Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 02

aaa21

Unlike so many anime on the air today, Arise doesn’t hold your hand too much with long narrations or official introductions or long narrations. Instead, it tosses you into the deep end of its intricate cyberpunk narrative. You’ll either sink from the sheer weight of proper nouns, or swim among all the interesting ideas.

aaa22

I’m here writing this, so I was mostly able to navigate the occasionally opaque cybercop-talk of plots layered within plots. There’s a dense, sophisticated story unfolding, necessitating quite a bit of exposition, but it’s nicely balanced with—and sometimes, occupying the same space as—nifty bursts of good old-fashioned cop action.

aaa23

Standard fare like busting windows and firing guns, and setting off sprinklers are more setting-specific stuff like a robot containing the two minds of identical twins working together, or Motoko’s colleague being implanted with false memories until he’s not in control of his own body. Arise is a show that blows stuff up real good and makes your mind churn.

aaa24

As for Motoko, she’s fearless, reckless, and superbly competent, neither afraid of mussing her hair or losing a layer of synthetic skin tossing her body at attackers. She and Batou are almost as in sync as those cyber-twins in the heat of battle, tossing guns at one another and not flinching as each kills the bad guy behind the other.

aaa25

As to the plot: Emma Tsuda is identified as a tech officer under Motoko’s former 501 colleague, Lt. Col. Kurutsu, who was investigating a hacker known as “Scarecrow” whom apparently had the same disorder she had.

While Emma used cyberization to “structure her attenuating selfhood” (making herself more and more a “Tin Girl”, the “Scarecrow”, AKA Brinda Jr., achieves selfhood by dubbing ghosts, stealing bodies, and assuming the identities of others. The two live within Emma’s body, and though his brain and her heart are fading away, they yearn go on living together after death.

aaa26

These odd soulmates are unfortunately pawns in a bigger, more dastardly plot spearheaded by military bigwig (and somewhat scary-looking cyborg) Colonel Hozuki. She’s in cahoots with a foreign weapons cartel, and used Scarecrow to eliminate said cartel’s domestic competition, while trying to pass Emma off as the ringleader in a diversionary massacre.

Motoko and Batou follow Togusa and Emma to a thrilling dock standoff where Tin Girl and Scarecrow desperately transfer to a next-gen mecha. When Mokoto dives in to try to get more info on the virus, they flee again, only to be blown up by a warship just offshore. To top it off, Hozuki, supervising all this from her chopper, is herself hot down by the cartel, reaping what she’s sown.

aaa27

If I didn’t quite get all that right, please forgive me, for I watched this quite late at night, but suffice it to say Motoko and her team are rewarded for uncovering Hozuki’s plot by being given special authority, and tasked with continuing their investigations into the hacking virus, along with any organizations involved.

aaa28

Considering Motoko doesn’t wear a military uniform anymore (preferring a fetching red leather suit), it’s clear more authority and autonomy suit her just fine. These first two weeks of Alternative Architecture covered the events of the fourth and final Arise OVA, while the preview indicates we’ll be going back to when Motoko did wear a uniform.

So if it felt like we were just thrown right into the middle of everything—not a bad way to do things in this kind of setting, IMO—it’s because we were; now comes the backstory.

8_brav2

Advertisements

Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 01

aaa11

I’m all through with Steins;Gate, neither Gunslinger nor Plamemo really wowed me, and I’m just itching for Sidonia season two right now, so I thought I’d fill the void with the latest imagining of a very old acquaintance. I also dug Psycho-Pass, which was clearly inspired by GitS, so I decided to give re-entering the franchise a shot.

That said, I’m what you’d call a GitS tourist. I’m not even sure GitS is the preferred way of abbreviating the title for the sake of brevity. I watched the first two movies in relatively close succession ages ago (the first is a classic and the second isn’t bad), but there my exposure ends; I never so much as caught a dubbed episode of SAC in its entirety on Adult Swim.

aaa12

That means I also missed the long-form OVAs that were releaed between June 2013 and last September. Alternative Architecture is a second chance to catch Arise in the midst of a TV season, and I’m taking it, so I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance going forward. I also hope you’ll forgive me if these aren’t the most timely reviews; due to time constraints I’ve got to choose my shows carefully.

aaa13

This first episode efficiently reintroduces us to the world of cyborgs with cyberbrains and prosthetic bodies and virtual ghosts, and to Kusanagi Motoko, Badass, now voiced by one of my favorite seiyus since her debut in Escaflowne, Sakamoto Maaya. She also contributes vocals to the suitably hip, electronic OP composed by Cornelius.

aaa14

Like Tsunemori Akane in PSYCHO-PASS, Motoko in Arise is faced with a new threat to the fabric of the society she semi-grugingly participates in: a terrorist plot to infect cyberbrains with a virus that turns people into puppets with which to wreak havoc. The culprit of one such attack is a young woman, a war orphan and talented programmer with an aversion to cyberization. As the shot above indicates, Motoko doesn’t have the full picture yet, but she’s sent to escort this individual, who hosts the virus, to a secure location for analysis

aaa15

This host, called Emma, immediately tries to start sowing the seeds of doubt in her captors Motoko and Batou, asking them if they can truly trust their memories anymore now that she (or whomever is controlling this prosthetic body) has found a way to create false memories within cyberbrains. And because Motoko is an impatient badass, she dives right into Emma to see what she can see.

aaa16

There, she finds a second ghost within her, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess is a rarity. It’s clear Motoko may not just be fighting terrorists, but continuing to butt heads with the government supervisors and bureaucrats who may not share her ideals, but nonetheless technically own her body.

While Arise’s first episode had some thrilling set pieces, particularly in the beginning, there were some scenes in which all momentum stopped while old guys talked about dense stuff I only had the slightest handle on. There’s also a b-plot involving tracking and capturing another terrorist that wasn’t all that gripping despite its best efforts.

I can chalk the pacing issues up to this being the first part of a larger, feature-length piece. I also rather liked the way sound was used in the episode: scenes of aural cacophony juxtaposed with dead silence or slight white noises lent aural reinforcement to the tense, out-of-balance atmosphere of Arise’s world.

8_brav2

Zankyou no Terror – 07

zank71

In preparation for more English dialogue from Five this week, I decided to come at it from another angle: if English is her character’s second language, then her thick accent is totally acceptable. But such realignments and caveats weren’t even necessary this week. There was so much going on I didn’t have time to give a shit how bad the English was or wasn’t.

Just about absolutely everything that went on this week was fantastic. Last week’s ending promised an intricate, precise game of Haneda Airport Bomb Chess between Five and Sphinx. It also hinted that Shibazaki and his colleagues were going to take action of some kind after sitting on their hands too long, and that Lisa would play some kind of role too. , The episode delivered everything we could have hoped for and then some.

zank72

I remain confident in my assertion last week that Five is a cliched villain with a lame personal vendetta and all-but-unchecked autocratic power over the authorities. This week she’s taken down a peg just as Nine and the police were last week. The show sensed that we needed to see Nine land a blow, even a glancing one, on Five, and made it happen. But this episode was much, much more than just a duel between Five and Nine.

Shibazaki & Co. arrive at Haneda faced with the lofty challenge of finding a bomb in a massive, busy airport, but the more he wanders around, the more something smells rotten to the veteran detective. But even he couldn’t have predicted he’d end up helping the very terrorist he’s been chasing for six episodes stop the bombing, while unwittingly providing cover for their escape.

zank73

That last bit is part the genius of this episode. When Shibazaki bursts into the control room and orders the bomb plane turned around, Five tells him he’s being Sphinx’s lap dog, and she’s not 100% wrong. But Shibazaki is also saving lives by picking the lesser of two evils. Five seems to be trying to appeal to his pride and ego, but after both have been trampled on so much throughout his career (most recently by Five herself), he’s not listening anymore. He’s the anti-Five, and thank God he’s here.

It’s a good thing he can, otherwise Nine, Twelve, and Lisa would’ve been SOL and lots of people would have died. Shibazaki is Nine’s trump card; he calls him to explain everything, and Shibazaki decides to believe him, because unlike the higher-ups and spooks, at least Nine is talking to him; letting him in on the loop. And once he’s in, he’s a potent ally. One great scene is how he even gets up the tower: by depending on his police colleagues to open a hole for him in their scrum with security.

zank74

Also terrific was how Nine threw out Five’s book by placing an extra piece on the board, namely Lisa. Yes, Twelve pushed for her involvement, but she herself made the choice to participate. Both she and Nine and Twelve’s plan revolves around turning all of Five’s ample surveillance against her. Ironically, it’s not Lisa, but Nine who’s the decoy—playing chess with Five and keeping her eyes on him.

Meanwhile, Twelve makes use of every camera blind spot to sneak through the airport, while Lisa sets off a flare in the bathroom to set off the fire alarms, which create a blip in the video feed. During that blip—unbeknownst to Five until it’s too late—the real-time footage becomes footage recorded minutes earlier. It’s a full team effort by Sphinx, and as I said, a satisfying setback for the irritatingly haughty Five.

zank75

But Five doesn’t stay down long, because, as she correctly remarks, Nine and Twelve’s new friend Lisa is a weakness, as illustrated when she’s picked up by Five’s henchman and tossed onto an otherwise empty plane with the bomb on board. I’ll admit, the moment Lisa is caught and when we realize how much trouble she’s in, I was crestfallen. But the show’s not going to kill Lisa today…so How Do They Get Out Of This One?

Very Carefully. The thrilling action set piece that concludes the episode brings everything together: Twelve’s fondness for Lisa; Nine’s sense of honor that has him helping Twelve save her; Lisa’s ability to follow directions and quickly make a cloth rope, and Nine’s ability to drive away from the plane before the explosion can engulf them. It’s some spellbinding, superbly directed stuff, and the Kanno soundtrack playing over everything really takes it to the next level, as her tunes tend to do.

zank76

In return for his help, Shibazaki only gets a passing glance at the masked Sphinx No. 1 through a window before driving off into the night. And Five is Not Happy, and has Lisa’s student ID in hand. Which means even if Lisa remains safe and hidden with Sphinx (not a sure thing at all), her mother, wretch that she is, is now at risk.

Can Lisa throw her life away completely? Can Sphinx continue to stay a step ahead of Five? Can Shibazaki get back on the case and reign Five in? What about the plutonium? When’s the beach episode? If there’s no second cour, only four episodes remain to tackle these questions and more. We await them with bated breath.

10_bravRABUJOI World Heritage List

Zankyou no Terror – 06

zank61

Let the great game begin…or at least the pretty good game. Just when Shibazaki was starting to sink his teeth into the case and gathering support from his colleagues, the FBI comes in with their Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) researcher, Five, along with “orders from on top” essentially neutering his investigation.

Unfortunately, Five is ruining more than Shibazaki’s momentum and the terrorists’ plans. She’s kinda hurting the show, too. The main reason being she’s a big, bland “Insane Genius Villain” (IGV) cliche plopped down in the middle of a story that was going just fine without her. Also, let it be known for now and all time, that Han Megumi is very, very ungood at English.

zank62

Han did a fine job as Hanano Sumire in Chihayafuru 2, but then, she wasn’t the primary antagonist who is called upon to deliver a good chunk of her dialogue in English; she’s just not up to it. That’s not Han-san’s fault; frankly, Watanabe had no business making her speak English. Far from adding “international texture”, it blows all the tension out of a scene like air from a balloon.

The color her English makes would surely give Twelve nightmares. With all the intricate preparation involved in the production, you’d think they’d have at least hired someone fluent in English to do the lines for someone who’s supposed to be fluent in English. Someday, anime studios and/or directors will figure this out, but not today. /End rant.

zank63

This week we have the rather unusual scenario of the terrorists who planted a bomb at an airport having to return to the scene to disarm it, since Five has the power and the will to detonate it, even at the potential cost of many lives, because she can just blame it on Sphinx. She’s also able to craft myth-riddles like them, which most the cops believe to be the real thing.

Most, but not all. Shibazaki, right on cue, smells something rotten in Denmark. The texts aren’t his guys. He’s technically under orders to do nothing, but he isn’t going to accept that. Hamura and three colleagues join him “for a meal.” As I said, his teeth are in this case, and he’s not letting go so easily. Please, show, let him expose Cupcake Five before she exposes Twelve and Nine!

zank655

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This episode is also notable for being the first in which Lisa is actually used in an op, albeit in a roughly improvised op in which Nine needs an unfamiliar face for Five’s cameras. She’s unfazed by images of carnage Nine tries to scare her with (as Twelve says, they didn’t intend for the bomb to go off), and declares she “wants to be one of them.”

Part of that is because there’s nothing else she thinks she can be. Another is that despite all the crap she’s gotten, she still wants to connect with people, and to experience the close bond she sees between Nine and Twelve. With this airport job, which looks like a doozy with its chessboard layout, she’s becoming a part of that family. (Thirteen? Zero?)

zank64

Shibazaki’s little rebellion, Nine’s feverish scurrying, Lisa’s participation and Twelve’s support of her all make this a very good episode, but we can’t call it great. Not in an episode with so much Five in it. It’s good to take your antiheroes down a peg or two, but you need the right kind of nemesis to do it, and so far, Five ain’t that. It feels like she’s in the wrong show.

8_brav

Zankyou no Terror – 05

zan51

Despite the seemingly random (to the public at large) destruction and disorder they’ve caused, Nine and Twelve’s activities as Sphinx have been highly controlled at every level. They’re not launching their attacks to kill or even hurt people. They’re sending messages Nine hopes Shibazaki will pick up on.

zan52

He does, but it leads him back to “old mistakes” and introduces the opportunity to make them all over again. But what neither Nine nor Shibazaki learn soon enough is that they’re no longer the only players on this board. The cat and mouse have been joined by another mouse, intent on stirring up shit and introducing chaos into what had thus far been a very orderly “courtship dance.”

zan53

That new mouse is Five, a distinctive-looking woman whom Nine remembers from his flashbacks to the facility. Nine never sees Five’s face or hears her voice in the present, but he knows it’s her, because of what goes down this week. Namely, she Ruins Everything: his latest terror plot ends up an even bigger, smokier mess than the one Lisa made in their kitchen.

zan54

Lisa was trying to make an honest effort to get Nine to no longer see her as useless, so she could stick around, as she has nowhere else to go. Nine is not happy to say the least that Twelve brought her home (I’m delighted, personally), but she’s too sick to be thrown out; even he’s not that heartless. But he does predict her getting tangled up with them can and will end badly.

zan55

It can’t be understated how disruptive a force Five truly was this week; not bad, considering we mostly see her painting her nails. She negates Sphinx’s use of cell carriers by causing a wholesale cell blackout. She baits Nine with a fake backdoor then hacks into his computer. After the bomb is allowed to go off, she sends a mass text saying “I found you.” It really shakes up the status quo nicely.

zan56

Meanwhile, Shibazaki has made the connection Nine wanted him to: the bombing targets were all big shots involved with the “Rising Peace Academy.” But targeting these people means he’ll have to investigate them, and they’re not the kind of people who want to be investigated, especially as some are cops themselves.

zan57

So Shibazaki is again in a situation where he can’t help digging too deep until he angers the wrong people. Both he and Sphinx have been outmaneuvered and their agency curtailed. And Five, the one responsible, is right there in the office with him, smiling away. Does Five want to catch and/or hurt Nine and Twelve, or “help” them? I’m just hoping she doesn’t turn out to be one-note chaotic evil.

9_brav

Zankyou no Terror – 04

zan41

“At the place where the king who solved the riddle received a scary prophecy, whose name would you carve on its entrance?” Let’s just say, if you’re a detective chasing Sphinx and don’t know anything about western mythology, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Shibazaki doesn’t have that problem. He’s locked in, or at least more locked in than anyone else on the case.

zan42

He visits a town where one of the suspected culprits held a part-time job, not so much for answers, but to get a lay of the same land they saw; see the same sights and smell the same smells…to sweat the trivial details that could lead to a breakthrough. Sphinx won’t be defeated if their mind can’t be penetrated. Shibazaki is trying to get in, and he may well be the only one who can work at something approaching their wavelength.

zan43

Shibazaki’s observations, intuition, and deductions were nothing short of brilliant this week; the rust has definitely been shaken off. But again, he finds the answer, but not the whole answer; he remains several moves behind. He doesn’t take one word or gesture for granted, which is why this time he knows it falls on them to stop the bomb, not merely find it, and certainly not storm what is believed to be the culprits’ hideout.

zan44

Therefore, even when Shibazaki realizes one of the maxims carved into the temple at Delphi—“know thyself”—is directed at him (he did put his face out there and issue a challenge), and thus the password to stop the bomb is his own name, ‘shibazaki”, it isn’t enough for victory, because his superiors sent EVERYONE to catch the guys, which is the very “cheating” Sphinx warned them not to try. The bomb that goes off is a bomb of information: all of the documents related to he department’s investigation are released onto the web.

zan45

Shibazaki figured out the first maxim was the password, but the other two maxims were also in play. “Nothing in excess” could be interpreted to mean “no storming our hideout with a cop army.” “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh” (i.e., “be careful what you promise”) is another stab at Shibazaki, who promised to bring Sphinx to justice. Shibazaki can know himself to a t, but if he can’t control the people around him, that justice will remain out of reach.

zan46

This is all fantastic stuff, but that isn’t even the whole episode, as we also get a big development in Lisa’s story. Rendered up to this point as a coldly-discarded loose end, she’s run away from home and from her awful mom, which sounds like a good idea until you realize Tokyo is not the safest place for a young lady to stroll about. She’s first accosted by curs, then cops, and Twelve can’t help himself, even though Nine definitely can, and urges Twelve to stay away from her.

zan47

Nine is right in that the more people you involve in your schemes, the greater the chance you’ll get caught, but Lisa is very much a ghost at the moment; a ghost only he and Twelve can see. I don’t think there’s any question that they can trust her, because she has literally no one else. Any shadow of doubt was erased when Twelve plucked Lisa from police clutches and onto the back of his motorcycle. Turns out someone would just take her away when she wanted them to.

zan48

The pure, unbridled exhilaration and jubilation; the wind in her hair and the glowing skyscrapers flying by overhead; smiling and laughing out loud for the first time she can remember…why would Lisa ever betray the person who gave her that? I’m not saying there isn’t the potential for her to end up being their Achilles’ Heel (with Shibazaki as Paris delivering the arrow)…but who said the Sphinx can’t take a waif in?

10_brav

Zankyou no Terror – 03

znt31

Twelve isn’t content to wow a bunch of dummies; he wants a counterpart: someone at least clever enough to decipher Sphinx’s riddles; someone to make a game of this, because when you’re raised in a government facility where love doesn’t exist, what is life but and elaborate games? And in any game, Twelve wants a worthy opponent.

znt32

Well, Mouse…Meet Cat: Shibasaki is officially on the case. Every bit the Japanese Lester Freamon, “natural police” who dug a little too deep a politically sensitive case years ago. Doing so exiled him to the archives and presumably cost him his family. We also learn he’s the son of Hibakusha, which combined with his wan complexion and haggard appearance make him an object of compassion.

znt33

Shibasaki and Twelve/Nine are a lot alike in that both had things taken from them, but they still survived and have been living on, in an almost dormant state. Now the Sphinx has awakened and is bearing its claws all over Tokyo. Shibasaki, once the force’s ace detective, nicknamed “Razor”, has been taken out of its sheath, and the rust is shaking off fast.

znt35

Just as a great comic can make a joke out of anything around him, on the spot, a great detective can find inspiration for the case anywhere around him, as long as he keeps his eyes and ears open. The spark that leads to solving the riddle comes from Mukasa, who defeats the “green dragon” on his online phone game. In the process, he won over a skeptic in the young hotshot Hamura, who would do well to watch and learn.

znt36

Shibasaki also muses that just as Mukasa is playing a cooperative multiplayer game, connecting with random people rather than playing alone, the young duo of Sphinx are similarly reaching out for a human connection, one sophisticated enough to solve their riddles and hang with them in a protracted chase that will sharpen both Sphinx’s claws and the Razor’s edge.

znt37

But no matter how wounded or lonely these kids may be, Shibasaki won’t forgive them if they use the plutonium trump card they stole, and retrieving it is paramount. Twelve and Nine seem amused by the old man’s righteous indignation, but they also seem happy to have a legit playmate.

znt34

As for Lisa, well, she’s mostly on the margins of this episode, deciding to run away from home. It seems unlikely she’ll be able to find her one-time saviors, but maybe Nine will find her. He seems more interested in her than Twelve, who seems more interested in an albino kid from the facility who haunts his daydreams.

9_brav

Zankyou no Terror – 02

znt21

Nine and Twelve are most definitely, as Shibasaki’s old cop partner/boss and current head of the terrorist investigation says, trying to pick a fight with the country. I can take an educated guess why: the country they’re picking a fight with is the one that made them the super-intelligent, resourceful terrorists they are. Or heck, maybe it’s not revenge after all, but just a simple challenge: “If there’s someone who can stop us, come forward; we’re waiting”.

znt22

Maybe the likes of Nine and Twelve can no longer go on living out their existences devoid of challenges or legitimate checks on their abilities. Someone does indeed answer the call, after a fashion: Shibasaki, the washed-up detective sharing a dark, dank office with another cop who spends most of his shift surfing the web, which is ironically how Shibasaki was exposed to the YouTube videos “Sphinx” posts before each attack. This week, they get all “Oedipal.”

znt23

This was a particularly literary episode of Zankyou no Terror, as the police pick apart that Sphinx nickname in an attempt to try to piece together the M.O. of their adversary. Interestingly, as brash and devastating as last week’s attack was (the Tocho cost taxpayers so much money it’s nicknamed “Tax Tower”), there were no fatalities, which if anything is an even greater sign these two kids know what they’re doing. It’s also easier to root for them when they’re doing all they can to minimize public harm.

znt24

Speaking of which, that first attack was also apparently the first time their desire to minimize casualties took a more specific form, vis-a-vis, Mishima Lisa. Nine doesn’t simply call her an innocent witness, but an accomplice. He twists the dagger by telling her there’s no going back. And yet there’s barely any further contact between them this week, save one scene where Twelve cruelly threatens Lisa, saying he’ll kill her if she puts a toe out of line. I guess he thought his Nine’s approach was too soft?

znt25

I like the idea that Twelve thinks Lisa needs a stronger message, because it means he sees more to her than a helpless, hapless little girl. I’m hoping to see more of the strength and guile still hidden within her that we caught a glimpse of last week when she took that leap of faith. It’s also encouraging that Shibasaki was very close to foiling their latest attack on a police station, after he dismissed the most obvious answer to their YouTube riddle.

znt26

Again, the details this week shine: Lisa being almost perpetually dunked in an inky darkness, so much so that when she’s finally out in the bleak sun she looks terribly vulnerable; the devious noodle delivery service-as-bomb delivery system; the Sophoclean analysis. There was also the feeling the mouse was still very much in control here, but the cat has woken up, stretched, and is alert and ready to hunt. How many more brilliant attacks can Sphinx pull off before they’re caught? Will Lisa become a true accomplice?

9_brav

Zankyou no Terror – 01

zan011

Finally we come upon the first episode of “Terror in Resonance”, by the end of which Nine and Twelve make a mini-9/11, and bring a third into their circle. To be honest, it left me a bit morally conflicted, though that’s probably the point. On the one hand, I cannot discount the show’s technical and artistic bona fides, what with Watanabe Shinichiro storyboarding and directing and Kanno Yoko handling the soundtrack. On the other, the supposed “heroes” just blew up half of the Tokyo City Hall.

zan012

After a thrilling, imaginative (snowmobile!), literally cold open in which two masked rogues steal some nuclear fuel from a snowy facility and the most visually complex and beautiful OPs of the season, we transition to a sweltering Summer day in present-day Tokyo. We see the faces of the gents who pulled of the nuke heist: the calm, cool, analytical Kokonoe Shin, and the warm, impish Kumi Fuyuji. In private they call each other “Nine” and “Twelve” respectively, and both the OP and a dream Nine has hints that they’re escaped test subjects.

zan013

Kokonoe and Kumi seem intent on adopting the appearance of normal lives. At their age, that means attending high school. There, they cross paths with Mishima Lisa, a plain girl who is bullied by her peers and her overbearing mother doesn’t seem to help her appetite. She’s trapped, helpless, and miserable. Both Kokonoe and Kumi see that in her, and it reminds them of the people they couldn’t save. So when she happens to be in the building they’re planning to blow up, they give her the choice: die, or join them.

zan014

Unsurprisingly, the desire not to die outweighs whatever reservations she has about becoming the boys’ “accomplice.” She takes a literal leap of faith into Kumi’s waiting arms, and into a new life. And it’s likely City Hall is just the beginning of Kokonoe and Kumi’s plans. So here we are, watching everything go down form the perspective of the “villains,” while also getting a brief taste of the detectives who picked up their scent by chance—a YouTube video.

zan015

This brooding, stark world was presented with nigh impeccable artistry and care; this show is right up there with Aldnoah and DMMd as the Eye Candy Kings of Summer. It also challenges us to root for terrorists while only giving us the slightest hint that they may be justified or at least understandably motivated in their illegal and ultimately murderous activities. So what drives them, why are they so good at terror stuff, what are their goals, and how does Lisa fit into the equation? Moral qualms aside, I won’t deny I’m excited to find out.

9_brav

Black Bullet – 11

black111

The first part of this episode is a perfect example of the adage “this is going to get worse before it gets better.” The conventional military predictably folds like a house of cards before a far larger and very organized Gastrea army led not only by their “king” Aldebaran, but their equally-dangerous “queen”, Pleiades, which possesses “The Spear of Light”, a mercury-based beam weapon that makes quick work of the humans.

black112

Rentaro’s adjuvant is able to do some damage, but at the end of the first night, half of Tokyo’s forces are gone, converted to Gastrea and added to the enemy’s ranks. I’m a little fuzzy on why the Gastrea didn’t press on and finish the job—they certainly were winning—but they withdraw, and Rentaro & Co. have at least one more night to live. But then He’s summoned by Commander Gado, who cites him for dereliction of duty.

black113

That’s right: even though the actions of Rentaro’s adjuvant keep the Gastrea from flanking the rest of their forces, and play a role in at least a temporary withdrawal, the fact remains he disobeyed orders to hold his position. I actually found it refreshing that, for once, the hero doesn’t just get a slap on the wrist for acting independently, though it’s clear Gado has ulterior motives for doing so. Instead, he’s sent on a suicide mission to destroy Pleiades.

black114

Kisara suggests they run away. They’re strong, after all. But there’s nowhere to run where they won’t be under constant attack but Tokyo. They’ll run out of varanium bullets; his bionic parts will be trashed and need repair; Kisara needs dialysis, for crying out loud. Still, even if the lives they led were short and violent, at least they’d be lived protecting each other, not a city full of racist ingrates.

black115

Truth be told, the battle that ultimately led to Rentaro’s “court martial” was a bit…meh, perhaps a factor of things escalating a bit too quickly and the tactics of the adjuvant seeming a bit disjointed, as if the producers had a really big battle in mind but didn’t really plan it out when it was time to present it. It felt a bit rushed and half-assed, and when it suddenly ended and returned to a place of safety, it was jarring.

black116

What actually redeemed the episode, besides the fact Rentaro actually got punished for disobeying orders, was that his one-man anti-Pleiades expedition leads to him running into Hiruko Kagetane and his huge-eyed daughter Kohina. And here I thought he was dead and she was in custody! Their appearance, and not as straight-up foes, gives Rentaro more of a chance against Plei-chan, but it’s oddly nice to see them again, as they’re as kooky as they are lethal.

7_brav

Black Bullet – 10

black101

Since the beginning of their careers as a civil officer/promoter and initiator, Rentaro and Enju have struggled to reconcile their duties with the feelings of bitterness and futility that come from protecting a population that not only outwardly hates and oppresses the cursed children. After the horrifying events of this week’s episode, they’ve never been in a stronger position to dust their palms and walk the fuck away; letting rabble to be damned.

black102

This week, the Gastrea remain entirely, forebodingly off-camera, despite the fact they’re only days from breaching Tokyo’s defensive perimeter, but Rentaro and Kisara continue their classes with the cursed orphans. They’ve little else to do, and the kids could use the human contact. Notably, they’re portrayed just as the innocent, normal little girls they are; including developing puppy love for the strapping young teacher.

black103

When they’re told to write about their dreams for the future, none of them write “I don’t have one,” but it was one of several bad signs that whether the Gastrea are fought off or not, and no matter how much spare time Rentaro and Kisara put into it, nothing good was going to become of the poor wretched girls. I just didn’t expect their fate to arrive so soon, or so brutally.

black104

Two nights before that awful event, Rentaro joins Kisara on a walk on a beautiful starlit night, and they even lie beside each other staring up at it. Kisara professes her happiness with the lives they’re living and the family they’ve built, and she’s terrified of losing it. Rentaro assures her he’ll protect her and everyone else. It’s a truly lovely moment when their awkward hand-hold transitions to tightly but tenderly linking fingers. Neither recoils in embarrassment; they simply enjoy that moment.

black105

Things get uglier and uglier from then on. The next day, Rentaro is just in time to save the blind urchin from a lynching. The day after that, Rentaro and Enju arrive at the site of school, only to find a smoldering crater. His students, all eighteen of them, were killed by a varanium-laced bomb. To recall all those smiling girls full of life and hope for the future, and then to see their shrouded corpses neatly arranged on the floor of the morgue…it’s just a rough moment.

black106

It’s more than enough to open a bottomless well of despair for Rentaro and most definitely in Enju, who once again has has seen far too much hatred and death in her short life. And like I said, they’d be well within their rights to refuse to lift one finger to help the people who did this, or did nothing to stop it. It takes a call from Kisara, Rentaro’s rock, to try to explain to him why they need to do their duty as civil officers.

black107

She says that if they’re successful in saving the city from the Gastrea, some of the people they saved may actually be grateful, and let go of their hatred of the cursed children who saved them. Kisara isn’t naive enough to say all of them will be, or even a large number. But she realizes that exacting revenge or letting the city burn won’t be any more just than what happened to their ill-fated students. Even if they only enact a little change, that could make a significant difference in the lives of the cursed.

black108

Or, if Rentaro and Enju can’t fight for the people who hate her and hurt her sight unseen, then they should just fight for themselves; for each other; for the people they hold dear. There’s little time to grieve, as Monolith 32 collapses a day ahead of schedule, possibly aided by the haunting lament sung by the blind girl…the one who makes Enju and Tina look very, very lucky. With the life she’s led, I really can’t fault her for wanting to speed the city’s demise (again, if that’s what she did), along with her own.

9_brav

Stray Observations:

  • Some may say this episode verged on the gratuitous, exploitative, manipulative, or even maudlin. I’d have to disagree. No matter what awful situation is going down in which part of the world, the children are always the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer the most. This episode portrayed that perfectly, and its emotional weight felt earned.
  • Kisara finds out her father had something to do with Monolith 32’s construction. The fact none of the other monoliths are deteriorating suggests shortcuts may have been taken in erecting 32. It may even have been meant to fail.
  • No Shiba Miori flirting this week. Yeah, I didn’t really miss her; her comedic antics would’ve been a bit inapproprate this week.

Mawaru Penguindrum – 22 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 10 Dec 2011 – Hikari and Hibari visit the Takakura residence to thank Himari for the scarves, but she’s no longer there. She took off to try to convince Kanba not to throw his or anyone elses’ lives away for her sake. He won’t listen, and would sooner turn the world to ash than let her die. Masako also tries to get him to snap out of his obsession, but he starts an operation of car bombings that get him surrounded by police. He heads down into the bowels of Tokyo to escape, but they’re there too, and he gets shot. Masako decides to protect him by acting as bait.

Kanba’s stint as a terrorist leader is short-lived this week, as he initiates several brazen attacks with his car bomb smartphone bowling app (!), and essentially escapes too slowly. Neither of his siters want him to continue to serve the “curses” of Sanetoshi and the dead Takakuras. But Kanba is a stubborn kid, and he’ll to absolutely anything to save Himari. Her and Masako’s feelings just bounce off him. He’ll die for her…and by episode’s end he’s well on his way to just that.

Kanba, Shoma, Himari, Masako, Mario: it would seem fate was against all of them. Even Momoka couldn’t escape her ultimate fate of oblivion. Love is certainly losing out to fate and curses at this point, but we’re not about to throw in the towel and lebel this series as fatalist or pessimistic. Love, and life, are down, but not out. Double-H didn’t just show up at random at this point in the story: they have to have some deeper purpose.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Mawaru Penguindrum – 20

Flashbacks recount the story of how Shoma met Himari. While his father was giving motivational speeches to the members of the Penguin/Kiga Force, Shoma happened upon her. They take care of a kitten together, but it’s killed by the rules. Himari heads for the Child Broiler to be made invisible, but Shoma saves her. Back in the present, the Kiga force continues to plan, and Kanba is intimately involved.

That was a bona fide tear-jerker. This was one of Mawaru Penguindrum’s best episodes, a feat considering week after week this series has rocked harder than anything else out there. Last week it said Shoma and Himari were soulmates, which threw us off, and this week it just came out and flat-out proved it without a shadow of a doubt. Himari would be long gone if Shoma hadn’t chosen her. The thing is, Shoma, Kanba and Masako, whatever they are to each other, were the children of members of the Penguin Force. Shoma blames himself for Himari’s fate because he’s the one who brought her into the “family”, i.e. the cult of penguin-loving eco-terrorists whose “survival strategy” isn’t limited to buying only local and organic.

The group believes they live in a bleak, “frozen” world full of corruption, divided between the chosen and unchosen. The unchosen die, after becoming invisible, as Himari almost did. (We’re not sure what good bombing (or apples) will do about this). Speaking of invisible apples, Ringo has had a much smaller role as we hit the home stretch. This is such a weird show, making us believe for so long the Takakuras are biological siblings, then setting up two love triangles – Shoma/Himari/Ringo, and Kanba/Himari/Masako. One of many things we’re still pondering: is the world and everything we saw this week the way it is because Momoka was killed? Was she the only one who could’ve made it better?

Rating: 4