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.

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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.

Seikaisuru Kado – 00

The Gist: The month leading up to the arrival of the alien object in episode one saw Shindou negotiating with an old factory manager over the buy out of the factory land by the government for a event hall. Except that’s not exactly what is going on, or what anyone actually wants Shindou to do. However, they don’t know that until Shindou shows them an alternative through networking and effort.

See, the bureaucrat who is pushing for the sale is just looking for a way to help the old factory owner retire with a little more money. So the hall and the purchase aren’t really the important thing here, which Shindou gets due to the length of time the project has sat in a desk drawer unrealized, and from photos around the factory owner’s office. So he researches other things the factory could do, assesses the workers’ skill, and links them to a government scientist and boom! a month later, they have a prototype for low friction plating, worth billions of yen…

Verdict: Not only does this episode flesh out the characters better, it foreshadows Shindou’s need to be part of (and value in) a greater stakes project. Without this exposure to his working style and all the people around him (including the non-mad scientist from episode one) episode one feels flat.

However, as a stand alone episode, zero only sets things up for the series. What I mean is, it doesn’t feel like a complete product on its own either. Unfortunately, I didn’t know episode zero existed so it’s going to take another episode for me to re-adjust my appreciation for the show. For now, my take on it is much improved but still cautious.

And god damn, that background music is trying way too hard :)

Seikaisuru Kado – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Kojirou Shindou Cabinet Office Director-General for Policy Planning, is at Haneda Airport for a business trip… then his airplane gets absorbed by a giant glowy cube, 2 kilometers from edge to edge.

A lot of bland meetings amongst politicians ensue, featuring a so wacky it hurts female mad scientist and various attempts to ‘save’ the passengers. Despite emitting visible light, the cube emits no radiation and absorbs pretty much everything aimed at it. (RADAR and AP Tank rounds alike)

Then an alien pops out. Or a god. He says hello to humanity, Shindou standing by his side…

You should give Kado a look because it hints at an interesting core idea — that we all spend our lives never knowing what is right or the right thing to say (during a negotiation) because we aren’t gods — and then throws a god into the mix. (probably requiring a degree of negotiation of the protagonist)

Despite being fully rendered CG, it doesn’t look horrible either. Don’t get me wrong! I loved Knights of Sidonia but the color pallet was very limited and the environments were only functional because of the scifi setting. Kado manages a much broader range of color, real world environments, and items. (It just doesn’t do a great job in the animation department, I’m afraid)

You can probably skip Kado because, despite interesting potential, the first episode was very dull. Characters aren’t so much introduced as thrown in front of the viewer with a wall of text describing their role in government. Everything is stiff due to the CGI rendering. And god damn that scientist is just annoying as hell — and cliché.

Verdict: There’s no denying I’m curious who “Yaha-Kui zaShunina” is and I do enjoy the distortion effects of his technology. But that’s about it. Oddly, the music was the biggest stand out for me. Is that enough to review the show going forward?

Maybe? At least for one more episode…

Gantz:0 Review

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The Gist: a feature-length CG movie covering the Osaka Arc from the Gantz manga. This arc is between halfway and two-thirds through Gantz’ 383-chapter long story, which means the movie had to shed several characters and a ton of build-up to present a manageable story. For example, the manga’s co-protagonist Katou gets a modified introduction right at the beginning of the arc, which serves as a brief introduction to the rules and world of Gantz for the viewer.

Generally, the changes ‘function,’ from the standpoint of making a coherent movie, but that movie is not very compelling. Despite cutting characters, the arc requires introducing the Osaka team, which is huge, even if its only there to be blown apart. The arc also pits our heroes against a massive challenge, with no room for that core cast to build-up credibility for taking on that challenge, nor an emotional connection with the viewer should they fail.

The result is somewhat like asking the third Lord of the Rings movie to work as our only ‘movie’ adaptation for the novels. The viewer will probably understand what is going on, but why would they care?

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The Verdict: From a technical standpoint, Gantz:0’s character models, lighting, and sets are decent but not mind-blowing. The lip sync isn’t spot on, the lighting and framing don’t feel like they highlight scenes clearly, and the shakey-cam is oh my god stop it! Overall, it lacks thought or style.

There’s some irony to this because Gantz’ weapons and vehicles were already CG-rendered in the manga, and the manga did a great job framing out scenes and conveying what was going on.

Unless you are already a Gantz fan, it’s difficult to see a reason for you to watch this. Unfortunately, if you are a Gantz fan (especially if you’ve read all 383 chapters of it like myself), you’re not going to get much out of this either.

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Chaos;Child – 00 (First Impressions)

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-12-02-26-pma typical 58 second scene in Chaos;Child, where nothing but text happens…

The Gist: People are killing themselves (or being killed by someone else) in weird ways in Shibuya. Chat rooms are going crazy and giving the event names like ‘new generation murder’ and so on. Meanwhile, our protagonist who lives in a shipping crate with a bunk bed, bottles of cola, and a computer to chat with, has accidentally seen a girl killing someone to a wall with cross-shaped knives.

Or maybe he hasn’t? After all, early on, we see him yelling at empty space behind him in the shipping container…

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-12-00-29-pmthis shot lasts 28 seconds but is narrated at least…

The Verdict: Chaos;Child is unwatchably terrible. I’m told it may relate to another series, which may be necessary to understand what is going on and/or care about the cast, who are poorly introduced between endless static shots of chat room text.

Seriously, during the first 5 minutes, more screen time was given to un-moving computer screens of text than the cast, and the only character who did get screen time (amidst still shots of his statues and H-dvds) was completely un-relatable shut-in.

I assume there is an audience for this show, especially if it is based on a lite novel or a game or enjoy average still-shots of guro, but it completely fails as animation, let alone an entry point for newcomers.

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ēlDLIVE – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kokonose Chuuta is a high schooler who avoids contact with others and is always talking to a voice no one else hears. One day he’s scooped up by ēlDLIVE, a space police force, who immediately put him to work apprehending an alien criminal, who turns out to be his buxom teacher.

The voice belongs to an alien who lives within him, and with its help Chuuta successfully arrests the alien and is formally accepted into ēlDLIVE. Among the bureau’s members is his classmate and crush Sonokata Misuzu.

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Isn’t it always the way: you try to keep your head down and lead a quiet life helping your auntie at her muffin shop, only to be recruited by a bizarre space police unit? ēlDLIVE presents that rather outlandish scenario, and does it with a brisk pace, confidence, and humor.

Not only that, the person who had been the least human-looking character – Chuuta’s teacher – turns out to be an alien perp in disguise. His crush is pretty generically hostile to him, but at least she’s voiced by Hayami Saori.

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ēlDLIVE is fine harmless fun, but there’s not much to it beyond its vivid candy coating, and while it tries to go out there with kooky alien designs, the weird alien that harmlessly pops out of Chuuta’s chest just…doesn’t look that cool. Nor does Chuuta himself, who I guess is supposed to be an innocent weenie.

Still, both the premise and the execution smacks of a show with limited appeal for actual adults – this has Saturday morning kid’s cartoon all over it, unlike something darker like Parasyte. I don’t foresee ēlDLIVE lasting long on my Winter watchlist, but it is inoffensive and decent for what it is.

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 05

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If one believes we were made in our creator’s image, we do our creators honor by making robots in oursPlanetarian posits the possibility that we might’ve done a better job, as Hoshino Yumemi exhibits the kind of pure, unswerving selflessness and nobility befitting an angel; a kind not all humans are capable of summoning, for myriad reasons.

Unlike God with us, Yumemi’s makers kept things simple, both due to their limited budget and the more important limits to how human we can make robots. Because of this, Yumemi sacrifices herself to save her customer, following to the letter the Three Laws of Robotics.

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The Customer doesn’t run out to stop Yumemi from approaching the giant battle mech, and you can’t blame him. It’s a miracle he’s managed to stay alive with such an unrelenting mechanical monster firing high-caliber round after round at him, in addition to flinging and armored vehicle in the air as if it were a Hot Wheels.

Yumemi provides a diversion at a crucial moment that the Customer, down to his last grenade, cannot squander. So he fires his last show and disables the mech, but not before the mech opens fire at Yumemi, tearing her in two in a fraught sequence that’s painful to watch in its inevitability.

The balance of the episode is an extended, and at times unbearably sad goodbye, as the halved Yumemi only has 600 seconds of battery life left.

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The Customer weeps for her as he would a fellow human; no, moreso, as her following of her robotic directives bore the sheen of heroism, and at the end of the day it makes no difference whether she was artificial or not; she was a person to the Customer, and to us.

She’s a person because she’s utterly unique in her collected experiences, memories, and the evolution of her programming stretched across over 44 years—29 of them waiting, like Hachiko, for her co-workers and customers to return like they say they would. When they don’t, and she starts to think no one is ever coming back, she thinks she must be malfunctioning.

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The Customer’s arrival reassured her that she was not wrong to trust that someone would return. And while her body goes off-line, and it’s gutwrenching to hear her voice fizzle out and her green eyes go gray, the show fittingly leaves a sliver of hope by having the Customer retrieve her memories.

Perhaps, one day, when…whatever is going on with the world ends and peace returns, those memories can be put in a new body, and Yumemi can continue her job immersing customers in the vast, inspiring sea of stars.

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P.S. The stirring piece of music that accompanies the end credits of this final episode is stunningly, hauntingly gorgeous; melancholy and hopeful all at once. If I ever find it, it will surely be included in a future Weekly ED entry.

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 04

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Yumemi has followed Mr. Customer out of the Planetarium, but only to escort him to his car. After that, she’s programmed to return and await more customers. If none come, she’ll still wait.

As Mr. Customer walks through the city with her, a part of him hopes her synthetic eyes will become open to the reality of the situation. There is no car, there are no people, there is no power.

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But for much of this episode, Yumemi remains blissfully unaware of the dystopia around her. A bump here, an accident there; the dearth of people can be chalked up to the rain…which will never end.

Customer sees an unbroken bottle of scotch and worries it could trigger a mine. But Yumemi picks it up and offers it to him, (correctly) believing it’s merely a bottle of scotch.

But for every demonstration that Yumemi is a dumb robot, there’s another moment when both I and Customer have to wonder, despite knowing what we know.

She even comes up with a wish to the robot gods: that the heavens be a place where robots can be with the humans they served in life, and can continue to serve in the afterlife. Very Asimov-ian.

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The show likes to play with our sensibilities about humans and robots – one minute showing Yumemi staring into space or falling on her face; the next saying something truly unique and inspiring or even simply flashing a look that suggests sentience.

This is compounded by the fact this is anime, so neither Customer nor Yumemi look all that realistic. But if I encountered a robot that looked and acted just like a human in a place like that, I’d want to get her out of there too.

There’s one last battle mech between him and the way out of the city. He hunts it while he lets Yumemi think about whether to come with him. Leaving means leaving behind any hope that the power will come back on, Miss Jena will operate properly, and customers will return. But she has a customer, right here and now. If they part, she won’t be able to serve him.

Assuming Customer didn’t die in the mech attack, I’m very interested to learn how she chooses…and if Customer’s comrade’s words—“Do not talk to it” were a serious warning the Customer is choosing to ignore…at his peril.

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 03

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The Mr. Customer of a few days ago would never have been patient enough to sit through a planetarium projection, much less allow the robot host to recite a spiel about being courteous during the show that he’s already heard several times. But just as the proximity of a human seems to be ever-so-slowly changing Yumemi, the proximity to such a painfully positive, upbeat, oblivious robot seems to be changing Mr. Customer.

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The show finally begins, and it’s hauntingly gorgeous, as planetarium shows tend to be if you’re into that kind of thing. More than a movie theater, having the entire dome above you turned into a screen really gives you the sense of how small and insignificant we are, and how vast space is.

Not only that, Yumemi proves to be a pro at astronomy and the rich mythology tied to it. Mr. Customer sits in awe of her command of the material and the confidence with which she presents it. For a brief time, she ceases to be simply an annoying robot and becomes an omnipotent being even the deities in the stars seem to bow to in deference.

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Then the power goes out, putting a damper on the show. No matter; Mr. Customer asks Yumemi to continue her part of the show without Miss Jena’s help. As he suspected, her language is vivid enough for him to create the pictures meant to be projected on the dome right in his mind’s eye.

Yumemi recites a story about humanity’s persistent, almost instinctual drive to reach the stars, starting with the sky and working their way up with each generation.

She also reveals the ability of the planetarium to serve as a time machine; I myself keenly remember looking up with awe at the starry sky 1,000 years into the future. There is no more basic—or more powerful—way to see that future. Ditto the past; as it takes years, centuries, and millenia for the light from stars to reach us as tiny faint spots.

Yumemi’s optimism and absolute certainty that humanity’s path will only continue to lead upward stands in direct, defiant contrast to the fallen world outside the walls of the Planetarium; a world Yumemi can’t begin to fathom or even perceive.

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Her only exposure to it has been through Mr. Customer, whom she calls because he’s just like any other customer, pre-apocalypse. And when that Customer gets up to leave, Yumemi says goodbye with her usual programmed charm. However, that isn’t the end, as I had suspected.

Almost as if she searched her database for some kind of protocol that would extend her exposure to Mr. Customer, Yumemi asks what transportation he’s using; when he says car, she attempts to connect with someone to take him to his car. Unable to connect (since there’s nothing to connect to), she takes discretionary measures by deciding to accompany the customer to his car. It’s a clever way to humanize her further without breaking her robot rules.

And just like that, leaving the idealized haven of Yumemi’s world isn’t so easy, those robotic eyes start looking more and more misleading, and the reverie continues.

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 02

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I continue to enjoy how efficient, pure, and lean Planetarian is. There are moments of bigger things—a flashback to the devastating war that left the rest of the city ruined; Mr. Customer’s bad dreams—but is mostly just a guy fixing a planetarium projector while a robot hostess watches.

And yet, discovering this haven, miraculously untouched by the war outside, and its simple, cheerful guardian, has suddenly provided Mr. Customer a break from the struggles of the outside world. In here, he’s a repairman, with the client marking the time often (she estimates 75 hours of operable time left before she has to return to hibernation due to limited power).

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Of course, Yumemi is also a pretty inquisitive robot, programmed to learn and become more than she was originally. And as Mr. Customer tinkers away, making slow progress, she keeps him entertained by bringing up her desire to dream, or shed tears.

When she repeats her question about when the projector will be fixed, verbatim, Customer switches up the answer, asking her to pray—not just to any god, or his god, but to the robot god. Her databases dig up a recorded discussion by the people she worked with about a robot heaven free of all the troubles robots experience.

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Even as Mr. Customer successfully completes repairs on the projector, Yumemi has less than 60 hours left, which means he has just that much more time with her before he has to return to the “real” world, leaving this oasis of hope and dreams behind. Yumemi’s limited time weighs over the episode. And she still doesn’t quite grasp that the world has changed dramatically in 8,000 hours.

Planetarian is only five total episodes, and we’re through two. What kind of ending (if it is a definite ending) is in store for us: is Yumemi doomed to be limited to the confines of her relatively primitive hardware of which she is composed? Will she be forced to shut down in the next few days? Will Mr. Customer let it happen and move on, or try to change her fate, heartened, in spite of himself, by her boundless positivism?

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 01 (First Impressions)

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While exploring a ruined “sarcophagus city” post-apocalyptic world, a “junker” stumbles upon Hoshino Yumemi, the robotic host of a department store’s rooftop planetarium. She has been in sleep mode for nearly 30 years, but picks up right where she left off, treating the man as just another customer. After spending some time with her, he initially plans to walk away and leave her, but reconsiders and goes back.

One thing I enjoyed about Planetarian is that so far, it’s very simple: Guy Meets Robot. We only get a glimpse of her being activated by her makers, then three decades pass like the blink of an eye, though she doesn’t skip a beat after waking up.

Also, Yumemi isn’t exactly a smart or sentient robot; she’s very limited in what she can say to and sense from Junker (I also like how he doesn’t have a name; he doesn’t really need one), in addition to being near the end of her operating life.

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As such, their interactions are very one-sided. This isn’t two human beings interacting, and it shows. Junker is mostly put off by how verbose Yumemi is, and always looking for the right combination of words to simply shut her up.

Yet Yumemi almost talks as if she’s making up for all those years being offline with no customers to serve, even though she’d probably act exactly the same if this city and department store were still bustling with customers.

Seiyu Suzuki Keiko manages to strike a nice balance of super-politeness and verbosity without sounding too cutesy, shrill, or, most importantly, too human. Someone like, say, Misaki Kuno, would sound too human. Also, unlike the android in Dimension W, her lack of sophistication adds to the realism.

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Ultimately, I understand why, at the end of a relatively brisk first episode, Junker reconsiders abandoning Yumemi. For one thing, even a hardened survivor such as himself was likely moved by many of the very profoundly sad little moments Yumemi had, whether it was her improvised bouquet, the planetarium show without a projector, or continuing to talk to him long after the door had closed.

But it’s not just pity that brings Junker back. Yumemi, and her rooftop planetarium, are the probably the closest he’ll ever get to the world of thirty years ago. War has turned everything to shit, and yet here is an isolated, untouched island of civilization that was; the proverbial “little planet” of the title, where can be lost in reverie.

I was moderatley impressed with the simplicity and originality of this show, and will be back to check on Junker and Yumemi next week.

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