Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 10 (Fin)

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ARISE – Alternative Architecture last episode wasn’t just a glorified prologue to the upcoming film that continues the re-imagining of Ghost in the Shell, but a petty satisfying conclusion to the ten-episode television adaptation of the four ARISE movies. It’s an ellipsis, to be sure, but I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good place to pause, and created anticipation for what’s to come.

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Pyrophoric Cult’s second part succeeded as both end and prologue to ARISE because it captured and distilled the cyberpunk fun of Ghost in the Shell. Things are pretty simple this week: transport Hozuki’s head to the Americans, where her secrets will be extracted and she’ll be sent into exile.

The show’s dry and somewhat dark (in this case) sense of humor comes out in the way Kusanagi says goodbye to the Hozuki head before closing her in a convenient carrying case, then tells her men that as Hozuki is still technically alive, they need to treat her as such, right before unceremoniously heaving the case into the back of a van like a sack of rice, making a satisfying clank in the process.

It’s a great expression of Kusanagi’s frustration with the piddling transport job, as well as a nice F-U to Hozuki for all the trouble she’s caused.

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Not long after the job starts, though, Pyromaniac escapes from custody with the help of Kurtz who just waltzes into the facility where he’s being held, a rare case of hands-on action on her part that would incriminate her if her quarry weren’t someone capable of wiping all security records of said facility.

Before he escapes, he hacks into the cyberbrains of all the scientists analyzing him, some of whom are American. Among those codes is the capability of launching a nasty-looking American drone helicopter to harass Kusanagi’s convoy.

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The drone doesn’t destroy them, but leads them to an American base, where a platoon of Fire-Starter-hacked special forces wearing optical camouflage are waiting. The purpose of the multi-pronged attack on Kusanagi is ostensibly to take out any possible agents who are a legitimate threat to the existence of Fire-Starter virus, which include her and Hozuki.

But Kusanagi won’t go out without a fight, and indeed never seems to panic, even though she and her whole team have been lured right where the enemy wants them. Ever the level-headed military woman, she splits her men up and delegates tasks to them, each according to their skills, while she dives into her personal net, wrangles up an impromptu strike force of mercenary hackers to disable the hacked special forces.

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Once that’s done, she manages to find Pyromaniac himself and enters his “world”, which resembles the Kuzan battlefield that presumably embittered him to his present crusade. Yet she’s almost disappointed to learn he’s not even a “true” ghost, only an amalgam of false memories created by Fire-Starter; a glorified A.I. Even the banter he delivers turns out to be wooden because it was simply uploaded to give him a little more personality.

Most impressively, while Kusanagi may appear to be on the ropes, in reality she’s in complete control of the situation, creating a decoy of herself to fool Pyro and then surrounding him with delete protocols. All that was missing from her coup-de-grace was shouting “BANG!” as she formed a gun with her hand, though that would admittedly been a bit cliche.

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Thus Kusanagi gets a victory in this final week, one that’s both convincing and satisfying, and the product of relatively easy-to-follow teamwork, both from her unit guys and Aramaki pulling the political strings. Sure, her direct interfacing with and deleting Pyro may have been Kurtz’s plan all along, as Kurtz’s parting shot is one of confidence and anticipation rather than anger at being foiled. But the next confrontation between Kusanagi and her former CO will be one of many matters for the film.

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For now, I’ll enjoy Kusanagi’s provisional win, and the somewhat cheeky ending of Kusanagi appearing in a military uniform to receive formal thanks from the Prime Minister. Even Aramaki doesn’t want to hear about some of the things Kusanagi learned while in her dive with Pyro; proportionally speaking, the Prime Minister is completely in the dark about what the good Major and her team did and how they did it.

All the Prime Minister needs or cares to see is the smiling, uniformed Shell standing at attention, telling him it’s all in a day’s work, while it’s the jumpsuit-wearing Ghost and her cohorts working in the deep cyber-shadows to keep his government—and his brain—in one piece.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 09

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In the final fifth of AAA, Kusanagi’s team grows tantalizingly closer to Fire-Starter, locating and capturing a man believed to be only one degree of separation from the unseen antagonist of the series. This man, called “Pyromania” by the Yanks, likes to spout quasi-religious drivel as he blows up airliners.

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About the Americans: Aramaki has little choice but to give them command of the operation to capture Pyromania, but Kusanagi sees the kick-down to observer status as a challenge: no matter what the bureaucracy decides, she’ll prove which team is more capable of getting the job done.

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Kusanagi believes she has the edge because she has access to Hozuki, or rather, the head of Hozuki, recovered from the attempt on her life. Kusanagi hopes the considerable state secrets contained within Hozuki’s brain will prove enticing enough to bait Pyromania.

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Once the operation is underway, Pyromania manages to hack many of the joint teams supporting cast; even the American Jeril is hacked and starts shooting her 9mm at Hozuki’s titanium brain case. But once the hacked parties are neutralized, Kusanagi, Ishikawa, and three Logicomas begin the cyberbattle with Pyro, visualized with 3D graphic representations. I have to admit, the battle gets a little chaotic and hard to follow on the screen, but I kept up with what was supposedly happening.

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In the end, Kusanagi is able to pinpoint Pyro’s location and take him into custody, but they aren’t able to recover any more information about Fire-Starter from his cyberbrain, as it’s all been wiped. But that clearly isn’t going to stop Kusanagi from getting her man.

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Meanwhile, her former commander Kurtz seems to be intricately involved in the Fire-Starter affair, pulling strings from her rather ungainly Ferrari stretch limo, hoping to gain control of the “third world”.

It always seems to come down to someone close to Kusanagi’s past. And on that subject, not much ground was covered (i.e. none) on Kusanagi’s struggles with her identity; suffice it to say she seems content to define herself as a leader of those who will stand before extremists who would use all the technology available to them to wreak havoc. And right now, Fire-Starter is her nemesis.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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Who is Kusanagi Motoko? It’s a question ARISE has been constantly asking, and which she herself asks, now that this latest arc has become her most personal yet. By the end of last week’s installment, it was pretty darned evident that her love Akira was mixed up in some unsavory conspiracy with Dr. Theid and Col. Hozuki.

A question asked parallel to this is “Who is Scylla?”, a question everyone seems to want to know the answer to except Motoko and her former comrade Kurtz, who gives her a gun with a familiar mark carved into the grip, and the task of “burying” Scylla for good.

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In an interesting choice by the animators, Motoko spends most of this episode wearing hot pants instead of her usual pants, perhaps to accentuate the fact her right leg is still not quite behaving properly thanks to Fire-Starter. She even shows up in a smoking ball gown, indicating whoever she is, she wants to embrace her femininity and have fun with Akira even as suspicion about him continues to mount. Akira says he was drawn to her by her desire, through customization, to make her prosthetic body her own.

Akira’s work, the fruits of which are shown when he and Motoko attend a wedding between two elderly people in brand new young skins, are following a similar path as Motoko: blurring the lines between the technological and the organic. He also considers Motoko’s body to be herself, not merely a tool that allows her ghost to walk about, or choke people. Despite his seedy dealings, I found myself approving of him as Motoko’s mate.

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When Akira’s deal with Hozuki goes sour and he and Motoko are attacked while in bed together, Motoko is quick to blame herself for the targeting, but it’s really Akira the gunmen were after. Detective Togusa’s investigation overlaps with her unit’s, and he warns her that Akira can’t be trusted the way she’s trusting him, and the Qhardi leader confirms that Akira is the “new” Scylla.

After we see how Hozuki and Thied make that happen, and Aramaki and much of the rest of the unit are ambushed at the Vice Minister’s office, the body of evidence is too great and Motoko can no longer deny who Akira is and what she, and she alone, must do.

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Not that she’s looking forward to taking out her lover; someone who seems like a genuinely nice guy who got mixed up with the wrong people and took one too many wrong turns. But it turns out to be more than that: the Scylla in Akira’s brain was once Motoko, and Motoko was once Scylla, aiding the Qhardi separatists back when she was with the 501, before she faked her death.

By shooting him and destroying his cyberbrain, she’s saving her comrades and ending the latest crisis, but she’s also killing a part of her past. She was Scylla, but now who is she? It’s a question she still doesn’t know the answer to. But while she was in Akira’s arms, for a fleeting moment, she knew she was wanted, and that she was happy.

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So ends another tragic chapter in the chronicle of the enigmatic Kusanagi Motoko. But while my heart sank at her having to kill her lover, she’s always proven able to restore and reinvent herself and continue use her unique talents and unique unit to be a force for good in the world. She casts away the explosive “Ariel” parts Akira had furnished her, and rebuilds herself with more customization; if she forgot who the flesh-and-blood Kusanagi originally was, she’ll simply create a new one through prosthesis and cyberization.

The show doesn’t question the rightness or wrongness of such a path, but it does indicate this is all she knows how to do and it’s at least something. It also contrasts her with the all-natural, married Togusa, who impressed her in the last case to the extent that she offers him a job in her unit. With her lover gone that unit is now pretty much all Motoko has, but her offer to Togusa is interrupted by the news that his wife’s water broke and that he’s going to be a father.

Motoko’s look of bemusement as he races off seems to indicate she almost forgot there were still low-tech people like Togusa extant in this world. But in addition to his sleuthing skills, I’ll bet Motoko wants his perspective on her team—a perspective she’s lacked for untold years—as she continues to face threats like fire-starter and rebuild her own identity in the process.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 07

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Kusanagi has had six boyfriends in six months, if her comrades are to be believed. But what some of them might call a sickness, I call enjoying her independence and the personal freedom of owning her own body again, something that weighed on her a long time. And she deserves to be picky, as she’s a singular catch herself. After watching her fling herself around and throw herself into harm’s way time and again, it’s gratifying to finally see her enjoying herself with something that has nothing to do with work (more on that in a bit).

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Turns out the record for amount of “vacation” time she’s able to have with her new BF is just five hours, as she’s constantly interrupted by those comrades of hers, who ae charged with shutting down a terror plot ostensibly about the sale of water in Kuzan; water being one of the resources about which wars will be fought with increasing frequency and magnitude in the future; something Californians are already starting to feel.

In any case, the terrorist bombing is almost too neatly synched with the explosion of a dam, and a detective is found with a suitcase containing prosthetic legs. Kusanagi’s men prove their eliteness yet again by pacifying the situation and helping to save her from the terrorist leader, who is not only able to break her ghost lock, but inject a virus that creates pain and muscle spasms in her right leg. Her right prosthetic leg. Hmmm…

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All six perps have falsified memories and bear the same tattoo indicating their connection to a Qhardi rebel named Scylla, who might also be the notorious Fire Starter whose virus has been the bane of Kusanagi and her team throughout this show’s run. Only Kusanagi is certain he’s dead, so it must be someone else.

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While conferring with her comrades in person, we see Kusanagi has not only not changed her pants, but cleaned up the tears to make them half-hot pants, a look I dearly want her to continue to sport in the next ep, because its a good look and she’s got the gams for it.

Speaking of gams, Kusanagi pays another visit to her BF for a “tune-up”. Again, it’s nice to see this cute, playful, tender side of Kusanagi. She’s downright disarmed by this guy…as he checks out her legs. We later learn that he runs a high-end prostheses business, and Detective Togusa comes to him with questions about the legs found by the dead detective, who was himself at least partially cyborgized.

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And that’s when the episode throws down the gauntlet in the form of everyone’s least favorite metal Easter Island headed military official, Hozuki, in cahoots with Kusanagi’s BF. I tell you, Motoko-chan can’t catch a break. Is this arc setting her up for betrayal and heartbreak, or is all her lovey-doveyness an act, and she already knows who she’s sleeping with, and is sticking close to gather intel? We shall see.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 06

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This latest episode of ARISE further reinforces the quality that make it by turns engrossing an frustrating: its complexity. The show is to be commended for not compromising its narrative principles or pandering to a lower common denominator. But that rigidness makes it more practical as a binge than stepping in every week, especially when there are a lot of other shows, anime or otherwise, on one’s weekly watchlist. This makes sense, considering this show was originally a series of movies.

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I’d argue the “alternative architecture” was a blessing and a curse to ARISE: while I feel it might be more cohesive and easier to follow in its previous format, without airing as television broadcast, I would have never been exposed to it to begin with. That being said, its translated structure lends a certain uniqueness that can’t be ignored.

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I also have to commend ARISE for not holding back in the action department, though I do wish quieter scenes could have been animated with as great care as said action scenes were composed. The amazing stunts Kusanagi & Co. pull off as if it’s just another day at the office really pull me in and make me feel comfortable, despite the fact there’s a bit too much AI in the world being portrayed to be too comfortable.

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But yeah, this week things get very complex indeed, with the operation to retrieve colonel’s module being hamstrung by an illusory world before Kusanagi can break free, and is then saved by her new ally VV, whom I described as the CIA equivalent of Kusanagi. They work well together; as well as I imagine Kusanagi and Batou would work together if they weren’t on opposite sides for most of this episode.

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This complex scene of Kusanagi, Batou, Paz and VV all trying to get the upper hand on each other best illustrates the attention to detail and creativity of the direction. Not to mention, this is a show where many characters don’t have flesh-and-blood bodies, and thus can take quite a bit more punishment, not to mention lose a limb or two and keep on tickin’.

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The plot is even more complex than the action, but boils down the Colonel, Ishikawa, Batou, and everyone else in their unit being infected with fales memories of a humanitarian mission, when they were actually confronted with guerillas.

The Colonel takes his life so he can’t be used by whomever infected him to cause any more harm. Batou wouldn’t mind keeping memories that portrayed him as something other than a “dog trained to kill”, even if they’re fake. Kusanagi’s response is both cold and accurate: he’s a whiny bitch.

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As for the final twist: VV, who had helped Kusanagi up until now, was in actuality an AI infected with false memories that allowed her to masquerade as a human, who won’t rest until she’s found out why; ironically one of the more human compulsions for self-discovery and validation for one’s existence.

Unfortunately, achieving her goal would mean throwing the world into more political turmoil than it’s already in, so she’s gunned down. It’s certainly an unexpected twist—almost too unexpected—but I appreciated the guts of the show to take things one step deeper.

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Even if the mastermind behind the insidious false memory-producing virus remains at large, thanks to Kusanagi and her variably loyal (looking at you, Saito) fledgling unit, Pandora wasn’t fully unleashed to the world and Japan is safe for another week.

In a common problem in anime, Kusanagi needs to recruit more members for her club or its registration will be revoked, so she reaches out to another one of the bes tin the business, Batou, with an enticing offer: to let him feel like more than a trained killing dog…without the aid of false memories.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 05

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In our next arc, Kusanagi has yet to form her “best defense is a good offense” unit, but has to react to a new threat in which another disgraced colonel is using city-wide Domination to control nearly all of the city’s 20 million vehicles, thus holding their occupants hostage, while he works to air all of the Japanese military’s dirty laundry to the world. Clearly, the public story of what happened in Qhardistan differes from what really happened.

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It’s an episode in which a lot of the mundance automation technology both the people of Japan and Kusanagi herself take for granted is suddenly all messed up. Luckily for Motoko, an older-model motorcycle passes her by when he late model slows down and refuses to respond to her inputs, and one of her many badass moments of this week, she manages to maneuver the bike into and through a delivery van trying to take out Logicoma (whose memory apparently contains incriminating data). Oh, and Batou’s driving the van. I guess these two still aren’t quite friends yet, huh?

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It’s on to the next badass moment, as Motoko and her comparatively pint-sized Logicoma have to take on not one but two heavy-duty military mechas that would like nothing else than to take her out. She seems to be in a bad way when all of a sudden an ally leaps out of the shadows and disables the enemy mechs.

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This ally, code named “VV”, looks like the American equivalent of Kusanagi, and wants to assist her in locating and deactivating or destroying Colonel Soga’s means of hacking the city’s systems and prevent Pandora from being opened, as such an action would likely cause problems for America’s government as well. VV’s arrival inspires Kusanagi to finally assemble her team; one member by gunpoint (Saito), another who volunteers (Pazu).

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But in the middle of their op, once they successfully infiltrate the suspected enemy base, Kusanagi herself is trapped in a mental construct of Soga’s making. He knows she’s after him, and warns her she won’t succeed in stopping him from carrying out his mission. Soga is certainly a tech whiz, and may even have a good reason for doing what he’s doing; a reason Kusanagi can relate to. But her first loyalty is to the state, and despite this initial setback I expect her to give Soga a run for his money.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 02

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Unlike so many anime on the air today, Arise doesn’t hold your hand too much with long narrations or official introductions or long narrations. Instead, it tosses you into the deep end of its intricate cyberpunk narrative. You’ll either sink from the sheer weight of proper nouns, or swim among all the interesting ideas.

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I’m here writing this, so I was mostly able to navigate the occasionally opaque cybercop-talk of plots layered within plots. There’s a dense, sophisticated story unfolding, necessitating quite a bit of exposition, but it’s nicely balanced with—and sometimes, occupying the same space as—nifty bursts of good old-fashioned cop action.

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Standard fare like busting windows and firing guns, and setting off sprinklers are more setting-specific stuff like a robot containing the two minds of identical twins working together, or Motoko’s colleague being implanted with false memories until he’s not in control of his own body. Arise is a show that blows stuff up real good and makes your mind churn.

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As for Motoko, she’s fearless, reckless, and superbly competent, neither afraid of mussing her hair or losing a layer of synthetic skin tossing her body at attackers. She and Batou are almost as in sync as those cyber-twins in the heat of battle, tossing guns at one another and not flinching as each kills the bad guy behind the other.

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As to the plot: Emma Tsuda is identified as a tech officer under Motoko’s former 501 colleague, Lt. Col. Kurutsu, who was investigating a hacker known as “Scarecrow” whom apparently had the same disorder she had.

While Emma used cyberization to “structure her attenuating selfhood” (making herself more and more a “Tin Girl”, the “Scarecrow”, AKA Brinda Jr., achieves selfhood by dubbing ghosts, stealing bodies, and assuming the identities of others. The two live within Emma’s body, and though his brain and her heart are fading away, they yearn go on living together after death.

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These odd soulmates are unfortunately pawns in a bigger, more dastardly plot spearheaded by military bigwig (and somewhat scary-looking cyborg) Colonel Hozuki. She’s in cahoots with a foreign weapons cartel, and used Scarecrow to eliminate said cartel’s domestic competition, while trying to pass Emma off as the ringleader in a diversionary massacre.

Motoko and Batou follow Togusa and Emma to a thrilling dock standoff where Tin Girl and Scarecrow desperately transfer to a next-gen mecha. When Mokoto dives in to try to get more info on the virus, they flee again, only to be blown up by a warship just offshore. To top it off, Hozuki, supervising all this from her chopper, is herself hot down by the cartel, reaping what she’s sown.

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If I didn’t quite get all that right, please forgive me, for I watched this quite late at night, but suffice it to say Motoko and her team are rewarded for uncovering Hozuki’s plot by being given special authority, and tasked with continuing their investigations into the hacking virus, along with any organizations involved.

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Considering Motoko doesn’t wear a military uniform anymore (preferring a fetching red leather suit), it’s clear more authority and autonomy suit her just fine. These first two weeks of Alternative Architecture covered the events of the fourth and final Arise OVA, while the preview indicates we’ll be going back to when Motoko did wear a uniform.

So if it felt like we were just thrown right into the middle of everything—not a bad way to do things in this kind of setting, IMO—it’s because we were; now comes the backstory.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 01

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I’m all through with Steins;Gate, neither Gunslinger nor Plamemo really wowed me, and I’m just itching for Sidonia season two right now, so I thought I’d fill the void with the latest imagining of a very old acquaintance. I also dug Psycho-Pass, which was clearly inspired by GitS, so I decided to give re-entering the franchise a shot.

That said, I’m what you’d call a GitS tourist. I’m not even sure GitS is the preferred way of abbreviating the title for the sake of brevity. I watched the first two movies in relatively close succession ages ago (the first is a classic and the second isn’t bad), but there my exposure ends; I never so much as caught a dubbed episode of SAC in its entirety on Adult Swim.

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That means I also missed the long-form OVAs that were releaed between June 2013 and last September. Alternative Architecture is a second chance to catch Arise in the midst of a TV season, and I’m taking it, so I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance going forward. I also hope you’ll forgive me if these aren’t the most timely reviews; due to time constraints I’ve got to choose my shows carefully.

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This first episode efficiently reintroduces us to the world of cyborgs with cyberbrains and prosthetic bodies and virtual ghosts, and to Kusanagi Motoko, Badass, now voiced by one of my favorite seiyus since her debut in Escaflowne, Sakamoto Maaya. She also contributes vocals to the suitably hip, electronic OP composed by Cornelius.

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Like Tsunemori Akane in PSYCHO-PASS, Motoko in Arise is faced with a new threat to the fabric of the society she semi-grugingly participates in: a terrorist plot to infect cyberbrains with a virus that turns people into puppets with which to wreak havoc. The culprit of one such attack is a young woman, a war orphan and talented programmer with an aversion to cyberization. As the shot above indicates, Motoko doesn’t have the full picture yet, but she’s sent to escort this individual, who hosts the virus, to a secure location for analysis

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This host, called Emma, immediately tries to start sowing the seeds of doubt in her captors Motoko and Batou, asking them if they can truly trust their memories anymore now that she (or whomever is controlling this prosthetic body) has found a way to create false memories within cyberbrains. And because Motoko is an impatient badass, she dives right into Emma to see what she can see.

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There, she finds a second ghost within her, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess is a rarity. It’s clear Motoko may not just be fighting terrorists, but continuing to butt heads with the government supervisors and bureaucrats who may not share her ideals, but nonetheless technically own her body.

While Arise’s first episode had some thrilling set pieces, particularly in the beginning, there were some scenes in which all momentum stopped while old guys talked about dense stuff I only had the slightest handle on. There’s also a b-plot involving tracking and capturing another terrorist that wasn’t all that gripping despite its best efforts.

I can chalk the pacing issues up to this being the first part of a larger, feature-length piece. I also rather liked the way sound was used in the episode: scenes of aural cacophony juxtaposed with dead silence or slight white noises lent aural reinforcement to the tense, out-of-balance atmosphere of Arise’s world.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 05

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It was going to be hard to follow up an episode like last week’s, which moved me so much I invented a World Heritage List for it. This week was further hampered by lacking a musical performance centerpiece (though this show was never going to be able to, not should it, do one a week). But this week followed it’s own theme and comported itself well. That theme began with a flashback to when Kousei, Tsubaki and Ryouta were rugrats: Even if you’re uncertain or afraid, dive in anyway.

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I was wondering how the show was going to proceed after leaving Kaori sprawled out unconscious on the stage. We jump forward to when she’s been admitted to the hospital, where she assures her friends it’s “the first time” she’s fainted like that, and it was probably due to baka-Kousei making her work so hard to get him to accompany her, anyway.

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Let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? There’s no way that was the first time, and there’s no way there won’t be another. You don’t put a girl in the hospital like that and never put her there again. But let’s leave that aside for now. Seeing her in the hospital only makes Kousei guilty he caused Kaori to be disqualified and wash out of the competition. He doesn’t realize: Kaori knew what she was doing.

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Holy crap, was this a gray, cloudy episode! Today, in fact, was just this dark and gray and cloudy! It’s the gray of doubt and uncertainty, following Kaori’s incident, but also in terms of what Kousei thinks it meant to her. Didn’t she just Kousei him for accompaniment? Ryouta is her betrothed after all. Yet when Kousei tells Ryouta to go on ahead, Ryouta tells Kousei not to worry about the percieved mismatch, but to dive in with him. Ryouta saw how Kousei and Kaori played together. He’s not setting aside his friendship because of a girl. This is a fair fight; may the best man win.

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Rejection and awkwardness isn’t all Kousei fears, though. While Kaori did lean on him, she also ended up supporting him, by bringing music back into his life as a positive force. He was supported by her just as much as she him, which is what made her collapse on stage so devastating to him. He used to equate obsessive practice and flawless play with his mother recovering from her illness. When she died, he blamed himself. Even if Ryouta is right and Kousei has a chance with Kaori, history could repeat itself, with Kousei being powerless to save someone he loves.

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As for Poor Tsubaki, knowing the score between Kousei and Kaori (no pun intended) doesn’t change her feelings for Kaori. Even if she can’t verbalize the positive qualities he possesses other than playin’ the pianny real good, she’s keenly attuned to those qualities, and they draw her to him still. She was once in love with Saito, the hot, dependable baseball captain a year above her, but time passed and so did those feelings. Saito’s late, sudden confession doesn’t move her, because despite the possibility he’s a lost cause, she’s in love with Kousei now.

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When Kousei spots a discharged Kaori in the school hallway, he hides, and misses his chance when Ryouta starts flirting with her. But then fate brings the two together on that bridge Tsubaki essentially threw him off years ago. Not coincidentally, the sky is a lot more bright and dazzling, now that Kaori is out of the hospital. Wise beyond their fourteen years, Kaori tells him it’s okay to be afraid.

Everyone is. Afraid of failure, pain, rejection, despair. But you go out on the stage and play your damn heart out anyway…which is the “beautiful lie.” You jump off that bridge, because it could change your life, while staying still won’t change anything. It’s a simple message: as much as you can, while you can, live life to the fullest.

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Tiger & Bunny 25 (Fin)

After Bunny defeats one H-1, Rotwang unleashes an entire squad of them at the heroes. Saito manages to put them into safety mode using a code Bunny’s parents devised. After killing Rotwang, Maverick attempts escape, but his big mouth gets him in trouble when its revealed he’s being filmed by the Hero TV crew. He takes Kaede hostage, but Kotetsu wakes up and knocks him out. He wipes out his own memory and is arrested, and everyone is out of harm’s way. Lunatic intercepts the paddy wagon and kills Maverick for his crimes. Tiger & Bunny both retire, but get back into the superhero game a year later.

Tiger & Bunny wraps up with a solid, satisfying finale, with its fair share of action, slapstick, and a lot of heart. This series always seemed to care a great deal about its cast, and whenever it focused on one or another, it really made the characters shine. Those character pieces always worked better when the series took more introspective views of the characters, rather than bundle them all up with little to do, like the last few episodes where they had to deal with Maverick. But Kotetsu really took center stage – apparently “sacrificing” himself last week, only to make a hero’s comeback at the most opportune time – to look cool in the eyes of his daughter.

This is another one of those “life goes on pretty much as it has” endings, where Tiger returns to the Hero biz, not out of selfishness, but because Kaede told him to. The fact that his powers are only good for a minute don’t faze him; one cannot hold back the tide, as the late Legend proved. He’ll just do what he can to help out and protect his family. As for Barnaby, he wasn’t interested in being a hero without Tiger by his side, so when Tiger returned, so did he. A testament to how far their friendship has come.


Rating: 3.5

Tiger & Bunny 23

Kotetsu duels with Barnaby until calling him Bunny restores his memory. Saito and Ben arrive to aid them in opposing Maverick, but he’s already captured all the other heroes and Kaede is a hostage. Maverick has also recruited Rotwang to develop androids that will replace the heroes. Kotetsu and Barnaby have to defeat the fake RoboTiger in order to save everyone, while the others have the option to save themselves by killing everyone else, a test of their bonds.

So, all it took was a little punching, a bitch slap, and some sobbing to snap Bunny out of it. The series wisely avoided what I had dreaded – Barnaby staying bad – and instead everyone is now united against Maverick. Of course, he has everyone where he wants them, and it all comes down to Tiger & Bunny being able to get the job done. By making a nice connection to the episode with the android woman who Sky High fell in love with, the point is driven home: this is not going to be easy or painless.

I realize Maverick is a rich and powerful guy who wants more riches and power, but as he is forced to take stronger and more dastardly measures, it’s pretty obvious his own greed and arrogance will be his undoing. Was it really necessary to make mortal enemies of such powerful people as the heroes under his employ? Does he truly believe androids will make better heroes than human NEXTs? Why exactly is he going so far? I’m not sure the series cares whether we understand him or not, only that he’s the bad guy and he has to go down.


Rating: 3