No Guns Life – 16 – Free Will Ain’t Free

While Juuzou destroyed Victor’s first fake body, he has a smaller spare extended backed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, Avi Cobo has Mary at gunpoint, and demands to know where Victor’s real body is, shooting her in the foot to show he means business. Even if the backup had an open shot, Avi has electroreceptors like those of a shark that allow him to dodge most attacks.

Emphasis on most, as Juuzou comes in unwilling to stand by and let one innocent young woman suffer any further harm. He starts the sequence to release his Gun Slave Unit limiters, enabling him to create a smokescreen and fabricate new arms. While Backup Victor sacrifices its arm to create a field that confuses Avi’s receptors and gets Mary out of danger, Juuzou gives Avi the mother of all forehead flicks, rendering him unconscious.

While Olivier and EMS arrive, Juuzou delays the grunts to allow Mary to talk to Victor properly. Like last week, way too much time is spent in a static location as exposition is delivered. Much of it we already know or have grasped from events thus far, but what we didn’t know was why Victor killed the man who took them in: he threatened to sell Mary’s body if Victor left for the military.

While Victor is still determined to destroy all of the Extendeds his hands created, Mary remains adamant that Extended components can be used for good, in the way Victor originally intended.

While recovering from the bullet to her foot, Mary ponders whether to take Lefty apart in order to determine just how the machine with the intelligence (and quite a few behavioral characteristics) of a dog functions. Lefty is not cooperative, understandably opposed to its own dissection.

Meanwhile, Wachowski pays a visit to Tetsuro’s quarters/cell, and we learn he had an engineer fix Tetsuro’s components so he can speak with his own voice, an apparent gesture of good faith. However, Wachowski’s plans for Tetsuro are anything but peaceful. The Gun Slave Unit Seven is a big thorn in Spitzbergen’s side, but only a GSU can defeat a GSU, and in his current state, Juuzou is no match for Seven.

Wachowski wants Tetsuro to use Harmony to unleash Juuzou’s full GSU potential, which is only possible when the original host surrenders all free will and humanity and becomes a mere tool of destruction. If Tetsuro agrees to do this, everyone he cares about will be safe. If he refuses, they won’t be safe. Pretty raw deal either way, I’d say.

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 – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

No Guns Life – 03 – Pulling the Strings

Juuzou politely declines a job offer from the imposing Brother Huang of the Kyusei group to find and eliminate someone stealing extended limbs from kids, because he thinks people should “wipe their own asses.” But what if someone can’t, either because they don’t have arms, or can’t move the ones they have?

Juuzou trusts actions over words, even what he deems are sincere words from Tetsuro about saving the other children imprisoned and tortured by Berühren as they speak…only Tetsuro isn’t really speaking with his own voice; he’s using a spare Extended head’s voice.

Similarly, in order to actually carry out the saving of those kids, he’ll need to rely on bodies other than his own, which was made all but useless by the company. Juuzou tells him any attempt would be futile; the world is an unfair place, and Tetsuro needs to count what blessings he has and move forward thinking about himself.

Tetsuro can’t accept that, and won’t sit back and do nothing. Instead, he uses Harmony to hack into Juuzou’s body, which he uses to carry his own body (lest Mary try to disconnect the two) as he heads out in search of the people hurting kids. When he almost falls victim to parts scavengers, he covers Juuzou’s head with a sack.

Then he seemingly lucks out when he spots two distressed-looking girls in gray frocks running from a man with swords for arms—just the kind of people he wants to save. Only Ende and Anne are not really on the run; they’re the very people stealing parts from kids, on orders from Berühren. They were also ordered not to let any witnesses survive, making Tetsuro/Juuzou their next target.

Of the two, Ende is capable of transforming into a monstrous mecha-spider woman, but even with Anne by her side for emotional support, she easily goes berserk, and in any case is in constant pain. Anne just hopes they can return home to Berühren for maintenance, and believes that Ende’s body will be put “back to normal” as a reward if they complete their mission.

Berühren’s stooge, however, considers the two to have failed their mission when he meets up with them, and orders the two test subjects immediately “retired” (in another nice nod to Blade Runner). Both he and the company never saw Ende and Anne as human beings, but mere puppets; tools to be used and discarded when the desired results aren’t achieved.

And yet, even though Anne and Ende tried to kill Tetsuro/Juuzou, he still comes to their rescue here, since he already knows what they’ve only just figured out: Berühren can’t be trusted, and can only be opposed. The girls don’t trust adults, but hopefully someone who can transform into a mecha-spider woman can come to believe Tetsuro when he insists he’s one of them, and is merely controlling the big burly adult body they see. It’s a tough sell, I know.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

No Guns Life – 01 (First Impressions) – As the Cylinder Spins

No Guns Life is a somewhat awkwardly-titled cyberpunk noir series centered on Inui Juuzou, private detective-type guy called a resolver who also happens to have a gun for a head. That concept pays immediate comic dividends when we first see him lighting up a cigarette in his dingy office, or when we see a super-simplified version of his face when he expresses bashfulness over being kissed by a woman he helped out.

Juuzou may be an Extended with his gun head, indicating a past life as a tool of war, but seiyu Suwabe Junichi imparts a world-weary, warm and irreverent humanity to him—a heart of gold beneath all the gunmetal. The modifications made to his once fully-human form are the work of Berühren, a military megacorp whose monolithic headquarters called to mind Wallace Corp.’s in Blade Runner 2049.

Juuzou’s latest client is a seemingly “renegade” fellow Extended accused of kidnapping a boy named Tetsuro from an orphanage, but the scary-looking Extended’s meek disposition has Juuzou suspecting there’s more to it than that. Juuzou takes the job and custody of the unconscious Tetsuro while the Extended lures the Security Bureau away.

This scene hits all of the usual noir detective story points: a messed up office that wasn’t that nice to begin with, an immediate sense of peril, a new client who isn’t what they seem, and a job Juuzou can’t pass up if it pays, since he’s barely making rent. One key downside to the scene is that no one has any facial expressions, so the voices have to pull double duty.

We finally do see some facial expressions when Juuzou encounters Karen, a meek (but oddly not fearful) nun from the orphanage searching for Tetsuro. Juuzou doesn’t buy her cover, so she removes most of them to reveal she’s an evil badass Berühren operative tasked with retrieving a vital R&D asset, with a mean gun and an Extended eye that can see through his smoke bomb.

The Oni-faced Extended reappears to help Juuzou out, but Karen makes quick work of him, leaving Juuzou with no choice but to abandon Tetsuro as she shoots him, causing to fall down a very high ledge (also reminiscent of Blade Runner in its general dinginess and great height).

When he comes to, Oni-face has dressed his wounds, but is at the end of his rope. Then comes the twist: Oni-face was never an independent entity: it was being remote controlled all along by Tetsuro using something called Harmony. When Berühren, who rendered him incapable of escaping on his own legs, he manipulated the unoccupied Extended to aid his escape.

Before his remote Extended shuts down, Tetsuro thanks Juuzou for trying to help him, but is resigned to end up back in Berühren’s pokey-proddy clutches. Juuzou is not so resigned. Resolved to “finish the job” even if it ends up being pro bono, he locates Tetsuro (with a tracking device in his ear) aboard a train, and puts his Extended body to use stopping it in its tracks.

Comparisons to Cop Craft are there, only instead of a human-alien odd couple undertaking fairly conventional police missions, we have a cyborg P.I., in a world where his breed of cyborg isn’t particularly celebrated, trying to protect the weak in a world that will otherwise chew them up more viciously than our own. It swaps Cop Craft’s slick Range Murata design with the grittier style of Shino Masanori (Black Lagoon) and Iwasaki Taku’s soundtrack with Kawai Kenji’s (Gundam 00).

It’s a very fun (if sometimes dark and depressing world), again thanks to Juuzou’s irreverent attitude, and the story seems headed in a finite direction with confidence, something that definitely didn’t end up happening in Cop Craft. One episode’s not enough to judge whether it will succeed where that show failed, but that curiosity is thankfully not the only reason to keep watching.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 10

Just as getting shaken down in an alley one more time can lead to a city wide crisis involving a giant rage monster, Hellsalem’s Lot is the place where there’s never a shortage of work for cleaners like K.K. She’s so good at her job, in fact, that there’s no one to replace her in most operations. As such, her work-family life suffers.

This week we get a welcome, overdue look into that balance (or lack thereof), starting with how she managed not to break her promise to come to her younger son Kane’s school’s Parents Day the fourth or fifth time in a row.

I enjoyed how quickly we were caught up to speed on her lovely family: Kane, who still takes everything at face value (and assumes she doesn’t love him if she goes back  on her word), an older son who is jaded by it, kind husband who knows how to smooth things over on both sides.

Seeing the other side of K.K. really brought a background character to life, and gave all her momentary appearances in previous episodes this season more context: there’s always been somewhere she’d rather be, and that’s by her sons’ sides.

One advantage to all the work she’s been doing is that she can afford a remedy that will allow her to be with Kane: she has Patrick prepare a number of remote drones that she can control either from her shades in class or a laptop and controller in the restroom.

There are several interruptions in her presence (which a prickly Kane naturally notices), but hey, at least she’s there without having to worry about Steve and his men dying because of it.

As soon as she returns to the class and finds only one man in a green suit having a grave phone conversation, I had some suspicions about him. But K.K. is trying to be present, and when she sees a pretty girl talking enthusiastically with her son, she can’t help but get a bit distracted.

That’s when the crime boss of the organization Steve is trying to take out shows off his backup: a remote-launched missile-catching Blood Breed who cannot be picked up on any of K.K.’s remote scopes. She held out as long as she could, but she has to go—and endure Kane’s hate—one more time.

Of course, I’d already realized the man in the green suit was the real blood breed, remote-controlling the automaton facing off against Steve. It’s the reason he has to step out for a “smoke break.” K.K. senses it too, and confronts him on the school roof.

But here’s the thing: he wasn’t lying about anything: his daughter (Kane’s pretty  “girlfriend” Caroline) really does attend the school, he’s also up to his neck in work, and like K.K., has a hard time striking the right balance.

Knowing K.K. wouldn’t let him go he’s working as a bodyguard for some bad dudes, after all) he proposes the two of them go at it one-on-one right there. But anything that would have happened is thankfully interrupted by Caroline and Kane. Back at the operation, the father’s automaton stopped moving, allowing Steven to destroy it. The mission is a success, and K.K. can go back to being with her son.

Unfortunately, his failure means the father has to disappear lest he and his daughter incur the wrath of his defeated client for his failure. Just as K.K. has to disappoint her kids and let them hate her again and a gain, it’s more important for the dad to keep Caroline safe, so he had to pull her out of Kane’s school. K.K. feels partially responsible for that, so gives Kane a commiseratory hug.

In any case, it’s not like Kane and Caroline will never see each other again; they’ll surely do so once they get a little older (and maybe even follow in their parents’ footsteps). Until then, there’s always the almighty social media to keep them connected!