AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

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AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

Steins Gate – 21

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To have leaped back through time so much and sacrificed the wishes of so many others, it now falls upon Okabe Rintarou to decide who will die: Mayushii or Kurisu. Okarin has to go down in the annals of anime as being possessed of some of the most unenviable positions imaginable.

But he’s not convinced there isn’t a third path to take, one that can save both of them. So he cancels the CERN database cracking plan and…tries to think of something.

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Worn down considerably by his ordeals thus far (and the repeated traumatic witnessing their gory consequences), this new conundrum causes Okrain to revert to his state of hiding hard truths from the others simply because they’re hard to say. He won’t tell Kurisu why they have to find another way, and he won’t respond to her entreaties for more information, so that she can help him.

He’s repeating bad habits; going it alone never bore any fruit, it only caused him considerable emotional damage. It’s probably for the best S;G doesn’t explore any physical consequences of repeated time-leaping; the psychological effects are more than adequate.

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Okarin accompanies Mayushii to Comiket, but he’s so preoccupied with coming up with a way to save her before she dies at 8:00 PM, he doesn’t hang out with her at all, causing her to wonder why he came with her at all. For a time, I entertained the possibility that she wouldn’t be killed at the usual time; that perhaps disrupting FB had more far-reaching changes in the timeline.

Alas, while walking home, Mayushii’s watch stops again, a car races at them again, and even though Okarin moves her to safety, in a moment of madness tries to get hit himself, and Mayushii shoves him out of the way and gets hit anyway. Seeing her dying in his arms was no less heart-wrenching this time, but what got to us even more—and to Okarin as well—were her final words, expressing gratitude she could finally be useful to him.

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Okarin and I also share the refusal to believe that the only way Mayushii can be useful to him is by dying while saving his life. Surely she knows any world without her in it would be intolerable for him? Ignoring a note from Kurisu about wanting him to talk to her, Okarin goes back to the moment before Daru starts cracking, and this time his face betrays to Kurisu that something’s definitely up.

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She confronts him on the roof, curious where his hotshot mad scientist attitude went. For the first time, he admits, loudly, that it’s all bullshit, but that’s no revelation to Kurisu, who knew it was all bullshit five seconds after meeting him. But she still wants to hear what’s bothering him, as she always does, every time he goes back. When she grabs him from behind to keep him from tossing his phone off the roof; the closest they’ve ever come to embracing.

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So he tells her about the first d-mail, which sent them from the Alpha to the Beta World Line, and prevented her from being stabbed to death. And for the first time, after telling her what’s wrong, she has no answer. Their silence, perhaps the most devastating silence they’ve ever shared, lingers as the cicada song crescendoes, interrupted only by the buzzing of Okarin’s phone. Only then does Kurisu speak—but about nothing related to what he just said; simply to tell him to answer it.

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It’s Mayushii calling, after Daru told her Okarin was acting odd. She apologizes for being so busy at Comiket, wants him to tell her if she’s ever a burden, and to call her if there’s anything she can ever do for her. The call only serves to exacerbate Okarin’s anguish over the choice that faces him. But Kurisu, still with no words about her own predicament, but having heard Okarin’s side of the phone call, insists he go to Mayushii.

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I may be a rabid Christina shipper, and see Mayushii as more of a little sister figure, but that doesn’t mean I’d want Kurisu to have to step over that sister’s corpse to get Okarin. And damn it all if Mayushii’s extended monologue at her grandmother’s grave wasn’t one of the most moving things yet in a show that’s brimming with them, accompanied as it was by visuals of Okarin and Mayushii’s early days, when it was just them, in a far more spartan lab, simply hanging out, not even saying much to each other but simply enjoying each other’s company.

This scene only complicates things for me, because this is the monologue of someone who sees Okarin as something more profound than an adoptive big brother, and something more like a soul mate. The most chilling part of the monologue, however, is the fact that a part of Mayushii has remembered each and every time she has died in Okarin’s failed time leaps. She calls them “dreams” while admitting they seem real and she doesn’t like them one bit. Neither to we, dear.

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Even before she was killed by Moeka that first time, there’s been an otherworldly “knowingness” visible behind Mayushii’s gentle smiles and casual conversations. Now we know she doesn’t just suspect something’s amiss by Okarin’s recent behavior, but has clearly made the connection between that behavior and her dreams, in which he rescues her each time.

She may think that she’s being a burden to Okarin, but as a “mad scientist” and her “captor”, it’s his duty to look after his hostage, and he promises to tell her everything “when the time comes”—a somewhat cruel thing to say to someone who time has marked for death.

Okarin may not have found the solution to saving Mayushii without killing Kurisu (though finding out who killed her and why would be a start), but his time with both of them this week reinforces his determination to keep searching. Meanwhile, Kurisu visits the very place where Okarin found her stabbed to death, either starting just such an investigation, or contemplating making the decision Okarin won’t. Christina, I beg of you: Don’t get any strange ideas.

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