Sonny Boy – 07 – Nagara Inverted

Sonny Boy loves starting episodes in media res, and this week is no different, as we sit in on the 601,344th meeting of the Drift Victims Society. If it’s a weekly meeting, that means it’s been going on for 11,564 years, give or take a decade. Needless to say, the majority of those assembled are looking for someone to blame for this predicament.

Now they know it’s Nagara, and they condemn him and promise justice, whipping the enraged mob into a bitter froth.

Meanwhile on the island, the Mizuho, Pony, and Yamada watch Hoshi’s faction loads up the Ark with supplies in preparation for a journey from which they won’t be returning. Yamada, who’s been around as long at least half of those meetings, describes the thousands of other castaways, and how it’s taken thousands of years for them to figure out how to travel between worlds.

That this newest class was able to do it in a matter of weeks or months means whatever this “culling” is that God is doing, it’s breeding more capable students with each generation.

When Nagara liberates Rajdhani’s ant farm before he lets the ants start eating each other, he comes upon an exercise bar, and when he decides to flip himself on it. That’s when the episode goes full Patema Inverted, as his world is flipped upside down. A strange student who is completely covered by a giant folded umbrella greets him before he starts falling…up.

Nagara wakes up in the middle of a shift, with helmeted students working tirelessly like worker ants building an endlessly tall tower (but oddly enough, carrying the building blocks downward). Nagara being Nagara, he tries to keep his head down and roll with the punches. He’s bailed out and befriended by the kindhearted Futatsubushi…who’s been at this for over two centuries.

Futatsubushi is charmed by Nagara’s “new guy” aura. Everyone in this world were students of the same school, but now all they’re doing is building the tower…and eating gross invertebrates and insects during their breaks. Hakuna Matata, I guess. Futatsubushi makes it feel like a simple, honest life, even if its seemingly dead-end one.

That night, Nagara is ready to return home, only to find he can’t use his powers. That’s because the “Host” or boss of this world—a guy with glasses who wears a tall sock on his head and is umbrella guy’s associate in an elite group of castaways called Beatnik—is able to nullify those powers. The two hang out atop Babel, basically waiting to see if and when Nagara can figure his way out of this place.

While striking out with Futatsubushi to discover the urban legend of shooting stars, Nagara instead discovers a macro version of the predatory luminescent bugs Rajdhani once showed him. We don’t watch his gruesome “end”—only his screams—but before that he has a very bittersweet monologue about how it’s important to believe in nonsense or continuing to go after a hope, even if it’s false…because otherwise, what is there?

The question of “if not this, than what?” seems foremost in the mind of Nozomi as she watches the cubic Ark carrying Nozomi and most of the rest of the class off to parts unknown grow smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing altogether. It’s such a simple image as presented, but so haunting and lonely. Meanwhile, the prickly but loyal Mizuho searches diligently for her friend Nagara.

Futatsubushi probably inspired our guy to keep going forward and putting in an effort, even if Hoshi has said many times before that getting home is not in the cards. After remembering when he’d try to flip on the exercise bar as a child while another kid nicknamed “Koumori” (“Bat”) flipped with ease.

Once he’s up at the top of Babel, he walks straight out the railing-less balcony…and re-inverts to his original orientation. Since he figured things out, both Sockhead and Koumori (the same kid he saw that day in his youth) let him go.

No sooner does Nagara return, having been found by Mizuho and Yamada, is it revealed that Rajdhani is also off on his own personal voyage of discover and wonder. Nozomi, a tearful Mizuho, and Nagara all give him big hugs, and I have to admit this completely unexpected goodbye scene really made the air in my room dusty.

With Rajdhani gone, apparently the only ones still on the island are Nagara, Nozomi, Mizuho, Yamada, Asakaze, and possibly the members of Aki-sensei’s faction that didn’t leave on the Ark (Aki-sensei, it’s revealed, is just another student). I almost wish it’s just the five of them left. While the ideas and allegories are growing bigger and more complex, I’m excited at the prospect of the cast getting drastically stripped down to the basics.

Sonny Boy – 06 – Director’s Cut

When it comes to anime, or any television or film, really, I’d rather not quite know what’s going on and be entertained than know what’s going on and be bored. Sonny Boy is definitely the former variety, and this is its trippiest episode yet.

I honestly had no idea what was coming from one scene to the next, but was thoroughly enjoying the ride the whole time. Heck, it starts by revealing that the voice in Hoshi’s head that knows the future is none other than Dr. Strangelove, timeless avatar of contradiction and inscrutability.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Strangelove of Sonny Boy is this universe’s God, or at least one of them, and likely the God of whom Aki-sensei speaks and acts on behalf of. Heck, by manipulating Asakaze, she’s built something of an army on the island complete with barracks and barbed wire for the express purpose of tracking down Nagara and his co-conspirators before they bring about the end of the world. Shit got serious in a hurry.

Still, even in its creepiest or most reality-bending moments, Sonny Boy has never put the lives of its students in mortal danger. No one has died. The “penalties”, while essentially torture, did not result in permanent damage. There isn’t even a shortage of food or supplies, the usual problems with your students marooned on an island.

But then Mizuho encounters a big black dog named Yamada Kunihiko in the Costco where she’s grabbing lunch for Nagara and Rajdhani. Yamada was not only once a human, but a student at their school. Yet despite being three years younger than them, he’s been trapped in This World for five millennia. In that time he’s taken on the velvety lilt of Tsuda Kenjirou—who I’m a little surprised wasn’t chosen to voice God.

Yamada is certain it’s too late for him, but Nagara and the others still have a chance to get home. It’s not impossible; just improbable. That hope proves feasible when the gang stumbles upon a world full of film reels, including reels of the original world where they came from.

After fiddling around with the projectors and reels in this world, Nagara and Rajdhani figure out how to edit the reels and splice and layer them together to create a “director’s cut”. This is the latest and best hope of returning to the world: building it from the myriad parts at their disposal, along with Nagara’s ability.

They only have one, no, two…actually three problems: the three other factions. There’s Hoshi and the StuCo; Aki-sensei and Asakaze, and then Ace and his group of no-longer-it-people. Hoshi, who again has heard the future will be and that it doesn’t involve going home, has instead built an “ark” that will protect his faction from the coming “storm”.

Here’s when things get a little nutty, in the episode’s version of a “battle scene”, as Aki-sensei and Asakaze battle Nagara and Rajdhani’s adventurous director’s cut, all the while traveling aboard Hoshi’s cubic ark. The visuals become downright kooky as groups of people simultaneously stand around statically and fly through wildly undulating landscapes and psychedelic patterns.

By the time reality “settles” back into the world and the school they know, it soon becomes clear that it’s not actually their world; or at least not anymore. Time has gone on and their class is graduating, but there are changes, chief among them that Nozomi died. While other students observe their alternate future selves, no one can see or hear Nozomi, and she phases right through people. It’s a nightmare.

Dr. Strangelove eventually confronts Nagara (while standing, oddly enough), telling him he didn’t create any worlds, but only observed them, thereby opening a “box of possibilities.” The alternate world where Nozomi is dead exists because the Nozomi who lives is on the island, along with Nagara and Mizuho and everyone else. They have been sequestered, and judging from Yamada’s fate, that sequestration is meant to be permanent.

They are unneeded copies, not chosen to continue in the world they used to inhabit. This is just the luck of the draw, mind you; just like being born with natural talent or into money. They got the short end of the stick…or did they? The world they caught a glimpse of didn’t seem “all that great”, to borrow Nagara’s words when questioning Hoshi’s ability to read the future.

It’s certainly not a world Nozomi liked, considering she was dead, but it also might explain why she and no one else can see a light up in the sky; it’s the same light her other self must’ve already stepped into when she passed away.

While others may contemplate whether their lives are better or worse—Nozomi now knows that this life here is all she has. Then again, it’s all any of her classmates have too. They may have split into multiple facets, but they’re still on the same island, in the same boat, with identical status of not being chosen.

If that sounds like a huge bummer, I’m still not convinced it is, especially when I think of the friendships Nagara has forged and the exciting adventures exploring new realms with them. If there’s a set limit to how far they can travel before bouncing off the boundaries of the island, well…how is that any different than the bounds that, with vanishingly few exceptions, keep us fundamentally tethered to our world?

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 04 – Monkey League

While cliff-jumping into a pool of…voidness, Nagara is almost dashed on the rocks, but his latent power kicks in, transporting him and everyone else seemingly back home, if only for a moment. Everyone, especially Asakaze, is convinced that Nagara can get them home if he would just give a shit and try. The thing is, I’m not sure Nagara cares what world he’s in. He’s just not tied to the world he came from like some.

But enough about that; let’s play some baseball. Yep, after Nagara and Mizuho’s friendship was forged in last week’s buddy detective story, this week is a straight-up sports episode. Turns out there’s a baseball diamond on the island, which is used by a league of mysterious invisble monkeys who were taught the rules of baseball. Cap bends everyone’s ears off singing the praises of that noble league.

Nozomi and Mizuho, who settle into a nice rapport this week, are eager to see these monkeys, requiring a special flashlight only Ace, the pitching star, possesses. His girlfriend, however, doesn’t like Mizuho or Nozomi, so no dice. Ace decides to challenge the two girls and Nagara to a one-inning game. If they win, they get the flashlight. If he wins, well…he only whispers to Nagara whe he gets in return.

The ensuring three-batter game starts as you’d expect, with Mizuho wildly whiffing far too late to catch up to Ace’s fastballs, followed by a more capable but still outmatched Nozomi striking out. It’s all up to Nagara, who at no point throughout their rigorous practices had any confidence whatsoever he’d ever be able to hit one of Ace’s pitches.

Even so, the story of the Monkey League umpire who ruined an immaculate game for the pitcher, his team, and all of the amassed spectators resonates as Nagara prepares for the third pitch. That monkey umpire did not bend to the will of the people, but held fast tot he rules of the game as they stood.

His call was correct and just, but it didn’t matter; he was killed by the mob. Nagara ends up using his warp in the middle of his at bat and adopting a more assured stance, but still swings and misses for strike three.

That means Nagara has to do what Ace asked of him: use his power to warp him and everyone else home without delay. Ace, you see, wishes more than anything to return to the place where he’s “properly appreciated.” But since Nagara doesn’t share that wish, he’s unable to warp them back home. Indeed, he confirms he has little to no control over where he warps.

Just when Nagara was being primned to be the savior of the class, he lets most everyone down when they all return to the beach, having gotten all their hopes up and then dashed them. But just when they return, they spot a woman coming out of the surf: one of their teachers, Aki-sensei, who declares that the “fun and games” are over.

This was an episode that really got lost in its invented Monkey League lore and quick-and-dirty underdog sports story, but also managed to develop Nagara’s ability while giving us some fun Mizuho-Nozomi camaraderie. Still, Cap’s elaborate stories did go on a bit long, and if they referenced real-world Japanese baseball history, it went entirely over my head.

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Scarlet Nexus – 01 (First Impressions) – Sisters and Brothers Fightin’ the Others

From Sunrise comes a new Railgun-esque sci-fi action show centered around a group of young, elite psionic soldiers pooling their various abilities to defeat the invading Others, who are straight out of Madoka. Yuito is our young rich boy rookie with something to prove, Nagi is his designated horny best mate, Hanabi is his cute childhood friend, while Kasane and Naomi Randall are two sisters who are a lot better at their jobs out of the gate than the guys.

Character designs are crisp, clean, consistent, and pleasant to look at. A true strength of the series is an easy chemistry among the various introduced characters, a slick wardrobe in which everyone wears something different but they’re united in their black, gray an red palette, and the brain-eating CGI Others are the right kind of unsettlingly uncanny. The OP and ED whip.

Demerits include generic personalities and nothing much in the way of originality in its premise or execution. It’s a very solidly by-the-numbers. affair. After going the whole episode without, the ending resorts to narration by Yuito, portending some kind of grand conspiracy on the horizon. My guess is that the Others are being made or drawn to Earth by bad guys.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 10 – Looking for a Hint

When Diva’s code degraded into oblivion and Vivy re-awakened and took her place on the stage, Diva’s final song was already over. Ever since then, Vivy has been unable to sing, still unable to find the answer of what it means to “sing from the heart”.

So she retired to much fanfare and took up residence as an exhibit at the AI Museum. Decades passed, and humans and their children gradually forgot about her and her contributions. But not all: Osamu, a young lad on a field trip, knows full well who Diva was, and is.

Osamu wants to hear Diva sing live, but she tells him that’s not possible. When Matsumoto shows up after a good number of years, Vivy is eager for their next mission together, as it’s not “all she has.” But Matsumoto tells her the Singularity Project is over; the double suicide of Ophelia and Antonio didn’t lead to any copycat incidents; a positive revision to the timeline.

Yet despite the fact they’ve seemingly achieved victory it preventing the AI uprising, something Kakitani said still haunts Matsumoto: “through a revelation from the heavens.” That led him to meet Vivy now, sixty-five years from when they first met. He proposes a “race”: whoever finds their answer first wins.

Vivy goes into the archive and dredges up her first memory, when her creator (a female researcher) gave her her mission to sing from the heart, hoping it would “offer a hint” as to what a heart is, at least as it applies to humans.

Osamu visits Diva again, saying it’s “messed up” his classmates don’t know her. Inspired by Matsumoto, she proposes a race, with him bringing friends to meet her while she searches for the answer her creator knew full well she might struggle with her entire life.

As one year, then five, then ten, then twenty pass by, Vivy writes a song in the Archive, which if completed would be the first instance of a song written by an AI of their own pure free will (all previous songs were written by humans). Her progress is glacial; unable to come up with more than a couple of phrases and constantly erasing notes she’s put down.

Meanwhile, Osamu has quite a bit more progress in those years, making friends, making a career for himself in research, and eventually meeting and marrying his wife Nana. While Osamu and Nana are able to conceive, she dies of an illness shortly after giving birth, leaving Osamu both a father and a widower.

He visits Diva with his daughter Luna in his arms, and asks if she would like to hold her. Diva asks why Nana was able to smile despite knowing she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. Osamu tells her that all humans die, but they always remain inside someone or many people without fail. Such is the case for him with Nana and, as Vivy realizes, it’s true of her and Diva as well. As little Luna grasps her hand, Vivy is hit by a sudden spark of inspiration.

She dives into the construct and belts out a completed song, written about her and Matsumoto’s journey in the Singularity Project, and of all the people she’s met. When an impressed Matsumoto shows up and asks who she wrote it for, Vivy says it’s for Diva, who remains inside her even though she’s gone.

After twenty years, she was finally able to finish her task…yet she still cannot even contemplate singing it, so her struggle continues. Before that, though, Vivy goes into hibernation mode, resting her circuits after accomplishing her singular feat.

Her friend Osamu, who along with his wife and daughter inspired Vivy to do what no other AI has, can see that his friend Diva is in deep sleep crunching music data. He leaves her to her creative slumber, assured that when she wakes up he’ll finally be able to hear her voice. Then someone off-camera calls Osamu by his last name…Matsumoto.

Unfortunately, the joy that comes with the revelation Vivy’s cubic partner was a friend and admirer from her future all along is soon overshadowed when Vivy wakes up to find the museum in burning ruins. She runs outside, where the AI apocalypse is in full swing, with one key, horrifying, heartbreaking new wrinkle: as they murder every human in sight, all of the AIs are singing in sinister, dissonant unison. They’re singing Vivy’s song.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 09 – Diva’s Final Curtain

Matsumoto, always entertaining when thrown for a loop, finds himself speaking to Antonio through Ophelia, as he decides the best way to fulfill his mission to support her was to become her, sparing her the burden of fame and the pursuit of perfection, but also sparing her an independent existence. He considers his mission far more noble than Matsumoto’s designs to prevent her suicide, though he might not say that if he knew the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, Kakitani’s youth is promptly explained: he’s an AI copy of the human, and his mission is to get an answer he couldn’t from his teacher, which only Vivy could provide. That means infecting the captured Diva with a custom logic palette that “doesn’t belong in this era” which, throughout the episode, slowly erases Diva’s personality, eventually leaving only Vivy behind to answer him.

Thankfully, it’s a slow countdown, and while it is technically a ticking clock, because it’s only one of several spinning plates in this arc finale, it feels earned rather than cliched. That it is an inevitability even Matsumoto’s hacking skillz cannot override also adds gravitas to every moment Diva is on screen, because they’ll be her last.

It also assures that the titular Vivy we know and love, who can neither act like a human nor sing half as well as Diva, will ultimately return. It occurs to me that at the conclusion of every previous arc, we didn’t just say goodbye to one of Vivy’s sisters, but a part of Vivy as well, as her interactions with them helped her grow, both as a songstress and a person.

This time we don’t just say goodbye to a part of Vivy, but an entire alternate version of her, who lived for sixty years. It’s a tough loss…but before she goes Diva makes sure she puts absolutely everything she’s got in all the time she has left to be the best temporary partner to Matsumoto he could ask for…and vice versa.

While packed with drama, pathos, tragedy and romance, Wit Studio flexes its muscles like never before in this episode, as we cut between the parallel battles, one of the more abstract electronic variety, one more down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat, but both equally gorgeous an awesome to watch unfold.

That Kakitani is also an AI means both he and Diva can take the fight to levels humans would not be able to survive, while Matsumoto manages to copy himself into enough cubes to fight his battle with Antonio while supporting Diva. Compare this to Antonio, who happily accepted Kakitani’s help but is otherwise not working towards the same mission, making them inherently weaker against a united front.

Among other Kakitani’s surprises is an elaborate arm cannon (always a sharp feature when going on a timeline-bending crusade to avenge his mentor—and a special knife that seems to act as an EMP, deactivating the Matsumoto cubes aiding Diva.

All the while, Diva tries to impress upon Kakitani the fact that she’s not Vivy, and has no answers for him he’ll find satisfying. When she says she puts everything she has into her singing to make people happy, that includes everything about Vivy, despite her knowing next to nothing about her.

On the Antonio side of things, Matsumoto says he almost turned into him, discarding his partner as part of his “perfect calculations”. Looking at what’s become of Antonio, he’s not glad he didn’t eliminate her. As for his mission, it was never specifically to stop Ophelia’s suicide; it was to carry out the Singularity Project with his partner.

Even taking over Ophelia couldn’t satisfy Antonio, because no matter how happy the crowds were with his performances, he always knew he wouldn’t be able to match the power of the true Ophelia’s singing. In fact, it irked him that their standards for excellence were so low, resenting the very people it was Ophelia’s mission to make happy.

The Matsumoto cubes manage to hack both Antonio and Kakitani and disable both, and transfers Antonio back into his own clunky body. It’s only then in his last moments that he admits that all he really wanted was for Ophelia to sing for him and no one else. Ophelia, regaining consciousness before shutting down, admits she only wanted to sing for him; to make him smile.

In the end, their mutual love and devotion to each other corrupted their missions. In true Shakespearian tragic fashion, it was a love that could never be. In that same vein, the moment Kakitani uploaded that logic palette, Diva was a version of Vivy that could never be, even though she did a bang-up job serving as Matsumoto’s partner. Before Kakitani shuts down, he tries to twist the knife once more, telling Diva “there were humans who suffered because you existed!”

That line might’ve worked on Vivy, but it doesn’t faze Diva that much. And in true Diva fashion, she gives one last snap and tells Matsumoto she’s going to use her last five or so minutes of existence doing what she was built to do: dazzle the stage, put her heart into her singing, and make everyone in attendance happy to be there. As she performs, she simultaneously opens a dialogue with Vivy within the Construct.

In this lovely parallel scene, their positions couldn’t be better illustrated, as Diva is both on stage and in the brightly lit classroom, while Vivy is relegated to a dark, shadowy, morose office. The pair lean against the same door, and Diva says she hears how Vivy had been struggling with putting her heart into her singing. She says the answer is to simply to hear the song she’s singing now, in her final performance, as in the Construct she slowly dissolves away into cybernetic oblivion.

And yet, as Vivy opens the door and steps into the light, then wakes up on stage to a deliriously ecstatic crowd cheering the song Diva just sang, Vivy still doesn’t understand. Then again, she only just woke back up; maybe she needs a few decades to process what she heard and what it means. Thanks to Diva, she has her existence back, which means anything is possible for her. As long as she sticks with her partner Matsumoto, who promised Diva he’d take care of her.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 08 – Anywhere Is Fine

Shizumu immediately identifies this week’s Kaiju as “failed” and leaves it be while kids poke at it. Then Gauma wakes up from a nap and he’s the kaiju equivalent of “slimed”.

He calls an emergency meeting just as Yume is contemplating whether to answer Yomogi, who had just asked if she wanted to go somewhere—anywhere is fine—to hang out together.

Yomogi and Yume go into work mode, as they and the others search for the kaiju that’s…painting things in bright cheerful colors. Then they find it, and when they give chase it just…falls over. 

This, small, weird, harmless kaiju is their weakest “adversary” yet, so much so that even Gauma, who got painted, stays his makeshift weapon when the others say they shouldn’t kill a kaiju that’s not going berserk due to the Eugenicists’ Instance Domination.

Gauma, technically being a kaiju user himself, tries to control it by flashing the Vulcan salute, to no avail. Then Chise gives it a try, followed by Koyomi. Yomogi doesn’t want to do it, but then Yume does it, so of course he does it…and it works. Sort of? Maybe it was just lucky timing that the kaiju reacted to him?

But no, it wasn’t just a coincidence. Something happened. Yomogi caught a glimpse of…something for an instant—a weird network of colorful lines and a white, fibrous growth. Knight (AKA Anti) and Second stop by to impress upon the Dynas the importance of keeping a close eye on it, but when Gauma falls asleep at his post, it escapes its cage.

Interestingly, the Eugenicists don’t really do anything other than something the Dyna-pilots have yet to do—hang out and have fun just for the f**k of it, not because they work together. Bowling, tennis, hoverboards, and pool…they’re just living life.

The Dynas, meanwhile are all business on a Sunday trying to find the kaiju Gauma lost track of. Yomogi pairs up with Anti, who has absolutely no gray area about his role should a kaiju pose a threat to others: kill without hesitation. This, despite the fact that Kaiju are born of human emotions, so its not 100% clear they don’t have human emotions as well.

When the kaiju surfaces, it has grown to a far more kaiju-esque size, and indeed begins to threaten the city, specifically the mall where Yume and Chise were searching. Koyomi stops Gauma from launching a reckless missile attack, and proposes instead that they lure it to a safer place to do battle.

It seems to be working until the kaiju seemingly gets upset with the beckoning Koyomi and tosses him like a ragdoll. The kaiju then gloms onto the glass facade at the mall, causing a panic and stampede; Chise and Yume are separated, and Yume drops her Dyna Wing off a high ledge.

When Chise reports Yume’s predicament to the others, Yomogi panics; he doesn’t want to kill the kaiju, but he doesn’t want Yume hurt or worse. So he tries Instance Domination once more, and once more it has the same momentary effect, only this time the kaiju sprouts an eye and seems to stare directly at Yomogi.

When it becomes clear he has to choose between killing the kaiju and saving Yume, Yomogi pulls the trigger. But he doesn’t feel good about it; not when he does it, and not afterward during the team debrief. Chise also notices that the weird white growth she picked up a few weeks ago is becoming larger and more complex…and we see that it looks just like the white thing Yomogi saw in his flash of Instance Domination. That also isn’t a coincidence.

Yet as these weird, potentially show-shattering revelations are quietly revealed, the ending is perhaps the most heartwarming part of the episode. It’s a repeat of Yomogi and Yumes ride in the back of the bus, but the lighting is a lot warmer and more cheerful, and this time it’s Yume who gives Yomogi a playful little chop to the ribs, asks if he’s hungry, and whether he wants to go somewhere…anywhere will do. That may be true, but I’m glad their friendship is going where it is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars