Akudama Drive – 04 – The Kickass Express

As expected once the Shinkansen took off from Kansai Station, the action and difficulty level of the heist kicks into a higher gear. The train is hurtling towards an “Ultimate Quarantine Zone”, and if that doesn’t kill them, the sweep that eliminates all organic material before the Kanto gate certainly will. Oh, and the Master and Pupil have hopped aboard.

With so many different ways to die, the shrinking of the setting to a long but relatively narrow tube makes for some excellent action set pieces. Without a lot of space for lateral movement, there’s a lot of people punching, kicking, or tossing their opponents across the length of a carriage.

Brawler and Cutthroat fight Master and Pupil with Doctor offering occasional support and Hoodlum, um, cheering on his kyoudai. Ordinary Person and Black Cat watch Hacker’s back as he hacks one lock after another to reach the next carriage. Each lock gets more complex, so it feels like a game for him.

Indeed, everyone seems to take the unexpected setbacks and increased difficulty level in stride, thriving off the increased challenges. That’s with the exception of the lazy and childish Cutthroat, who just wants to see blood, but even Master can’t help but be impressed by his natural fighting skills.

Thanks to the weekly Bunny & Shark informational segments, we learn more about how and why the Shinkansen operates, while Hacker and Ordina’s progress reveals passenger carriages, meaning the train either used to transport people to and from Kanto, or once did and no longer does. After the mostly metal and mechanical freight carriages, the lavishly-appointed, wood-paneled carriages are a lovely visual change of pace.

Once Courier finally gets to his bike, he points its railgun forward to destroy the defense drones, then points it back at the Executioners, slicing their carriage off from the front of the train. This exposes everyone to the Zone briefly, but Doctor uses a quick-solidifying foam to seal the breach. Like last week, some members are more important roles than others, but everyone is needed and everyone contributes, with both actions and wry banter.

They finally reach the front carriage, which has an appropriate “final stage” aesthetic with its clean off-white bulkheads. Hacker breaks through all the locks he can, but the final one requires a seal he doesn’t have. That’s when the Black Cat disintegrates, revealing it was the seal all along. Ordina uses it to open the vault…where they find a young brother and sister in military uniforms.

The sister immediately plays a note on a flute which stops the train and puts up a protective shield. The brother speaks with the same voice as the cat’s (Maaya Uchida), while the sister is voiced by Ichinose Kana. So, Mission Accomplished—everyone’s super-rich, right? Seems that way; I don’t see the siblings double-crossing their own rescue team.

The question is, why were two human children being transported to Kanto like cargo? As the Black Cat implied with an earlier comment, Kanto is far from the wonderful Utopia Hacker believed it to be. Will our gang head back to Kansai for now, or will we get a glimpse of the not-so-perfect-after-all other side?

Akudama Drive – 03 – Ocean’s Seven

As the Black Cat continues to describe the plan to infiltrate Kansai Station, the Ordinary Person tries not to stand out too much, lest her Swindler persona be exposed as a fraud. She later admits alone (with the gorgeous skyline as a backdrop) she’s strayed quite far into the world of criminals, but as Courier tells her, he does what he does because it’s “where he belongs.”

Ordinary Girl probably hadn’t led a particularly interesting life up until now, and even though these are all insane criminals, they’ve collectively been nice enough to make her feel like she belongs too. It’s nothing groundbreaking, characterization-wise, but Kurosawa Tomoyo really brings a lot of brightness and personality to “Ordina.”

This week we watch the gang infiltrate the station, which earns the episode the title “Mission: Impossible” for good reason: this motley crew of crazy people will have to work together, and well, in order to have a chance at success. Not only that, Ordina plays a key role at several points in the episode. She’s no passive observer.

Once the split group reaches the two elevators, they rely on precise countdowns to time the pressing of two switches on two levels at the exact same time. The switches are protected by glass-like forcefields, which are defeated in different ways.

Brawler simply destroys the unshielded supports for the fields, while Cutthroat pierces through them one by one. Ordina has to borrow Hacker’s drone to deliver a decisive fastball into the line of suspended blades so the one at the front hits the switch just as Hoodlum’s temple hits the other.

Once they reach the Shinkansen platform, they activate an EMP provided by Black Cat, knocking out power for the entire city, but also Hacker’s connection. With Hacker unable to increase the allowed weight of the cargo to permit it to pass through the train’s plasma field, the only person lighter than him—Ordina—has to take his place in the cargo crate.

She makes it inside without incident and drops the field just in time to allow Courier to speed in on his bike; then everyone else boards right before the train’s emergency start kicks in. Again, the train actually moving wasn’t part of the plan, but it will have to be now. There’s no going back from this point.

While this episode only covers the first half of the Shinkansen heist, I’m glad it slowed things down so we could not only watch the details of the infiltration go down, but also have more fun interactions between the characters. Both the Kansai station and the music the heist is set to elevate the sense of occasion and importance to the mission, which is about to kick into a higher gear with next week’s “Speed”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 06 – Mage Girls Trip

Six episodes in, were you ready for the titular Rail Zeppelin arc to begin in earnest? Well you may have been and I may have been, but apparently the show wasn’t, so instead we get a bottle episode. Gray asks Reines about the Holy Grail War and her mentor’s role in it, and Reines agrees to tell her, but only if she gets to take Gray shopping at Carnac, London’s largest and most extravagant store.

After dressing Gray up in a number of fetching ensembles, they are joined by Luviagelita Edelfelt, Carnac’s newly-installed owner, and she joins their “girls’ party.” She’s also responsible for the décor—for which the word gaudy doesn’t do justice—which is magically formulated to stimulate customers’ desire to spend. A slideshow of cute moments among the trio ensues.

While resting in the owner’s room, Reines finally tells Gray about Iskandar, though can’t speak to what precisely the former Mr. Velvet went through. Then, in an instant, all of the color leaves their surroundings, and the three of them are the only people in the entire store. More strangely, there is no way to exit without returning where you started.

Breaking the Bechdel Test, the three ask “What Would Lord El-Melloi II Do?” and with the whydunit not making sense, conclude this isn’t an incident perpetrated by anyone, but an accident brought about by the excessively ornate renovations, both physical and magical. Luvia elects to clean up her own mess, utilizing her extensive pro wrestling(!) skills to neutralize the automated security force.

After that, Reines has Trim smash the central relic controlling the store’s magecraft, which shatters the bounded field and returns the three to the normal world. Reines later deduces that the spell wouldn’t let fortune escape, implying the three ladies were treasures not to be taken outside. When Gray protests that unlike Reines and Luvia she’s “not that special,” Reines reminds her of the noble phantasm she carries…then encourages her to deliver the gift she bought for Lord El-Melloi.

She’s unable to do so, but primarily due to the Lord’s mood when she returns. He’s in a mood because the Mantle of Iskandar was stolen from him, replaced by a note inviting him to—you guessed it—the Rail Zeppelin. El-Melloi then invites Gray to join him on that infamous train that buys and sells mystic eyes.

While not particularly essential viewing, this week’s Case Files was adequately diverting, featuring a rare combo of all-female characters (though El-Melloi was a frequent topic of conversation) and taking place in one huge, intriguing, isolated space. Gray also got to learn a little more about her mentor, and got a slight boost to her severely deficient self-esteem. In all, far from a waste of time.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Joukamachi no Dandelion – 07

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It’s a strict two-parter this week, with stories so different, the siblings at the focus of the first half barely appear in the second. First, Akane has a fever and the King and Queen are going out, leaving Kanade in charge. (Where’s Aoi? Who knows?) When cold compresses and porridge can’t get Akane’s temperature down (and dare not use her powers to conjure the undiscovered cure), Shiori risks catching Akane’s cold by giving her a kiss. The King is also a bit of a worrywart, and so kept a team of special forces on alert. Their accidental storming of the house is nicely handled by Kanade, and Akane and Shiori aren’t the worse for wear.

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The second half is dominated by Hikari, whom I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of because I’m not the biggest fan of Ogura Yui’s squeaky voice. Fortunately, Hikari is aged up to idol-age, and her conflict arises when she’s paired with the super hard-working, no-nonsense veteran idol she admires, Sachiko, who resents Hikari for being talented but sloppy. When Sacchy is asked to play second fiddle in a double concert, she’s a pro about it, but she won’t acknowledge Hikari until she shows she can work hard too.

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Sacchy not only inspires Hikari to ace a test in school after failing a previous one, but to also train harder in preparation for the concert. When it arrives, the two perform well, but Sacchy meets with a spot of bad luck and twists her ankle on stage. Hikari goes out there alone and finishes the show, with Sacchy watching from the dressing room, impressed and realizing she misjudged Hikari. In all, the segment is an interesting study of the different worlds Hikari can inhabit when she ages herself up.

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No. 6 6

I like how Safu is walking around a cold, windless No. 6 with a look of contempt on her place. If it weren’t for her grandmother dying, Safu would never have returned to No. 6, and learned that Shion’s no longer there, but out in the West Block. When she learns this, she immediately declares her undying love for him and vows to track him down. But the security bureau have other ideas, and promptly detain her after she leaves Shion’s mom’s bakery.

I can safely say Safu is my favorite character in this series, and so it’s good to see more of her. The black-and-white-haired lovebirds have just gotten boring. They repeat the same arguments over and over; Nezumi is a totally static dickweed, and Shion is as plain and dull as his hair color, going on about developing a serum and breaking down the wall. It would be nice to see exciting stuff like that, but instead we get more odd couple bickering.

Great things have been done in eleven episodes before. AnoHana most recently. FLCL was only six episodes; Blue Submarine No. 6 only four. All of them did an infinitely better job telling a story in a limited time than this. The main characters are totally unlikable and they’re either too waffling or too weak to do anything. The only person who tries to take action – Safu – is immediately arrested. And when Nezumi gets word of this, does he tell Shion? ‘Course not. Give me a break, No. 6!


Rating: 2.5