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.

Astra Lost in Space – 03 – This Is NOT It!

Aries has heterochromia. It’s a detail I never noticed in the first two episodes, until it was explicitly mentioned this week. I thought I was so sure they were the same color, but I looked back on those episodes, and sure enough, one of her eyes is more yellow; the other more green. My eyes just…didn’t notice.

It’s a subtle and clever way for the show to communicate not only that one’s eyes (or other senses) can fool them, but that things could be going on right out in the open and we may not even notice them until it’s too late. The same goes for Kanata, who both suspects and doesn’t suspect everyone. Like us, he may suspect Yunhua and Ulgar the most, but just because we know the least about them.

On their twenty-fourth day in space, Zack anounces that the Astra has arrived at Planet #2, Shummoor, but the rest of the crew is too busy shooting the breeze, which should be seen as progress. Then Funi (and her puppet) start talking about how she was adopted the same day she arrived an an orphanage, and how she overheard adults saying “put her on Beego and we’ll illuminate them all.”

Change “Beego” to “B-go (or 5)” and “illuminate” to “eliminate”, and it sure looks like everyone was put on this ship because they wanted to get rid of them in one fell swoop. With this theory afoot, Kanata decides to tell the others that there’s a traitor in their midst. Ulgar finally reveals something about himself: he’s the estranged son of the school vice principal, a man able to transfer students and choose who goes on what team.

I loved that this exchange marked the return of the haunting music that backed up the first episode’s cold open; a piece that captures both the unfathomable size of space and the equally unfathomable variety of perils it offers. And yet the greatest danger to everyone may be someone among them, not anything out there.

All this talk of a traitor is too much for Quitterie, who loses her composure, even pushing Aries away when she tries to comfort her. The fact is, no one can prove they are or are not the traitor. So Aries decides to table that particular dilemma for now, and have some snacks before heading down to the planet.

Both in this defusing of a volatile situation and in the insight she offers vis-a-vis the possibility of the traitor being on the kill list themselves, making theirs a suicide mission—Aries proves she’s far brainier and tougher than her space-cadet-with-a-photographic memory exterior would suggest.

In the midst of the discussion about this potentially suicidal traitor, another act of apparent sabotage goes down: a hole is blown in the ship’s hull, rupturing a water pipe.

Charce finds fragments and determines that it was an accident, not treachery from one of their own: a meteor pierced the hull, causing damage that if not repaired will spell the end of the ship. It’s actually comforting that it was a truly random, chaotic event, something that happens in space all the time, and something even the traitor did not expect to happen when it happened.

After reciting a couple more lame, vague “survival tips,” Kanata quickly and decisively assigns tasks to each member of the crew, each according to their strengths as he knows them. And after the events of last week, where he made decisions and acted when no one else could, the crew responds by going along with his assignments without protest. He also instills in everyone a palpable sense of “we can do this” by dint of sheer charisma.

The crew springs into action…well, all but Yunhua. Yunhua gets water in her face and some of it ends up down her throat. Because water forms balls in zero-G, she starts to drown, but Quitterie, the closest thing to a medic on the crew, acts quickly to save her, absorbing the water with a cloth. Yunhua is left alone to rest, and while it’s highly unlikely she meant to almost drown, I couldn’t help but think she was up to something arranging to be left on the bridge with no one watching.

Once a series of cables connect the backup generator with the gravity reactor thingamajig (technobabble), the system still throws and error due to a weird bird/bug-like critter flying about that the computer does not recognize. If they can’t nab it, they’ll plummet to their deaths.

The resident marksman, Ulgar, volunteers to shoot the thingy with Luca’s glue gun, as Luca and Kanata keep him steady. He succeeds, and the ship’s gravity and power are restored, halting its death dive into the planet’s atmosphere. Thanks to the talents of the individual crew, and their ability to work together as a unity under Kanata’s direction, the latest crisis is averted.

But that doesn’t change the fact there’s a traitor in their midst. As Luca praises Ulgar’s marksmanship and claims that with a real gun he’d be “unstoppable,” Kanata retorts that guns haven’t been legal in a very long time. And yet there Ulgar goes, into his quarters, to pull out a case containing…a gun.

Could it be as simple as one of the most obvious suspects in the crew actually being the traitor? Or is the reveal of the gun more misdirection? Like Aries’ different colored eyes, the answers may have already stared me in the face long before I discover them for myself…

Astra Lost in Space – 02 – Not Here to Make Space Friends

The Astra lands on the planet Valvrave Vilavurs, a lush planet teeming with flora, fauna, and water to stock up for the twenty-day journey to the next stepping stone in space. Kanata distributes tasks to the crew, but encounters immediate resistance from Quitterie, who doesn’t seem interested in doing anything dangerous. As if being lost in space wasn’t already dangerous…

After encountering a giant dragon-like flying beast with a turtle-like head (hence the name “tur-gon”), most of the crew heads into the forest to forage amongst all manner of alien critter and trampoline tree, while Ulgar and Yunhua, the quietest of the group so far, fill the Astra’s water tanks from a nearby stream.

What had been a jolly good time turns into a nightmare when the singularity reappears, with space staring at them from the other end. This time, however, everyone manages to get away, thanks in part to Aries’ photographic memory…and because the sphere may well have “given up”, if it’s capable of that kind of thought.

Back on the ship, Quitterie reiterates her desire to make friends with precisely no one, then makes it that much harder on herself by telling her sister Funicia she’s not really even her sister, then running off, requiring everyone to head back out to look for her. Zack, her childhood friend, explains that she’s always found it hard dealing with people or making friends since she was basically raised by dutiful servants.

Funi, who was later adopted by Quitterie’s absentee doctor mother (and not welcomed by Quitterie) gets separated and ends up on a trampoline tree as it stretches up vertically towards the setting sun (neat tree, that). This puts her in prime position to be snatched up and eaten by a tur-gon.

To stop that from happening, Kanata takes action when no one else will, finding the tree closest to the cliff and using his decathlete skills to run and jump from tree to tree until he’s close to Funi. Unfortunately, a tur-gon grabs her, but he uses Luca’s javelin to injure it, and it drops Funi harmlessly back to the treetop.

Kanata manages to reach her, but loses his footing and falls backwards over the edge. Like Funi when she was captured, or Aries and Kanata’s troubles in open space last week, this show loves almost killing off members of its large cast, and since I’m still new to this show, it hasn’t yet been clear that it won’t actually follow through and do it for real at some point.

But not this time, as Quitterie makes herself useful and launches a series of parachute plants (also neat, those), one of which catches Kanata, who gently drifts down to solid ground. Quitterie thanks Kanata and apologizes for her behavior thus far, and Kanata’s quick-thinking and heroism cements his role as the consensus captain, with Charce as his second-in-command.

With Kanata now in a place of leadership, his hard work finally paying off, and Quitterie finally being honest about actually wanting friends and family, not to mention everyone having more than their share of delicious tur-gon meat, the crew is sitting pretty after the first completed leg of their 5,000 light year-plus interstellar odyssey.

But Zack informs Kanata of a disturbing discovery he’s made: the communications system was sabotaged…recently. That means it was either done just before they boarded the ship…or there’s a traitor in their midst. Absent any evidence, I suspect Ulgar the most, since he’s so quiet and standoffish, but I’m not sleeping on it being Yunhua, or Charce, or heck, even Zack himself, trying to cast away suspicion on himself by reporting it.

One thing’s for (mostly) sure…it’s not Kanata or Aries. But who ever it is (if it indeed is one of them), the mystery adds a measure of looming peril to what has otherwise been an bloodless quest. The crew has been extremely lucky to survive their trials so far. That luck can’t hold out forever.

Astra Lost in Space – 01 (First Impressions) – The Final Frontier: Getting Along

ALiS immediately sets the mood and grabs our attention by throwing us into the inky nothingness of space to float with poor Aries Spring (Minase Inori). She has no idea how she got there, but is understandably terrified, until she spots someone approaching her with an open hand.

Now that we know how bad things are going to get for Aries, the narrative rewinds back to the day Aries sets of for the five-day “Planet Camp.” Shortly after arriving at the spaceport, her bag is stolen, but the very fit and valorous Hoshijuma Kanata gets it back…only to be arrested by cop-bots.

No matter, Aries and Kanata eventually join their six fellow high school students (plus one little sister with an alter-ego in the form of a hand puppet) at the gate and before you know it, they’re on a 9-hour FTL journey to Planet McPa.

The meetup at the gate and the trip paint the characters in broad strokes, but the bottom line is they’re all very different personalities—pretty typical for a Lerche show. Within a couple minutes of setting foot on McPa, those clashing personalities are immediately tested by a weird floating orb, which I’ll just call a singularity. One by one, it sucks up the students who can’t outrun it.

After a very trippy visual sequence, everyone finds themselves floating in space, near a planet that doesn’t quite look like McPa. You couldn’t ask for a more nightmarish scenario, especially considering these are just kids with zero experience in space. Fortunately, there’s a spaceship in orbit, just within the range of their thruster suits.

They head to the ship, open the thankfully unlocked hatch, and climb aboard. There’s a grand sense of adventure afoot, and the music really helps to sell it. That’s when they realize there are only eight of them—poor Aries is still out there, drifting further and further away.

With insufficient fuel for a two-way trip in their suits, Kanata decides to use a tether to reach Aries, and we return to the end of the cold open, with Kanata reaching out to take Aries’ hand…only his rope is just too short. Disaster! Whatever to do? Kanata decides to go for broke and detach himself from the tether so he can grab an eternally grateful Aries.

But while they’re safe for the moment, there’s another problem: on the way back Kanata runs out of fuel, but his trajectory is five degrees off, meaning he and Aries will fly right past the ship. It’s time for the others, putting aside their initial differences to create a human chain outside of the airlock that snags Aries and Kanata and pulls them aboard.

That’s when they learn of several more problems—there are always more problems in space than in…not space, after all. They’re 5,012 light years, or more than three months, away from home, with only enough water for 20 days and only enough food for three.

With the aid of Zack Walker, he of the 200 IQ and spaceship license, he manages to calculate a route that will enable them to resupply at planets within twenty days of one another…but there’s only one possible route. Even so, the fact that there’s a remotely feasible plan bolsters everyone’s spirits.

With hope in their hearts (and probably very little food in their stomachs) Kanata is chosen as their captain, and they all take their places as the ship’s FTL activates, and they head off, through hardships, to the stars, on a very simple mission: Get Home Safe.

The last act seems to blow by extremely fast as solutions present themselves almost too easily, and while many members of the cast showed different sides, the jury is still out on others, but over all this was a strong start to a good old-fashioned space adventure. No convoluted factional conflicts or supernatural chosen ones…just nine kids probably in over their heads, but who have no choice but to grow up and do the best they can.

YU-NO – 01 (First Impressions) – Time is Reversible but Cliches are Innumerable

Howdy, and welcome to the Spring 2019! Our first entry is YU-NO, a bright, brisk show about an easygoing orphaned high school dude named Arima Takuya who is suddenly tangled up in all this curious business of time travel, parallel universes, and various other things he did not expect, including the discovery that his folks aren’t dead after all.

Takuya is a bit of a cad, acting as both quasi-casanova and class clown. He has a jovial sidekick who calls him “boss.” He draws both the ire and likely fancy of the class idol, Shimazu Mio (an always welcome Kugimiya Rie). His hot teacher wears an outfit perhaps better suited for…not school.

His guardian, whom I’m guessing is his older sister, cousin, or aunt judging by the same last name, is in charge of some kind of construction project. His dad, a researcher believed to have died in a cave, is survived by his colleague Ryuzoji, whom I immediately suspected was a bad guy due to his suite and beard. Oh, and Ryuzoji’s secretary used to teach at Takuya’s school, and they may have slept together in the past. Neat!

The episode starts with Takuya interacting with one attractive woman after another, establishing the various players I saw on the promo art. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the fact his interactions feel so regimented lends each of the female characters a kind of mysterious significance anyway.

When Takuya gets home, the tangling begins, with a mysterious package arriving in the mail containing a weird relic of the type Ryuzoji was looking for, followed by a call on the phone with no one on the other end. If that isn’t enough weirdness for one evening, Takuya switches on the news and a strange lightning strikes very near his guardian when she’s giving an interview.

Takuya rushes to her, and she’s fine, but also encounters his sidekick and Shimazu, who have just finished investigating the shrine near the construction site. They all encounter a blue-haired girl in their school uniform—no doubt the transfer student his sexy teacher mentioned—and this student, Hatano Kanna, warns Takuya both there and the next day after her intro to the class to convince his guardian to cancel all construction at the site, warning that it’s “dangerous.”

That’s a pretty vague warning to someone who is not directly responsible for the construction site, but that night, Takuya gets another mystery package that contains a weird book labeled “Parallel World Constitutive Theorem” and “Reflector Device Construction” containing a drawing of this weird relic thing, and a letter form his dad telling him to go to the shrine at a certain time with the device.

Takuya does as the letter instructs, and there he finds a naked blonde young woman with fairy-like ears who only says one thing to him—”Yu-no”—before kissing him and then de-materializing into glow-dust. Takuya is rightly a bit freaked out by this series of events!

They only get stranger, as both his guardian and Ryuzoji appear at the site, only for Ryuzoji to pull a gun on Takuya and demand he hand over the device, as it enables its bearer the ability to “cross Neumann space.” His dad intended it for him, but I guess Ryuzoji has other plans? In any case he has a beard so he’s bad news.

Fortunately, more weird gold lightning strikes, and one of the bolts hits Takuya while he’s holding the device. Instead of getting fried, he’s shot through some kind of tunnel in spacetime, travels through various twisted  hyper-dimensional pathways, and spat out right where he began. Only, as he learns when he returns to school to find both his guardian safe and sound and a cheerful, gun-less Ryuzoji, he appears to have traveled a day into the past. Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

If this introductory episode left me with a bunch of questions, it’s because it wanted it to be that way. That’s fine, as we’re closely following the MC, who’s as much in the dark as we are, especially when Ryuzoji starts blurting out weird lingo. That said, there were an awful lot of familiar cliches that didn’t really bring much to the table. It’s all very by-the-numbers and didn’t once ‘wow’ me. I’ll at least give this another week to see where this goes, but color me unimpressed so far…

Planet With – 02 – Dearth of Enthusiasm

As the “Citizens’ Safety Center Special Defense Division: Grand Paladin” deals with the aftermath of losing one of their seven fighters to the enemy (which is called “Nebula”), Souya doesn’t so much as get real meat as a reward for his victory.

He lashes out at both Ginko and Sensei and skips school, then encounters Torai, the guy he just beat last night. Now lacking Photon Armor, he’s on investigation duty, but his memories of meeting Souya are fuzzy, so it’s a cordial exchange. Then another, even weirder UFO arrives.

Sensei clarifies that while he and Ginko are with Nebula, they’re with the pacifist faction that only wants to relieve humanity of the power the Photon Armor, which they’re using Souya to do (the “Sealing” faction wants to take it a step forward and actually keep humanity from ever evolving to a point where they develop such power).

Inaba Miu, the youngest member of Grand Paladin, is the star of the show, defeating the UFO after getting stuck in an illusion involving her and her friend and comrade Harumi in a judo match. But shortly after winning, Miu and Harumi are confronted by Souya and Sensei, and a 2-on-1 fight ensues.

Once Souya gets the hang of operating his “Sensei Armor”, he manages to defeat Miu and snatch away her power, but gets greedy and wants to go after Harumi too, against Sensei and Ginko’s order to withdraw. As a result, the rest of Grand Paladin show up and surround them. Could the gig be up just 2/7ths of the way into their mission?

Planet With episode two has the same shortcomings as the first: a whiny protagonist; loose-sketch supporting characters; goofy-looking anonymous UFOs. The CGI fights come with some decent SFX but are otherwise fairly standard 2018 fare. But with no strong characters or ideas to get enthusiastic about, the show feels very color-by-number so far.

Planet With – 01 (First Impressions) – Unidentified Rooting Interest

What Planet With lacks in originality (weird mecha fighting an even weirder enemy is a tale as old as time) it makes up for in polish, panache, and, well, specificity. Kuroi Souya isn’t just one such mecha pilot; he’s an orphaned amnesiac transfer student who lives with a green-haired maid and giant purple cat-man that only eats lettuce/cabbage.

Despite the best efforts of his charming class rep (and occult research club member) Takamagahara, Souya ends up splitting off from his class when massive UFOs start appearing close to coastal cities, including his. A band of seven superheroes transform into mecha to meet the extremely bizarre object.

Souya isn’t among them. In fact, the maid (Ginko) and cat-man (“Sensei”) meet up with him and instruct him not to take out the UFO, but the seven superheroes, one of whom (Torai) manages to enter the core of the UFO. Just like a JSDF fighter pilot earlier, Torai is transported to an elaborate illusion, given the chance to save his mom who he couldn’t save in real life. He manages to break through the illusion and destroy the UFO, and the others explode with it around the world.

Before his mecha can be repaired, he’s confronted by Souya, who ends up piloting “Sensei”, who transforms into a vaguely feline mecha. Souya manages to defeat Torai’s far larger mecha and steal the source of his power; a vial filled with silver star-shaped particles. Souya laments that he may have been taken in by Ginko and Sensei in order to fight as their soldier…though at least this time, he’s won over by the promise of a meat (though not beef)-filled dinner.

And that’s where we leave things. The question is, who is the good guy here? Souya all but admits he’s the two weirdos’ weapon, while after the credits, whoever is in charge of the seven superheroes (who Torai claim are protecting the planet) hardly looks like the benevolent type.

Everything looks and sounds great in Planet With, but take away the spectacle and there’s not much to invest in here…at least not yet. As with Souya and the promise of meat, I’ll settle for spectacle for now. But meat alone isn’t a meal; hopefully some potatoes are forthcoming.

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Hinamatsuri – 01 – Not Your Average Brat (First Impressions)

Nitta Yoshifumi is your typical low-to-mid-level yakuza, doing pretty well for himself without getting his hands bloody, preferring the art hustle to less civilized ventures. He has a fine condo with fine furniture, fine objets d’art, and fine wine.

Then quite suddenly (as these things tend to happen), a strange metal egg with a face falls from above. Nitta decides to pretend its not there and go to bed. But of course, it’s still there in the morning, and he presses the red button as the face instructs to reveal Hina, a blue-haired brat with telekinetic powers.

Nitta…goes with it. I mean, Hina doesn’t give him much choice, wordlessly threatening to destroy all the fine things he owns unless he acquiesces to her demands, which range from “clothes” of any kind to cover her up, to over eight thousand dollars worth of merch at the mall.

Hina isn’t the expressive sort, but lots of TV-watching gives her a vocabulary Nitta can immediately identify when she uses it. He finds himself feeling like a caregiver all of a sudden, rather than somebody only in this life for himself and his organization.

When Hina decides she’s going to school, Nitta gets her to promise not to use her powers, lest chaos ensue. As Hina makes a fine first impression by forgetting her assumed last name, then sleeps through every class, Nitta wrings his hands at a meeting with his fellow yakuza, worried about how she’s doing—and they misinterpret his intensity for being gung-ho about taking on a rival group.

Well, chaos ensues anyway, because she neglects to tell him that if she doesn’t use her powers for too long, the power builds up and explodes, trashing his whole place. I loved the suddenness with which this escalated.

Since she has to use her powers anyway, Nitta tries to find a practical use for them, and finds one in a forest-clearing job for a shady developer. Uprooting mature trees, cleanly stripping their branches, foliage, and bark, and filling the holes in the ground is child’s play to Hina, who privately wonders why this Nitta guy is being so nice and not ordering her to kill people.

Nitta makes a killing on the tree job, but gets no congratulations from the Chief, because in his absence the Boss got shot, requiring their group to respond in kind. Nitta doesn’t even think of taking Hina with him, but resolves to take care of it himself, despite lacking any credible bona fides in the violence department.

Hina tags along (and scares the shit out of Nitta in the car) of her own volition, asking him why he won’t give her orders to kill the men in the building. Nitta’s all-too-decent response is a revelation to Hina: “Why should you have to do that? This has nothing to do with you!” Touched that he cares for her, she smirks and decides to take care of business without orders.

Hina is as efficient at clearing out the rival groups’ hideout and serving up their boss as she was clearing the forest, and we listen along with Nitta to the screams and grunts of the building’s occupants as she goes floor-to-floor, tossing every peron and piece of furniture out into the street (though notably never hitting Nitta with anything).

Everybody wins: Nitta is promoted for his excellent work (he neglects to mention his “brat” did it all; not that he wants it known she has powers), and Hina gets to exercise her telekinetic valves. Nitta generously rewards her (another concept unfamiliar to Hina from her previous life) with the finest kind of her so-far favorite food (red caviar), and the two settle into a mutually beneficial situation.

Post-credits, Nitta accidentally locks himself in the metal egg Hina arrived in, and Hina exacts a bit of revenge by leaving him in there all night, only releasing him in the morning after he’d wet himself (the moment of his release is played exactly like Ahnold’s arrival in Terminator, only with a cloud of piss.)

Hinamatsuri is a ton of fun. It’s also an absolute hoot. I was snickering or laughing for virtually the entire run time, as Nitta’s reactions to Hina’s deadpan remarks were constantly entertaining, as was the physical comedy of the telekinetic hi-jinx. There were too many hilarious lines to list.

The show has a marvelous sense of comedic timing in both dialogue and editing, but the comedy never overshadows what is, at its heart, a warm and sincere story of a man who suddenly has someone to care about, and a former human weapon who suddenly has the freedom to be a normal girl, even if she occasionally has to literally blow off some steam. I’m on board!

Darling in the FranXX – 03

All of the ten parasites of Plantation 13 grew up together as “hatchlings”, and they all gravitated towards 016, Hiro, who gave all of them names, including 015/Ichigo.

They all had high hopes for him leading them, but it didn’t happen. After their catastrophic mock battle, the interaction between Ichigo and Hiro is understandably awkward.

Gorou has always understood and accepted how close Ichigo is to Hiro; they’re both in the -teen numbers, which basically makes them brother and sister. But nothing is more important to Hiro than being useful, which means if he can only pilot with Zero Two, so be it.

Of course, that’s not his call, or Two’s. As the undermining of Ichigo’s authority as leader proceeds apace, led by Mitsuru, who thinks it’s time to cut their losses on the now-pathetic Hiro, Two watches Hiro feverishly train, and falls asleep waiting for him to finish.

She embraces him so he can get through a security wall, and Two shows him the glittering inner city, not because she thinks it’s beautiful or romantic, but because it’s ugly, boring, and depressing. She can’t stand it in there, with no sky and no sea.

She’s thinking about getting away, and wouldn’t mind her Darling coming with her. She laughs it off as a joke, but one must wonder…

The active parasites, meanwhile, are assigned their first sortie against a klaxosaur, but things immediately go wrong. Ikuno cannot connect with Mitsuru (and the hubristic Mitsuru blames her without mercy), and the one klaxosaur turns into a lot more, and Miku gets knocked out, leaving just two FranXXs to deal with the threat. They may have passed trials Hiro could not, but they’re still green-as-hell rookies.

When things turn dire, Zero Two demands to sortie, with her Darling Hiro. The adults adhere to the rules and won’t allow it, as Hiro is not an official parasite. Mitsuru offers an alternative: he’ll be Zero Two’s Stamen. Two asks Hiro if he’s sure he wants her to pilot Strelizia without him; Hiro definitely isn’t happy about it, but insists nevertheless; it’s more important to save the others.

When Ichigo hears Strelizia is sortieing, she loses composure just long enough to allow the Klaxosaurs to break through a barrier and surround them, making the situation a lot worse.

Knowing Hiro might be in there with Zero, kissing, is just too much to bear, and even if she knows she must if she wants to be a parasite and a leader, she can’t control those feelings or how they affect operation of Delphinium.

Strelizia swoops in, and when the other parasites hear Mitsuru’s voice, they’re shocked. Mitsuruimmediately becomes drunk on power, further dragging his partner Ikuno’s name in the mud expressing his amazement at himself and his elation he wasn’t the reason things weren’t working out.

However, when Strelizia returns after Zero Two went “all out”, Mitsuru is barely alive, and Zero Two is unimpressed. As far as she’s concerned, she only has one Darling, and it’s Hiro.

Darling in the FranXX running into problems and having to deal with periods of helplessness or instances of failure, but I do hope Hiro is able to prove himself once again and isn’t useless or a failure. Otherwise, he’s a reverse Gary Stu; an Anti-Inaho.

Some more balance would be nice. It’s confirmed by the adults that no one has fared better than him as Zero Two’s partner. So lets get these two back in a pilot so they can contribute. I’d just like to see a win soon, however small.

Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.