Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 10 – Looking for a Hint

When Diva’s code degraded into oblivion and Vivy re-awakened and took her place on the stage, Diva’s final song was already over. Ever since then, Vivy has been unable to sing, still unable to find the answer of what it means to “sing from the heart”.

So she retired to much fanfare and took up residence as an exhibit at the AI Museum. Decades passed, and humans and their children gradually forgot about her and her contributions. But not all: Osamu, a young lad on a field trip, knows full well who Diva was, and is.

Osamu wants to hear Diva sing live, but she tells him that’s not possible. When Matsumoto shows up after a good number of years, Vivy is eager for their next mission together, as it’s not “all she has.” But Matsumoto tells her the Singularity Project is over; the double suicide of Ophelia and Antonio didn’t lead to any copycat incidents; a positive revision to the timeline.

Yet despite the fact they’ve seemingly achieved victory it preventing the AI uprising, something Kakitani said still haunts Matsumoto: “through a revelation from the heavens.” That led him to meet Vivy now, sixty-five years from when they first met. He proposes a “race”: whoever finds their answer first wins.

Vivy goes into the archive and dredges up her first memory, when her creator (a female researcher) gave her her mission to sing from the heart, hoping it would “offer a hint” as to what a heart is, at least as it applies to humans.

Osamu visits Diva again, saying it’s “messed up” his classmates don’t know her. Inspired by Matsumoto, she proposes a race, with him bringing friends to meet her while she searches for the answer her creator knew full well she might struggle with her entire life.

As one year, then five, then ten, then twenty pass by, Vivy writes a song in the Archive, which if completed would be the first instance of a song written by an AI of their own pure free will (all previous songs were written by humans). Her progress is glacial; unable to come up with more than a couple of phrases and constantly erasing notes she’s put down.

Meanwhile, Osamu has quite a bit more progress in those years, making friends, making a career for himself in research, and eventually meeting and marrying his wife Nana. While Osamu and Nana are able to conceive, she dies of an illness shortly after giving birth, leaving Osamu both a father and a widower.

He visits Diva with his daughter Luna in his arms, and asks if she would like to hold her. Diva asks why Nana was able to smile despite knowing she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. Osamu tells her that all humans die, but they always remain inside someone or many people without fail. Such is the case for him with Nana and, as Vivy realizes, it’s true of her and Diva as well. As little Luna grasps her hand, Vivy is hit by a sudden spark of inspiration.

She dives into the construct and belts out a completed song, written about her and Matsumoto’s journey in the Singularity Project, and of all the people she’s met. When an impressed Matsumoto shows up and asks who she wrote it for, Vivy says it’s for Diva, who remains inside her even though she’s gone.

After twenty years, she was finally able to finish her task…yet she still cannot even contemplate singing it, so her struggle continues. Before that, though, Vivy goes into hibernation mode, resting her circuits after accomplishing her singular feat.

Her friend Osamu, who along with his wife and daughter inspired Vivy to do what no other AI has, can see that his friend Diva is in deep sleep crunching music data. He leaves her to her creative slumber, assured that when she wakes up he’ll finally be able to hear her voice. Then someone off-camera calls Osamu by his last name…Matsumoto.

Unfortunately, the joy that comes with the revelation Vivy’s cubic partner was a friend and admirer from her future all along is soon overshadowed when Vivy wakes up to find the museum in burning ruins. She runs outside, where the AI apocalypse is in full swing, with one key, horrifying, heartbreaking new wrinkle: as they murder every human in sight, all of the AIs are singing in sinister, dissonant unison. They’re singing Vivy’s song.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 21 – On Your Marks

I tellya, if Sakura doesn’t start taking her rival seriously, this could soon turn into The Meiling and Syaoran Show! In all seriousness, since arriving Meiling has done all she can to take over Sakura’s spotlight. Despite the fact Sakura isn’t actually trying to compete with her for anything (or anyone), Meiling is committed to beating Sakura at every turn–even a 2.5k when all the races she’s ever run were sprints.

It’s all too apropos that “reserving your energy” is a foreign concept to Meiling; it takes both Syaoran and Wei to convince her that she needed go all-out at the beginning of the race, and she should focus more on her breathing. Going for a run after a big meal is also a bad move, but Meiling is determined to cross that finish line 1-2 with Syaoran, so she’ll weather any stomach cramps or other hardships.

When the day of the race arrives, Tomoyo injures her foot, but that just means she gets to record Sakura running. She even employs Kero-chan as an aerial spotter. Meiling shows off how much she’s learned by keeping pace with both Syaoran and Sakura—who are both motivated by the fact Yukito is watching them run with Touya.

But as the race progresses, the theme song transitions to more ominous music, indicating something’s not quite right. Sakura, Syaoran and Meiling cross Tomoyo twice…in the same direction. As Sakura notes that the tree-lined road seems longer than usual, Meiling trips and hurts her ankle. No matter how far they run they can’t seem to get to the finish line. That means a Clow Card is in play, and sure enough Kero-chan identifies Loop as the culprit.

Once Sakura literally stumbles on the seam between “real” space and the loop’s spacial distortion, she and Syaoran each produce swords with which to cut said loop, which takes the form of a red ribbon. Sakura seals the card, and despite Meiling’s insistence Syaoran cut it first, it passes into Sakura’s possession. Syaoran finally relents and carries Meiling on his back across the finish line, thus achieving the spirit if not the letter of her dream.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 10 – Flowers and Family

It’s Sports Day, which means it’s truly Sakura’s time to shine. She wows classmates and parents alike with her running speed, and while she accidentally lets a baton land on her head, she looks positively adorable while doing so.

When the time comes for the obstacle course race, Sakura and Syaoran find themselves beside each other in the starting blocks, and both are equally excited that Yukito is cheering them on. But while Sakura stays focused on winning, Syaoran looks over at Yukito one too many times and trips over his feet, letting Sakura win.

No sore winner, Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito for lunch, and Syaoran accepts when he hears Yukito is there and then marvels at the amount of food the kid can put away. Then Sakura’s dad arrives, as does Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, who was his wife Nadeshiko’s cousin and protector.

She’s never forgiven him for stealing her away and then allowing her two die so young (sadly she was in the 27 Club). When Sonomi demands to know why he’s so cool about it, he tells her he promised his wife not to cry. Instead, he’s raised two great kids in an environment of love and happiness.

Even so, Sonomi won’t pass up another opportunity to challenge Sakura’s dad, so they both enter the parent’s 100m race. But as he’s mopping the floor with her, what had been a light dusting of flower petals becomes a veritable torrent, forming an increasingly thick carpet in the school’s main quad. Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously suspect a Clow Card, but the latter can’t leave the medical station in case there are injured.

Thankfully, this is not the toughest Clow Card. Sakura and Tomoyo learn from Kero-chan via Daidouji-brand cell phone that Flower is a fun-loving but gentle card who tends to show up around celebrations or other fun events, like sports days. When Sakura first approaches her, Flower pulls her into a joyful dance, but Sakura is eventually able to return her to card form before everyone in the quad is completely buried.

Sakura immediately puts Flower into use by giving both her father and Sonomi, who were in the midst of a quarrel, nadeshiko flowers. Nadeshiko Yamato is a Japanese term meaning “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”; a floral metaphor for the ideal woman, whom Nadeshiko clearly was. Even Tomoyo’s long hair is a tribute to Nadeshiko’s flowing locks.

The two adults end up bonding over their shared love of her, while Sakura and Tomoyo profess their love for each other in turn. It’s all so wonderfully warm and fuzzy, there were moments I thought my heart might burst! Brimming with beautiful moments between family and friends, this was one of the most purely joyful CCS episodes yet.

Appare-Ranman! – 03 – Taking Flight

Thanks to Dylan, Kosame and the native boy Hototo are saved. Appare repays him by promising he’ll be in the car ahead of him one day, to which Dylan says bring it on. Appare makes a lot of promises to a lot of  people, but considering how far he’s come on his ingenuity, he’s yet to make a claim he can’t back up. Kosame is learning that he’s not as crazy as he looks.

As for Hototo, he’s on a quest of vengeance, aiming to find the man who killed his father. In him Appare sees someone with knowledge of the terrain to the east, which will be part of the race. Like Appare and Kosame, Hototo has nowhere else to go, so he accepts their hospitality.

Their ability to offer Hototo a place to stay is disrupted when the young, rich BNW scion Al Lyon arrives in town with his kind Chaperone Sofia (Orisaka Fumiko…RUKIA!) and buys all the storehouses from the sea captain, including Appare and Kosame’s.

Al says he needs all of the space he’s bought, so Appare suggests they race in their respective machines in 10 days. If Al wins, he’ll get Kosame’s prized swords—which you’ll remember he can’t draw when he’s in a pinch. If Appare wins, they get the storehouse.

Appare knows he doesn’t need to build a machine that will beat Al’s sleek BNW in every aspect of performance. Al let him choose the course, so all he has to build is something that will achieve the objective of the race, no more or less. It can crumble to dust immediately after, as long as they win.

Grateful that he was able to repair her company’s car, Xialian gives Appare access to spare parts, which he picks up in his hastily-built Segway-like self-balancing scooter. Still, Xialian hasn’t driven since the incident, her team has no intention of entering, and she is certain Appare can’t beat BNW.

The day of the race in the dusty, rugged outskirts of L.A. finally comes. Appare and Kosame arrive a bit late in an ungainly (and above all very slow looking) contraption, fueling the fires of doubt in Xialian. Al is certain he’s got this, and amends the deal once more: he gets the swords, the Segway, and the car.

Al gets off to a quick lead with his straight-line speed, but has to go around a cliff that Appare’s car can leap over. Still, Al is closer to the finish when Appare has Kosame pull a lever that launches half of the car—and Kosame—ahead of Al. All Kosame has to do is run to the tree and touch it before Al, which he does. Notably, while racing Appare’s personality changes completely, to something more in line with his appearance.

Impressed by the win and acknowledging his complacency, Al takes the loss in stride, giving Appare his car and use of the storeroom to his heart’s content. Appare in turn is a good winner, and offers Al the Segway so he doesn’t have to walk home. Al refuses, but Sofia accepts, and you can’t blame her—that’s a long walk in a stuffy dress!

The win over Al lends further credibility to Appare’s capability, along with stability, as losing use of their garage is no longer a possibility. He must now set to work on a much more complex machine that will endure over the myriad terrains and conditions America will throw at them. He may have also convinced Xialian not to give up on her own dream to race.

With that, our three-part intro to Appare-Ranman! is complete, and we’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the story. It’s looking like other drivers will be more traditional good-natured rivals, while all of them will share a common enemy: a steam baron intent on squashing the automobile in its infancy to continue his hegemony.

Whatever the case, it’s a well-made, entertaining show and I’ll be looking forward to its return!

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 02

Why not devote 12+ minutes of airtime to Rin and Misa’s first jet ski race? Why not break the fourth wall nearly as often as the commentator’s and exposition break the momentum of said race? Why not swap awkwardly between hand drawn and 3D rendered versions of the girls while they race? Why not follow the race with balloon-bewbs!, more exposition, and some fat shaming?

Because boring, boring, boring, awkward, boring, boring, awkward? (in that order)

Well… that didn’t take long did it? Where last week featured many puzzling design choices, which worked to elevate the material from slop to creepy psychodrama, this week couldn’t reach ‘slop.’ If you are earnestly excited by the made up rules to a water-gun shooting + jet ski racing sports anime, I guess you got something from it. Otherwise, not so much.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 01 (First Impressions)

Rin is surrounded by a warmth as adults chat aimlessly and give us a glimpse of their family-like fishing community. Their world buzzes with detail but stands motionless. Not even a ripple ebbs near the boats docked at port. Not until Rin’s mother is announced as Jet Girl World Champion! As she speaks into without a sound, we zoom in close to her exposed chest and watch her gently wrest a hand above her heart. Rin mirrors this while dry-humping an oversized dolphin plushie beneath her.

Now grown up, teen-Rin saddles a jet ski, buffeted by sports graphics and announcer narration. A delicate smile dances on her lips and a yellow wetsuit like her mother’s hugs her ample curves. There is joy in her and her partner’s face as they ride from wave into the air, rising to the upbeat throb of the opening theme music.

Teen-Rin now sits in darkness before a picture of her trophy-holding mother at the family shrine. Rain and stillness hang like death in the air.

Elsewhere in the dark, a phone alarm wakes another girl. The emptily-chirping phone lays loose in her sleepless hand. Her eyes do not hide her depression. Her student’s room describes an empty life to us in clean but heartless stills. Pens not quite neatly arranged beside a pad on her desk. A simple mug holds her plain tooth brush by the window.

The girl strips for us and her young breasts bounce with natural weight, as if rejecting their sexual impact. The scene is almost silent, broken only by her sliding door sticking in it’s track. It fights to keep her inside before letting her pass. Misa Aoi is written on the name plaque as the hooded girl marches passed.

Rin now sits by her father at the docks, sharing empty chatter about moving to Tokyo for school and part time jobs. He stands there and does not look at her, nor do either turn to face us. We do not see his face. While the setting and color and coldness match, it becomes clear the girls live far apart.

A steam boats horn blares and music returns. In the distance, Rin now faces us waving. Briefly we come close to her smiling face, and as briefly see the smile slacken, her inner shadow cast long by the rising sun.

Misa dons VR Goggles and we see a machine’s hydraulics flex with her weight. We see a simulation through her eyes, and we see her eyes too, each we see tightly framed. Virtual water splashes but Misa never leaves the dirty wooden room. Nor do we see Misa’s projection into  the simulation. She can not see herself there. She curses, feeling the representation is lacking, and hurts her leg in anger.

Rin returns, eyes wide and balled fists held together in surprise. Pair after hyper-sexualized pair, Rin encounters stylish Tokyo girls in love with each other. A foreign couple offers sepuku. Another, selfies. Later, she is mugged by a plain man, who is ultimately tripped by Misa a short chase later.

As Misa stands, Rin’s eyes trace shapely legs, lingering on the dress shirt,  and distant eyes. Rin’s hand returns to her heart, where it hasn’t been since her mother won the championship. Judging from the shrine photo, perhaps moments before she died. Rin exhales and blushes with glistening eyes and lust. Delicate piano keys finger a short rise. Unable to contain her excitement, Rin unzips her duffle bag and her dolphin plushie erupts forth like a skyward facing erection.

Later still, the girls become roommates. Rin attempts to make Misa touch her breasts before leaning in to smell Misa’s neck. She can smell Misa on their bunk bed. Misa violently pushes her away, disturbed but their name plaques now hang together. Rin’s childish mug and personal items sit next to Misa’s on the walls and desk.

The creeper factor runs thick with deceptive charming, as if Misa’s alarm over a sexual predator and stalker could be gently batted away by Rin’s playful grin, poking and chest rubbing. Misa eventually cowers behind a wall to hide, while Rin chats-up another student. The conversation is yet again inane, but introduces Rin’s Jet Ski experience within range for Misa to hear.

The episode culminates in a race against a river side mean girls, during which most of the sexual themes and azure colors are repeated with gusto. Misa is anally penetrated by rifle fire. Tears flow from her eyes. Her clothes detach and fall away.

Point of view impacts storytelling. Not only who’s point of view, but how they see (what angle, the framing, what they focus on) feed us details about their character and the world overall. In KJG’s case, we mostly share Rin’s point of view but the contrast of what that view shows us, and how people see Rin (a smiling happy girl played straight), creates a deeply unsettling juxtaposition.

What makes any of this interesting is that Rin is not simply a ‘flip’ on a male anime creeper. Where most anime and manga would use creeper icons and conventional expressions like drool and ‘that elbows bent arms up wiggle gesture’ to convey Rin’s desires to the audience, KJG does not. Rin’s expression is played straight. In part, this hides her inner feelings from the other cast members as well, which in turn makes her feel dangerous because we, the viewers, are the only ones who can see more is going on with Rin underneath the surface.

KJG sprinkles other weirdness like suicide, the cheapening of Japanese cultural icons, and untreated (and socially ignored) depression. None of these are pushed to the forefront as much as the sexuality but the sexuality is obviously more the point: if you don’t think about how KJG presents itself, you could be forgiven assuming it was just cheap smut.

what the **** did I just watch? (twice)

Fruits Basket – 09 – Poker on a Cold Day

After seeing a bit of him last week, we’re formally introduced to another new Souma, Haruhatsu, who seems cool to some passing ladies until he gets on his deeply uncool bike with his uncool shades, clearly on some kind of mission.

Winter break is over, and Tooru has settled back into a fun daily life with the Soumas, though Yuki and Kyou remain stubbornly incapable of getting along. As it’s wintertime, Yuki also feels a cold coming on.

Despite this, Yuki doesn’t back down from Kyou’s challenge to beat him in the endurance race on the first day of the third term. Sure enough, the two blast ahead of all the other boys. Meanwhile, Uo skips entirely while Saki dramatically quits after one step and plays cards the rest of the time, to the annoyance of the teacher.

Kyou is literally tripped up by Haruhatsu, who wanted to fight Kyou on New Year’s but wasn’t able because Kyou skipped the family festivities. Now it’s go time…and Kyou isn’t one to back down from a fight.

Their mutual competitive spirit results in the emergence of “Dark Haru”, Haruhatsu’s other, more manic side, like Kagura only worse. Haru reiterates his undying love for Yuki while fighting Kyou like they’re in some kind fo martial arts movie.

Yuki notes that the two trained together when they were younger, and are both equally passionate about it. Tooru suspects Yuki loves martial arts too, but when he recalls a memory of watching the other two sparring and having his eyes suddenly covered by Akito, he faints.

The fight is called, and Haru decides the best way to get Yuki home is to carry him on his back in animal form, which is that of the Ox (though technically a cow).

When it’s just Haru and Tooru, he tells her the story of how he was always angry and losing his temper, and hated Yuki’s guts because of the “rat who rode the ox’s back” legend, and also because everyone always called him stupid and an idiot, for which he also blamed Yuki.

That all changed when he finally met him, and Yuki told him he wasn’t stupid; not really. He fell for him right then and there. With that, Yuki wakes up, not the worse for wear.

Haru suspects Tooru has had a “lightening” effect on the once standoffish Yuki and Kyou, and proves there’s something between Yuki and Tooru when he has the latter call the former by his given name and he immediately transforms into a rat.

Meanwhile, Saki has drawn a crowd to play poker by the school gates, but beats everyone running away (not literally though, as Saki isn’t fond of running). As a result of playing cards outside all afternoon in the cold, Kyou and Shigure also get colds. But Tooru is all too happy to take care of them!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 05 – Lute Grand Prix

We haven’t yet seen Queen Melromarc, as she’s currently in another castle, but it’s clear she’s staying on top of things, as evidenced by the detailed report given by one of her ninja (for lack of a better word).  That report also confirms that Malty has been putting her father up to some actions of which the Queen is not a fan. Say, continuing to treat the Shield Hero like garbage based on Malty’s false accusations of rape.

The King tries to cheat Naofumi out of his 500 silver-piece Wave reward (only an eighth of the Spear Hero’s take) by charging him for removing Raphtalia’s slave crest. Once again Amaki and Kawasumi come to Naofumi’s defense—or at least the side of justice and fairness. Thanks to their protests, Naofumi gets his 500 pieces and, at Raph’s urging, peaces out.

Their first errand upon leaving the palace is for Raphtalia to get a tattoo have her slave crest re-activated, at her request, as a symbol of his faith in her. One would think if he had faith he wouldn’t need a real crest, but Raphtalia is insistent. Naofumi also buys a gatcha-style lottery egg, from which either a filolial (chocobo) chick hatches.

Naofumi also learns that some of the merchants in the capital had connections to Lute Village, and even if they’re still on the fence with him as a person, they can’t deny he saved their loved ones. Their personal honor demands they reward him, whether it’s with a book on advanced medicines (which he can’t yet read) or a magical grimoire (which the mage warns will be tough to learn).

The filolial chick, whom Naofumi somewhat unimaginatively names “Filo”, eats ravenously and quickly grows to full size within two days, enabling him to ride her. They travel to Lute Village, and not soon thereafter Malty and Motoyasu also arrive.

Malty is clearly in control here as she reads a royal decree that anyone who enters or exits the village will have to pay an exorbitant amount (equal to 100 nights at the inn, food included). Naofumi is there to make a stink about it, but Malty wants her tax, and Motoyasu isn’t about to deny her.

Who does swoop in to deny her, however, are her mother’s ninja. They deliver a scroll to Malty that pisses her off when she reads it, and takes it out on Naofumi by challenging him to a race: her Motoyasu’s dragon vs. Naofumi’s filolial.

Motoyasu mocks Filo right up until Filo kicks his balls halfway to the next kingdom. Filo looks supremely confident she can beat the dragon, so all that remains is to what extent Malty will try to hamper that victory by cheating.

And once the race starts, boy does she ever cheat. Her soldiers cast magical spells that benefit Motoyasu and his slow-ass dragon three times, and Flio still manages to win by a beak. I gotta say, I’m quickly growing weary of Malty’s shtick: all she needs is a mustache to twirl.

Thankfully, Malty is taken down a peg or two this week, both when the other two heroes help Naofumi, and when the Queen’s ninja confirm that she and her men cheated. Her comeback is that “We’ll leave for now, but this isn’t over!” Groan. Naofumi needs better antagonists, or for the existing ones to find a new tune.

As for Filo, she balloons in size right after the race. Rather than have rumors spread of taking Lute’s rebuilding funds, Naofumi accepts an old wagon as a reward—a wagon that Raphtalia has trouble riding in without getting motion sickness. They rest beside a tree for the night, but when morning comes it brings with it a surprise: Filo has transformed into a human—a loli, no less—who is, predictably, hungry. And then there were three.

Aho Girl – 10

First up, Eimura again demonstrates that she’s the Worst Gal Ever by the fact she hasn’t had her ears pierced yet, and makes a tremendously dramatic meal over the fact that she’s about to.

Enter our Aho Girl, who at first has no idea why Eimura wants to pierce her ears, then lays out in great detail the very worst-case scenario, before offering her hands to steady Eimura’s. She manages to pierce one ear…I think? But Eimura decides to postpone the piercing of the other one indefinitely.

The next segment is Aho Girl in top form, as Yoshiko takes Dog for a ride and ends up in a manga-style race on a mountain road with a super-competitive motorcyclist who ends up lost in their dust. His serious commentary of the race is hilarious and the art is fantastic in its starkness and illusion of motion.

Yoshiko has both feet on the ground, in a sandbox, in the next segment, where she bothers the little kids again, this time by playing dolls with them. Yoshiko betrays her older years by making things between “Michael” and “Micca” get way too dark and real, but the girl runs with it and has Michael come back to life and live happily ever after, further baffling the lads.

Finally, Fuuki tries to get closer to A-kun by befriending his lil’ sister Ruri, who is upset over having scored another zero on a test (further indicating Yoshiko’s influence on her). Fuuki is thwarted by Yoshiko’s mom Yoshie, who obviously has the inside track, having known Ruri and A-kun for years.

Before long, Ruri completely fades away in the midst of an increasingly heated battle between Yoshie and Fuuki, in which Yoshie unhooks Fuuki’s bra, then steals her panties to show Ruri that she’s a pervert; when Fuuki tries and fails to steal Yoshie’s panties, she ends up stealing Ruri’s, so quickly neither Ruri nor Yoshie noticed, and puts them on herself before Yoshie can expose her to Ruri.

It’s a very, er, wrong sequence, but in the end, Yoshie is humbled and decides she needs more “training”, giving their ridiculous exchange the air of a sincere martial arts duel. I sincerely hope another round is in the cards!