SSSS.Gridman – 01 (First Impressions) – Old Computers are Terrifying…and Awesome

SSSS Gridman follows a familiar formula of “average kid awakens as mecha pilot and fights monsters” and elevates it with a movie-quality production that doesn’t skimp on naturalistic sights, sounds and pacing to immerse you into its once-but-no-longer-mundane world.

The simple beginning of Hibiki Yuuta waking up in Takarada Rikka’s house, recipient of an act of kindness. He hears a voice from an old, cobbled-together computer in Rikka’s family junk store, but only he can see and hear the robot on the screen introducing himself as Gridman.

Similarly, only he can see the immense kaiju looming in the otherwise ordinary Tokyo dusk. Heck, it looks almost like a cloud cell. At first things are kept at a normal level: perhaps Yuuta just hit his head, has temporary memory loss with some audiovisual hallucinations. It’s why Rikka makes sure he gets home safe and someone picks him up in the morning.

That someone is his friend Utsumi Shou, who recommends they carry on like everything’s normal. Yuuta gets a “special hot dog” from the class idol Shinjou Akane, but Shou thinks it’s more out of pity than kindness.

The school scene is full of naturalistic sounds and leisurely pacing that emulates real life. The voice actors all use a casual conversational style that makes the scenes feel lived in.

He wants to see what Yuuta saw, so the boys return to Rikka’s mom’s store. Neither of Yuuta’s new friends can see or hear Gridman on the screen, but they do hear and feel the tremors in the ground when a kaiju finally shows up and starts wreaking havoc on the city.

And boy, is there a lot of havoc. Vehicles are flung about like toys, energy balls are shot from the kaiju’s mouth that level whatever buildings it doesn’t flatten with its lumbering gait—including Yuuta’s school. In the tradition of Power Rangers, the big boss is slightly unsettling looking…yet also a bit cute.

It isn’t until Yuuta is transported into the computer to have a quick confab with Gridman that Rikka and Shou can see the robot on the monitor. Outside, the full-size Gridman materializes and starts going at it with the kaiju, but just as Shinji’s first go in Unit 01 didn’t go so swimmingly, Yuuta quickly gets put on his ass by his opponent.

Wanting to help in some way, Rikka decides to try typing encouragement to Yuuta on the computer, exhibiting her skill for speed-typing. It gets through to Yuuta, who stands up, dusts himself off, and then goes at the monster with a full head of steam, culminating in ripping its head and neck off and finishing it off with a good old-fashioned Grid Beam.

Once the battle is over Yuuta materializes back in Rikka’s place, victorious, but Gridman warns him this is only the beginning; there will be far more to his mission. Shou can’t believe what he just saw but is really pumped up; Rikka is more reserved and kind of freaking out as her mind tries to process it all. So Yuuta and Shou head home.

The next morning everything is back to normal…too normal, as their school was definitely destroyed last night, but when they arrive, it’s been fully restored with neither a scratch nor a dead kaiju head rotting in the yard. There’s also another “chosen pilot” on the opposite side of the fight being encouraged by a robot different from Gridman.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to tell you SSSS.Gridman is some marvel of original, compelling stroytelling. It basically steals everything it is form other sources, some of them many would rather re-watch than see in bastardized form.

But I will say simply that I was greatly entertained, fully engaged, and came to like the lead characters whose broad strokes were given texture by their seiyus. And if every episode comes close to being as much of a feast for the eyes and ears as this one, then I’m excited to watch more. It’s nothing fancy, fancily executed.

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Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 04 – Brains, Trains, and Automobiles

Kershner sends an envoy to cut the Hyakko Party off from Alma Company’s funding, but Hyakko’s leader doesn’t like that, and kills the messenger. Williard takes the measure of the Alma company, a front that looks on the surface like any respectable downtown business office. While on the lift he’s gently prodded for info by Major Iba, but doesn’t give away much.

Iba is spotted by his old academy mentor and new chief of weapons development, Maj. Gen. Kakizaki, who is glad he got Iba into intelligence, considering how much his student already knows. Willard convenes with his subordinates in V Shipping and determines that the vampires and Hyakko had a falling out, but the vamps must’ve managed to collect all the “parts” they needed.

Both Major Iba and Willard know where to go next: Shizuoka, where a weapons “exercise” will be taking place. A restless Yuliy volunteers to take the trip, but Dorothea accompanies him to keep him in check and on mission. After having a formal Japanese meal with Minister Naoe and Ryouko, she learns of their trip and decides to tail Yuliy, too intrigued to heed his warning for her to keep her distance.

Meanwhile in Shizuoka, Gen. Kakizaki witnesses in horror as the Frankenstein-type monster the Alma Company commissioned eliminates an entire battalion of soldiers with grim efficiency. As Yuliy, Dorothea, and Ryouko board the Shizuoka-bound train, the Hyakko Party raids Alma Co.’s headquarters and slaughters everyone in the office, believing them to be vampires even though they’re only humans.

Yuliy suddenly smells blood, and when the train stops, he switches to the one going in the opposite direction, as Dorothea—and a Ryouko determined to have lunch with them—both follow him. Major Iba also transfers from one train to the other, believing Kakizaki to be aboard. Kershner and his Dr. Frankenstein-y mad scientist subordinate are also aboard, along with the monster.

Finally, when Dorothea goes off to count passengers, Yuliy ends up encountering his brother Mikhail once more. Practically everybody is on this damn train! That means there’s sure to be some fireworks in short order; woe betide Ryouko or any other civilian caught in the fray.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 03 – Just Live

As Ryouko’s classmates mistake her frustrated sigh for a lovesick one (though her blushing suggests they’re on to something), Yuliy’s unexpected encounter with his now-vampirized brother Mikhail brings all of his memories of him roaring back, starting with the good times when the two would hunt in the wintry forests of their home—which I imagine to be somewhere in eastern Russia; possibly Sakhalin.

After a good meal with the villagers, the elder laments that the Sirius Arc is no more, but a confident young Yuliy vows to protect it, only for his big speech, like his first kill, to be foiled by a sneeze (he’s sensitive to cold). That’s where the good times end; Yuliy wakes up in the night to find vampires raiding the village. Their mother is killed, but not before making both her sons promise to run away and live. Only one brother can obey; Mikhail sacrifices himself to Yuliy can slip away.

In the present, while reminiscing on all this, Yuliy’s fellow Jaegers try in vain to cheer him up, but the fact is, now that he knows his brother is alive, he can feel his resolve to kill all vampires wavering, as he still loves Mikhail and doesn’t want to kill him, even if he’s a vampire now. His frustration bubbles over when he remembers summoning the power of Sirius to save himself from a pursuing vampire, just when a determined Ryouko tries to confront him.

She isn’t scared of him—or at least talks a good game; we see her trembling slightly—but Yuliy doesn’t want any new friends, because it will mean more people he can lose or who might suffer because of their association with him or their proximity to his powers (Ryouko likely is willing to befriending him, and in any case it’s her choice to make).

Dr. Willard was the one who found him half-dead in the cold, and offered water so he won’t die, Yuliy says if it means he can see his mother and brother again, he wants to die. Willard’s words that follow—fine, die, if that’s what you think your loved ones want—have guided Yuliy ever since.

He may still not know how he should keep living; only that he knows it’s what his family would want, so he can’t give up. But with Kershner, Mikhail by his side, preparing to field some kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, just living—and keeping those around him alive—is only going to get tougher.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 02 – Above the Skies

After two days of healing, Yuliy wakes up in the home of Dr. Harada, and makes fast friends with his daughter Saki. However, the nature of the doctor’s work doesn’t just keep him away from Saki, it also makes him a target for the elitist-killing Hyakko Gang…as well as the vampires. Both Willard of the Jaegers and Major Iba with the military separately attempt to connect the dots.

As Phillip keeps an eye on Yuliy as he finished healing up, Ryouko insists on paying Yuliy a visit. Clearly she was more intrigued than insulted by Yuliy’s aloofness and remark about rotting roots. Yuliy seems to be a bit of a green thumb, as he helps Saki set up some tomato plants—once believed to be poisonous due to their color.

As the doctor has worked day and night on his project—an artificial heart for Saki, who must have the same condition that claimed her mother’s life—his assistant sells out to the vamps, specifically a “re-built” Agatha who know has a sword for a leg.

That night Agatha puts that new leg sword to work attacking Dr. Harada’s home, and neither Yuliy and Phillip can protect him and Saki in the ensuing fray. The doc is bitten and becomes Agatha’s thrall, and Phillip stuggles to keep Saki safe while Yuliy and Agatha take their fight outside.

While not as action-packed as the opening episode, I appreciated how more time was used fleshing out characters, and the action we do get is of high enough quality to make up for its late appearance in this ep, whether its the close-quarters of the inside fight or the more free-flowing combat outside—not far from where Ryouko has just arrived at the house.

Agatha doesn’t quit deriding Yuliy’s very existence as a filthy “Sirius”, suggesting like in much of the rest of vampire-themed media, vamps consider werewolves a lower rung of creature…at best. 

Filth or not, Yuliy is able to turn the tables of Aggy, shattering her leg blad and running her through with his segmented staff, the blade of which also goes straight through Dr. Harada’s throat just as he’s about to kill Saki, who instead is simply horribly traumatized as both her dad and Agatha crumble to dust.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s an explosion on the other side of the house—probably the Hyakko Gang—and one more challenger who faces off against Yuliy on the rooftop. Yuliy calls this fellow brother, so he’s another Sirius (this is backed up in the new ED); but it’s clear they’re no longer on the same side.

As with other genres in which the eclectic P.A. Works has dabbled, the studio has delivered another solid and competently-produced entry that may not deliver much in the way of originality, but does check a lot of boxes I appreciate, from the vampire milieu to noir, mystery, history, and steampunk, with multiple factions, all with their own agendas.

That said, I’m still not finding Yuliy himself particularly compelling as a lead; the arrival of his brother could either raise or lower that opinion.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 01 (First Impressions) – The Roots are Beginning to Rot

What season would be complete without a vampire-hunting anime? Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger (TSJ) aims to scratch that itch, and does a reasonable job establishing its 1930s Tokyo setting and the conflict between vampires and the crack team of “Jaegers” who hunt them hither and thither. It also begins with a bang, as a swanky party that turns bloody when the vampires turn on their dancing partners is crashed by the Jaegers, who dust every vamp there but fail to score any big-league players.

Fast-forward—or rewind? Not sure about the timeline here—the Jaegers arrive in Tokyo at the behest of the Baron Naoe, Minister of Home Affairs. There’s a serial killer in the city—an escaped felon—and he wants the Jaegers to take care of it. The team’s aloof, inscrutable ace Yuliy meets the baron’s daughter, but his only remark on her beloved garden is that everything is getting too much water and fertilizer; the roots are starting to rot (he’s got a very good nose, like a dog).

From the look of it, Tokyo itself could be seen as getting too much water and fertilizer. It’s grown large and fat, and is ripe for attacks from the true enemy, vampires using the felon to throw the cops off their trail. Yuliy’s nose knows, however, and he quickly finds the she-vamp responsible for a patrolman’s murder: Agatha, who we saw was an adviser to Kershner, a big shot among vamps.

A thrilling chase on foot and by old-fashioned car ensues, ending with Yuliy unleashing his special powers to duel Agatha on a bridge, but one of her allies shoots him in mid-air, ending the pursuit. Obviously, Yuliy will be fine, and the hunt is far from over. TSJ’s opening salvo went hard on action and exposition, but was very thin on characterization. The Jaegers are a stylish group, but learning more about their origins and motivations will have to come later.

Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Inuyashiki – 10

Turns out the woman, father, and baby we met last week weren’t the ones in the plane that crashed. Hiro has taken control of dozens, many of which find targets on the ground below, but Ichirou is finally able to take action,  commandeering and soft-landing ten planes in the bay – including the one with the woman, father and baby.

But Hiro has already caused much carnage, and hundreds if not thousands of casualties. And perhaps more pressing to Ichirou, Mari calls him to say she’s trapped atop city hall in the observation deck, where there’s a fire raging and where oxygen is running out.

Ichirou could probably save Mari and the others in City Hall in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but there’s a problem: Hiro has found him. In their first encounter, he bolted as soon as Ichirou got up from Hiro’s bang; here, he wants answers, and isn’t satisfied with the ones he gets.

Hiro is upset that he’s the villain, while the old man is the hero, and so lashes out like a child would, first by grappling with Ichirou, then by bang-bang-banging him mercilessly. Finally, Ichirou counters with a bang of his own, but Hiro is only momentarily stunned.

As previewed in the show’s OP, a no-hold-barred battle between Hiro and Ichirou, nobody wins or loses except the city crumbling around and below them. When they’ve finally beaten and blasted each other unconscious, their “fail-safe”/”autopilot” systems kick in.

It’s here where it’s indicated that for all of the carnage and mayhem Hiro has caused, Ichirou’s system may be the superior of the two, and not necessarily due to any mechanical differences. Rather, because the original human that was copied by the mysterious aliens was older and more experienced.

This enables Autopilot Ichirou to destroy the hapless $100 billion space station in orbit and use the falling debris as cover for a sneak attack. He essentially scalps and literally “dis-arms” Hiro, and both fall back to earth with a crash and a splash.

At this point, I didn’t have very high hopes for Mari’s survival, and indeed she looks to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and asphyxia by the time Ichirou finally arrives. We watch him quickly descend into a new sub-level of despair as Mari’s life flashes before his eyes, but after much perseverance he manages to revive her.

Mari reacts to learning her father came when she needed him most with a big hug and a lot of tears. There’s no time fo Ichirou to explain or try to hide what he is; he must save the rest of the sightseers atop the building, including Nao, and after sending Mari home, he’s all over the city, saving as many as he can as those around him call him “god”.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s in a bad way, but he’s obviously not dead. Two good Samaritans encounter find him in an alley, and when he manages to mutter “water”, they give him some juice from the nearby vending machine, unwittingly helping a potential country-destroyer get back in the game.

I hope Ichirou realizes it isn’t ovr between him and Hiro, and that he isn’t so caught up in helping strangers that he neglects his family’s safety.

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.

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Fuuka – 01 (First Impressions)

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Twitterphile Haruna Yuu has moved to Tokyo with his younger sister to live with his two older sisters. In a misunderstanding, a blue-haired girl breaks his phone; he later transfers to her class. After more interactions, the girl comes to trust Yuu, gives him her name, Akitsuki Fuuka.

She accompanies him to a movie, the theme to which is sung her favorite idol (and Yuu’s childhood friend) Hinashi Koyuki. After a surprisingly pleasant date, Yuu gets a cryptic photo text from Koyuki, asking if he remembers her.

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From the creator of Suzuka and Kimi no Iru Machi (Seo Kouji) comes Fuuka, about a guy with an unconventional family situation, an old friend who is now a celebrity, and a weird but charming girl with which he gets off to a rough start, but gets smoother as the episode progresses.

The episode is the same way, relying on a super-lame upskirt photo-based misunderstanding that’s followed up by a second instance of Yuu pointing his camera at Fuuka and just happening to catch a glimpse of her panties.

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This is a show with the sheen of a serious, naturalistic romantic drama, but too often leans on exaggerated actions and coincidences that strain credulity.

It doesn’t help that while he seems to be a nice guy, Yuu is pretty dull, and is more defined by outward things, like his many sisters who don’t mind being undressed around him, or his patently awful Twitter feed. No one cares what you’re doing every waking moment, brah.

As charming as she is, Fuuka also seems at times to be trying too hard to be the hyper sporty weird girl. Minorin you ain’t, kid.

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Still, neither party is as loathsome as the couple from Kimi no Iru Machi, but I have a feeling the could become so at some point, as the love triangle forms. For now, I’m still barely on the guy’s side. I’m just hoping the fact that Fuuka’s favorite singer being Yuu’s childhood (and likely another love interest as well) doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own coincidence.

The idol herself was only on the margins of the episode, lurking; I imagine we may see more of her in the next episode…which I’ll be reviewing soon, as it aired right after the first. For now, I’m hedging.

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Qualidea Code – 10

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The truths of the real world our heads and subheads are now awakened to roll in like relentless waves this week, and it’s a lot for them to take in.

All this time, they’ve been captives of the Unknown, who altered their perception of the world so they would see adult humans as Unknown, and thus fight them. In a way, it’s worse than The Matrix, because they’re not just batteries, they’re weapons the Unknown are using to wipe out whats left of their families.

Suddenly having your world upside down is both frightening and un-mooring, and can mess with one’s sense of identity. The kids hold close to what they know to be true beyond any doubt, and reinforced through the years they were cared for by the Unknown: the bonds of friendship and love they all share.

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Kasumi and Asuha’s ambitious (and morally flexible) mother Johannes is in charge of the humans, having climbed a ladder constructed off those who once opposed her, be they dead or now under her heel.

She’s a handful, and while parts of Kasumi and Asuha are glad to reunite with their mother, this has all happened very fast, and an adjustment period will be necessary to process it all, especially the fact that they no longer need to fight, which is what defined them to this point.

Ichiya is also particularly un-moored, because his idea of who he was – a hero who was “all we need(ed)” and the only one who could protect Canaria – has blown up in his face with the knowledge that it was all an illusion. He was nothing but a clown; a puppet being manipulated along with all the other kids.

It’s really good to see Canaria back in the show. Her cheerful demeanor are welcome in such a harsh new world, but Ichiya just can’t function without her. We saw that, and we see just how much these two mean to each other in a lovely scene that nearly turns into a kiss before Ichiya panics and sends Cana flying in the opposite end of the room.

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Johannes seems singularly obsessed with three things (in no particular order): grabbing and holding power, protecting her kids, and utterly eliminating the Unknown down to the last one, with extreme prejudice.

Kasumi and Asuha have grown up to the point they don’t really need their mother, or anyone other than each other and their comrades to protect them and give them purpose. The Unknown may have stolen them from their human parents, but the crucial years of development they were separated aren’t coming back.

Not only that, but the Unknown, represented by Asanagi and Yunami, aren’t portrayed as evil this week, but rather as two people stuck in a system who only wants what’s best for the children they’ve come to love. Were they misguided in their actions? Surely.

But they’re not the monsters Johannes makes them out to be, and the kids’ opinions of them are at best conflicted, and in the case of Aoi, totally sympathetic.

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Surely the kids can figure out a way to come between their warring parents and the Unknown and come to some kind of negotiated peace or coexistence. That would seem to be the point here. The Adults, led by Johannes, are bent on revenge, and won’t stop attacking. It’s up to their offspring to create a world that moves past this conflict.

When the Unknowns attack Johannes’ fleet, its an indication Asanagi and Yunami didn’t get the final say—perhaps their are other Unknowns in higher positions that think about the humans how Johannes thinks about them.

Another point I want to make: we’ve learned just enough about the Unknown to make them far more interesting and nuanced. They have a face and emotions and dreams and desires just like humans. If they think and feel and act so alike, appearances aside, perhaps they’re not so “unknown” after all.

For the time being, Ichiya and Canara, Kasumi and Asuha, and Hime and Hotaru all decide to keep fighting beside one another, the ones they know for sure they can count on, whatever issues they may have with one another. Keeping things simple by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and having each others backs is the best way to stay centered in increasingly uncertain times.

Which is why Aoi’s isolation and anxiety worries me.

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P.S. I somehow forgot to publish the draft of last week’s episode review, so this week you get two. You’re welcome. :*

Qualidea Code – 09

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Kasumi is taking all of this weird stuff going on very slowly and carefully. He keeps Asuha out of it for the time being, so he can try to dig up some info on what it is that’s happening to him. He manages to find a ruined building that still has power, but it’s paper books that give him answers, and images, that suggests something very strange going on.

Asuha, with no one else to turn to, turns to Ichiya, who is still angsting over the loss of Cana, but still agrees to help lead the defense during the latest Unknown raid, since he believes he’s the only one who can give proper direction to said defence (making me wonder why they put Aoi in charge in the first place).

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Kasumi decides to use this battle to “jailbreak” Ichiya, in a very strange (from Ichiya’s perspective) way: he kills an adult trying to force Ichiya to retreat, then when Ichiya confronts him on a rooftop, Kasumi fires at him and not the humanoid Unknown in front of him. Indeed, Kasumi seems capable of communicating with the ‘enemy’.

At the same time, Asuha is outnumbered and starts to feel like things are going to get very bad, but the Unknown only target her Code, and once it’s shattered, see can see that the Unknown standing before her is actually…a person.

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All that’s left is for Kasumi to get Ichiya into a position where an Unknown can shatter his code, thus completing the “jailbreak.” This uncommonly affectionate Unknown turns out to be Canaria, whom I figured was going to return sooner or later.

I don’t mind her resurrection, because the details of her death were so strange I was never 100% convinced she was dead anyway. Her death also turned Ichiya into an even more insufferable wretch, so knowing she’s alive will certainly improve his character, since he’s going to do everything he can to make sure this time he’ll protect her.

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And just like that, all six main characters are now aware that the world they’ve seen and lived in as long as they can remember is not, indeed, real, or at least not the only world that exists. The “red” world they can now see, however, is hardly welcoming.

Is it merely the truth they’re seeing: a wrecked post-apocalyptic world the way it really is? Does the ED, which heavily features our characters wearing ordinary present-day school uniforms and doing ordinary present-day school stuff, represent still another reality, or the reality before everything went all “red” and ruined?

Qualidea Code ups the weird in a big way by bringing everyone in on the big secret. It really sells it with awesome sound design and an atmospheric Iwasaki score. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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