Terra Formars – 01

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Curiously enough, this show begins with an underground cage match between a very muscular human (not a maiden fair) and a giant bear, held deep beneath Bangkok for the amusement of the super-rich. Hizamaru Akari isn’t doing so well, until he remembers why he’s in that cage: so his beloved childhood friend Yuriko can get a life-saving organ transplant, but even when he “hulks up” and wastes the bear, almost Ghoul-style, his handlers don’t do it. Yup, even in the 27th Century the rich are still assholes.

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Instead the richies “sell” Yuriko to a couple of sunglasses-indoors-wearing characters, Komachi Shoukichi and Michelle Davis of U-NASA, who regret to inform Hizamaru that they tried to save her but simply got to her too late. Hizamaru is wracked with guilt and grief, but they give him an opportunity to see to it no one has to go through what he and Yuriko did again, while saving the world in the process. That means traveling to the place where her virus came from: Mars.

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Upon resting and recovering from a surgery to toughen him (more than he already is) for what lies ahead, Hizamaru meets some of his colleagues, about half of whom are statistically dead already, including the trio of friends Marcos, Alex, and Sheila, along with negative newbie Eva Frost. They make up part of a group of one hundred that comprise the third expedition to Mars, the first two having ended in failure. The virus is believed to be capable of eradicating all of humanity, so developing a vaccine is of utmost importance, which explains the not inconsiderable resources of U-NASA.

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Of course, Mars isn’t just red dust; it’s been partially terraformed over the centuries by shipping algae, moss, and the highly resilient cockroach. Naturally, those cockroaches have evolved in no time at all into gigantic terrifying monsters who’d just as soon squash a human as a human would squash a roach back on Earth. So it would seem both the virus that threatens extinction and the titular “Terraformars” they must fight were originally created by humans in the first place. It’s a big mess, and it’s up to Hizamaru and a ragtag group of tough guys and gals to clean it up.

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We’re in for something totally different thematically speaking next week, be it the space voyage or their arrival on Mars, so as this first episode was more about introductions and exposition, I’m delaying my decision to review this show until I’ve seen it in its element. That said, this wasn’t a bad start, if TF keeps maintains its irreverent tone, “aw shit, what now” milieu, and amusing U-NASA camaraderie, I’ll forgive the uninspired character design and highly-censored (and thus somewhat pointless) gore.

7_brav

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Sidonia no Kishi – 07

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I had a feeling Hoshijiro Shizuka (whose kanji I’ve learned also mean “silent star”) would fall at some point, and stay fallen (note that I didn’t say “dead”, more on that later), based on the simple fact she’s only listed as a supporting character, as opposed to Izana’s main billing. But last week, that fact was dropped in my—and Nagate’s—lap like a dead cat, so it didn’t quite feel real…yet.

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This week, we get to see the doomed mission that claims Shizuka, and learn that it was Kunato—using the private channel, the sniveling punk—who caused Nagate’s screw-up, which led to a momentary lapse in concentration. And all space needs is a moment to kill you or someone you love. Despite knowing how badly this would all turn out, it was still thrilling every step of the way, right up to the point the knife was twisted.

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What’s even darker about Kunato’s vendetta is that he’s seen enough of Nagate and Shizuka to know that if one of them got into trouble, the other would go after, against orders or reason. Heck, his little scheme could have ended up destroying his precious Tsugumori, too. In both cases, getting back at Nagate takes precedence over all other considerations, including defeating the Gauna.

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Kunato is just one of many enemies and critics of Nagate to come out of the woodwork, not counting Nagate’s harshest critic: himself. Fortunately, he has allies as well; powerful ones like Kobayashi, who willfully ignores all calls to “do something” about him, almost as if she’s aware someone could be trying to sabotage him. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to admit to being wrong about him, or anything else.

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Nagate also has his landladybear Hiyama and his not-presumptuously self-appointed best friend Izana to drag him out of his dusty room and his funk. A food vender mistakes Izana for a girl, probably because that’s what she’s slowly becoming because of Nagate. But most significant of his allies is his late gramps, who he remembers talking about a pilot having to show Resolve with a capital R—not coincidentally this episode’s title.

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“The Gauna won’t wait for you to dry your tears,” Nagate recalls him saying. But whether it’s fear of (or grief from) loved ones dying, or one-sided rivals fucking with him, a pilot must shut it all out in order to perform. The Elite Four couldn’t do that, and got slaughtered. Kunato clearly can, but one day his recklessness could blow up in his face. Even Yuhata, promoted to Kobayashi’s XO (Damn, she rose faster than Amane!) exhibits an ability to Keep Calm and Carry On.

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Shizuka let personal feelings affect her judgement out there, and as we see, the Gauna have little mercy for those who do so. The detailed-yet-split-second destruction of her frame was as heart-wrenching to watch as it was inevitable. The sight of her Gauna-corrupted frame emerging from the gas giant debris (an explosion we only saw in 8-bit, sadly) sent chills up my spine.

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That’s because the “702” raggedly scrawled on its flesh-like coating (a stark contrast to the tidy fonts the humans use) suggests the Gauna aren’t as mindless as I first thought, inadvertently lending credence to the growing portion of the populace that believes the Gauna will cease their aggression if they cease theirs. But that won’t happen as long as Kobayashi’s in charge. She’s like an anime Adama.

9_brav

 

Sidonia no Kishi – 06

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Hero. Idol. Tug-of-war Rope. Pawn. Fuck-up. Scapegoat. Nagate’s a little of everything this week, like the episode itself. We start off with the jubilation of him and Shizuka being rescued by all the other Gardes (a goosebump-inducing scene we’re glad was repeated), and he gains instant celebrity status upon his return.

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Before the celebrations, Nagate and Shizuka undergo extensive medical tests. A little yellow light on Shizuka’s readout appears to be nothing serious, but it sets a foreboding, optimism-eroding precedent. Nagate, Shizuka, Kunato and En are promoted to full Gardes pilots; a mere formality considering they did what the Elite Four couldn’t: defeat the Gauna and return alive.

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Nagate makes a point to visit the huge memorial to the Fallen Four, which only ingratiates him further with Yuhata, who enters Full Pursuit Mode at the post-promotion party. Izana remains thoroughly annoyed she has to share Nagate with anyone, but Shizuka takes a more pragmatic approach.

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In the ensuing bathysphere excursion, we get the closest thing Sidonia’s had to a harem quarrel, as the girls are literally jammed in the door, with Shizuka ending up alone with Nagate by sheer dumb luck (and physics). The mere fact they’re in their own bathysphere blushing at one another is more foreshadowing, lest we forget what became of the last couple we saw in one of these.

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As his peers revel in Nagate’s heroics and much of the greater public slurps up the feel-good narrative, Kobayashi consults with the elder council (whatever they’re called; I forget), who see Nagate as a valuable pawn in the never-ending quest to extend their own lives preserve Sidonia. And if he proves less pliable or competent than they envisioned, Kobayashi is to dispose of him.

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That leads to Nagate’s final roles this week: fuck-up and scapegoat. He and Shizuka can’t even complete their love cruise when they’re ordered to sortie against a very nasty and tough-looking “hive-type” Gauna. But we don’t see the battle; that’s likely to come. Instead, we go straight from Shizuka giving Nagate a parting salute the camera dwells on (the episode’s title) to him waking up in hospital.

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Like him, we have to piece together what happened, but unlike him I know immediately it’s nothing good. When the Honoka sisters give him eye-daggers and Izana says nothing, he has to get it from the TV, which slowly, cruelly reveals by steady text crawl what has happened: much of the Gauna was defeated, but Shizuka was lost. Another devastating gut punch, driven home by locking the camera on his stunned face.

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Throughout this episode we saw an adjustment in Norio: while watching Nagate receive All The Laurels, he resigns himself to absorbing rather than outwardly projecting his contempt for it all. He extends an olive branch, bides his time, and in the end, it looks like he comes out on top. Because to the masses, the only hero that matters is the one that just saved you.

8_brav

Sidonia no Kishi – 05

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Sidonia belts out yet another BADASS episode, that’s very different from the four that preceded it. In fact, one of the only things that held it back from a 10 was the somewhat meaningless cutaway back to Sidonia in the middle for what was nothing but an infodump by Kobayashi and the wierd Bear woman (?)(Why is she a bear? Inquiring minds want to know…). But the badassery of this episode wasn’t due to any flashy battles or explosions.

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No, this was a bottle episode, the majority of which took place inside Takane’s frame after rescuing Shizuka. They’re beyond the point of no return and his fame is out of juice anyway, so they have to do a lot of sitting and waiting for one of two things: death or rescue. This is by no means original, but I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to recall better executions of this kind of lost-in-space scenario.

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Leaving aside the convenience of two love interests being in such close contact for so long. And Shizuka strips down to her birthday suit for a totally practical reason: to photosynthesize! Despite how cold and terrifying space looks out there and how tiny the frame looks compared to it, there’s a warmth from the two of them that permeates their scenes. You get the feeling everything will be fine, because at the very least, if they die, they’ll die together.

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Ten days pass before any hint of rescue, and food and water are exhausted, the latter an example of over-complicated technology coming to bite them ass at the worst possible time. When Takane starts to succumb to dehydration, that same fancypants tech is his savior, as Shizuka is able to filter her urine for him to drink, a touching scene with shades of Princess Mononoke. The act also gives Takane the idea to filter the frame’s lubricant for more water. Wonderful things, these filters!

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The victory is enough for the couple to try a closer embrace, forgetting their suits are on. Further hanky-panky is interrupted by One Hell Of A Dramatic Entrance by the entire defense wing, which disobeyed orders and formed a 256-frame relay ring to come back for the pilot who defeated the Gauna (along with his would-be girlfriend). Their arrival is a powerful moment of jubilation and relief, and a happy ending that neither felt like a cheat nor an inevitability.

10_brav

Sidonia no Kishi – 04

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Like Sidonia’s Kabizashi, I prefer to use “Holy Craps” sparingly; preferably no more than five per season, but in the case of this episode, I feel perfectly justified in exhausting one. Holy Crap, that was one awesome tour-de-force of an episode. My heart rate remains elevated some time after watching it. But worry not, Braverade is near a fresh-air-providing open window, and no harm will come to her.

Going into this episode, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say the same of Sidonia. When your elite subjugation squad is annihilated and a Gauna manages to dodge the HMD, you know Sidonia is in for a rough ride, and so we get a “Gravity Alert”, in which those bulky safety harnesses prove so crucial to survival. Good thing Nagate put his on! I appreciated the hard sci-fi approach to everything Sidonia does.

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For instance, a small moon-sized colony ship can go into evasive maneuvers without seriously messing up the structures inside. Kobayashi’s job is truly thankless and unenviable: she must either choose to destroy a big chunk of the ship, killing hundreds of people, or lose the whole ship. No wonder she wears a mask. Her’s is one of many choices that make the episode’s title “Choice” so fitting.

It was a single choice—a bad, emotionally-fueled one—that got Sidonia into this hole in the first place: Akai and Momose tried to save one another, when victory hinged on their ability to let each other go. As I assumed, the next four-man group to be sent out would include Nagate, along with Shizuka, Kunato, and En. Izana is notably excluded.

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But this team isn’t supposed to fight the Gauna, it’s merely charged with retrieving one of the two Holy Craps Kabizashis still barely in their frames’ range; if they don’t hypermile, they could end up stranded in space. When Nagate spots the Kabizashi, Kunato is quick to run ahead and grab it, but that puts him in the firing zone of the Gauna, which fires its own Hyggs cannon, disabling all but Nagate’s frame.

From here on, the choices are Nagate’s, and he makes what could be called an emotional choice in going after the Gauna instead of towing his colleagues home. But he’s a clever chap, and his frame fits him like a glove, so he’s able to ice the Gauna, earning him instant ship-wide recognition and celebrity, along with more even ire from Kunato, no doubt.

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But of course, all is not yet well—the emergencies never relent, right until the end, with Nagate making another clearly emotional choice: to search for Shizuka’s ejection pod, flying past the point of no return in the process. Following an episode in which such chivalry ended in disaster and after witnessing how sacrificing a few to save the many worked out, Nagate isn’t following Kobayashi’s lead: he won’t leave a (wo)man behind.

9_brav

Captain Earth – 01

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I wasn’t originally going to give this new Bones sci-fi/mecha series a look, but then I realized I was only watching three shows to my colleagues’ four; something I’d never live down. Having recently come off of the excellent but highly un-serious Space Dandy, your classic straitlaced sci-fi procedural proved highly satisfying, especially considering how much care (and cash) went into its production.

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The episode is replete with all the little design details I love, from the intricate control panels and big bold labels painted on everything, to the minimalist black-and-white bumper style informed by Eva and E-7. The central protagonist Manatsu Daichi bears a rather unfortunate resemblance to Renton, but at least he’s not nearly as annoying out of the gate. In fact, I had no trouble identifying with Daichi’s wanderlust and desire to do great(er) things.

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Flashbacks are interspersed between the escalating present events, efficiently painting the picture of Daichi’s past, the legacy of his dad, and astronaut “Captain”, and the two friends he met while exploring the launch site on the island where he grew up, both of whom carry a very whimsical lab experiment bearing. We also get a slight glimpse of a “Radical Ed” like hackress. All it takes is a news report of a strange phenomenon for him to return home and check things out.

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And down the rabbit hole he goes, into the cockpit of an “Earth Engine” within a rocket that launches into space and passes through three space stations that assemble a formidable, very chunky-looking mecha somewhat like Tieria’s Gundam Nadleeh. His first opponent will be (the battle doesn’t start this episode) the sexy alien Moco from “Kiltgang” (spelled “Kill-T-Gang” on displays), an organization sending AEOs (“Approaching Earth Objects”) at…Earth (duh).

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Sure, long strings of dialogue discussing a whole bunch of terminology I don’t yet understand got a little tiresome, but I enjoyed the technobabble checklists the NASA-equivalent technitions run through as Daichi’s mecha is built. The promo art spoils the fact that Daichi will reunite with the two other kids he befriended, as well as the Ed-like girl, giving us a nice central quartet to work with. I’ve watched a lot in this genre, so we’ll see if Captain Earth can bring something new the table.

7_brav

Sket Dance – 32

The first half is a period piece in which the Sket-dan are ninjas and Roman is a lord’s hostage. However, she breaks the fourth wall and jumps out of the moon, eliminating the need to storm the castle to rescue her. The second half is a sci-fi piece in which the sket-dan is the crew of a very slow spaceship. They pass the time by playing shiritori, but get in a space fender-bender with Tsubaki, a prince headed to his homeworld.

This week, Roman Saotome presents two more anime genre standbys to the Sket Dance repertoire. But this is Sket Dance, so both segments are rife with side commentary, screaming, and a lot of rule-breaking (there was even a nice little nod to Castle in the Sky, though the -dan shuts Roman up before she can say the magic words). The Sket-dan doesn’t so much bury themselves in their parts as simply carry on as they would in the real world, only in cosplay. In this, Sket Dance continues to perpetuate its chameleon-like identity.

Unless you’ve read the manga, there’s no telling what genre it will take on or what other work it will parody. We enjoy surprises, but even for Sket Dance, we felt these two segments were too-often off-topic and self-critique. Opportunities for a samurai duel – or a giant space battle – were missed, but perhaps that’s the point: no matter what environment they’re in, Bossun, Himeko and Switch aren’t giong to give up their normal, mundane existance.


Rating: 3