Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 08 – Forward March!

There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the sight the Eizouken putting the finishing audio touches on the cultural festival preview of SHIBA8 vs The Pistol Crabtle, lit only by a single office lamp and the editing monitor. As director Midori displays a uncanny knack for knowing when to time music and sound effects to the visuals.

Unfortunately they didn’t have time to record the voice actors so they’ll be doing it live in the auditorium, adding another set of things that could go wrong, from both technical and personnel-wise. But the show must go on, and it will. The main challenge is to create sufficient buzz at the festival to lure a sufficiently large audience.

Throughout this episode from start to finish, Tsubame’s rich actor parents loom large, but not as villains ready to undermine the Eizouken, but rather as parents who find they’ll have time to visit their daughter’s school festival. They almost seem eager to do so, well aware of how their careers have made it tough for her to get a fair share of time with them throughout her childhood.

Like just about every shot in this episode before the festival starts, the scene of Tsubame’s mom discovering she never came home is lit so beautifully, with the light of dawn just behind the horizon but already lending a hazy blue color to the sky.

Even more magical is the scene of the Eizouken trio tucking into campfire ramen outside their ramshackle studio. The warm firelight dancing off their relaxed figures as the ethereal purple dawn rises in the background. There’s an intoxicating combination of comfort, coziness, and a sense of impending drama.

The three don’t seem to notice how gorgeous and almost iconic their surroundings are, but that goes without saying: they’ve been working without sleep for who-knows-how-long and are in strict ramen-scarfing mode. Will they remember this meager fireside feast before the premiere of their first large scale effort, or will the day’s excitement cloud these quiet, delicate, hauntingly gorgeous earlier moments? I hope not.

Just as the Eizouken’s robot project dwarfs their gas mask short in size and complexity, Shibahama’s Cultural Festival’s unrestrained chaos makes the earlier budgetary committee look quaint by comparison. Competition ferocity is on par with the Serengeti, and one could see Midori and/or Tsubame getting absolutely lost in the stampede.

Fortunately, both Sayaka and the Robot Club have taken care of everything and are prepared for virtually every eventuality. The Robot Club also breaks a few school rules, using water rockets and megaphones to amplify their cause. This draws the ire of the StuCo and Security Clubs, who initially target Tsubame as the amateur-model-ringleader for arrest.

Thanks to the expert distribution of similar-looking cardboard robot costumes and Sayaka’s birds-eye-view of the premises, Tsubame is able to take direction from Sayaka via walkie-talkie and gradually navigate her way to the designated auditorium where the screening will take place—and where her notoriety is key to drawing a big chunk of the crowd.

Sayaka also successfully blackmails the normally untouchable HVAC club (all of whom are caught wasting A/C on a hot day) into ensuring the auditorium will be enticingly cool for audience members coming in from the outside. Sure, Tsubame enough could be a good draw, but the A/C draws in even those few who don’t know her or about robots or anime.

In another impressive demonstration of intricate planning, logistics, timing, and luck, Robot Club’s Ono takes a zipline across the breadth of the campus, with a huge banner trailing behind him notifying the gawking masses of the impending screening.

Like Tsubame, the cat-and-mouse chase between him and those who would shut them down takes on the feel of a madcap video game, complete with platforms, mazes, obstacles, and end-goals. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun and imagination—and all before we see a single frame of the movie!

Everything goes off without a hitch. The auditorium is nice and cool and the crowd is huge. Even Tsubame’s parents attend, eager to see what their daughter has been up to (turns out using MIBs to discourage her from anime pursuits was her dad’s idea). There are no technical difficulties with the video or audio or the live-voicing setup.

The crowd watches the robot-crabtle battle with stunned looks, the screen glowing in their eyes. Tsubame’s parents admire the animation with prime, and are able to see Tsubame’s love of capturing motion through art in this manner. Pride washes over their faces. They realize this, not live-action acting, is what their daughter loves and excels at.

After the screening, and a brief autograph/handshake session, Tsubame is dispatched to get lunch for Midori and Sayaka, and runs into her parents. The three have a cordial mini-lunch together, and Tsubame draws upon her parents’ careers as artists for perhaps the first time, asking if they’re ever satisfied after a performance.

She’s relieved to hear neither of them are, because neither is she…and we no neither is Midori. They’re relieved Tsubame has been off doing her own thing, and it’s something they’re not going to try to hold her back from anymore. To do so would be to prevent her from “performing” the way she knows best: with pencil and paper.

Finally, her parents poke their heads in a shed where the Eizouken 3 are taking a break from all the hubbub, and about to scarf down the lunch Tsubame brought. Her parents ask if these are her friends; Midori responds that they’re comrades. The bonds of comrades, joined not by blood but by common cause and common fate, surpass mere friendship, for even the best of friends can have vastly different goals.

It’s no surprise Midori is donned in full camo combat fatigues. The cultural festival was the Eizouken’s greatest battle yet, and victory was achieved. Not flawlessly, mind you—Midori estimates she’s only 20% satisfied with the product they presented—but enough to get the job done.

The fact Tsubame’s parents can no longer be counted among their enemies is both strategically advantageous and a timely boost to unit morale. On to the next battle!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

GOD EATER – 13 (Fin)

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Like GATE, GOD EATER finally concludes on a satisfying, action-packed note, with only a few loose ends left outstanding and all of the big stuff put together. One day, by Pita or some other incident, Lindow was going to die, and the unit was going to lose their captain. Which meant someone had to replace him, and that person is Lenka. This is the episode where he fully grasps what it means to lead, not that he has not choice but to do so.

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Soma, Alisa, and particularly Sakuya flail around in outrage, but Lenka remains calm, centers everyone, reminds them of Lindow’s orders, and carry them out. Soma goes underwater to destroy the Aragami lure, leaving only Pita to contend with.

Of course, Pita is a pretty freakin’ tall order, but with the five remaining members of the unit all working together, maybe they can harass him into enough of a state of confusion to land a fatal blow on him.

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As with everything on GOD EATER, this is extremely hard and brutal. Everyone gets tossed around and loses, if we’re honest, unacceptable amounts of blood for people still conscious. But these aren’t ordinary people, they’re God Eaters, and Lenka, their leader, presses the attack once all his friends have been disabled.

When they can no longer move from their injuries, he keeps fighting, surviving, protecting them. He takes the hope both his family and Lindow (also his family, at this point) entrusted him to radiate for the benefit of others, and the impossible is made possible: on perhaps the last layer of his onion-like god arc, Lenka goes into overdrive, slices Pita up, and shatters his core.

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After that, it’s confirmed that Fenrir’s ultimate objective—completing Aegis—is only a cover for the real—and far less ambitious—Project Ark, which is little more than an Earth Escape Rocket, able to fit at most one thousand souls.

My belief in this is that the cream of Fenrir will be among those with tickets on that rocket, which will shoot into space and whose occupants will wait out the apocalypse, returning when everything has been reset. But without the hope Aegis provides, the ark rocket isn’t possible.

Johannes had Lindow taken out because Lindow was trying to hold on to what humanity had left on Earth, while he had given up on the world that is and made plans for a new one, judging the Aragami nothing but monsters that will consume one another after consuming every last human, if allowed to.

Dr. Sakaki has the opposite theory; that this is just a rough stage in the evolution of Aragami. Eventually, they’ll gain intellect (which we clearly see in Pita, though he’s pretty damn evil and inhuman) and, with communication, coexistence with humans might be possible.

It’s a dream Johannes doesn’t believe humanity has time to wait to come to fruition, and he may be right, but I also know that a thousand humans don’t make for the most diverse gene pool. Human extinction may be inevitable.

But enough dark talk: while Johannes and Sakaki debate whether Man will become God or God will become Man, all Lenka, Alisa, and the other God Eaters are concerned about is keeping hope alive and protecting each other and what they have, here and now.

Lenka is now the new captain, and his orders are the same as his predecessor (who may still be out there somewhere): Don’t die. If your life is threatened, run and hide. And, one day, destroy it.

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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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Like many highly anticipated anime I know next to nothing about and intentionally try not to learn ahead of time, I was very excited about going to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a feeling it was going to shake up the monotony of the last few Summer blockbusters I’d paid good money to see, and boy, did it ever.

Yes, this film crammed a bunch of shit on the screen, and yes, since this is the first time the director has done anything this huge before, it isn’t all perfect, but GotG has in spades what so many films—including other Marvel films—have lacked: genuine heart, soul, wonder, and side-splitting comedy in impressive harmony.

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Franchises in the same vein as GotG I’ve cherished, like Farscape and Firefly, put out (relatively) big-budget cinematic romps in The Peacekeeper Wars and Serenity, respectively. But those efforts failed to capture the magic of the TV shows they were based upon, and only served to remind me how how difficult it is to capture said magic.

GotG isn’t hamstrung by a deep and acclaimed canon (at least for me) or abrupt television cancellation, so it feels new and fresh. It has no past failure it tries desperately to redeem here, so it never feels like it’s trying too hard. But it takes some of the best qualities of Farscape (human pop culture in an utterly alien universe), Firefly (cleverly juxtaposed genres).

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The band of underdog misfits becoming the family they all lacked before they met each other is not a new premise, but it’s executed pretty damn nicely here, because for all its eye-popping visual effects, the film never for one second forgets that the characters are the most important thing in this film, and takes care to make each one of the titular Guardians sympathetic, likable, and hilarious.

Some big-budget films are often strained by their own sense of self-importance or dead-serious tone. Not here. Don’t get me wrong, GotG never plays like one big guffawing joke that takes you out of the fantasy. I fully believed the fantastic galaxy and everything in it. The film just found that sweet spot between cheese and awesomeness that so many films fail, often miserably, to find.

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Really, it reminded me most of The Fifth Element, my favorite live-action film, which also combined stylish, otherworldly visuals and barely-controlled chaos with a firmly-grounded human heart. Eric Serra’s score, which ranged from ethereal to zany, brought all its disparate elements (no pun intended) together the same way the 70’s pop music does here.

To conclude, GotG was the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long time, and I’m elated by the fact that a sequel is already in the works. I haven’t gone into too many details about the plot and characters because I urge you to check it out for yourself. If your recycling bin nets you rewards like $2 off movie tickets, like mine, so much the better!

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Valvrave the Liberator – 19

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L-elf rescues Lieselotte from her captivity, confessing his love, but their escape is interrupted by Q-vier. Haruto crashes through the wall in Unit 1, and L-elf hands Lieselotte off to him. Her presence in the cockpit surprises Pino, and Haruto learns she is a Magius—a being with no physical body that lives off of runes—and that he’s one too. The rocket launch is stymied by the loss of a runway, but L-elf lowers a drawbridge and the rocket launches as the Valvraves protect it. Q-vier hits one of its hydrogen tanks, but Liselotte repairs it, at the cost of all her runes.

So the Magius crash on earth, possess animals and people to live and consume their runes to survive. They eventually form a council with humans to oversee earth’s affairs, of which Lieselotte doesn’t want any part, so she’s imprisoned and regularly drained of power with that tanning booth. Meanwhile, the Magius serve as cores for Valvrave units, whose pilots must literally resign humanity in order to operate them, thus becoming a “new lifeform” similar to immortal Magius, which explains Saki’s presence in the distant future. Should we be worried that some of this is actually making sense? Valvrave, how could you!

Practically speaking, this is an episode in which the New JIORans get the hell out of Dodge—er, Dorssiana. But L-elf also came to rescue the one he loves. He helped build and strengthen New JIOR for her more than anyone else. Sure he’s only known less than an hour in total, but that’s apparently enough. So it’s unfortunate, even tragic, when we find that she can’t return his feelings, not because she doesn’t share them, but because she’s unsure what love is, even after centuries of living in human form. It’s your classic lovers-of-different-races predicament. Worse still, she ends up “emptied” like Marie. L-elf just can’t catch a break!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

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This series’ ability to really tug at the heartstrings without coming off as schmaltzy, while simultaneously infusing so much life and emotion into every single one of its characters, never ceases to amaze me. This show has almost rendered RABUJOI’s 4-ranking irrelevant – just about every episode has been excellent and a cut above most of the rest of this spring season, now winding to a close. This was one of the best yet, when all the build-up around Menma’s “firework send-off” comes to a super-dramatic head. Not one minute is wasted.
Poppo, planner-in-chief, plans a farewell party. Yukiatsu isn’t planning on going at first, preferring to wait for the rocket launch itself. But after meeting Anaru, he comes up with a plan, one that is both devious and necessary for catharsis. He convinces Anaru to re-enact that day years ago, when she asked Jintan if he loved Menma. This time, he tells the truth: he does. I thought for a moment Menma was going to disappear right there – but she just cries, and later tells him she loves him too, and probably would have ended up marrying him if she was still alive. This kills Jintan, because this is also what he wanted.

He’s so desperate to keep her around, he even asks if its okay if she just stays. But she wants to go to heaven; his mom taught her about reincarnation, which is her only hope of her being able to talk to everyone else. Jintan wants her to himself; but considers that maybe he alone isn’t enough for Menma. It isn’t fair to her. Saying he loves her out loud sends Anaru into a crying fit, at which point Tsuruko tells her she too has her unrequited love, (Yukiatsu), but her situation is worse: If Menma goes, Jintan may warm to Anaru, but Tsuruko never thinks Yukiatsu will come around to her.

This brings us to the climactic firework launch, which is gorgeously presented; I particularly loved the quick “camerawork” which lent to the tension and gravity of what was about to happen: Menma is really going to go, and Jintan doesn’t open his mouth to stop it until it’s too late. It’s up in the air, and with it, quite a bit of weight. Only one problem: It Didn’t Work. Menma is still there, and all the issues that come with her still being there remain as well. That’s fine with Jintan, but the obvious question is, what now? Only one episode left; will Menma ever go, and how will that happen? Rating: 4