BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Cop Craft – 01 (First Impressions) – LAPD Meets Last Exile

In an illegal drug deal gone wrong, San Teresa Police Detective Sergeant Matoba Kei’s partner Rick is killed gruesomely by an “alien”, i.e. an inhabitant from the alternate world beyond the hyperspace gate that opened up in the Pacific Ocean.

Oh, and it wasn’t a drug deal, though it could have been interpreted that way from the atmosphere and the nature of the dialogue. No, the dealers were trying to sell a fairy in a jar, and one of them isn’t even human, or may have been being controlled like a puppet by a wizard.

After tragically losing his partner of four years, Kei is understandably pissed off. When three roughs from the other side try to extort money for spitting on his car, he deals with them in quick succession, then gets to what’s probably the hardest phone call he’s ever made: to Rick’s wife.

Kei’s CO orders him home to write his report and get some rest, even though he’s far more interested in tracking down the thug who killed Rick and exacting revenge. Still, he obeys orders, comes home (where apparently he needs to wear a dust mask) and feeds his cat, before getting a call telling him he’ll be going on a trip to the gate to pick up a VIP.

What had been subtle little otherwordly changes in the details of ordinary police work becomes a full-on scene out of a Studio Ghibli movie as a massive, ornate Farbanian ship rendezvouses with the far more modest Earth naval vessel. The blue sky darkens to a smoky gray, and a rope ladder is quickly dropped and then raised.

Kei doesn’t even notice at first his VIP is there; she’s quick and tiny, and looks like a child. But she’s not, she’s Tirana Exedirika, an anointed “Knight of Mirvor,” and the show’s finest example yet of Range Murata’s art-deco-y character design work. She’s also extremely arrogant, and doesn’t think much of this lowborn cop with only two names (she has a lot more, but often shortens it to two).

Then comes the kicker: this “kid” is Kei’s new partner, as part of a larger cooperation between the UN and her government, the Kingdom of Farbani. Neither Kei nor Tirana are particularly enthused based on their first impressions of each other. But Kei’s boss says if she wants to find her missing VIP fairy, he’s the best cop for the job, personality be damned.

It’s clearly the first time Tirana’s been in the human world, because she can’t help but be intrigued by all of the little buttons and levers all over the place. Of course, when that lever is a handbrake it causes a few moments of utter chaos…but she blames Kei’s driving. (I also got a kick out of her asking what a “Ridgeline” is—it’s a Honda!)

Tirana follows Kei into a girls club run by an informant, O’Neill, and when the bouncer tries to bar her way, she draws her sword, snips his tie, and re-sheathes her sword in the blink of an eye, earning access beside Kei. Here it’s clear that many humans are so distrustful of the others beyond the gate that they don’t even want them around.

As for Tirana, she can’t believe Kei is going to believe the word of a thief. It’s clear she comes from a much more black-and-white system of justice back in Farbani; as Kei succinctly puts it, justice is a lot more complicated in the human world than it was, say, five hundred years ago. Part of that means yes, the cops work with some criminals in order to get to worse criminals.

When Kei and Tirana reach the building where the Mexican gang connected to the fairy smuggling is believed to be, Tirana can smell the latena from someone controlled by a wizard, warning them that there’s trouble ahead. But when the elevator doors open, she says an incantation, transforms into battle mode, and rushes straight into that trouble. Then the guns start blazing, and Kei grabs her and leaps behind a couch for cover. To Be Continued…

There’s a lot to like here. The cop-show cliches are all there, but tweaked just enough by the otherworldly details. Kei is just a normal-looking dude but is voiced by the wonderful Tsuda Kenjirou and his unique blend of pissed-off and apathetic. Tirana is awesome-looking, and Yoshioka Mayu does a good job giving her a sharp edge to compliment Murata’s clean, soft lines (the flubbing of human words and names is also a nice touch). And while there are only short bursts of action this week, they’re very well-animated. A definite must watch!

Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam – 01

Young, fiery, and talented vanship pilot Fam and her copilot Giselle are members of a band of sky pirates who race to the aid of the two princesses of Turan, Lillia and Millia, who have been ambushed by the treacherous Ades Federation led by Premier Luscinia. In exchange for their rescue from the battlefield, Fam demands the Turan flagship, the Lasas, in return. Her colleague Dio Eraclea boards and feints a scuttling in order to escape the battle, but as Turan’s capital is vulnerable to Ades attack, the ship will have to be quickly mended.

It’s been eight years and a month since Last Exile concluded, and even as the Fall 2011 Season started, we had to wait a little longer. The first series wasn’t perfect, but it was (and still is) one of the best-looking we’ve ever seen, had a lot of ingredients that really got out juices flowing, and indeed stoked our passion for anime that strives to transcend its medium. If ever a universe deserved a sequel, it was Last Exile…and here we are. Studio GONZO returns in force, Koichi Chigira is back to direct, as is our favorite character designer, Range Murata, and Hitomi Kuroishi, who composes a haunting and exciting score. The voice cast is excellent, with Aki Toyosaki (Railgin’s Uiharu, Hanasaku Iroha’s Nako) providing the voice of Fam, who kicks ass every which way, and her more tranquil partner Giselle is voiced by Aoi Yuki (Shiki’s Sunako, Puella’s Madoka). The princesses are Ai Kayano (AnoHana’s Menma, Memo-cho’s Ayaka) and one of our favorites, Miyuki Sawashiro.

This opening episode quickly re-establishes the crazy steampunk world of floating armadas, sky pirates, and gorgeous cities. It’s attention to detail is impeccable. Last Exile’s CGI was ahead of its time, but Fam manages (unsurprisingly) to surpass it, fully utilizing the widescreen HD environment and all the other new tech. From the quiet nighttime opening to the fantastic aerial battle on a clear blue day, this episode has all the scale and epic-ness of a full-length, big budget film combining all the best elements of Miyazaki and Final Fantasy. With everything that went on, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to get into the myriad characters, who occupy three distinct factions so far (warlike Ades, peaceful Turan, and opportunistic pirates), but we like the Fam/Giselle duo so far, and their blue-collar tomboy lives should clash nicely with the pair of princesses. We’ve looked forward to this series for a long time, and all it took was the opening episode to propel it to the best of the season so far.


Rating: 4