Attack on Titan – 72 – Lost in the Forest

One quiet afternoon, the fancy restaurant at which Niccolo works suddenly becomes very busy. First, the Blouses arrives with “Ben” and “Mia” in tow, to take him up on his offer to cook the meal he wanted to make for Sasha. Kaya tells them Niccolo is the Marleyan they should speak to. His food is the best any of them have ever eaten.

Not long thereafter, Hange and the Scouts arrive with Onyankopon to discuss some things with Niccolo. He sets them up in the private room where them Military Police often ate and drank. When Jean picks up a bottle of “special” red wine, Niccolo picks a fight with him and snatches it away.

Of course, we know, and later find out why he’s acting like an anti-Eldian ass to cover for the fact he’s saving Jean’s life, because that wine isn’t meant for Jean, and not because it’s too good of a vintage.

When Gabi and Falco spot Niccolo heading down to the cellar on his own, they excuse themselves from the table to meet with him. But while they weren’t wrong to seek aid from their Marleyan countryman, Niccolo just happens to be the absolute worst countryman they could have encountered.

As Gabi gleefully reports she killed a woman on the airship, Niccolo realizes these are the kids who killed his Sasha. Falco can see the change in his demeanor, but Gabi doesn’t. Niccolo tries to brain Gabi with the suspicious bottle of wine, but Falco pushes her out of the way and takes the hit.

Then he takes them both upstairs to present them to Sasha’s parents, along with a knife and the promise that if they don’t want to kill them, he surely will.

When Gabi sees the faces in Sasha’s parents’ faces, she automatically assumes they’re the looks of hatred and murderous rage. That’s certainly what’s emanating from Niccolo, who deduces from the way Falco shielded her that he’s someone important to her. Sasha was that someone to him, despite being a “descendant of demons” she saved him from the war by loving his food more than he’d ever seen anyone love anything.

Gabi tells him that Sasha “started” the killing by killing her friends (i.e. the Marleyan guards she shot), and she was only avenging those friends. At this point, Niccolo doesn’t care who started the killing, he just wants blood. Instead, Mr. Blouse asks for the knife. As he holds it he has a sobering monologue about how he and his wife raised Sasha as a hunter of the forest.

In the forest, it was kill or be killed, but they knew they couldn’t live like that forever. But when Sasha was exposed to the world, it ended up being just a bigger “forest” where the rules were just as ruthless. In his country drawl, he says to Niccolo that it’s up to them as adults to shoulder the sins of and hatred of the past and not pass them on; to keep the kids out of the “forest”, or they’ll just keep running in circles.

Then he and Mrs. Blouse tend to Falco while Connie and Jean restrain Niccolo. When a crazed Kaya rushes at Gabi with her own knife, wanting to kill the bastard who murdered her savior, Gabi is saved by Mikasa, who along with Armin take Gabi to the other room.

Niccolo tells Hange to wash Falco’s mouth out thoroughly, as when the wine bottle shattered some of the contents got into his mouth. That’s not good, because the wine may well contain some of Zeke’s spinal fluid, which he’d used in gaseous form in the past to immobilize a village in Paradis, as well as enemy cities on the mainland.

Niccolo further explains to Jean and Hange that he was told by Yelena to serve the wine to high-ranking military officials. While the Scouts were told that Zeke’s spinal fluid causes Eldians to freeze up, it could have other effects Zeke simply isn’t telling them about.

In the private room, Gabi asks Armin and Mikasa if they really hate her and want to kill her. We know they don’t, and they lament that a kid ended up in such a shitty position where all she can think of is hate and killing. Armin mentions that it reminds him of “someone he knows”, and right on cue that someone, Eren, enters the room, his hand bleeding like a lit fuse.

While Levi is questioning Zeke back in the forest, he gets a report that Zachary is dead, the walls are under Jaegerist control, and Pyxis has conceded to their demands.

Levi’s messengers think Pyxis is simply rolling over for Eren and Zeke, but Levi knows better; Pyxis is still trying to feed Eren to someone else. Levi looks back on all the times he saved Eren’s life because he thought it was the best chance for humanity’s survival, but seeing the mess they’re in, wonders why he bothered.

Back in the restaurant, a group of Jaegerists arrive led by Floch, taking Hange, Connie, and Jean and Niccolo into custody and demanding Hange tell them Zeke’s location. When Hange says they weren’t going to fight them on this, Floch tells her that Eren decided not to trust Pyxis’s surrender, certain the commander wouldn’t gamble the fate of the island on them.

When Hange tells Floch that wine laced with Zeke’s spinal fluid has been distributed throughout the military, Floch lets on that he already knows with a big playful grin. It’s part of the Plan. I assume Zeke already owns all those high-ranking military police officials who dined at Niccolo’s restaurant, and are currently with Pyxis planning to steal Eren’s Founding Titan.

As for Eren, he’s come for one reason: to speak to Mikasa and Armin, his best friends in the whole world; his brother and sister. No doubt he’s come to ask them to join him…and he’s probably only going to ask once.

Attack on Titan – 71 – Reshaping the World

Armin, desperate for answers, prepares to touch the crystal containing Annie, only to be scolded by Hitch, who is tasked with guarding her. But even if he had gleaned anything, it might not help solve the rapidly snowballing crisis in Paradis. Had Armin simply consulted the papers, he’d know the public is quickly losing faith in the military now that news of Eren’s imprisonment is out in the open.

A growing group of angry pro-Eren protestors surround military HQ, in support of a New Eldian Empire led by the younger Jaeger. When Hitch goes to help with crowd control, Armin meets with Mikasa and they head to Premier Zachary’s office, spotting three Scout recruits on the way.

Yelena tells Pyxis that it was she who met with Eren in secret to tell him “someone” had to light a fire under HQ to get the military moving against Marley. Of course, Eren himself. Just as Yelena and Zeke hoped, he delivered “divine retribution” the volunteers had wished upon Marley for years. Now Yelena plans to watch with great interests as the two brothers continue “reshaping the world”.

I’m not sure why Eren kept his plans from Mikasa and Armin, since now that he’s done everything he’s done all they want to do is ask him about it. But Premier Zachary forbids them from meeting with Eren, saying the situation is too delicate. After they’re dismissed, Armin comes to believe they’re not letting them talk to Eren because they’ve already given up on him and are preparing to pick the next Founding Titan.

They watch three soldiers enter Zachary’s office after them, and Mikasa wants to listen in to see if they can learn about their plans. Armin holds her back, telling her it’s too risky, and it’s a good thing he does, because moments later a bomb goes off in the office, sending the top half of Zachary’s torso flying out to the HQ’s gate. Armin and Mikasa survive the blast, but the crowd is even more whipped up.

In the immediate investigation that follows the bombing, it’s believed that Zachary’s special torture chair contained the bomb. While Mikasa and Armin didn’t see who exactly placed it there, the two did see those three out-of-place Scout recruits just before meeting with Zachary. This causes everyone in the room to develop those classic Titan face shadows.

Then more bad news for the military drops: Eren has broken out of his cell, likely to join up with Floch and 100 other soldiers and guards loyal to his cause who vanished from the prison. Nile labels this new group of insurgents “Jaegerists”. Now Eren is no doubt looking to secure both Zeke and Queen Historia.

With Zachary dead, Pyxis is de facto in command, and true-to-form, he gives a rather unexpected order: as much as he hates it, he’s to let Zeke and Eren have their way…for now. It’s not quite surrender, but he acknowledges they’ve already been thoroughly outmaneuvered—especially with a lot of the public against them. This no time for a civil war; not with an enemy like Marley across the sea preparing to attack.

With most of the Jaegerist defectors coming from the ranks of the Scouts, Hange is on shaky ground with the other bigwigs, but they have no reason to believe Hange is in cahoots with Eren, so they remain in charge of the regiment. Of particlar concern now is the fact that Yelena strategically placed Marleyan prisoners in odd places like restaurants, as we saw with Nicolo serving Roeg and his men.

But there’s also the restaurant where the Blouse family is getting a fancy dinner. Gabi and Falco are with them, and we see Pieck has already snuck onto the island. Did she see the Titan recruits go in? Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Connie find themselves on the opposite site of Eren’s movement, and Connie isn’t 100% sure Mikasa won’t choose Eren when all’s said and done (what can you say, he knows her).

Everything’s a big mess, but there is one constant this week: Eren, and Yelena, and Zeke are all getting their way so far. The fact the Jaegerists have worked so fast in this episode suggests Zeke knows Reiner will be launching a counterattack on Paradis sooner rather than later. The Rumbling test run must be implemented ASAP.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – 01 (First Impressions) – Moe Horror Done Right

Higurashi: When They Cry wastes no time establishing that this story will not have a pleasant ending, as it opens on a boy beating a girl to death with a bat with at least one other corpse in the room. It’s not played off as a nightmare, either, as protagonist Maebara Keiichi wakes up in that same room some time before that bloody spectacle takes place.

While some horror anime that hold their powder until the end of the first episode (Gakkou Gurashi! comes to mind) Higurashi isn’t interested in keeping you in suspense about whether shit will hit the fan in this suspiciously idyllic village, but rather when, how, and why, and how bad…I’m guessing pretty bad!

We haven’t had much good horror on RABUJOI lately aside from Hannah’s great retro reviews of 2004’s Elfen Lied, but that same cute girl horror DNA is evident in Higurashi. This is actually a reimagining of an identically-titled series from 2006. I’ve personally only seen half of When the Seagulls Cry, a family murder mystery, but never finished, so consider me a Higurashi Novice.

That said, one of the changes that’s quite evident in the remake is the new character design by Watanabe Akio of Monogatari fame. The way he draws eyebrows and mouths in particular were a dead giveaway, and I’m a big fan of Watanabe-san’s work here. “Easy on the eyes” is an apt description; “as pleasant as the ending won’t be” is another.

We’re gradually introduced to Keiichi’s friends, starting with the meek but extremely good cook Rena, the green-haired “big-sis”-type Mion, and a pair of younger girls in the mischievous Satoko and adorable Rika. They’re all so cute and have such great chemistry with Keiichi and each other, you almost want to forget that things will go sideways without fail.

It’s a testament to Watanabe’s designs, the veteran voice talent, and the beautiful setting of Hinamizawa village that despite the bloody cold open we’re invited to enjoy some good times with this group first, and are thus lulled into a false sense of security and safety. The multilayered traps Satoko sets at school are a useful metaphor for what Higurashi does in this episode: the first trap you see is merely a decoy.

Case in point: As soon as the sun started to set and the crisp blue sky turned a simultaneously gorgeous and menacing orange and red, dread started to amass around me, even as Rena kept things light and breezy. She leads Keiichi to a sinister-looking junkyard and climbs over the junk with zero regard for tetanus, looking for treasure and finding it in a buried Kenta-san.

While Rena is scrounging around, Keiichi meets a photographer who comes out of nowhere, identifying himself as Tomitake. The fact he’s the first adult we see other than Keiichi’s mom is disorienting, but then he mentions an unpleasant “incident” involving the loss of someone’s arm in the area. When Keiichi askes Rena about it later, her cutesy voice immediately shifts to a curt and dead serious “I don’t know.”

While I was certain something awful was going to happen in that junkyard (and the show most certainly wanted me to think that), Keiichi and Rena come out unscathed, though you could say Keiichi has now been “marked” by suspicion over surroundings that must now feel a tinge more threatening.

The next day after school, Keiichi asks Mion about the aborted dam construction project, and Mion offers him some information: the developers tried to ram the project through, but the village was spared from flooding and relocation thanks to some help from politicians in Tokyo. That said, when Keiichi asks about any violence, Mion has the same curt response as Rena.

Keiichi heads back to the junkyard as the sun once again falls, but Rena forgot he offered to help her unearth the statue. It’s clear she wasn’t prepared for him to show up, and heads home to grab them some tea. While waiting, darkness falls, in more ways then one, and Keiichi finds an old magazine detailing the story of a dam construction worker who was lynched, murdered, and dismembered.

As he reads, Rena creeps up on him, wielding a huge, curved, and very sharp-looking blade, while cute lil’ Rika stands behind Rena with glowing red eyes, suggesting she might be controlling Rena’s body. Roll credits, complete with an ending theme that absolutely slaps. Now that got dark quick, didn’t it?!

Higurashi is not for everyone, as those without the stomach for bloody horror will be joined by those who insist the franchise didn’t need rebooting. That said, had it not been rebooted, I would never have checked this out, and then find it right up my alley as a casual (and sufficiently-desensitized) horror fan. I’m looking forward to watching Keiichi and the town’s slow descent into madness and murder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Kagewani: Shou – 03

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 6.56.12 PM

A man and a woman foolishly use Bing to find an off-the-map hot spring and the woman is kidnapped by a cult of mask wearing crazies who sacrifice virgins to a monster living under neath the hot springs.

Fortunately, a mysterious man with a tuning fork distracts everyone long enough for the original man to save the girl and get away. The monster then eats the cultists. Later a cab driver says the place has been closed for years and the website is all 404

dun dun duuuunnnn. Roll credits…

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 6.57.54 PM

Kagewani 3’s pocket sized twilight zone continues to ‘work’ as long as you don’t think to hard about any of the details. The monster and the cult were freaky and, until tuning-fork-sama shows up, I had no expectation for the lovely couple to make it out alive. (given episode 1 & 2’s mountain of corpses)

Unfortunately, Tuning-Fork-sama is a pure let down as a random save the day factor. The plot also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since sacrifice-cyan’s companion was known by, but completely ignored by, the cult. Why? I guess someone needed some way to get down to the cult’s ceremony and save the day.

So does atmosphere trump lazy story telling? Does a unique visual style make up for monster of the week throw away plots and/or a completely unengaging master plot about prisoner 44?

Barley and probably less and less the more episodes I review.

16rating_7

Kagewani: Shou – 02

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.42.37 PM

Prisoner 44 is being transferred by train to somewhere. He’s guarded by a hard-ass know-nothing detective but the train is full of civilians and gets attacked by a giant acid spewing monster early on.

Using team work and the monster’s own stupidity, 44 and the Detective separate the front locomotive from the rest of the train, and the monster goes flying off a cliff at the next hair pin turn.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.41.37 PM

While the over arching plot was fine, the pacing was just awful. At barely 7 minutes in length, it actually felt padded. The animation is very slow, characters pause and look at things purposefully, despite the speeding train and threat of cliff-based-doom.

And really, in a world with this many constant monster attacks, it’s just not believable theres no believability in the detective not knowing about them, nor people standing around gawking at them only to be eaten/melted for dawdling.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.37.33 PM

Where the opening episode was enjoyable for its methodical pace and creepy vibe, this episode’s focus on action — but still being slow about it — just didn’t work.

Sprinkle in the evil army organization that grabs 44 at the end to transport him to wherever and Kagewani doesn’t seem like it knows what to do with it’s meager resources.

This is really not a good sign.

16rating_7

Kagewani: Shou – 01 (First Impressions)

horror2

There’s a Twilight Zone episode where (the actor who plays) Captain Kirk is on an airplane being attacked by a goblin, except he’s the only one who can see it and everyone thinks he’s crazy until the plane lands and work crews see all the damage.

This episode of Kagewani is like that, except the monster is inside the plane and has already eaten all the passengers and a reporter and ground crew are trying to figure out what happened after the fact.

horror1

Apparently this is the first episode of the second season but, given how much ground short format shows generally cover, you’ll be fine starting here.

Yes, this is another 7-minute short format show worth your time, but not just for its spin on the horror genre. Kagewani is visually unique: characters appear to be water-colored ink stills that have been animated in post process. It also employs what I can only describe as ‘Shaky Cam’.

horror3

I am absolutely certain the overarching plot is idiotic. The hero/villain introduced in the end has that ‘hardcore dude in the shadows’, too-cool-for-school vibe that we can all roll our eyes at.

Regardless, as an individual episode, this was engaging, visually interesting, and broke my expectations. Have 7 minutes? Give this a watch!

16rating_8

Prison School – 05

ps51

Rarely has an anime made me feel so goddamn down as when Kiyoshi’s house of cards crumbled. So very much was riding on him performing the mission perfectly, and more to the point, the first nine tenths of the episode, with its sense of optimism, occasion, and essentially adolescent paradise, perfectly set us up to be as devastated as possible when the curtain fell.

But the show was cleverer than simply having Shiraki kicking in the door to find an empty stall. Instead, it played us once more, juxtaposing two scenes without indicating their exact timing with regard to one another. By the time the jig is up and Shiraki kicks in that door, Kiyoshi not only got back, but got back with Gakuto’s prized figurines.

Then Kiyoshi walks outside, and Mari is waiting for him, and she knows everything. Not because she realized he was the girl she stopped at the gate, but because her sister Chiyo texted her and their dad a picture of her with him. Pretty damning evidence, right there! But crucially, Chiyo didn’t send it in scorn or spite; she sent it before she found her uni in Kiyoshi’s bag, back when she was so overjoyed by the experience she was having she couldn’t resist sharing it. She also assumed Kiyoshi got permission from her sister and father.

ps52

Chiyo’s intent, however, doesn’t change the fact that Kiyoshi is in deep shit, and not just with Mari and Chiyo, but with his comrades in stripes. Shingo in particular is extremely hurt and upset Kiyoshi didn’t trust them enough to tell them of his plans; had he done so, they wouldn’t necessarily have stopped him, but things might’ve gone smoother. He’s also extended everyone’s sentence another month, so they have every right to feel mad and betrayed.

As for Kiyoshi, Mari informs him he’ll be expelled, but we later learn behind closed doors she technically lacks the authority to do so and would prefer not to involve other parties. Whatever Kiyoshi’s intentions (and she of course assumes the worst, in part because of how her dad has shaped her opinion of men in general), his predicament is just what Mari needs to further her agenda of making her school all-girls once more.

ps53

Mari can probably tell Kiyoshi feels terrible about what he did (which would indicate he’s not the degenerate she’s make him out to be—of course, that doesn’t serve her needs), and what lies in store for him in the next three years now that rumors of his misdeeds are already being spread. She intends to use that fear and despair to induce him to sign a withdrawal form, giving her the legal cover she needs to dispose of him. He’s ready to sign it, too; but he’d regret one thing from doing so: never having the opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding with Chiyo over her uni.

It would seem fortune wasn’t done smiling on Kiyoshi, and his inherent kindness and goodness thus far comes in to play as much a role in his fate as his badness. Chiyo, you see, is mostly upset that she stormed off without hearing an explanation, delivering a verdict with the barests of cases. Sure, her uniform in his bag looks bad, but she feels he deserves the chance to explain himself nonetheless.

ps54

That fierce sense of decency and empathy leads her to storm into the office where Mari has Kiyoshi in her clutches, having heard rumors of him being expelled for what he did. She won’t stand for that, as she played a considerable role in getting him in the mess he’s in. Mari wants this situation to be seen as her looking out for her poor, naive, victimized sister, but Chiyo is a lot less messed up than Mari. She has a clear head and knows exactly what she’s saying and doing.

When Kiyoshi is about to fall for Mari’s bluff, Chiyo descends like an angel from on high, to call that bluff: if she makes Kiyoshi leave, she’s leaving too. Kiyoshi tells her—honestly—that he just grabbed her uniform from among hundreds by chance, and she believes him. And she doesn’t seem naive in doing so. Instead, she only ends up putting Mari in a tighter and tighter corner (even bringing up Kiyoshi’s affinity for Mari’s beloved crows), until she has to basically concede this battle.

But the reason I’ve come to love Chiyo so much—and why Kiyoshi probably only loves her more after all this—is not because she pressed his head to her chest, but because she showed us what she was made of. She’s not just some shallow pristine angel to be placed on a pedestal; she’s a fully fleshed-out individual with all manner of motivations and desires, ideals, and an iron will. She is Kiyoshi’s rock and his salvation. Now he must strive to be worthy of her.

ps55

Mari may have lost this round, but she intends to wage a full-scale war on Kiyoshi and the other four boys, officially forming the “DTO”, or Boy’s Expulsion Operation. Shiraki, so strong and dominant towards the boys, cowers and sweats profusely in her president’s presence, and will do whatever she commands in service of this operation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bend or break all the rules that are necessary; the ends will justify the means.

As for Kiyoshi, he managed to remain enrolled at school thanks almost entirely to Chiyo, but he immediately starts to see the effects of the means he employed to reach the ends (his sumo date). They seemed so innocent and logical and perfect at the time, but failure wouldn’t just mean more jail time or possible estrangement from Chiyo.

It also fundamentally damaged his relationship with Shingo, Joe, and Andre—but mostly Shingo, who forces the others to ostracize Kiyoshi. These wounds won’t be easily healed, if ever, but regardless Kiyoshi intends to bear the consequences of what he did.

ps56

And that brings us, impeccably logically, to the Return of Hana. I said when they last parted that she wouldn’t be above pissing on him as payment for him pissing on her, and here we see her present that very idea to Kiyoshi in the bathroom, where she all but orders him to prove he doesn’t find her “dirty” by allowing her to do this at some point in the near future.

This could mean several things, or a combination of them, and more: Her sense of justice and equatability may be so rigid and literal, that this is the only way to settle the score. She could be a Mari plant, working towards inducing him to slip up again, in a way that will get him yet another month in jail and only one more infraction away from official expulsion.

Or perhaps Hana simply liked how things went down and wants to reciprocate, furthering her dominance of Kiyoshi (similar to Nakamura’s relationship with Kasuga in Aku no Hana). Last week everything seemed to be over for Kiyoshi. But everything—from his struggles in prison to his enduring relationship with Chiyo to Mari’s war agains the boys—is only just beginning.

With every episode of Prison School I watch, I feel dumber for not giving it a look when it was airing. The title scared me away, of all things! But it’s far more than its title, and it’s far more than silly ecchi comedy (though there is plenty of that); it’s a rich and dynamic exploration of the complexities of morality and adolescence. The two most compelling, relatable characters in Kiyoshi and Chiyo are also the most balanced on both fronts.

9_ses

Prison School – 04

ps41

It doesn’t take long to reveal what Gakuto intended by assaulting both the vice president and president: he wanted the latter to “punish and forgive” him. At first, this is played out as Shiraki sodomizing Gakuto with a pixelated vibrator…but turns out to be just harmless electric clippers (thank GOD), with which she shaves his head, the clippings of which Gakuto offers to Kiyoshi as the all-important pigtails he’ll need to complete his girly look. Gosh, what a friend! If only his powerful intellect were used to better humanity…

ps42

His wig thus acquired, he must grab a girl’s uniform from the laundry; no mean feat. This show is a master of portraying suspense and stress, and dangling everything on whether someone comes out of a doorway, or turns around, or, later, spills tea on a backpack.

Thanks again to Gakuto (who literally pisses himself distracting the laundry service guy), Kiyoshi gets away with a uniform undetected. With that, he has everything he needs for the sumo date, and tries to get some sleep, promising he won’t fail Chiyo. Meanwhile, Chiyo seems super-psyched for tomorrow.

ps43

The day arrives: so full of potential pitfalls and foreboding, but also ample hope that all will go according to plan. As Kiyoshi and Gakuto collect the purses of the girls of various girls who have come for track day, Chiyo makes huge amounts of onigiri for Kiyoshi, assuming all boys eat several times more than girls…not to mention believing Kiyoshi got permission to leave.

As Kiyoshi enjoys a bento and some “fine asses” as noon and zero hour draws nearer, a sense of calm seems to settle over the two. Everything has been set into motion, and everything they worked and shat and pissed and sweated and bled for is finally about to come to fruition. Kiyoshi also remarks on how close a friendship he and Gakuto have achieved in the last three weeks. Gakuto says its all for the Three Kingdoms figurines.

ps44

The bell rings. Zero Hour. From this point on, Prison School becomes a taut, elegant thriller, complete with a first-person perspective of Kiyoshi placing the fartbox on the toilet, slipping out the window, into the drainage channel, through tunnels, beneath Shiraki beating his comrades, and out to his changing zone.

He’s barely done transforming into “Kiya-tan” when Shiraki, no longer busy beating the others, calls out to him. He has a choice: run and risk being exposed, or stay put and hope he’s a convincing enough girl from behind to fool the glasses-wearing Shiraki. Somehow, some way, it works, and Shiraki moves on. Is this fortune smiling on Kiyoshi’s Big Day?

ps45

Oh no! Mari grabs him by the backpack before he can step outside of school grounds! But wait, she just wants “her” to take her backpack off her back. When she spots the tear in Kiyoshi’s jacket, she apologizes and lets him go, showing Mari’s empathetic side for once. After that, it’s smooth sailing till the rendezvous point.

Chiyo truly outdoes herself in the adorableness department, between her outfit, the way she sneaks up on an overjoyed Kiyoshi, and her intense enthusiasm over watching a student sumo match with him. Her seiyu Hashimoto Chinami is one of the few voices in this show I’m not familiar with, but she does a great job projecting Chiyo’s warm and genial personality, along with her excitement with the whole affair.

Kiyoshi and Chiyo are just plain infectious to watch here; it’s like he’s died and gone to heaven. Sure, he doesn’t give a shit about sumo, and she sucks at cooking, but HE DOESN’T CARE IT’S CHIYO, for cryin’ out loud. He eats every bite of plain salted white rice, and gets rewarded with a close-in selfie with her, as if they were already boyfriend and girlfriend!

ps46

Then…heaven turns to HELL, and so heart-rippingly fast it made my head spin. I was rooting so hard for Kiyoshi and his success, but in the back of my head I still remembered that he’d done things for which a penance would someday be exacted. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast! From peeping to peeing to stealing and fleeing, to so easily allowing Gakuto to sacrifice his dignity and high school years…Kiyoshi is no pure angel.

And yet, it’s nothing in particular he does or says that leads to him so harshly receiving his “karma” and being driven into the ground. It’s something that just happens, as a result of what he’s already said and done, along with what he failed to do, like check to see whose uniform he stole.

Turns out, he stole CHIYO’S. And because he ate too much of the rice to be “nice”, and had to go to the bathroom (for real this time), he leaves Chiyo alone with his bag, and when she spills tea on it, she notices her uniform in that bag, and it’s over. It’s ALL OVER. She manages to get “You’re disgusting” out before storming off.

Meanwhile, back at the school, his cover is about to be blown, as Shiraki loses patience, goes into the mens room, and prepares to knock down the door where the now-malfunctioning m-poop-3-player sits. It looks like the boys are in for another month of prison. But far, far worse, Kiyoshi’s aspirations with Chiyo are in tatters. It’s going to be tough to come back from all that.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

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