Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 06

Dark times would seem to be ahead for Totsuki Academy, as Azami is formally elected director by the Elite Ten (well, six of them anyway). His inauguration speech is pretty normal and humble, leading some in the crowd to think “huh, maybe he’s not that bad.” Oh, he’s bad.

Azami moves quickly to isolate Erina, summarily relieving Hisako of her role as her secretary, stating that all Erina needs is her father, who promises “he’ll always be by her side”, which is not only inaccurate (he has most certainly not been by her side for some time) but feels ominous and threatening. Worse still, Erina is incapable of defying her father. What the hell did he do to the poor girl?

Just as Souma is wondering how Erina’s grandfather Senzaemon is dealing with his sudden retirement, the super-cut senior shows up at Polar Star, bringing his impressive set of muscles and his stirring leitmotif. Amazingly, it’s the first time the two have met and talked face to face.

Souma accompanies Senzaemon on his routine evening training, and can barely keep up despite his youth; but for all his physical strength and wisdom, Senzaemon laments there is little he can do about his situation. However, a former student of his (Souma’s dad Jouichirou) told him Souma may be only person who can save Erina from Azami’s wrath.

We get a peek at that wrath, as Erina, once a vibrant young lady who loved to laugh (and also loved her cousin Alice) was essentially brainwashed by Azami into having an extremely narrow and critical manner of assessing taste.

Erina rightly knew that it’s wrong to waste food, but he broke her of that, and with the threat of violence and abandonment, molded Erina into his instrument. He even threw away all of Alice’s letters from Sweden, making Alice think she never wrote back out of malice. What a dick this guy is! I just met him and I already hate his guts.

Erina has been getting better since Senzaemon exiled Azami, and has made friends—first Hisako, and eventually Souma, though she’d never admit it—but now that Azami is back, she could revert back very quickly, as his power over her is all but absolute and she lacks the means to fight him.

Thankfully, just as Azami is moving quickly to put his bird back in a cage, that bird’s friends move just as quickly to prevent that from happening. Enter Alice and Ryou, who encounter a beside-herself Hisako and spring into action, getting Erina out of Nakiri Manor.

The question is, then what? As various options for where she should be harbored are shot down for various practical reasons, and a heavy rain starts to fall, Erina considers giving up and going back, lest she cause problems for her friends.

But those friends would much rather have those problems than let Azami take her from them. Her retreat is interrupted by Megumi; the rescue group and Erina have stumbled upon the grounds of Polar Star Dormitory. Megumi welcomes them all in to shelter.

Souma arrives from his talk with Senzaemon to find the one he’s supposed to save in his dorm, which must feel pretty surreal. When the prospect of harboring her is floated to the other dorm members, they’re mostly weary…until Hisako tells them the story of how Erina grew up, and they instantly change tack, welcoming her with open arms and appalled she had to go through such hell.

This is another reminder of how nice and close-knit the occupants of Polar Star are; it goes beyond cooking (though they are excited to feed the God Tongue and hear her critique their cuisine); they’re a family, and are more than willing to welcome another member to that family, especially if there’s nowhere else she can go.

Souma, for his part, is pretty hands-off, which is just as well; the warm and caring nature of Polar Star is such that he can depend on them to keep her safe even when he’s not around. He may not have promised Senzaemon he’d “save Erina”, but he does want to get her to earnestly call his food delicious…which is pretty much the same thing, when you think about it.

There are certainly dark clouds in the horizon as Azami tightens his grip on power, and there’s no telling what he has in store for those who try to steal away his God Tongue, the linchpin of his so-called “revolution” that will transform Totsuki into a “Utopia” (which, if you’re recall, means “place that cannot be”). Let there be no doubt: Nakiri Azami is a bad man who has done awful things, and he must be opposed and defeated at any cost.

This was one of the strongest Food Wars episodes, and it didn’t need to get anywhere near a shokugeki; all it needed to do was unleash the tremendous collection of characters it has nurtured, and all I needed to do was sit back and watch the wonderful spirit of togetherness and solidarity surround Erina in her hour of most dire need. I’m even more excited than last week to see where this goes, particularly when in regards to Souma and Erina.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 03

The docile, frightened, and mostly defenseless denizens of Falaina are absolutely no match for the surprise attack by the efficient, emotionless raiding parties of Skylos, who use their thymia to kill with rifles, spears, swords and maces. Chakuro tries to run away carrying Sami, but he trips, and the way her body falls indicates that she’s already dead.

Ouni manages to get released from his cell, and proves more than capable of killing a good number of the enemy…but one man simply won’t be enough. Back in the fields, soldiers advance on Chakuro, but in his combined grief and rage he manages to hold them off with his Thymia until Lykos arrives.

Lykos, or rather Lykos “#32” as she’s called by an oddly giddy and sadistic pink-haired associate who holds a high rank among the enemy, was originally sent to exterminate Falaina. It would appear she failed, and regained emotions.

Now her brother, Commander Orka, is content to leave her on Falaina as a human experiment, to see how long she lasts among the “sinners.” The enemy withdraws, but after torturing two of their soldiers, Ouni learns they’ll be back in just a week’s time. Lykos, it would seem, has picked Chakuro and Falaina over her brother and home country.

It doesn’t look like pacifism and negotiation are in the cards, nor does there seem to be a “misunderstanding.” The people of Falaina are in a war with their very existence in the balance, period. While it isn’t great to see Ouni shed so much blood on his own, I see few alternatives.

As for Chakuro, after a gorgeous but immensely sad funeral service for the dozens lost, including Sami, he simply wishes he could die right then and there. He doesn’t want to be in this world anymore.

Who can blame him? I’m not even sure I want to be here. While the heroic arc obviously requires some initial hardship to be overcome, it was not fun watching men, women, and children callously mowed down. There also seemed to be a lot of the enemy soldiers simply…standing around for long pauses while their victims try to process what’s happening.

Other than Ouni, Lykos, and maaaybe Chakuro (if he can learn to control his power) this entire community looks utterly unequipped for the conflict ahead. Hopefully a few steadfast defenders will be able to curb further slaughter.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 02

What I thought was the start of some kind of grand adventure involving Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos turned out to be more of a quick stop. Lykos (which isn’t her real name) shows them the creatures called “Nous” that suck all emotion out of humans, leaving them “heartless.” Chakuro and Ouni only get a brief taste of the experience, but I imagine neither of them wanted to get a longer one, as intriguing an experience as it might’ve been.

They’re brought back to Falaina, where Ouni is thrown in jail, Lykos returns to the custody of the elders, and Chakuro is freed after “cooling his head”—just in time for the extraordinary periodic phenomenon involving swarms of glowing star locusts. Chakuro breaks Lykos out of confinement so she can see the event with him, and jealous vibes immediately emanate from Sami.

Having been away from…whatever it was she was doing on that other island, Lykos is definitely starting to show more emotion, and when she remembers the time her father gave her a piggyback ride (out of practicality, not love or any other emotion) she can’t help but cry. Chakuro thinks it’s normal, and it proves she has a heart. And anyone’s heart would be stirred by the light show they get.

But that night, Lykos almost told Chakuro something very important, and the next day, really really wants to tell that something to the council of Elders. She best she gets is Suou…but by then, any warning she might’ve given is too late: another island sidles up to Falaina and an attack is launched by its highly-prepared and more technologically advanced occupants.

Those we see are wearing clown makeup (not a great first impression), and Chakuro and Sami stare up at their airship in Miyazakian awe…right until they open fire, Sami jumps in front of Chakuro, and gets riddled with bullets. I was not expecting that! Poor Sami!

It’s a bold, dark new turn for what had been an pleasant Utopian slice-of-life. That’s not quite right: the introduction of Lykos and her lethal magic last week marked the beginning of the end of the “good times”, while the locust swarm was the punctuation mark for the Mud Whale as a place of peace and contentment, and even that peace may have been artificially maintained, as the elders likely knew something like this was possible and/or coming, and have kept all of the Marked in the dark.

It would seem our protagonist and his society are viewed as “sinners” in the outside world, perhaps because they still possess the emotions the Nous feed on and make no effort to purge them. Thus ends Chakuro’s official archive of the Mud Whale, and the beginning of his personal diary.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 01 (First Impressions)

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau, or Children of the Whales, begins with a funeral of a much-loved and admired 29-year-old teacher. She didn’t live a long live because she’s “Marked”, like 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale. The Marked can use Thymia (magic), but are cursed with those short lives. The Unmarked, who live much longer, serve as the Mud Whale’s leaders.

It’s an efficient introduction to all the necessary whats and wherefores of this world that avoids being dry, and indeed is suffused with quite a bit of emotion due to the funeral of someone who went too soon. It’s also clear that as 90 percent of the population is doomed to die young, this mini-civilization travelling the shifting seas of sand aboard the Mud Whale may not have much of a future…unless there’s a change in the status quo.

Our window to this world is Chakuro, the teenage archivist of the Mud Whale who is not only Marked, but also “cursed” with the compulsion to record all he sees and hears, while trying to keep his own personal emotions out of it; a kind of Mud Whaleipædia. Other introductions include his sister Sami (also Marked), the chieftain Taisha (Unmarked), and her heir apparent Suou (also Unmarked).

One day, Chakuro looks out onto the usually empty horizon and spots a “Driftland”, a rare island full of supplies for the Mud Whale. He and Sami join a scouting party, who use their Thymia to keep their boats from sinking into the sand.

Chakuro finds a sword, and when he wanders off to look for Sami, he finds an injured Marked girl with a tan and light blue hair, surrounded by swords and holding a bloody one. The ruins, the swords, the tuna cans suggest a completely different culture at work on this island than the Mud Whale, a self-contained miniature world that has diverged due to isolation.

I for one feared the worst for Sami, but thanks to his Thymia Chakuro deflects the girl’s sword strike, she passes out, and he carries her to the rest of the party, where Sami is safe and sound. He also picks up a strange, intelligent furry mammal who tags along.

They take the girl, whose shit tag reads “Lykos”, back to the Mud Whale, and she is brought before the elders, who clearly fear she’s an unstable element that will shake up the status quo, flawed as it is by the short lives of the Marked. She is also deemed “emotionless”, and likes saying “I/we lack that.”

She simply doesn’t belong here, but the fact that she’s proof of an outside world beyond the Whale is a kind of infection that instantly takes root there, thanks to the fact Suou happens to be releasing a gang of rebellious Whale-dwellers from the “Bowels” or dungeon, led by Ouni, who happens to have the most powerful Thymia on the Whale.

As soon as Ouni hears there’s someone from the outside world, he acts quickly to pluck her from the elders, as well as Chakuro, who was spying on them.

Ouni and his gang aren’t interested in living out their short lives on the pathetically small Mud Whale; they want to explore and find what else is out there. Since Lykos is from out there, he takes her and Chakuro accompany him back to the Drifland to find more clues.

Thus the lines of conflict are drawn: the faction who wishes to maintain the Utopian society, studying to find a cure for the short lives of the Marked; and the upstarts who reject the Mud Whale as the one and only world they need concern themselves with, even if contamination with the outside world could doom the Whale much faster. Chakuro finds himself in the middle, but if there’s one thing he’s sure of, whatever happens, he’ll record everything he sees, hears, and experiences along the way.

CotW is a lush fantasy yarn in the spirit of Nagi-Asu or Gargantia with attractive character design, a warm pastelly-watercolor aesthetic, and an appropriately robust score. While it lacks the immediate visceral punch and grandeur of Made in Abyss, it has a lot of potential, especially once the small world of the Mud Whale starts to expand at Ouni’s behest.

Mayoiga – 01 (First Impressions)

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Huh…Well, that was strange. My first taste of Spring 2016 had me riding along with no less than thirty passengers in various states of sanity on a seemingly dubious”Life Do-over” bus tour to the mysterious Nanaki Village, where they’ll presumably all start their lovely new lives.

The word “bizarre” came up in my head again and again as I was watching this. The characters, though we only get a line out of most of them, are bizarre. Their online aliases are bizarre. The pitch blackness of the world outside the bus is bizarre. The whole premise is bizarre.

Everything is so bizarre, I was not, after one episode, able to determine whether I actually liked all this bizarreness or not…but I do know I want to learn more.

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After everyone introduced themselves and their various reasons for being there (which, for many, included the various problems in their lives they’re trying to escape), the bus driver chimes in, almost as an audience surrogate, calling them nothing but a bunch of self-involved babies.

The ostensible MC Mitsumune is also intentionally normal and dull, at least on the outside; he has some very disturbing dreams that may or may not be related to his past…or his future. For all the introductions of all these people, we leave week one knowing next to nothing about them beyond their most outward personalities.

Mitsumune starts taking care of a little wounded baby bird of a young woman named Masaki, who seems to have some OCD to go along with her carsickness. Then there’s the cynical Hayato, who hasn’t come because he’s bought into what the operators are selling, but to find out the truth about Nanaki Village.

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So everyone here has their reasons for being on this bus. The driver’s reason is to make some money, and his frustration with the loonies he’s transporting almost provoke him into driving the bus off the road, but he regains his senses, and after one last stop, they reach the gloomy bridge to the village where everything is supposed to happen.

This episode creates far more questions than it answers, which is almost always a good way to entice an audience to stick around to learn more, bit by bit. Pitfalls may include a vast cast of characters, none of which we may end up caring about, and the hard-to-shake sense that the show and its mysteries aren’t as clever as they want to be.

We’ll see if Mayoiga can avoid or at least minimize those pitfalls. One thing it’s clearly got down is the overall creepy gloomy atmosphere suffused with that most dreaded of elements: the unknown.

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Dantalian no Shoka 10

Huey and Dalian encounter a woman in the park who can play the violin like a champ. She turns out to be Christabel Sistene, a famous violinist. It turns out she is a doll/android. Her companion Dallaglio built her to be able to play the dual unplayable “phantom scores” of Guillermo Baldini. Baldini’s music can have the same effect as narcotics, which the wealthy patron Kendrick exploits to begin an “artistic revolution.” However, when the concert begins, Christabel plays not the hypnotic Utopia score, but the destructive Twilight score, which destroys the hall and the phantom scores, and kills Kendrick and his ilk.

When Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was first performed, the sounds were so new and strange, the audience rioted. It was neat to see that same principle employed here: the music has all sorts of effects on people, from addition to bliss to despair. I can forgive the anachronistic android in this time period; the creators aren’t going for historical accuracy.  It stands to reason when humans can’t do something easily or at all, they built something to do it for them, as Dallaglio did here with Christabel. His intention was to clear his’ father’s good name, but his creation would be perverted into a weapon by Kendrick.

Kendrick is an interesting villain, for as little as we get to see him. His obvious fatal flaw is believing Christabel has no free will or connection to her creator – she does. But his dream of a bloodless, “artistic revolution” with which to seize power. It’s a great scheme in theory: use the addictive music to bend others to his will, and use the destructive music as a threat against those who would oppose him. He could have simply used Christabel to make himself lots of money: if your customers are addicted, you’ll never want for cash – but obviously he had grander designs. Ironic too that being in the soundproof room prevented him from hearing Christabel’s “warning” music that led to everyone else’s evacuation.


Rating: 3.5

No. 6 1 – First Impressions

As the first scene involves the chase of an escaped prisoner, I automatically assumed that No. 6 was the name of the grey-haired kid the guys with guns were chasing. Turns out No.6 is a place; specifically, a city-state in which our protagonist Shion lives. This futuristic, semi-utopian society has a few quirks to it, including the mysterious “Moondrop”, something that sounds like a whale when it cries, and which Shion seems to feels a special connection with.

A few things about Shion: he’s a very girly-looking guy, but then again he’s supposed to be twelve, so that’s okay. He’s a genius, about to enter a ‘special course’, with a high IQ and a kind heart. He also tends to remain calm and measured in his reactions to sudden events. When his friend Safu kissses him, he doesn’t wig out; when the escaped convict – who calls himself Nezumi (“rat”) – invades his house and chokes him, he barely flinches. The only time he loses his composure is when Nezumi tells him he saw him screaming at the Moondrop. For some reason, that turns him beet-red.

So this is a bit of a ‘prince meets the pauper’ kinda deal so far. Nezumi is wanted by the “safety bureau” for some reason, and it looks like he’s led a rough life so far, and he ain’t that old. Meanwhile, Shion isn’t used to expressing fear or doubt; his wealth and status preclude him from despair, if not boredom. But for all his intelligence and kindness, the reality is he’s harboring a fugitive, and that could get him, and his mom, in deep doo-doo if he’s not careful.

I liked this first episode, because it set up a lot of things while leaving a lot left to be answered in the forthcoming episodes. Despite a core cast of kids, it seems pretty mature and temperant so far. I haven’t really be interested in watching anything from Studio Bones for a while, but this definitely shows promise. Production values are decent, if not extraordinary. Rating: 3.5