich, lived-in Tokyo setting (a little Drrr!esque), and the seiyu Horie Yui are what drew me to 5’s predecessor. But that was a full-length anime; this is just a special that serves as an appetizer to the RPG main course, which I won’t be playing.

Why You Shouldn’t Watch:

If you’ve played or watched Persona and weren’t impressed, The Day Breakers special likely won’t be changing your opinion. For all the detail in their outfits and surroundings, the characters are painted with only the broadest of strokes. The protagonist is a nameless cipher by design, and because no one else distinguishes themselves, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in anything.

I was also, ironically, less enamored of the “perceived world” than the actual world, which was dominated by goofy carnival and masquerade imagery that frankly isn’t all that interesting. It’s like it’s trying to be darker and edgier than it’s actually willing to be; very PG-13.

Similarly, while he’s only one of many baddies to come, the guy they chose to be the villain in this special was trying too hard. The sudden shift in his character from something that might’ve been more gray (and interesting) to all-out evil was laughably jarring, more appropriate for Scooby-Doo. Finally, while it sounds better in Japanese, “Phantom Thieves of Hearts” is a painfully lame name for the party.

The Verdict:

Watchable and mildly diverting, but all surface. I can imagine myself spending dozens of hours as the bespectacled protagonist in the P5 RPG; I could even probably watch a good portion of its anime adaptation, should it get a full cour or two down the road. I’m just…not sure I either need or want to.

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