Astra Lost in Space – 01 (First Impressions) – The Final Frontier: Getting Along

ALiS immediately sets the mood and grabs our attention by throwing us into the inky nothingness of space to float with poor Aries Spring (Minase Inori). She has no idea how she got there, but is understandably terrified, until she spots someone approaching her with an open hand.

Now that we know how bad things are going to get for Aries, the narrative rewinds back to the day Aries sets of for the five-day “Planet Camp.” Shortly after arriving at the spaceport, her bag is stolen, but the very fit and valorous Hoshijuma Kanata gets it back…only to be arrested by cop-bots.

No matter, Aries and Kanata eventually join their six fellow high school students (plus one little sister with an alter-ego in the form of a hand puppet) at the gate and before you know it, they’re on a 9-hour FTL journey to Planet McPa.

The meetup at the gate and the trip paint the characters in broad strokes, but the bottom line is they’re all very different personalities—pretty typical for a Lerche show. Within a couple minutes of setting foot on McPa, those clashing personalities are immediately tested by a weird floating orb, which I’ll just call a singularity. One by one, it sucks up the students who can’t outrun it.

After a very trippy visual sequence, everyone finds themselves floating in space, near a planet that doesn’t quite look like McPa. You couldn’t ask for a more nightmarish scenario, especially considering these are just kids with zero experience in space. Fortunately, there’s a spaceship in orbit, just within the range of their thruster suits.

They head to the ship, open the thankfully unlocked hatch, and climb aboard. There’s a grand sense of adventure afoot, and the music really helps to sell it. That’s when they realize there are only eight of them—poor Aries is still out there, drifting further and further away.

With insufficient fuel for a two-way trip in their suits, Kanata decides to use a tether to reach Aries, and we return to the end of the cold open, with Kanata reaching out to take Aries’ hand…only his rope is just too short. Disaster! Whatever to do? Kanata decides to go for broke and detach himself from the tether so he can grab an eternally grateful Aries.

But while they’re safe for the moment, there’s another problem: on the way back Kanata runs out of fuel, but his trajectory is five degrees off, meaning he and Aries will fly right past the ship. It’s time for the others, putting aside their initial differences to create a human chain outside of the airlock that snags Aries and Kanata and pulls them aboard.

That’s when they learn of several more problems—there are always more problems in space than in…not space, after all. They’re 5,012 light years, or more than three months, away from home, with only enough water for 20 days and only enough food for three.

With the aid of Zack Walker, he of the 200 IQ and spaceship license, he manages to calculate a route that will enable them to resupply at planets within twenty days of one another…but there’s only one possible route. Even so, the fact that there’s a remotely feasible plan bolsters everyone’s spirits.

With hope in their hearts (and probably very little food in their stomachs) Kanata is chosen as their captain, and they all take their places as the ship’s FTL activates, and they head off, through hardships, to the stars, on a very simple mission: Get Home Safe.

The last act seems to blow by extremely fast as solutions present themselves almost too easily, and while many members of the cast showed different sides, the jury is still out on others, but over all this was a strong start to a good old-fashioned space adventure. No convoluted factional conflicts or supernatural chosen ones…just nine kids probably in over their heads, but who have no choice but to grow up and do the best they can.

Houkago no Pleiades – 06

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When the Pleiadian spaceship starts to shift into their dimension, the plan to rebuild its engine accelerates, as does the need to find as many fragments as possible. For once, the girls are able to snag one without interference from Dark Minato, but it turns out to be a trap he sets that lets him discover their base.

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He places a magical barrier around the entire school, trapping Subaru inside. After delving into Hikaru and Itsuki’s pasts, personalities, and motivations the last two weeks, HnP swings back around to the pink-haired protagonist, face-to-face with Dark Minato on solid ground for the first time. But before he can get too close, her Drive Shaft activates and brisks her away.

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She ends up in Nice Minato’s observatory, in an embrace neither are embarrassed about. Subaru is scared, and finds solace and comfort here, with him. Is he an old friend she forgot? Why are there two versions of him? Neither of these questions are explained, but as usual, this Minato is able to provide some advice that helps her press forward, despite her fear. But this visit feels like a goodbye.

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A path leads to a new exit, but when she opens the doors to her friends’ delight, all of a sudden the whole damn school is floating up in orbit, just above the Pleiadian spaceship. Exactly why this happens isn’t explained, but it’s very surreal and cool.

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The President says if the spaceship fully shifts and awakens all of his countrymen, it would be very bad, without going into detail, so when Dark Minato attacks them, Subaru blocks his path. She’s decided she’s not giving up the fragments, she’ snot letting him destroy the school, and she’s not letting him hurt Aoi. He gettin’ nothing!

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Even though she’s scared and shaking, it doesn’t matter; she’s not backing down. Dark Minato is taken aback, as he’s used to using fear and little else to keep his adversaries down. Likely due to Subaru’s resolve and show of strength, their Drive Shafts transform into more recognizable Subaru products, and the five of them create a spark that knocks the ship back into a higher dimension where it will be safe until the engine is completed.

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The ship, the school, and her friends are safe, but when she returns to the magical conservatory, it’s dark and barren, and Minato is nowhere to be found. Will they ever meet again? Or was Subaru’s decision to walk down that path and exit out the rooftop door a symbol of moving on from the security blanket of Minato’s counsel; that moving forward meant leaving a part of herself behind?

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P.S. While I still like this show, it’s likely to be next on the dropping block, as Zane wants me to take Re-Kan! off his hands since he’s dropped Mikagura to review Ore Monogatari!!. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 50 (Fin)

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In our final bite-size installment of ATM!, Tenchi is back home at his temple/shrine pad with Ryouko, Ayeka, and Sasami, with Kuromitsu still around for a spell.

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As a peach pedal flies through the air, Tenchi remembers saying goodbye both to Momo and Beni, who got on their ship and left Earth, and the high school, where Hana took over as StuCo president and the council and science club continued their friendly rivalry.

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So yay me; I stuck with this thing the whole way (which honestly isn’t that much of a feat; all’s said and done we’re talking eight full-length episodes, max), and ATM!  actually wasn’t terrible. Heck, it was even good on a couple of occasions. But mostly it was just…er…fine. Let’s just say it won’t be making the World Heritage List.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 49

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Aw shucks, ATM! got all serious and dramatic on us and…well, having Tenchi and Momo separate after finally meeting up in the same timeline works about as well as you expect in a four-minute episode. There’s just not enough time for the impact to really land.

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Due magical objects like the lightsabers and the cloud of petals, everything is fixed about as quickly as it broke, eliciting not much more than a shrug. Momo and Tenchi return, with Momo back to her original young age. Hugs for all, etc.

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It always seemed like she was a deal younger than the other high school girls anyway, and now it makes sense why they protected her so; her mind really was younger. With the return of Tenchi and Lil’ Momo, the rift engulfing Earth vanishes and everything pretty much goes back to normal.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 41

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Half of this episode is spent aboard the Galaxy Police flagship now in orbit around earth, which has come to arrest the “singularity points” (Momo, Beni, and Washuu) before the “dimensional deficiency” they’re causing rises to catastrophic levels and the entire universe implodes. Are these stakes high enough for ya?!

There’s a great Star Trek-like feel to these space proceedings, helped not just by the barely-coherent technobabble, but by the prominent presence of okudagrams, which, to the non-Trekkie crowd, are cost-effective yet sleek and futuristic displays invented by technical adviser, scenic artist, and Japanese-American Michael Okuda.

The going-over of the mission is also a clever way to name-drop the show’s sponsor, Takahashi, Okayama, I believe for the first time.

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Okayama is where the GP is headed, and in cooperation with the government, has created an entire cover story for the operation: a old Russian space station’s orbit decaying. The debate and election are cancelled and the school is evacuated by what look like JSDF troops but are really GP officers in disguise.

The student council stops being a counter-scheming squad and fulfills their actual duty as student authorities. But when the last people besides them who have yet to evacuate are the Science Club of Rui, Yuki and Beni, Momo and Tenchi go after them…just as the GP launches a space-time fluctuation warhead. And those, my friend, are not something to be trifled with. I guess?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 40

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The day of the big debate is here, and while Tenchi gives Momo some last-minute encouragement (without picking a side), he gets a flash of past young Momo wearing vintage garb when they shake hands, as Momo tells him she feels like he’s always been there protecting her. Probably because I guess he technically has!

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With the live polling numbers displayed above the stage showing Momo and Yuki exactly tied, this is both their time to grab the lead. Yuki starts off with flashy poses and promises both she and the voters probably know she can’t keep.

Then she brings up the newspaper scandal she cooked up, which proves to be a critical mistake, because Momo turns it around and delivers a monologue about how everything comes from love, so there’s nothing wrong with showing it.

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The speech isn’t that sophisticated, and she completely skirts over things like inappropriate underage relations, but that’s not what’s going on between her and Tenchi anyway, and she’s so earnest and cute she wins the crowd over immediately, leaving Yuki looking like a steaming stick-in-the-mud.

Victory seems well in hand for Momo…until her entire body seems to shimmer in and out of cohesion, Kurihara’s earring glows, and that huge spaceship we saw a few eps back appears in Earth orbit. Looks like they’ve come for the ‘temporal fugitive(s).’

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 35

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35 episodes in, I’m wondering, is Takahashi, Okayama satisfied with their arrangement with this anime? Do they feel they’re getting their money’s worth? I mean, the wooded environs of Junai High seem like a nice enough place, but they don’t feel like a specific place; they feel pretty generic, to be honest. I guess it depends on how much money they contributed, of if the “sponsorship” was more of a ceremonial thing. In any case, I’m not quite sure how this show is promoting tourism.

That aside, we haven’t had an episode in which students try to have a sleepover at Tenchi’s house yet, and this episode rectifies that by having Momo, Touri, Hachiko, and Hana insist on spending the night in case the Science Club decides to kidnap him again.

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If ATM! excels at one thing (it actually excels at more than one thing, but bear with me), it’s consistency of its characters. Momo has the innocent good girl with a heart of gold; Hachiko is deeply loyal and up for any challenge; Touri is highly analytical, except where Samami is involved, with whom she’s almost disturbingly smitten. In fact, let’s leave out  the almost! And Hana, well, she’s a fujoshi, but also a masochist in her interactions with the older, stronger Ayeka. Everyone makes sense as a character, and watching the wildly clashing personalities is a lot of fun.

I also like the idea of Ryouko, Momo, and Hachiko getting all gung-ho about a cook-off, but spend so much time preparing, Tenchi, Ayeka, and Sasami make do with cup noodles instead. It’s a nice little bait-and-switch. Also, Touri seems to derive all the nourishment (and pleasure) she needs (and wants) by plunging her face in Sasami’s bathwater, which…GROSS.

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In other news, the Science Club’s secret contact urges them to continue their efforts to recover the treasure, even though the caverns have collapsed. The contact suggests they become active in the upcoming election to choose a new Student Council. We also learn that Kurihara-sensei is a member of the Galaxy Police, and both Momo and Beni are in her crosshairs as ‘time anomaly suspects’ or some-such. Between her continued investigations and the upcoming election, ATM! seems to be in for more upheaval in its home stretch.

Note: Again, I don’t count the “Looking Back” recaps in my episode numbering. But if I did, this would be episode 43, with at least one more recap in store. So we kinda are in the home stretch despite this being only the 35th ‘real’ episode. Here is a handy episode list to clarify what the heck I’m on about.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 34

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Wait, I don’t understand, what the heck is going on?

It’s really quite simple, Fuka-san: Momo and Beni activate a new search app on the smartphone that shows them the treasure they’re looking for is directly beneath them, despite the face they were standing on a totally random spot. Also, Touri has a thing for Sasami. Upstairs, Ryouko destroys Hachiko’s swords, inadvertantly turning her into a bawling child. I guess she hadn’t overcome that weakness after all!

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They dig and hit paydirt: a Juria Sword, which when grabbed by both Momo and Beni completes the tripartite sword that unlocks the Jurai starship buried below; the very ship that brought Momo and Beni to the planet to begin with. Now we’re getting somewhere!

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Like Ryouko, Ayeka has no trouble making her opponent tap out (and swear fealty). Then they feel the upheaval going on downstairs as if it were and earthquake. The earth does indeed quake and rend below, and Beni must make a choice between grabbing the sword and ‘taking back who she really is’, or accepting Tenchi’s hand and accepting who she is, who Momo loves regardless. She choses the hand, and the ruins and the building above them collapse. Perhaps it was for the best.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 27

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The higher-pitched flute during the title card announced that this would be the first “period” episode of ATM! since the 13th, but it decided to go back even farther than that to show us the connection between Momo and Beni. Beni, AKA Kurenai, was appointed the guardian of a baby Momo and the Jurai Royal Family gave her a spaceship, which she proceeded to crash land on Earth.

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Tenchi, it would seem, hasn’t been as clueless as we thought, and once his mission of finding both Momo and Beni is complete, he hits the Reset Button on his smartphone (God, I love it when literal reset buttons pop up in shows!). An error occurs (he probably forgot to update the OS), everything goes dark, and a tear in the sky appears, sucking Tenchi and Momo in.

You gettin’ all this? Good. I guess the show will pick this back up in episode 41.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 08

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Kurihara’s mocking of Tenchi’s phallic heirloom charm is interrupted by another battle between StuCo and the Science Club, over the latter’s demands and former’s refusal of more materials. Tenchi and Kurihara break up the fight. When Hachiko is sent to the warehouse to retrieve some materials for the Drama Club, Tenchi tags along to help.

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All of a sudden we’re back at school in the “present”, and get another dose of the continual squabbling between Fuka Yuki’s Science Club and the StuCo, of which Momo is technically President, but which is actually run by everyone else. There is much rancor and discussion about these precious “materials”, but the episode refuses to elaborate on what exactly they are, which is fine. If they don’t care, why should I? All that matters is the StuCo has ’em and Yuki can’t have ’em.

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Another neat moment was that Tenchi was able to easily stop the blow of Kinojou Beni, who we know is one of the heavies, along with Hachiko, among the students. His charm also seems to have some kind of power, and a “Miss Junai” Contest is imminent. But what awaits Tenchi and Hachiko in that sketchy warehouse? I can’t very well not keep watching to find out, now can I?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 07

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Aboard a spaceship in orbit encounters a large-scale gravitational anomaly, it its pilot, Kinojou Beni, launches an escape pod with a young Momo aboard. Back in the past, Tenchi and young Momo are about to knock on a door when they’re spotted by Touri, Hana, and Hachiko, who are looking for a demon.

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They find one in Space Pirate Hakubi Ryouko, whom Tenchi knows, but who doesn’t know him. Ryouko and Hachiko fight, then Ryouko attacks Tenchi, but Momo blasts her back with an unknown protective power. The fight is broken up by the arrival of a Galaxy Police mecha piloted by Kuramitsu Mihoshi, announcing Ryouko is under arrest.

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Whew! That was a mouthful, and a whole crap-load of plot in four short minutes, spanning a whole host of genres. I like how the same characters appear in different times in different garb but more or less the same personalities and roles. I also like how pieces of the great puzzle that started in the beginning are gradually falling into place one by one.

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Like Washuu, Ryouko and Mihoshi are long-standing characters of the franchise, but even if they’re as new to me as the new characters, they add color, flair, and a little more welcome chaos to the proceedings. ATM! is proving an increasingly eclectic and oddly engaging little show. You can’t help but want to see what happens (or who shows up) next.

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