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.

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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.

BEATLESS – 02

Arato doesn’t really yet know he has a fugitive in his house, so I’ll forgive him for letting Yuka enroll Lacia in a fashion hIE competition that she then promptly wins. Still, considering all the danger he encountered upon meeting Lacia, you’d think he’d be a bit more careful.

But nope; the fashion thing goes through, Arato tells his friends at school (who agree with me that he’s probably not taking this seriously enough) and even lets Lacia accompany him on the train when he leaves his tablet at school.

Lacia shows him the nice view from the school roof he’s never seen, but the episode suffers from a lack of stakes or impending doom until the very end. Arato doesn’t sense any danger, which makes him less informed than us. If he had any notable qualities, that could be forgiven, but he’s pretty much a big not-steaming pile of meh.

That makes the fact he stumbled backwards into ownership of an elite luxury hIE all the more grating. He hasn’t really done anything but accept ownership; presumably he’ll start to experience the negative consequences of his choice, but this week he doesn’t.

Instead, he merely tags along during a live Lacia fashion shoot and “analog hack” that goes on too long and attracts a dubiously large crowd. It never comes across as anything but a tremendously bad idea.

All the while, I was thinking that at some point, Memeframe will come looking for her in some capacity, although perhaps the destruction caused in their escape hindered their ability to track their property. As for Arato’s nerdy friend Kengo, he’s paid a visit by Kouka, who doesn’t seem particularly interested in having an owner or following commands.

If Memeframe isn’t going to come into the picture soon, maybe Kouka and the other escaped fugitives can bring the storm…because this ep was too heavy on the calm.

BEATLESS – 01 (First Impressions)

Yeah, we usually started in September…

In a technologically-advanced, highly automated future where androids called hIEs serve mankind and are treated as tools, nondescript protagonist Endou Arato does have one unique quality: he has compassion for these “tools” as if they were real humans with souls.

He helps the hIE assisting an elderly woman cross the street, and takes the disembodied arm of an hIE to the police. He’s a good kid, even if his friends scratch their heads at what they see as unnecessary behavior.

In addition to a somewhat cryptic cold open in which he watches hIEs being made and coming to life (and going wrong for that matter), I felt Arato’s ingrained compassion would end up working in his favor even as five Memeframe Corp. elite hIEs violently escape from their cage in Odaiba and scatter, causing chaos and destruction in their wake.

BEATLESS may not be the most groundbreaking stuff, but it does realize and advance quite a few pieces of tech still in their relative infancy today, such as fully autonomous cars, robotic eldercare assistants, and even clothes with built-in climate control.

The way the military operates here in trying to apprehend the hIEs is also well-grounded in existing tech, with the bots doing the fighting while the humans keep a (mostly) safe distance. We also see the downside to dependence on so much technology (the aforementioned chaos and destruction). Kouka (the red hIE) seems to place as much importance on human life as Arato’s friends place on hIEs.

Speaking of chaos and destruction, Arato is cursed with one hell of a piece of work of a little sister in Yuka, who lounges around waiting for dinner, then eats all the meat before Arato is done cooking the rest, forcing him to go out and buy more a mere hour and a half from midnight.

After shopping at a nightmare supermarket with no human employees, he encounters an hIE acquaintance, “Ms. Marie” whom he laments he doesn’t have at home to help deal with household duties (since Yuka presumably does none).

Just as he does, one of the not-so-nice hIEs, Snowdrop, uses “flower petals” to hack every piece of machinery in the area, and both Ms. Marie and the nearby cars start trying to kill Arato…until he’s saved by a nice hIE.

This powder blue-haired hIE, Lacia, determines Arato would make a good “owner”, and she needs such an owner to take responsibility in order for her to take action. After a lengthy, somewhat momentum-killing but still kinda amusing scene in which he accepts the terms of the license agreement (as one does), Lacia eliminates the threat with something akin to an EMP.

Yuka initially wigs out when Arato brings Lacia home, but quickly falls in love after Lacia quickly prepares a sumptuous midnight repast for the Endous. Later, while serving Arato tea, Lacia reiterates to him that she has no soul, and that her “behavior” is just programming. But Arato doesn’t care, because Lacia moved him nevertheless.

‘Treat others as you’d like to be treated, even if those others are artificial’ seems as good a slogan for Arato as any, especially if the not-so-nice fugative hIEs out there start terrorizing the population. I can’t imagine it will be long before Memeframe or the military find Lacia and Arato and Yuka get dragged into a good bit of drama. I suppose I’ll watch on for now and see.

Darling in the FranXX – 01 (First Impressions)

Hiro and Zero Two first cross paths when her enormous transport arrives at Plantation 13. They each look in each others’ general direction, but they’re very far apart, and there’s a lot of loud noise and bright lights. Zero Two yearns for the ocean, but there is none on P13. So when she breaks free of her minders she finds the nearest thing to an ocean: a lake.

Hiro comes upon that lake, where Zero Two is already bathing naked. When she goes underwater too long for comfort, Hiro runs out to save her, but she’s not drowning, she’s fishing. She has no reaction to Hiro seeing her naked, and she notes that his taste makes her “heart race,” but says so very clinically.

Hiro is alone at the moment, and as FranXX needs two people—male and female—to pilot it, he is also powerless. But Zero Two, called the “partner killer”, is also alone, because so many partners can’t handle being paired with her, and because of her horns and her weird behavior.

It’s definitely a unique and “educational” encounter for Hiro, but before he knows it, Zero Two’s minders have showed up to collect her, and right after she offered to make him her next partner, her present partner is among the minders, burly but still in pretty tough shape.

Now Hiro and Zero Two have had two encounters: one from a afar and one much more intimate. After they part, life aboard Plantation 13 proceeds apace, with the welcoming ceremony for all of the “Parasites” (copilots) for FranXX being held in a great hall as adults watch (all Parasites are minors).

Hiro isn’t a part of the ceremony, because he, AKA 016, and his former partner Naomi, AKA 703, failed their FranXX tests. Now deprived of the only purpose they’ve ever known, the two share one last chat before Naomi departs for her new, apparently pointless life. It feels for all the world like a tough breakup, tinged with sci-fi trappings.

It’s likely at some point Hiro would have boarded one of those yellow spherical vehicles as well, but before he can, Plantation 13 is attacked by a “klaxosaur”, a ferocious biomechanical beasie that wrecks the entire elaborate platform Hiro is standing on.

Eventually a FranXX appears in the form of a four-legged beast, far outsized by the klaxosaur but every bit as vicious in its counterattack. This is where Trigger’s patented wreckage-strewn chaotic action scenes begins, which continues all the way to the episode’s end.

When the klaxosaur fires its main weapon, the FranXX crashes right beside where Hiro is watching. A bleeding Zero Two emerges, bleeding but still in the game, but her partner is out for the count. She’s fully ready to go out there and pilot the FranXX alone to fend off the ‘saur, unafraid of death, but Hiro won’t let her go alone, and he isn’t, like doing anything else, so he tearfully declares he’s coming with her.

Zero Two is pleased, and the tears and look in Hiro’s eyes again makes her heart race. She pulls Hiro into the cockpit and plants a big ol’ smooth on him, activating the FranXX (named Strelizia) and revealing its true humanoid form and Gurren Lagann-esque face. We see no more of the two parasites, but merely watch Strelizia make quick work of the wounded klaxosaur.

When the newly-minted parasites, those who passed all the tests, approach Strelizia after the battle, and Zero Two emerges carrying a passed-out but otherwise-okay Hiro, they’re shocked. Hiro, more than anything else, is revealed that someone came along to make his life meaningful again, while Zero Two seems happy to have found a true “Darling” for her FranXX.

This was a strong start to a show that may not have a whole lot of original big ideas, but excelled in design, details, execution, and that good old Trigger style. Hiro may be a generic guy, but Zero Two’s got a neat design and Tomatsu Haruka’s husky voice is well-paired. I like what I see so far.

Seikaisuru Kado – 04

This week opens with a charmingly weird interaction between Shindou and the government. As the first two passengers leave Kado, he rejects the government’s request to represent Japan at the negotiation table (a role that would give him equal power to the prime minister) and even asks to be fired from all his earthly responsibilities. Everyone chuckles. Shindou has such an oddly specific need for fair play and balance.

Off at UN headquarters, the security council is pressuring Japan to turn over the Wan. In a nice anti-nationalist twist, the Japanese officials understand this view point (they agree if any other nation had Wan, they would ask the same) and would agree to the terms… except Yaha-kui zaShunina doesn’t want them to. To zaShunina, governments are a great structure for security, but they don’t eat bread, and his gift of bread is for the people who eat it: humanity at large.

Meanwhile, scientists are puzzled by the Wam, which appear to have 6 distinct shapes when observed atomically, and have an adaptive charge that immediately raises or lowers voltage to the needs of any connected device. Each Wam could be used as batteries for a phone or to replace an entire power plant. And it’s green energy too, producing no CO2.

The episode comes to a close with the UN giving Japan an ultimatum that includes military action. However, Yaha-kui zaShunina seems to have a plan…

Verdict: Seikaisuru Kado employs many nice framing techniques, including reflections and looking through spaces at the people who are talking. It gives many scenes a great sense of scale, or pushes characters closer together or farther apart. The stiff animations still look silly and the ‘action’ is almost entirely talking but there’s a lot of ‘smart art’ here.

That use of space extended to the clutter in it as well. I noticed the cgi model for the military tank in episode one repurposed as a toy in the background, and a no CO2 poster hanging on the board during the green energy discussion. Lots of little details that, if you have the patience to go back to previous episodes, could tell a small story on their own.

The music is still hilariously terrible and Hanamori’s annoying whiny personality feels out of place in the thoughtful setting. Doctor Crazy too.

Seikaisuru Kado – 03

The Gist: Yaha-kui zaShunina and Shindou have their first true sit-down with the Japanese government and, zaShunina asks the event be open to the press, the world at large. From literally the smallest demonstration, the results are overwhelming for the humans across the table.

zaShunina demonstrates that he is an Anisotropic being by moving his hand through extra-dimensional space, first to slowly grab a bottle of water then to point through himself at Kado. Then he describes Kado, which is a device that allows the connection of Anisotropic and 3D space, and that one possible benefit of this is that he can provide humankind with effectively infinite electrical energy…

What really sells Seikaisuru Kado’s alien mood is the cautious and deliberately precise pace of the dialog. zaShunina understands that meaning is lost through communication — in fact he makes a point of human language intentionally leaving room for interpretation, even without the extra layers of facial expression. However, despite his cautious choice of words and objection to humanization of terms, his alien-ness ad potential confusion shine through.

His explanation of ‘why come to Japan’ using a story about bread and the sharing of plenty, as it relates to an alien concept of Unocle, which has some impact on the physiological impact of Anisotropic space, defies any precise understanding. More over, when this story leads him to offer ‘Wan,’ a multi-dimensional method of providing infinite electricity to all mankind, no one knows what to do. Of course, it didn’t help that he easily cut all power in the area to demonstrate that it could be restored with 2 little balls (which he explains are actually the same object)

Verdict: Kado provides a uniquely methodical tale that blends cautious optimism against uncertainty and dread. You could even call it existential, as it shows us a broad range of human responses to the same information and doesn’t appear to judge which of those responses if correct or ‘better.’ Even though the mad-scientist character annoys me (she feels like a contrived cartoon character and not a person) this alien situation may prove her responses are just as valid, or more, than anyone else’s.

That same pace and weirdness do hold Kado back from being exciting. There’s no action to speak of and, by design, we don’t really know any of the characters enough to grip their agendas. But the cast is generally likable, thoughtful, and the ensuing weirdness is worth you watch.

Seikaisuru Kado – 02

The Gist: 23 hours earlier, Shindou wakes up and begins to explore the news surroundings. The plane is not moving, no signals penetrate, not even light reflects beyond the windows. However, the air is clear as they all would have died by now if it were not.

Exploring further, Shindou decides to leave the plane and quite quickly makes first contact. It’s not an altogether pleasant experience, as the alien first digs through his mind, and then deconstructs his smart phone before understanding how to communicate. Even then, there are gaps in understanding.

Within those gaps, it is clear the passengers are trapped for about 30 days. While they may leave individually within shorter periods of time, their entire mass cannot, and only Shindou is valuable enough to send in advance to help communicate with the government outside.

On the surface, it appears the alien wants to advance humanity but we don’t see many details. More importantly, and interestingly, he advises humanity always think—that trying to discover if he is friend or foe at all times is the right decision moving forward.

Verdict: I dug the first contact sequence. Visuals aside, it had all the right beats, including the thought process from Shindou (not even knowing if it is an alien, a supernatural phenomena or a true god).

The alien’s message is pretty neat, too. It doesn’t rule out that he’s an enemy and it ties in nicely with the message of the show: you never know until long after the fact.

As another, totally random detail, the checklist from the plane’s officers felt grounded and felt believable. It’s a nice change from the slightly silly government big wigs we saw last week…and the eyeroll-inducing mad scientist.

The music is still terrible though.