Chainsaw Man – 05 – Don’t Die on Me

Well, color me surprised: Denji doesn’t chicken out. When Power sits there waiting for him to obtain his reward, after some hesitation and heavy breathing, he places his hands on her chest and gives them a squeeze. When he does, foam pads drop from under her shirt. Without skipping a beat Power asks him to go in for seconds, then thirds. And just like that, it’s all over.

Power heads to bed with Meowy, and Denji stands paralyzed in the toilet wondering … Was that IT? Achieving his dream was far more underwhelming than he expected, and it sends him into a haze of confusion, as he’s now suddenly utterly bereft of his primary source of motivation. It might’ve been better to never cop a feel at all than to have copped a feel and felt so … so little.

While perhaps Power’s smaller-than-advertised bust size was probably one factor in his disappointment, the fact is touching a boob is an incredibly small dream to base your life off of, just like wanting a soft bed or a warm meal. When Makima sees something’s up and asks him, and he pretty eloquently verbalizes what’s up, she takes swift action to re-motivate her favorite new tool.

Makima tells Denji that sex and the contact that leads up to it feels better when you truly understand the other person. Makima then demonstrates this by sensually caressing Denji’s hand (phenomenal animation, that), giving one of his fingers a nibble, then showing him that not all boob grabs are created equal. Then she offers to make any dream of his come true—and that means anything—if he can defeat the Gun Devil.

The Gun Devil is no bat or leech, but an uber-devil created on this world’s equivalent of 9/11. Once it appeared, the Gun Devil killed millions, including Aki’s mother, father, and a sickly little brother with whom he was only starting to get along. The flashback switches gears from family warmth to utter destruction so fast we’re left in as much horrified shock as young Aki.

The key to finding the Gun Devil is to use pieces of its flesh it has dropped, which are drawn to it like magnets. Aki leads a six-person team of Denji, Power, and himself along with his senpai Himeno and two rookies, Kobeni and Arai, and the flesh leads them to a hotel. When Himeno tries to offer a kiss to whomever gets the Gun Devil, Denji parrots some of Makima’s words, only for Himeno to up her offer to a French kiss.

Himeno’s informal, happy-go-lucky attitude belies her past, as Aki is her sixth partner. She makes sure to clarify that the other five didn’t die because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because they were all useless. Himeno alone senses the first devil they encounter: a head that moves with a hand and foot that leaps at Kobeni, but is held in place by Himeno, allowing Power to slash it in two.

When Power, who as always yearns for blood, casually threatens to kill Kobeni, Himeno demonstrates her ability on her, specifically her throat. Himeno contracted with a Ghost Devil and is able to control a ghost hand (that is, an invisible hand Power cannot touch). Lesson learned: Let’s all get along!

Teamwork will indeed be needed for the coming trials, as the group suddenly finds themselves in a M.C. Escher-style loop, ending up on the same floor they killed the Head Devil even though they went up a flight of steps. Going down a flight gets Arai nowhere. Looks like we’re dealing with a Devil that can either morph reality or morph others’ perception of it. Pretty wicked.

Chainsaw Man – 04 – Three Squeezes

As Power reflects on her life as a feral devil in human form living meal to meal, she wonders why, when Meowy was taken, did she not only run after him but work with humans to try to save him?

It all comes down to the warmth of Meowy, like the warmth of blood, being like nothing else. The calls it a “foolish reason”, but one moment she’s in the stomach of the Bat Devil with Meowy, and the next, they’re both back in the sunlight—and in Denji’s arms.

Power’s first question is, no unreasonably, “Why” he saved her. His answer is simple, and just as “foolish” as her desire for Meowy’s warmth: he wants to cop a feel. Considering he repaid her deception by saving her and Meowy, she’s fine with him doing so.

But Denji dithers, and as he raises his arm in celebration, it’s swiftly chopped off by an even nastier devil than the bat. She’s “Batty’s” woman, but finds Denji cute enough that she’ll spare him if he flees. But the girl and cat? They die.

Power can’t move yet and Meowy is helpless in a cage, so it’s up to Denji to protect them, but he’s low on the blood that fuels the chainsaws, and only a single tiny Pochita-like blade emerges from his forehead when he rips his cord. No matter; he puts up his remaining duke and fights the giant leech monster with everything he’s got.

He drops potshots and makes spinning slashes while dodging the leech’s punishing blows. Eventually the Leech stops messing around and impales him with her tongue, but with one hand signal and one word from Hayakawa Aki, a giant fox demon appears and glomps the Leech stright back to hell.

Aki finds Denji’s arm and he makes a full recovery. When he wakes up, Aki is there, with perfect little apple bunnies he’s not ready to relinquish until Denji answers some questions. Having found a fellow pet-lover who, more importantly, will let him fondle her chest, Denji sticks to his guns and covers for Power.

Since no one died (and quite a few bystanders told him to thank Denji on their behalf), he lets it slide, and so does Makina when he makes his report. I love the way he neatens himself before entering her office, dude’s got it bad for the boss.

Aki lets everything slide on one condition: Denji has to do what he says. Makima also lets everything slide, but then has Power join him and Denji in his cramped but tidy apartment, which becomes far more cramped and less tidy.

The wordless sequence of Makima’s morning ritual and balcony serenity before all hell breaks loose was a thing of beauty, and while power wears clothes now, she’s still quite feral by human standards, and in dire need of domestic training.

But if her hygiene and diet leave much to be desired, her memory works just fine, as well as the importance of her word. She told Denji he could feel her up, but the Leech Devil interrupted them. Now that they’re living together, she wastes no time giving him the opportunity to collect his reward.

Shutting them in the bathroom, she allows him three squeezes: one for saving Meowy, a second for slaying Bat Devil, and a third for protecting her from “Topknot”. Power is a picture of cuteness and badassdom as she awaits Denji’s hand. The question is, now that he’s so close to his dream, will he actually be able to execute?

Chainsaw Man – 03 – Getting Attached

I was looking forward to an entire episode of Power, and I was not disappointed. This week is another combination of absurd action and gore and genuinely moving character drama. Turns out the devil Power slew belonged to a private hunter, which is a no-no and typically an arrestable offense.

But as Denji witnesses, Makima is like the mother who never yells or even raises her voice. She never has to. When Power insists Denji made her kill the devil and the two bicker, it only takes a couple softly spoken words from Makima to bring Power to nervous attention. She insists the two get along and work together from now on. No need for an “or else” either; that’s inferred.

When Denji mentions that even grabbing a drink from a vending machine is a dream come true for him, Power explains why she “fell into Makima’s clutches”: the possibility of rescuing her beloved cat, Meowy, from a demon. She’ll get along with Denji and even let him cop a feel if he helps her.

So Denji checks Power out for the day—she isn’t allowed to leave HQ on her own—and the two take a trolley and then bus out to where the demon who stole Meowy is located. Denji mentions that he had a pet devil he’s sad he can’t pet anymore, but who lives on in his heart.

Power tells him that’s nothing more than “miserable self-comfort”; she’s unaware that Pochita isn’t just in his heart, but is his heart. Meanwhile, their boss Makima goes before her bosses with a progress report. She mentions her new “pup” is “interesting” and they warn her not to get too attached to her hunting dogs.

Aki questions Denji’s utility relative to the amount of rope Makima is giving him, but Makima reminds Aki that the more powerful a devil’s name is, the more powerful the devil. A “coffee” devil isn’t that strong, but a chainsaw devil—especially one that can return to being a human—is most certainly interesting.

As soon as Denji and Power arrive at the outskirts of the city, I was already feeling apprehensive; such was the muted, incredibly bleak look of the place. But as Power closely followed Denji right up to the house and he asks if she should even be in sight considering the demon will use Meowy as a hostage, she pauses and then says she “misspoke”.

Denji draws his hatchet quickly, but still not fast enough to stop Power from summoning a sledge from her blood, with which she brains him. Meowy’s kidnapper is a giant bat devil, and Denji is the payment for getting Meowy back. The bat grabs Denji and squeezes him, as human blood will heal his wounded arm, but he tosses Denji aside when his blood tastes terrible.

I can’t really blame Power for making this deal, especially after getting a look at the adorable Meowy trapped in a birdcage, and after a flashback to a far wilder Power who saved a starving, shivering Meowy from a bear. Meowy became her constant companion, one of the only voices she heard that wasn’t screaming.

But just as she betrayed Denji, the bat devil goes back on his word, swallowing Meowy, cage and all. As he lets out a loud gulp, Power turns to the battered Denji and tells him now she understands how he feels, having lost her beloved pet. She’s so distraught, in fact, she doesn’t resist when the bat grabs her and tosses her down his gullet headfirst.

The healed bat devil then takes to the skies to have a multi-course meal of various kinds of humans in the city. But he notices Denji dangling from his leg, surprised he’s still alive as like Power he assumes he’s just a normal human. The terrible taste of Denji’s blood should have clued him in.

Denji recalls one night when he couldn’t find Pochita, and looked everywhere for him in a panic. He finally returned home to find him crying in the corner—just as scared and worried about their separation as he was—and he fell asleep with Pochita in his arms.

Just as Power had a moment of empathy for Denji before being swallowed, Denji considers how Power felt each and every night Meowy was in the devil’s clutches. He’s also frustrated by the lack of copping feels thus far, so he pulls his cord, transforms into Chainsaw Man, and tears the Bat a new one.

Landing in a school, Denji encounters the first of many innocent bystanders he must urge to run away (and not, ya know, reach out and touch them, which would tear them to shreds). While the show’s first big battle took place in a self-contained dark warehouse, it’s exhilarating to get a fight that takes place out in the open, first in the sky and then in the middle of a busy city.

Denji saves a driver from a car thrown his way by the bat devil, and then shoves the car right back in the bat’s face. The bat uses a supersonic attack that drives Denji several dozen feet back into a cloud of dust and rubble, but is again surprised when Denji emerges not harmed, but simply pissed off about not being able to cop any feels.

In a final bloody fluorish, Denji charges, one of his blades catches on the bat’s arm, and he cuts the arm clean in half, before delivering a spinning attack that sends the bat’s guts flying everywhere. Power, and hopefully an undigested Meowy, dwell within those guts, and maybe she won’t be so quick to betray Denji next time.

Chainsaw Man – 02 – The Nutcracker

While Makima briefly has Denji wondering if she’s actually nice when she teases him about being her dog, she more than makes up for it by offering the jacket off her back and a free breakfast of udon and sausage—by far the most luxurious meal he’s ever had.

Being so isolated from normal life also means Denji is quick to fall in love with the pretty Makima, especially when she’s kind to him. Kusunoki Tomori lends an almost maternal gentleness to Makima, but there’s authority and even a hint of menace lurking just beneath.

Denji follows his new one true love through the busy streets of Tokyo to Public Safety headquarters, where he gets a rude awakening: his immediate superior isn’t Makima, but a stick-in-the-mud dude, Hayakawa Aki. When he protests, Makima tenderly ties his tie for him and says if he does a good job, maybe they will work together.

For now, Denji’s to shadow Aki, but his first question to him—whether Makima has a boyfriend—leads to Aki leading him to an alley where he slugs the shit out of him. He tells Denji to quit now; he’s already seen too many colleagues jump into this profession without thinking.

As Aki walks away, Denji comes up from behind and kicks him straight in the nuts, then keeps kicking without mercy. It’s a perfect distillation of who Denji is: he fights dirty because his life has been dirty; it’s how he’s lived as long as he has. And after tasting his first bowl of udon (soggy or no) and meeting Makima, he’s not giving up this life so easily.

The two proceed to brawl, but Denji gets the better of Aki with more nut kicks, and Denji helps him back to HQ, where Makima is glad they’re hitting it off. Aki then opens his home to Denji so he can keep an eye on him, and quickly regrets this decision when Denji predictably acts like a feral animal tasting normal life for the first time … which of course he is.

Denji’s first devil-hunting mission is an easy one: a low-level fiend (a human corpse possessed by a devil). Denji doesn’t even turn into Chainsaw Man to kill him, but lops his head off with a hatchet. When he gives the excuse that he wanted to give the fiend a peaceful death, Aki slams his head against the window and tells him to take this more seriously.

Aki matter-of-factly tells Denji his entire family was killed in front of him by fiends, while the other cops and public safety officers have spouses and children to protect. But Denji honestly doesn’t know what he should grasp onto as a motivating factor like Aki’s thirst for revenge.

That is, until he studies the dirty magazines he saved from a chainsaw’s blood spray. Striking a cool, Ichigo Kurosaki-esque pose, he dedicates his life from here on out … to boobs. Again, Denji can be forgiven; he is literally drunk on his suddenly extravagant new lifestyle.

The episode could’ve ended on that hilarious personal declaration and still be great, but thankfully it doesn’t, as it introduces Denji’s new partner for future patrols: Power, an “uncommonly rational” hornéd fiend who also happens to be a beautiful woman. She’s also completely nuts, though Denji notes that he doesn’t mind a little crazy.

Power is voiced with gusto by Ai Fairouz, sports shark teeth like Denji, and is a teeming ball of chaotic energy, chomping at the bit to kill some devils and drink their blood. She notes that she was notorious and feared in her devil days, and Denji wonders if Aki paired him with her so he’d fail to get the results needed to keep him alive (the higher-ups at HQ are dying to put an end to Makima’s experimental 4th Division project).

When Power does pick up the scent of a devil, she deals with it all by herself, parkouring across and off roofs, summoning a giant hammer made of her own blood, smashing the bejeezus out of the Sea Cucumber-themed baddie, and reveling in her kill. It’s clear if Denji wants to rack up his own kills he’s going to have to up his game. At the same time, while I’m sure Power finds Denji pretty dull so far, I bet she’ll get a kick out of his Chainsaw mode.

Chainsaw Man – 01 (First Impressions) – Exactly What It Says on the Tin

Denji has almost nothing. I say “almost” because he does have a couple of things. He has over 38 million yen (US$260K) in debt inherited from his dead dad, and he has Pochita a trusty pet chainsaw “dog”. The latter is called a devil, which Denji (voiced by Toya Kikunosuke in his debut) uses as a weapon to hunt other devils to pay back the debt.

But it’s never enough. The yakuza he works for squeeze Denji for every last finder’s fee and admin charge until a ¥400K job only nets him a measly $1,800 … which he has to stretch for a month. He’s sold all his redundant organs from his eye to his nut, but he’ll still eat a cigarette for a ¥100 coin … or at least pretend to eat one.

If that didn’t put you on this poor wretch’s side, his backstory would. His dad’s body was still warm in the ground when his debtors told Denji to get them ¥700K (almost $5K) by tomorrow, no matter what he has to do or have done to him. As he sits by his dad’s grave in the rain he first meets Pochita, who is mortally wounded. Pochita makes for a perfect fantasy animal, equal parts adorable and fearsome, and as sympathetic here as Denji.

Denji offers to let the little guy bite him (blood heals devils), if the devil agrees to let him use him as a weapon for hunting. The two have been inseparable ever since, and it’s a genuinely touching boy-and-his-mutant dog tale. He and Denji live off of slices of bread in a corrugated shed. Denji dreams not of having it all, but having enough—a normal life. Meals, a girlfriend, things of that nature. Then he coughs up blood, like his mom who died of a heart condition.

He’s too hungry to sleep, and even if he did, his yakuza master arrives to take him to his next job. As Denji puts it, they won’t even let him dream of a normal life. But after a beautifully depicted car ride to a remote dilapidated warehouse, Denji learns this isn’t another job, but the end of the line. The yakuza has decided to make a similar “deal with the devil”, only on a grand, grotesque scale.

He’s become a giant horrific monster with a horde of zombie devils at his beck and call. Denji is no longer needed, so he has the zombies stab and slice him to pieces and throw him in a dumpster. It’s a needlessly cruel and violent end, on the level of the martyrdom of a saint in one of the bloodier biblical tales. But on another level, maybe it’s for the best; maybe death is a welcome release from Denji’s lifelong torment.

In the dumpster, blood drips from Denji’s lifeless body … and into Pochita’s mouth. It heals the little devil enough for him to remember what Denji told him on a better day in the past, when they were felling trees and cutting logs. Denji knew he probably wouldn’t live to pay off his debt, but if he couldn’t have the normal life he dreamt of, he wanted Pochita to have his body, life that normal life, then die a normal death.

But Pochita doesn’t accept Denji’s sacrifice. From the gloomy day he was saved by Denji’s blood, Pochita owed Denji a solid. So instead of possessing Denji’s body, he heals it, and then becomes Denji’s new heart, replacing the defective one that was going to claim his life sooner or later. In a touching idyllic scene in the suddenly fully-lit dumpster, Pochita speaks (with Nanachi’s voice). In exchange for his heart, Denji is to show him his dream.

When Denji wakes up, he’s fully healed, and Pochita is gone. All that’s left is his familiar ripcord tail, which is now lodged in Denji’s chest where his heart once was. The zombie devils spot him and start shambling over to attack him again, but this time he’s not having it. He pulls the ripcord and vows to kill them all.

The zombies surround and pile on top of him as their zombie devil king assumes he’s being devoured and won’t come back. But then the muffled sound of a two-stroke motor emanates from that pile, which is suddenly shredded and turned into a messy blood fountain by Denji, sporting a chainsaw lodged between his eyes and on both arms.

This man of chainsaws—let us call him Chainsaw Man—goes to town on the hapless zombies, cutting through them like a Wüsthof through flan. They’re dumb, so they keep coming, so he keeps cutting through them, then turns his attention to their boss, who whimpers and cowers and lashes out with his gross fleshy tendrils to absolutely no avail.

Nothing made of flesh is any match for a chain of blades spinning at 10,000 RPM. Denji gives himself to the bloody gory spectacle, living in a state of pure vengeance. It’s a hard watch, but it’s also cathartic, and a long time coming. It’s a scene that would make Tarantino proud (and that he’d have to film in black-and-white to avoid NC-17 rating).

Dawn breaks, and a Toyota Century slowly pulls up to the warehouse. Three figures in long black coats make their way inside: two men with fedoras and a young woman with rose-colored hair. They see all the yakuza zombie devils already killed—the job they came to do.

Then they see who did it: Denji, still in Chainsaw mode, standing motionless in the middle of the bodies, spattered with their blood. The men posit that he’s another devil that’s still alive, but the woman says no; he doesn’t smell like a devil.

She approaches Denji, who lets out two words: “hug me.” The woman, named Makima (Kusunoki Tomori), obliges, giving Denji perhaps the first hug he’s ever been given by anyone. His chainsaw attachments melt away, reveailing he’s still human. Makima smiles and introduces herself as a member of Public Safety who came to do the job he already did.

She tenderly eases him into her lap, and gives her a simple choice: she can kill him like a devil, or she can keep him as a human. Keeping him means being fed properly. When he asks what that entails, she lists a whole bunch of foods he in his long-standing destitution would consider lavish: bread with butter, with jam; salad, coffee … dessert.

Makima just describing a normal meal. But for Denji, she’s describing a dream—a dream she can easily make true. Freed from the bondage of the yakuza, Denji has been offered a new life doing honest work for fair compensation. He’s been offered a chance to show Pochita his dream. And damnit, he’s going to take it.

* * *

Chainsaw Man is the best premiere of the Fall. It’s possibly the best premiere of the year. It’s about as flawlessly executed an episode of anime as one could ask for, and made me immediately want to watch it over again as soon as the credits ended. Its premise is so simple and elegant, yet contains multitudes of human suffering and redemption.

It explores the brutality and beauty inherent in humanity, the malice and the mercy. Earlier I likened Denji to a saint and a martyr. His new chainsaw body is a terrible miracle, and so is the show in which he stars. It gives you exactly what’s in its title, and so much more.

 

Lycoris Recoil – 01 (First Impressions) – Girls, Guns, and Good Coffee

This episode opens on Tokyo at dawn, something I’ve had the privilege to experience (thanks, jet lag): calm, quiet, peaceful, before the hustle and bustle of the morning rush. Our co-star Chisato recites the honorable mission of orphans like her highly trained to be Lycoris, agents of peace and public safety, dressed as normal schoolgirls and  killing would-be terrorists before they can pull off their plots.

The recitation sounds like it’s coming from a true believer at first, but as we get to know Chisato, there’s a sarcasm to the purity of the words. She’s been summoned to a deteriorating situation: other Lycoris have been pinned down in a arms deal bust gone wrong, and one of the girls has a gun to her head.

Before Chisato can intervene, Inoue Takina picks up the biggest gun she can find and empties the magazine at the arms dealers, ending the threat but almost killing her comrade.

For her reckless actions, Takina is transferred out of DA to a far more casual indie operation, which appears to be a normal classy café. There, she meets Chisato, an elite Lycoris who also happens to be as chipper and extroverted as Takina is guarded and serious. Your typical odd couple is thus forged.

Chisato shows Takina the ropes as she goes on her normal weekday rounds, which seem more like a sequence of chores. Chisato clarifies to Takina that unlike the more militaristic and geo-political mission of the more official DA, “LycoReco” outfit is focused on helping individual people, whoever they may be, as putting smiles on people’s faces is also the job of a Lycoris.

Chisato and Takina’s first such mission together is given to them by a metro police detective (and café regular). It’s billed at first as a woman with a stalker, but when the girls inspect the Insta photo that started the trouble, they see that the arms deal that was swept under the rug as a gas explosion is visible in the background of the photo. Their client Saori isn’t being stalked by a creeper, but by those arms dealers.

Chisato suggests they stay with Saori and have a pajama party, and she runs back to the cafe to get her stuff, telling Takina to keep the client safe and “value life”. Instead, when Takina notices a van following, she uses Saori as bait in order to shoot up the van with Saori in it with live ammunition. Thankfully, Chisato swoops in with non-lethal ammo, quick thinking, and quick action to pacify the situation. No one dies, and Saori won’t have to worry about unwanted attention.

In the midst of this, Chisato test Takina’s marksmanship by having her take out a drone spying on their activities. This gets the attention of some dude with the “Allen Institute” which suggest there will be a lot of in-the-shadows spy derring-do in this show, with agents like Chisato and Takina likely having to choose whether to remain pawns in a greater, more sinister scheme than simply helping people.

I’m sure the details of all this will become clearer, but in the meantime Chisato commits to helping get Takina back into the good graces of the DA while also reveling in how cute she is in the LycoReco Café uniform. Splitting time between brewing coffee and doing girls-with-guns stuff makes for an intriguing premise with shades of Railgun without the superpowers (though the twisted up Sky Tree suggest weirder stuff may come into play later). As is typical of A-1 productions, the show also looks great, which definitely adds to the appeal. I’m sold so far!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

No Guns Life – 15 – Remote Arms Race

Looking back at her brief but happy time with her brother, Mary remembers a kind and gentle boy who took care of her despite being young himself. He always held her hand, and even braided her hair. When he left, she was proud of him for finding the Place Where He Belongs, but in doing so he was taking what she deemed to be her place (by his side) away.

Mary doesn’t see any of that old Victor in the monster before her, so she does what any sister would do when pinned to the wall by her brother’s mecha-ribbons: launch her boob rockets. I’ll admit to having slightly missed the point of Juuzou’s bashfulness at the sight of Mary’s larger chest last week.

As cool as this tactic was, I still don’t know how Mary’s face and body weren’t horribly burned in the process. Regardless, she’s able to stop Victor from dissecting Juuzou until his uncontrollable final form comes out, and Juuzou is able to rip his arms off, which is key because Victor’s hands can dismantle any technology they touch (including one of the rockets).

Unable to discern whether the “real” Victor was the brother she loved or the monster before her now, the only way to keep him from hurting those she cares about is to put him down. She does so by firing Juuzou’s trigger, which blows off Victor’s head and most of his shoulders, ending the immediate threat.

After that, “Lefty” suddenly reappears, damaged but still intact. He even hooks himself up to the voice box of one of the police Extendeds so he can talk to them properly. Turns out the “real” Victor was never the demented puppet they tangled with.

Victor’s own body has been taken over by the dual parallel sub-brain he’d developed, which has a personality and will all their own. Destroying the puppet this “Shadow” Victor was controlling caused enough of a shock to allow “real” Victor to surface and open a dialogue.

Victor tells Juuzou and Mary how as an engineer he was committed to ending the loss of life and limb on the battlefield through the development of ever more advanced Extendeds, working towards fully remote models that would eliminate the need for flesh-and-blood boots on the ground entirely. Of course, it wasn’t until he tested out one such model on the front lines that he realized that what he was doing wasn’t saving anyone, simply upping the volume and efficiency of the  carnage.

The shock of seeing this created an opening for the sub-brain to take over his real body. The thought he had at the moment of transfer—that all Extended should be destroyed—became Shadow Victor’s primary driving force, which led him to join Spitzbergen. Before Shadow Victor regains control, Victor begs Juuzou and Mary to find his real body and remove the sub-brain. Only then will the shadow’s reign of terror end.

While I’m glad the circumstances surrounding Mary’s brother aren’t as simple as “boy turned evil”, this episode got fairly bogged down in Victor’s exposition, which killed the momentum of present events. As a practical matter, having to sit and listen to him also meant Juuzou and Mary couldn’t escape to some safer location.

They really should have tried to do this, as Mr. Law Upholder Avi Cobo walks right up to them, shoots Juuzou down, and holds his gun to Mary’s head, telling her she’s not doing anything with Victor’s real body. He’s going to take it into custody “in accordance with the law.” Mary in mortal danger to end two straight episodes? C’mon, NGL.

No Guns Life – 14 – The Cyberpunk Prometheus

In light of her brother’s apparent return, Mary tells Juuzou more about her and Victor’s past as orphans. They were taken in by an engineer named Emmet, but when Victor got interested in Extended tech Emmet objected. Since Emmet had become a violent drunk, Victor killed him before he could hurt Mary and fled.

Mary only ever got one letter back from Victor saying he’d joined the military, but what she doesn’t know is that he became Juuzou’s primary engineer during the war. Juuzou assumed Victor had died, but considers the man’s dying wish to be his first request as a resolver: Protect Mary.

What Juuzou doesn’t understand is why Victor joined Spitzbergen, and why he’s getting Mary involved in dangerous shit when he told him to protect her. Their talk is interrupted by the pair of Spitzbergen enforcers, but despite the larger of the two describing his anti-Extended armor in great detail, Juuzou still manages to blast it to pieces anyway, safe in the knowledge he didn’t have to hold back.

Juuzou is actually find giving Spitzbergen the data, as long as the hostages are returned safe and sound, but that willingness doesn’t imply he won’t punch somebody for daring to kidnap members of his “family”. He and Mary head for the Kyusei Pit.

Meanwhile, Tetsuro isn’t really treated like a hostage, but allowed to walk free without restraint. He’s brough before a high-ranking member of Spitzbergen named Wachowski, a clear homage to the creators of The Matrix.

Wachowski reveals something to Tetsuro he had forgotten as part of his amnesia: he betrayed his father, left Berühren, and funded Spitzbergen. Tetsuro can’t believe any of it, but he can’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand, either.

Whether Tetsuro became aware of the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed as a result of Berühren’s greed and wished to balance the scales by helping its enemy, who can say. All we do know is that Victor Steinberg is not a good guy anymore.

When Juuzou confronts him and asks why he’s sabotaging his request to protect Mary, Victor reveals that his main goal is to dissect and research Juuzou himself, down to his last bolt. He also knows Juuzou will never fight for himself, only to protect others.

That means in order to unleash Juuzou’s “true form”, he must put a member of Juuzou’s family—in this case Mary—in mortal danger. Victor’s claims to be “reaping what he’s sown” by joining Spitzbergen seems to be in conflict with his more scientific desires.

One thing’s for sure: Juuzou isn’t going to let Victor hurt Mary. It’s fitting that’s their names, since Victor is acting very much like a twisted Dr. Frankenstein, while Mary is likely named after Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley. Famous name-borrowing aside, looks like a big bruising Juuzou-Victor fight is primed to commence.

No Guns Life – 13 (S2 01) – Enter the Dismantler

Following a brief re-intro by Juuzou, No Guns Life picks up right where it left off. Turns out that chip in Rosa McMahon’s locket, which Juuzou accepted as payment, is exactly as much trouble as he thought it would be. While he’s at a vintage electronics shop playing the recording on the old medium, his office is raided by Spitzbergen, the anti-Extended terrorist group.

Mary and Tetsuro escape (with the former being protected from a flash-bang by the robotic hand-pet), but Tetsuro doesn’t feel right leaving Chris behind. When Mary refuses to let him use Harmony on a badly-wounded EMS officer, he runs right into his captors’ hands. He and Chris are held as hostages until Juuzou coughs up the data.

Meanwhile, Mary follows the hand pet to a foggy staircase, atop which stands her big brother Victor, who is riddled with Extensions and was the same person who attacked the EMS officers guarding Juuzou’s office.

Victor isn’t there to ask how his sis has been, but to offer a simple warning: quit helping the Extended. Considering Mary doing so as her calling—even refusing payment in deference to what her patients have already lost—it seems unlikely she’ll comply.

Mary later meets up with Juuzou at a diner, where they meet Avi Cobo, a detective with Public Safety who is investigating Spitzbergen. Unfortunately, they can’t guarantee they’ll ever see Tetsuro or Chris again, considering how extreme some members of the group are. But what Cobo really wants is the data Juuzou has, and has his partner follow Mary, who he’s convinced is Victor’s sister.

I wouldn’t call this a standout episode of NGL, more of a gentle easing back into its grimy cyberpunk world, a re-establishing of stakes, and the formal intro of Victor, who villain-wise looks to give Berühren a run for its money. This week set up key future confrontations which will no doubt result in more of NGL’s trademark pulse-pounding, rock-em-sock-em action.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 06

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If it were one of many other slow-burn shows, I might be itching for something to happen already near the show’s midpoint (assuming this only gets 13 eps – I may be wrong), even to the point of starting to hand out 7’s for lack of forward momentum.

And yet, ACCA continues to avoid such scrutiny with its unassuming, calm, quiet competence, all but unique this Winter as a show all about stopping to smell the roses…or freshly-baked bread.

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One of the most eventful things to happen happens right at the start, where Jean not only goes up to Grossular, but tells him he knows he’s being followed, denies any involvement in a coup, and expresses his certainty Gross isn’t involved either. Grossular, after all, was the ACCA officer in Rokkusu who made things right when a horrific train accident claimed, among many others, Jean and Lotta’s parents.

Jean meets Mauve at the bakery, but claims to have “nothing of note” to report to her. If he’s trying to stay in the director-general’s good graces, he could have at least told her about the attempted coup in Suitsu. I’d say that was pretty “of note.” Mauve immediately starts to doubt Jean’s usefulness…and loyalty.

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Things largely quiet down from there, as both the show, the nation of Dowa, and most of its inhabitants kick back and enjoy a New Year’s shindig in Jean and Lotta’s apartment building.

We learn about the businessmen Jean seems to help out during his auditing duties, and Lotta receives a cake from Rail, only for Owl to give her another cake minutes later.

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People seem drawn to Lotta, but there’s still no indication she’s anyone super-special…yet (the flashbacks also seem to eliminate some possibilities in that arena).

Officers note that the start of ACCA’s hundredth year in operation isn’t all that different from the start of previous years. Mauve has a pretty standard speech at an all-hands, and that’s pretty much it.

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Something notable does happen: Grossular joins the other four Top 5 officers in their common room, to ask Lilium why he leaked Crow to Jean. Lilium wanted Jean “to do something,” and while Gross may be right that such an action was reckless, Lilium does seem to win the argument by calling for a meeting of the five to discuss what Gross knows and how they’ll proceed together, no longer unilaterally. He gets that meeting; it should be a good one.

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Jean then heads to Hare, the tropical district where the ACCA uniforms are short-sleeved and informal and the district inhabitants live the longest lives in the nation, and live life with gusto accordingly.

After striking out with Mauve last time, Jean redoubles his efforts to get something, anything out of Hare’s chiefs. Yet, when he goes to meet Mauve at the bakery, she’s not there. Is it too late?

After Hare (one of Jean’s shorter audits), Jean heads to Dowa again, this time for an audit. Prince Schwan continues to try to force his grandfather’s hand in subtle ways like hanging his portrait in a place he spends lots of sittin’ time. Perhaps Jean will get more juicy info in Dowa.

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Psycho-Pass – 03 & 04

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The first two episodes focused on Akane’s guilt from incapacitating Kogami. In these next two episodes, Kogami remains on her mind, but they’re not thoughts of remorse, but inner turmoil about how exactly to deal with him. Ever since entering this job she’s been torn between what feels right and what Cybil decrees to be right.

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As an inspector, it’s her duty to realize Cybil’s vision for a harmonious society, but her interactions with the enforcers and Kogami in particular, have her thinking about and questioning things she never has before. Ginoza takes a narrow view of enforcers, dismissing them as the “trash of society” no better than any of the latent criminals they help capture—right in front of them, too.

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Ginoza may hide behind Cybil, but it”s clear there’s something else going on. In both cases featured in these episodes, the enforcers arrive at conclusions for the crimes long before he does. He protests their theories as circumstantial evidence right up to the point they’re proven correct. He can still look down on them because they’re latent criminals, but that doesn’t make him feel any better: if these “pieces of trash” are better investigators than he’ll ever be, what does it say about him?

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Perhaps that’s why he calls Akane a fool for wanting to learn through experience (as opposed to the wise, who learn from history). Perhaps he’s already been down the road of trying to treat the enforcers as colleagues or equals. Kogami may seem to have the calm cool head of a seasoned detective while solving the case of the offline drone factory murders, but when those drones come after him, he turns into a vicious hunting dog, driven by one thing only: the desire to bring his prey down.

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That factory case, by the way, is another example of how frightening and fucked up this world is; a more twisted version of the way corporations micromanage their “human resources”. The factory records its workers’ psychological states continuously and deny them access to the net and outside world. The chief is willing to let one worker be the target of bullying if it keeps the psycho-passes of the rest clear. But that leads to the creation of a monster, whose psycho-pass “clears” after each murder,is treated as an unimportant blip in an otherwise productive and profitable operation. No need to rock the boat, in other words.

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Of course, when the likes of Akane and her enforcer buddies show up, boat-rocking is inevitable. But Masaoka warns Akane later that the only way to truly understand Kogami is to become him, which means discarding her squeaky-clean psycho-pass and life. If she doesn’t leave well enough alone, and simply accept Kogami will always be opaque to her, she could lose everything she’d worked to achieve up to that point. But since she’s questioning the infallibility of Cybil, perhaps the truth is starting to carry more value to her than the status quo, which is, to any observer outside the show, totally wrong.

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The fourth episode aims to enter a world within this messed up world; a virtual online world full of “CommuFields” where personalities don avatars and vie for popularity among the masses. It’s a world full of somewhat trippy but not always entirely compelling or successful imagery, even if the ideas behind them are pretty good. The virtual dreamscapes and whimsical inhabitants of this episode probably wouldn’t impress a Space Dandy fan like Zane, and I for one found a lot of it a bit silly, especially considering the serious overtones.

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The case, in which its deduced by Kogami and Masaoka that the culprits stole a personality’s online identity, while disposing of the body by chopping it into flushable pieces (GROSS) again highlights those two’s investigative chops (and Gino’s lack thereof). It’s also another amplified reflection of real-life culture, as a “real-world meetup” is staged for online members to hang out, only they do it in holo-cosplay to maintain their anonymity. When everyone’s holo-suit is hacked so they all resemble Talisman, it’s a neat trick by the crims.

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The bad guys end up bagging another avatar, “Spooky Boogie” (a name that sounds hilarious coming out of everyone’s mouths) and proceed to disintegrate her body as they maintain her online presence. As the episode ends before the case can be resolved, it’s not clear what this strange group is after, but something tells me the closer Akane gets to them, the more messed up she’s going to get if she doesn’t tread carefully.

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Psycho-Pass – 01 & 02

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Not much time spent on these two…but that’s sure to change.

In Fall 2012, RABUJOI was only reviewing ten shows, but they included the first cours of Zetsuen no Tempest and From the New World, Kamisama Hajimemashita, and Chu2Koi. We were also watching relative duds like K, Jorumungand: Perfect Order, Btooom!, and Girls und Panzer. In hindsight, we would have traded any one of that latter group for Psycho-Pass, without any more hesitation than Kogami Shinya when his Dominator tells him to shoot.

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The boyish Akane’s default hangdog look reminds me of Soul Eater’s Crona.

But it’s never too late to pick up a good show, so that’s what I’m doing. Specifically, I’m watching the “Extended Edition”, which pairs the 22 original episodes into 11 hourish-long short films and adds in some new content…though its all new to me! After a cryptic prologue, we’re thrust right into the midst of rookie CID Inspector Tsunemori Akane’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad First Day.

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The elaborate yet dingy cyberpunk setting and the very strange futuristic society of this world is all unveiled organically as Akane’s first mission progresses. Blade Runner, Akira, and Minority Report are obvious inspirations for the city of gleaming skyscrapers and dark alleys where the police deliver justice to “latent criminals” who may not have committed any crimes, but are deemed psychologically certain of doing so at some point.

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Akane eventually lets her intuition override the logic of killing the hostage

The entity looking into everyone’s souls and determining the color of their Psycho-Pass is the mysterious “Cybil”, which I presume is some kind of supercomputer designed to try to facilitate the ordering of civilization into the peaceful and law-abiding, and those who aren’t. Some of those who aren’t are Akane’s underlings, called “enforcers”, often likened to hunting dogs who sniff out their ilk to be dealt with either by restraint or termination.

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Is that Neo-Tokyo out there?

As neat as Akane’s futuristic amenities look, all the “progress” in the world has come at steep cost: Cybil has given birth to a new form of prejudice and segregation fully supported by cold logic and science. It even has the air of a system designed to influence the course of human evolution: enough generations of weeding out the psychologically unstable, and you’re sure to become a more stable, perfect society, no?

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That’s the paradox of Psycho-Pass: for all the futuristic glitz on the top, there’s still plenty of rot and suffering below. Despite all the drastic measures taken, that perfect world remains a mirage on the horizon. Enter Akane, our window into this world for most of the hour: experiencing so much for the first time, as we are, totally unprepared for its cruelty despite finishing tops in her class.

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Akane, in fact, is an Inspector purely by choice, something few people in the world have. Many who don’t would say she squandered that choice by enlisting in Public Safety, but as she was the only one to get an A-rank in that discipline, she felt her calling beckon. She may bethe “greenest” character we meet, but despite her initial doubts, it’s clear she’s an immensely talented, capable young woman.

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Karanomori Shion’s relationship with another enforcer, Kunizuka Yayoi, is portrayed wordlessly

The result of her first mission is deemed a fuck-up by many, but she’s eventually redeemed. Turning her Dominator on her own enforcer Kogami Shinya, to save the life of a woman his Dominator was telling him to kill, turns out to be the right move, as her “criminal coefficient” was only temporary. It shows the knack she has for the job in spite of her self-doubt, but also makes you wonder how many “suspects” have been killed who ultimately didn’t deserve it, even by Cybil’s extreme standards.

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GAAAAAH

Akane’s second “case” isn’t nearly as intense, as she and grizzled enforcer Masaoka Tomomi don utterly ridiculous holo-suits as he sniffs out a less homicidal suspect. But while it isn’t as traumatizing (though Akane is regarded as a “mental beauty”), it does highlight to Akane her apparent uselessness in such cases, at least at her level of experience. Masaoka tells her that shes not completely useless, as enforcers like him aren’t allowed outside without being accompanied by an Inspector.

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That makes Akane sound like an idle chaperone—and she may be just that on several calls—but where her true value will show is in the tougher, messier cases, like that first one with the hostage. While enforcers like Kogami Shinya seek and destroy criminals like prey, she’s their to stay their hands when she deems it appropriate. She also seems determined to treat her enforcers less like hunting dogs and more like colleagues.

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So yeah, great start. Superb, in fact. Such an immersive, fucked-up world, but very cool. I reiterate my frustration with having never so much as glanced at an episode, since if I had I’d have surely reviewed it two years ago. But oh, well. Better late than never.

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