Spy x Family – 14 – Anya Saves the Future

Yor obliterates Keith’s heavy with a single kick, but he still has a dog. But when he tries to sic the shepherd on Yor and it bears its teeth, Yor out-intimidates it and sends the dog running. Keith runs too, but Yor stays with a still frightened Anya, then hugs and comforts her. The talking-to can wait until they get home. What a good mom.

Mister Dog has another vision that Anya picks up on: one of Papa suddenly no longer being in the family, and Anya discovering Loid’s lifeless body in a  pile of rubble. There’s a clock tower and a bell that tolls just before an explosion. Anya has to stop this future from happening, but she can’t tip Yor off to her powers, so she mounts Mr. Dog and runs off on her own yet again.

Yor calls the cops to arrest Keith’s unconscious comrade, and that tips off WISE, who descend upon all of the student-terrorists but Keith. They thumb their noses at their initial interrogators, but then Handler walks in and asks them what they want. When they say “war”, she delivers a  truly chilling speech about what war really is:

Have any of you actually killed a person before? Have you ever been killed by anyone? Have you ever lost a limb in an attack? Have you ever heard bones being smashed? Have you ever smelled festering flesh? Have you ever seen your parents or siblings crushed in a crumbling building right before your eyes? Have you ever seen a piece of your lover’s flesh stuck to a wall? Have you ever been so hungry, you tried to bite into a tree? Have you ever stewed human flesh in a pot? Have you ever had someone close to you deny your enemy’s humanity so they could continue the killing, only to become so mentally broken after the conflict is over that they weep with regret and shame, vomit, and then eventually…take their own life? Apparently, you’ve learned nothing of war at your university … you utter children.

America has a history of university students protesting recent wars deemed unnecessary that were started by those who don’t truly grasp its costs. My own mom was tear-gassed and four of her classmates killed at Kent State protesting the Vietnam War.

Perhaps out of a sense of national zeal and boredom being on the sidelines, these Ostanian students decided that war would be fun and are trying to start one with Westalis. Well, as Handler makes perfectly plain even to them, there’s nothing fun about war. All the glory and nobility turns to ash and maggots without fail.

That Handler has such a sobering speech like this in an episode where a grade-schooler riding a big floofy dog preserves the peace by scribbling ketchup on the door rigged with a improvised bomb really gets to the heart of Spy x Family’s essential duality. Half of it is family slice-of-life and comedy, but the other half is the very serious, sometimes desperate struggle to prevent war from destroying that family, and millions of other families.

I love how Anya works through the problem, along with obstacles like not knowing how to read an analog clock, or all the wires on the bomb being black, all while Mr. Dog lends a helping paw or boost when needed, even if he’s not 100% wise to what’s going on. It’s entirely likely that smart as he is for a dog, he can’t make as much sense of his future visions as Anya can, making their collaboration vital.

With her ketchup warning heeded and the clock tower explosion prevented, Loid returns to the family in Mr. Dog’s vision, Back to the Future-style. WISE and Loid then turn to protecting the foreign minister from the still-at-large Keith. This is accomplished, like so many other gambits, by Loid disguising himself as the minister and leading an unwitting Keith on a wild goose chase.

Keith, who is unassailably a villain due to his desire to not only start a war, but his willingness to discard his beautiful, intelligent, and loyal dog as a bomb, thinks he’s got the minister right where he wants him, but gets wise to his tail when WISE agents shoot at him (and honestly, really should have been able to hit him, even in a moving vehicle. Those Ostanian cars ain’t that fast).

When Keith catches up to the “minister’s” abandoned car, he sends the dog after him while continuing in the car. He soon finds out that Westalis’ foreign minister is extremely spry for being a “60-year-old geezer”, as he’s able to evade the shepherd.

Eventually, Loid is done running, rips off his mask, and turns his gun on the lunging dog, to whom he apologizes for getting it mixed up in the affairs of humans. Handler AKA Sylvia’s words solidified his resolve to prevent war whenever it threatens to spring up. Loid may never know that Anya saved his life and began the effort to save the peace from these misguided students, but he sure as hell is going to finish it.

Spy x Family – 13 – The Dog Borfs for Thee

After a brief recap of the premise and a nifty, breezy new OP, SpyFam gets right back into the swing of things, as Loid and Yor take Anya on an ooting to adopt a dog as a reward for her gaining her first of eight Stellae. The first pet shop is also the location of his contact, who has a new mission for him. Loid feigns digestive distress and tells Yor and Anya to go ahead while he’s whisked away to meet with Handler.

There’s a plot by terrorists at Berlint University planning to assassinate the Foreign Minister of Westalis in hopes of starting a war, but one of them has already been caught, and Loid barely pulls off the disguise of his leader Keith to get the kid to spill the beans about their operation and hideouts. Turns out they’re going to use…dog bombs, which doesn’t seem like the most efficient means of assassination.

One of these dogs is a gigantic fluffy white dog that doesn’t say “woof” or “bark” but “borf”, which is a lovely bit of onomatopoeia. But this is no ordinary dog, but one with the power of precognition, able to save a running child from a falling sign. Even without some hints that this dog was gong to join the family, it’s clear he and Anya are destined to meet.

That first meeting happens through glass as Anya is in a dog adoption event in a convention area with Yor. But she can tell there’s something about that dog; she sees her family when she reads his mind, and despite Yor telling her not to wander off, wander off is what Anya does.

Her search for the large pup takes her across the street, where she not only finds him (and a host of other poor good boys and girls), but stumbles upon the latest hideout of Keith and his minister-wasting dog bombers. When they realize she’s heard all of their very loud plotting, Keith wastes no time brandishing a pocketknife with which he intends to silence her.

That’s when the ol’ borfer bites through his leash and puts himself between Anya and the bad guys. Yes, he wimps out and later hides behind her, but his precognitive ability saves them both, as he uses the distraction of a phone call (warning the terrorists that someone leaked their plot) to get Anya away.

Anya, who is tiny, is able to ride the great pup like a horse through the streets, and while Yor overhears Anya’s voice and Anya asks the dog to go back to the adoption place, the dog just keeps on running, and Anya starts to revel in the excitement, determined to crack the case as Starlight Anya.

Alas, the dog’s sense of direction is poor, and they end up running right back into the baddies’ clutches. Keith delegates the killing of Anya to his henchman, who tells her no hard feelings and reaches out, presumably to strangle her. That obviously doesn’t happen because Mama Yor arrives and kicks him so hard he pinballs against the alley walls ten times.

Keith is gobsmacked by this sudden feat of strength, while Yor has the wrong idea: in her mind, these aren’t assassins trying to silence a witness to their dirty deeds, but a band of creeps trying to kidnap Anya and make her their bride. No doubt Keith will soon wish he never antagonized the diminutive coral-haired young lady. Or as she might say, he’s in deep shit.

Lycoris Recoil – 10 – Beyond the Tower of Lies

When Chisato catches Mizuki and Kurumi researching some kind of solution for her artificial heart problem, she can tell they’re not looking forward to their own paths. She urges Mizuki to go to that ripped hunk she met online, and Kurumi to move to Germany, which she believes to have the strongest board game game.

Takina is back at DA as one of the worker bees, but is still Takina and still has only one goal in mind while she’s there: find Yoshimatsu and a means to repair Chisato’s heart. Of course, Yoshimatsu is now a captive of Majima, who feels bad for the raw deal Chisato got.

Majima may be focused on getting rid of the DA, but Alan is next. and while Yoshimatsu is fine with Majima raising hell since he’s living up to his full potential as Alan planned, he’s not about to reveal any information about the Institute, even if it helps Majima progress further into the perfect villain he was apparently always meant to be.

The last we see of Mizuki and Kurumi, they give Chisato an understated goodbye, then sit in their airport-bound taxi. I don’t believe for a second they’re going to hop on any planes, particularly if either of them catch wind of the news-making events that follow in the episode.

Takina uses both her rebellious streak nurtured by Chisato and her former firing “for killing too many people” to visit and question one of the captured arms dealers, who lets her know that “Alan” wanted the guns to begin with. Could this be a super-long game being played by Alan, with Majima as their ideal puppet, despite thinking he’s simply doing what he wants?

Kusunoki makes a rare appearance in the field with her Lycoris when they raid Majima’s hideout, but he’s already gone, and verbally and philosophically spars with Kusunoki about how true peace cannot be thrust upon a society by a Machiavellian leader, but earned by its citizens.

On the day of the Enkuboku Tower completion ceremony, we learn when Robota helps him hijack the tower’s first broadcast that he intends to prove that theory with a game of sorts. The thousand guns he acquired have been distributed throughout the city, and once they’re all found by those who have no idea what to do with them, blood will flow and force a pampered society into entering the crucible of chaos needed to achieve true peace, free of shadow organizations like the DA or Alan.

Throughout all this, Chisato and Mika have simply been hanging out at the closed café, where Mika presents her with her coming-of-age gift: a gorgeous yukata, as well as some coming-of-age truth: Yoshimatsu only agreeed to save her life if Mika promised to make her into the ultimate hitman. He never told her the truth because her love and idolization of her “Mr. Savior” was what helped fuel her rise into the finest Lycoris, as well as one of the finer people Mika’s ever known.

Chisato takes the news well, and assures Mika that no matter who Mr. Yoshi truly is or always has been, her love and respect and gratitude for her two dads will never fade, and nothing she learns will ever change that. But she does want to meet Yoshi one last time and hear the truth from his mouth. For this reason, just as Takina is back with the DA for Chisato’s sake, Chisato accepts Kusunoki’s call to deploy, puts on her red battle uniform, and heads out for perhaps her final mission as a Lycoris.

Kusunoki called Chisato under pressure from her boss that she was losing control of the situation and risking the exposure of the Lycoris to the public. Majima’s broadcast may have been cut off, but not before damage potentially fatal to the DA’s secrecy is done. Chisato is believed to be the only Lycoris who can stop Majima, but I suspect her strict orders to kill him will not be obeyed to the letter.

Going forward? After last week’s final date that felt like closure, it’s still very much uncertain if Chisato’s heart will be fixed (or if she’ll get a new one) and survive to the end of the show. It’s also uncertain that Mizuki and Kurumi are off the board for the remainder, while it’s a good bet Chisato and Takina will fight side-by-side on the battlefield before all’s said and done.

Hell, there may even be a reversal where Chisato survives and Takina is the one to lose her life in the ensuing final battle with Majima. Or maybe the DA and/or Alan will be exposed and stay exposed, which may be ultimately for the best for the long-term health of Japan’s society. With this tower showdown comes a tower packed with possibilities. While ever weary of who might be lost on the way, I look forward to watching how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Lycoris Recoil – 02 – Gathering Acorns

LycoReco takes on a job involving two feuding hackers. Robota wants to be the top dog in Tokyo, so he hires a semi-pro assassination team to take out his rival Walnut. It’s Chisato and Takina’s job is simple on paper: Keep Walnut Alive.

Takina watches in bemusement as Chisato treats this serious, hazardous mission like she treats any other day: with casual cheer, playfulness, and joie de vivre. A jelly drink packet may be quick and efficient, but it’s no substitute for a limited express bento.

When they approach the parking lot and find a very loud red Lexus LFA, Chisato is excited and really wants to drive, only for Walnut to arrive in a modest (and far less conspicuous) Honda City. Less conspicuous is Walnut’s squirrel mascot suit.

When Robota hacks the Honda (sidebar: not sure why, a car that age shouldn’t be connected to the internet at all, but I guess in this particular world it is), Walnut works to undo the hack while Takina’s marksmanship is again tested as she must take the drone out while the car is airborne.

Walnut manages to mess up the Robohack just before the car plunges into the ocean, but once everyone exits the car it slides into the water. They head into an abandoned supermarket, which is a perfect place for the kill squad to ambush them. Fortunately for Takina, Walnut’s suitcase containing all worldly possessions is also bulletproof.

Takina and Walnut alike proceed to watch in awe as Chisato not only dodges machine gun fire, but walks towards it and takes out the baddies one by one with her non-lethal rubber rounds. But when their leader (who has no love for Robota, just their money) suffers a serious wound, Chisato has Takina and Walnut go ahead as she administers triage.

Neither Takina nor the wounded guy understand why Chisato is doing this, because both of them feel like getting wounded or killed is part of the game. Not so for Chisato; a mission isn’t a true success unless it ends with no one dead. Unfortunately, there are still members of the kill squad outside when Walnut stupidly walks out first…and gets riddled with bullets and dies in a pool of blood.

The mood is somber on the ambulance, as all the fun Chisato was having now feels wholly inappropriate and unprofessional. It’s Takina, however, who apologizes for letting Walnut go out first, only for Chisato to tell her it’s not her fault. Sometimes things just go wrong. You can’t win them all.

Except…Walnut isn’t dead.

Suddenly they start moving and pulls off the squirrel head to reveal Mizuki, who was posing as Walnut all along. The suit is not only bulletproof, but full of bloody squibs to put on a convincing show. The real Walnut is a tiny girl who was hiding in the suitcase all along; she’s safe and sound while their adversary believes she’s dead. The mission is a success and no one is dead, which means it’s a win in Chisato’s book too.

It was a fun switcheroo, as like Chisato and Takina Mizuki and Mika had me going right up until she pulled off the squirrel head. The mood back at LycoReco is thus happy and laid back, only briefly interrupted by Yoshi-san, a regular at the café who also ordered the hit on Walnut, and Walnut herself, AKA Kurumi, who is now living at the café in exchange for her hacking services.

While I’m sure Yoshi has nothing good planned for the Lycoris, I admire Chisato for simply living her life and doing her job on her terms. It almost went sideways, but as she tells Takina, their “enemies” on this job were only the enemy today. They could be clients, allies, or even friends down the line. Valuing life in every interaction is in their stragtegic interests.

The episode ends on a mischievous note as Takina removes a hair tie and prepares to playfully fire it at Chisato, only for Chisato to dodge and the band to hit lil’ Kurumi square in her big forehead. It’s good to see Takina letting her hair down a bit (literally and figuratively), and the addition of Kurumi to this quirky little family is a welcome one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Lycoris Recoil – 01 (First Impressions) – Girls, Guns, and Good Coffee

This episode opens on Tokyo at dawn, something I’ve had the privilege to experience (thanks, jet lag): calm, quiet, peaceful, before the hustle and bustle of the morning rush. Our co-star Chisato recites the honorable mission of orphans like her highly trained to be Lycoris, agents of peace and public safety, dressed as normal schoolgirls and  killing would-be terrorists before they can pull off their plots.

The recitation sounds like it’s coming from a true believer at first, but as we get to know Chisato, there’s a sarcasm to the purity of the words. She’s been summoned to a deteriorating situation: other Lycoris have been pinned down in a arms deal bust gone wrong, and one of the girls has a gun to her head.

Before Chisato can intervene, Inoue Takina picks up the biggest gun she can find and empties the magazine at the arms dealers, ending the threat but almost killing her comrade.

For her reckless actions, Takina is transferred out of DA to a far more casual indie operation, which appears to be a normal classy café. There, she meets Chisato, an elite Lycoris who also happens to be as chipper and extroverted as Takina is guarded and serious. Your typical odd couple is thus forged.

Chisato shows Takina the ropes as she goes on her normal weekday rounds, which seem more like a sequence of chores. Chisato clarifies to Takina that unlike the more militaristic and geo-political mission of the more official DA, “LycoReco” outfit is focused on helping individual people, whoever they may be, as putting smiles on people’s faces is also the job of a Lycoris.

Chisato and Takina’s first such mission together is given to them by a metro police detective (and café regular). It’s billed at first as a woman with a stalker, but when the girls inspect the Insta photo that started the trouble, they see that the arms deal that was swept under the rug as a gas explosion is visible in the background of the photo. Their client Saori isn’t being stalked by a creeper, but by those arms dealers.

Chisato suggests they stay with Saori and have a pajama party, and she runs back to the cafe to get her stuff, telling Takina to keep the client safe and “value life”. Instead, when Takina notices a van following, she uses Saori as bait in order to shoot up the van with Saori in it with live ammunition. Thankfully, Chisato swoops in with non-lethal ammo, quick thinking, and quick action to pacify the situation. No one dies, and Saori won’t have to worry about unwanted attention.

In the midst of this, Chisato test Takina’s marksmanship by having her take out a drone spying on their activities. This gets the attention of some dude with the “Allen Institute” which suggest there will be a lot of in-the-shadows spy derring-do in this show, with agents like Chisato and Takina likely having to choose whether to remain pawns in a greater, more sinister scheme than simply helping people.

I’m sure the details of all this will become clearer, but in the meantime Chisato commits to helping get Takina back into the good graces of the DA while also reveling in how cute she is in the LycoReco Café uniform. Splitting time between brewing coffee and doing girls-with-guns stuff makes for an intriguing premise with shades of Railgun without the superpowers (though the twisted up Sky Tree suggest weirder stuff may come into play later). As is typical of A-1 productions, the show also looks great, which definitely adds to the appeal. I’m sold so far!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 10 – DADDIN’ UP

Once aboard the heavily armed Bureau submarine, Yuri and Zack’s criminal records are expunged with a swipe of Merooro’s iPad, and he leads the quartet to a briefing room for a briefing. It’s an infodump that both explains and justifies the existence of the Bureau of Regulation as an entity tasked with humanity’s survival, and casts Shibito as a chaotic cabal terrorists intent on “saving” the world by destroying it.

As Merooro continues the tour, he reveals the the ship doubles as an ark for plants and animals displaced by the effects of the current “great disaster” that threatens the Labyrinth—and is indeed a greater threat than Shibito. Memenpu is impressed, and Gagumber doesn’t like how much she gets along with the “smug dandy,” whom he later learns has a wife and kid of his own, but his duties as a Regulator keep them apart.

When Memenpu half-jokingly says she wishes Merooro’d been her dad instead, Gagumber goes topside to drink a 12-pack of brewskis and sulk. Then Shubito very suddenly attacks just when Memenpu is on her own retrieving her stuffed goat Tony. Her isolation is perfectly timed with the arrival of the masked Muro, who last week resolved to kill Memenpu, whom she refers to as a “rainbow child”. Gagumber is still moping and almost leaves Memenpu to Merooro to save, but Zack says he’d better dad the fuck up or he really will lose her.

Gagumber is in time to stop Muro from killing Memenpu on the spot, but not before Muro’s boss arrives in a bot. Muro, who loses her mask and is revealed to be a young girl, incapacitates Gagumber long enough to grab Memenpu and hitch a ride on her boss’ bot. Fortunately, Merooro gets topside fast enough to delay Muro long enough for Gagumber to regroup in his bot.

A bot-on-bot battle ensues until there’s another cave-in and a Kaiju arrives, which Muro and her Boss use as cover to withdraw for now. The boss is confident they’ll get Memenpu “next time”. This leaves Gagumber and the Bureau to deal with the Kaiju, who almost stomps on Memenpu (girl just can’t stay out of mortal danger).

She’s shoved aside by Merooro, who gets seriously injured in the process, but not mortally so. As the ship dives to escape the Kaiju and Merooro is rushed to the infirmary, Gagumber holds his hand. He still hates the smug dandy’s guts, but hates those who’d hurt Memenpu a whole lot more, and is grateful Merooro, a fellow dad, saved his girl when he couldn’t. In short, Gagumber grows a little…even if he’s still mostly a big idiot.

As for why she loves Tony so much, as Merooro tells him before he heads off to find her, Tony is her “precious treasure” simply because Gagumber bought it as a birthday gift. He never really had any reason to worry about Merooro “stealing” his status as dad, as long as he actually dadded up when the time came, which he most assuredly did.

That included taking one horse-kick of a punch from Muro, both the origins and motivations of which remain a mystery, but hopefully not for long. After all, why unmask an antagonist if you’re not going to eventually let us know more about her?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 05 – The Machine City

As last week marked the end of the Space Hotel Sunrise operation, it was anyone’s guess where and when Vivy would end up next time. This week begins with one hell of a hook: an apparently human man and an AI woman getting hitch in a gorgeous derelict cathedral on a lush green island. We pull out from that timeline and are presented with what must be that same island, only it has been developed into a futuristic floating city.

Five years, one month, and nine days have passed since the Sunrise incident. Estella was lauded for her heroics as the quintessential benevolent AI. Vivy is more popular than ever, headed ever closer to that main stage. Suddenly Matsumoto arrives in his floating cube form. The first step of Vivy’s newest op is to save the life of AI researcher Dr. Saeki Tatsuya from pursuing Toak agents. Due to his position, Saeki recognizes Vivy as the Diva AI.

Once Toak is dealt with and Saeki is safe, they pull over by the water where an island looms on the horizon. That island is the Metal Float, the world’s first unmanned offshore plant built and run by AIs and only AIs. Immediately I thought of the Machine City Zero One from The Matrix, as well as the reclusive advanced nation of Esthar from FFVIII.

Dr. Saeki puts it simply: That island’s overkill for this era. Matsumoto confirms its present advanced state has come about twenty years earlier than the “official history”. Vivy, Matsumoto, and Saeki are in agreement that the island must be shut down if the future annihilation of humans by AI is to be avoided. He takes them to his home where his AI wife Grace is waiting, and shows them a storage device that contains a program that will shut Metal Float down.

Matsumoto informs Vivy that Dr. Saeki’s wife Grace is one of the Sisters (though insists it’s a coincidence they keep running into them on their ops) and that they are the first human-AI couple to marry, and as such are celebrities. It’s a certainty that if they are to succeed in this operation and shut the island down, it will likely doom their marriage.

Nevertheless, they press on, taking a boat to the island where they are met by a WALL-E-like robot whose designation is soon shortened to “M”, and welcomes Vivy, who is registered as an “Inspection Team Researcher”, and Matsumoto her assistant.

Vivy can’t contain how awed she is by what AIs have been able to create on this island without any human involvement. Even Matsumoto admits it would be hard for any AI to deny that seeing such a place makes them feel something. Indeed, that very something may be what pushes future AI to turn on humanity. The Metal Float is truly a world all their own; a Utopia and crowning achievement of AI. And she’s there to shut it all down.

Even so, there are already facilities pre-built for the express purpose of accommodating future human visitors—Vivy and Matsumoto being the first visitors of any kind—and M and his compatriots throw a surprise party to welcome them, singing a song sung by Vivy (i.e. Diva) herself.

The affable visit is suddenly interrupted when M’s eyes start flashing red as he reports armed targets approaching the island. Toak has sent craft by both air and sea to capture the secrets Metal Float possesses.

Matsumoto tells Vivy to attach Saeki’s storage device to M so he can force-connect to the CPU. Meanwhile M and his compatriots spring into action, repurposing themselves as kamikaze missiles to destroy the approaching Toak craft.

Vivy dives into the ocean to rescue one of the Toak agents, who turns out to be Kakitani…again. She saved him when they first met, and Elizabeth saved him from dying on the Sunrise. At some point you’d expect this guy to come around and rethink his stance on AI. Meanwhile, in the heart of the island, another Sister seems primed to wake up. As expected, this operation is about to take some unexpected turns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 04 – Be Our Guest

In a cryptic and haunting Blade Runner-esque cold open, Estella holds a bird in her hand beside a second caged bird, and when she smiles, another AI lying on a medical bed smiles as well. Researchers’ voices report they’ve “failed”.

The second AI ends up in a junkyard, surrounded by other discarded AIs in various states of disrepair. A light shines on her once-beautiful, now-ruined face: four armed men have come for her, to give her a new mission.

Vivy decides to lie to Yuzuka about knowing her sister, insisting she’s mistaken. Before Yuzuka can argue, the entire ship shakes. Estella informs all hands that a malfunction of unknown origin has occurred, and all guests are to head to the main hall as a staging area for evacuation.

The crash of the Sunrise is beginning, but Matsumoto is confused; it’s far too early. Events have diverged too far from history. Then Vivy and Yuzuka meet Estella in a corridor, and immediately after Vivy notices she’s not wearing a staff bracelet, Estella attacks her.

After doing some digging, Matsumoto discovers the culprits behind “Estella’s” manipulation and the impending crash of the Sunrise: the anti-AI terrorist group Toak, led by an operative from fifteen years ago.

Vivy and Yuzuka escape the evil “Estella” double and soon find the beheaded LeClerc. Vivy removes her ruined arm and attaches LeClerc’s functioning one, then asks Matsumoto to prepare the anti-personnel combat program he tried to forcefully upload before. Yuzuka on the verge of wigging out, so Vivy gently presses their foreheads together and calmly promises her she’ll get her safely back to Earth without fail.

Upon receiving the combat program, Vivy’s entire aura shifts. She’s still Vivy, just considerably more badass. Ditching her glasses and putting her jacket back on, she heads out into a corridor and the Toak agents are absolutely no match for her superior speed and strength as she dodges bullets and delivers vicious blows.

Vivy revives the real Estella in her office, and when Vivy says the terrorists have control of the Sunrise and are bringing her down, Estella realizes only one person besides herself could make that possible: her younger twin sister, Elizabeth. They were created to determine if copying over one AI’s accumulated experience data to another AI would produce a perfect clone of the original. This puts the cold open into context.

Meanwhile in the control room, Elizabeth sets the drop trajectory to crash the Sunrise, just as her Toak “master” recognizes Vivy on a security monitor; turns out he’s Kakitani, the operative whose life she saved fifteen years ago. As Matsumoto would probably put it, her “unnecessary calculation” resulted in Kakitani coming up with this new scheme.

But Beth has some unnecessary calculations of her own, sedating Kakitani and warning the other Toak agents to take him and hurry to the evacuation ship. She wasn’t prepared to let her master sacrifice himself.

She leaves them, ditches her blonde wig, and changes into more comfortable threads for her confrontation with Estella and Vivy. Beth cops to convincing LeClerc that Estella killed the previous owner, giving her all the systems access she needed. Vivy uses her combat skills to protect Estella, and Matsumoto infects Beth with a reformatting virus that affects her motor skills.

Unlike Estella, the free bird who had a mission, Beth had nothing until Kakitani brought her in. She considers herself Master’s “lifekeeper”, defining him as the only member of “humankind” it became her mission to protect. There’s no doubt she got the short shrift, but Vivy and Matsumoto simply don’t have time for the sisters to hash it out, so Vivy headbutts Beth, knocking her out.

In the control room, Estella discovers that the die is cast: Sunrise’s mass won’t allow it to pull out of its descent. Even worse, it’s headed not for the ocean, but a coastal city. To fulfill her lifekeeper mission, Estella decides to systematically separate the Sunrise into its constituent modules, so the smaller pieces will burn up in the atmosphere.

It’s an operation that can only be performed by her, in the control room, so she’ll be going down with the ship. When Vivy tells her they’re sisters too, Estella reminds her, they’re AIs. They live for their missions, not one another.

With another gentle meeting of foreheads—possibly exchanging data—Estella urges Vivy to board one of the departing evac ships. Shortly after, Beth joins her in the control room, her Toak conditioning purged, and the sisters meet in person for the first time.

Vivy reunites with Yuzuka aboard an evac ship, and Estella’s warm and calming voice comes over the PA, apologizing to the guests for all of the inconvenience they’ve suffered, but assuring them that they’ll be alright. She then opens the ships’ observation windows and directs their attention to the sun rising over the Earth.

As Beth begins to sing a sad and beautiful song about the stars with her sister by her side, the evac ships are on course for the airports on the surface, and the human guests aren’t just remaining calm, they’re smiling as they behold Earth’s majesty—and smiling guests was always Estella’s greatest wish.

As the several dozen decoupled components Space Hotel Sunrise burn up in the atmosphere shortly after the song concludes, Matsumoto declares their Singularity Project mission accomplished, and shuts down until their next mission in the future.

Vivy confesses to Yuzuka, that she was lying before about not being Diva; not she did know Momoka, she was her only human friend, who gave her her name and the bear. Vivy gives Yuzuka the bear for safekeeping, and the two await their return to humankind’s proper place: Dear Old Earth. So ends another fine chapter in Vivy’s epic time-traversing odyssey to save humankind.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

No Guns Life – 14 – The Cyberpunk Prometheus

In light of her brother’s apparent return, Mary tells Juuzou more about her and Victor’s past as orphans. They were taken in by an engineer named Emmet, but when Victor got interested in Extended tech Emmet objected. Since Emmet had become a violent drunk, Victor killed him before he could hurt Mary and fled.

Mary only ever got one letter back from Victor saying he’d joined the military, but what she doesn’t know is that he became Juuzou’s primary engineer during the war. Juuzou assumed Victor had died, but considers the man’s dying wish to be his first request as a resolver: Protect Mary.

What Juuzou doesn’t understand is why Victor joined Spitzbergen, and why he’s getting Mary involved in dangerous shit when he told him to protect her. Their talk is interrupted by the pair of Spitzbergen enforcers, but despite the larger of the two describing his anti-Extended armor in great detail, Juuzou still manages to blast it to pieces anyway, safe in the knowledge he didn’t have to hold back.

Juuzou is actually find giving Spitzbergen the data, as long as the hostages are returned safe and sound, but that willingness doesn’t imply he won’t punch somebody for daring to kidnap members of his “family”. He and Mary head for the Kyusei Pit.

Meanwhile, Tetsuro isn’t really treated like a hostage, but allowed to walk free without restraint. He’s brough before a high-ranking member of Spitzbergen named Wachowski, a clear homage to the creators of The Matrix.

Wachowski reveals something to Tetsuro he had forgotten as part of his amnesia: he betrayed his father, left Berühren, and funded Spitzbergen. Tetsuro can’t believe any of it, but he can’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand, either.

Whether Tetsuro became aware of the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed as a result of Berühren’s greed and wished to balance the scales by helping its enemy, who can say. All we do know is that Victor Steinberg is not a good guy anymore.

When Juuzou confronts him and asks why he’s sabotaging his request to protect Mary, Victor reveals that his main goal is to dissect and research Juuzou himself, down to his last bolt. He also knows Juuzou will never fight for himself, only to protect others.

That means in order to unleash Juuzou’s “true form”, he must put a member of Juuzou’s family—in this case Mary—in mortal danger. Victor’s claims to be “reaping what he’s sown” by joining Spitzbergen seems to be in conflict with his more scientific desires.

One thing’s for sure: Juuzou isn’t going to let Victor hurt Mary. It’s fitting that’s their names, since Victor is acting very much like a twisted Dr. Frankenstein, while Mary is likely named after Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley. Famous name-borrowing aside, looks like a big bruising Juuzou-Victor fight is primed to commence.

%d bloggers like this: