Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 01 (First Impressions) – The Optimism’s Back

We’re big Star Trek fans here at RABUJOI, and while I was both excited and proud to watch its return to TV (albeit streaming TV) in the form of Discovery and Picard, since it meant Star Trek was back and that could never be a bad thing, I’ve been ultimately disappointed in the negative and violent general outlook and worldview of those new shows.

I came into Lower Decks with extremely guarded expectations. I was not a fan of the art style in the previews nor what sounded like a lot of try-hard rapid fire comedic dialogue. Heck, even the logo of the show is ugly, with the words “LOWER DECKS” rendered what looks like a crappy free font, clashing with the iconic yellow/gold Star Trek word type.

Lower Decks is first Trek show since Voyager ended in 2001 to restore that upbeat, optimistic, cozy, joyful Star Trek milieu in which actually want to live and hang out. It felt more like those shows, and thus the Trek that I grew up with and love, than any of new live-action stuff, and pulled off that feat in less than half an hour!

Obviously, a show like ST:LD has the advantage of not having to spend too much time setting up its world—it’s basically TNG-era Star Trek, only animated. If you aren’t a Trekkie, I’m not sure why you’d watch this show, nor could I begin to imagine how it would come off not knowing anything about warp cores or the uniform colors or what-have-you.

LD can immediately focus on its scrappy underdog characters who populate the unremarkable Federation Starship USS Cerritos, starting with Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler. While Mariner comes off as an overly hyper chatterbox (she’s also drunk in her first scene), I’m pleased to report not every character chats at the same pace, and even she calms down for some scenes.

It’s clear Mariner’s authority-bucking, boisterous joie-de-vivre is a veneer to conceal the fact her round-peg personality in a square-hole Starfleet has caused her career to stall. There’s a lot of Tom Paris in her, right down to her admiral dad. She’s the opposite of the eager-to-please, by-the-book Boimler (ahem…Ensign Kim, anyone?), and between his discipline and her experience the two are poised to learn much from each other about life in the command division.

Rounding out the main quartet is medical officer D’Vana Tendi of Orion (hence the green skin) and engineer Sam Rutherford, a cybernetically-augmented human and to me, spiritual successor to Geordi LaForge. Tendi, also like Ensign Kim, is the definition of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie” without Boimler’s hang-ups, while Rutherford’s still-buggy implants sometimes add cold Vulcan logic to his human baseline at inopportune times.

There is a mission-of-the-week, and it involves the less sexy but very important second contact with a new purple porcine alien species. An aspect of Trek I believe really translates well to animation is the aliens and their worlds. Since it’s animated, the makeup and production design budgets are only limited by the animator’s imagination, and there’s never a chance of putting off viewers with either unconvincing makeup or falling into the uncanny valley.

Boimler was instructed to “keep an eye” on Mariner by the no-nonsense Captain Freeman, and that eye immediately watches Mariner break protocol by selling farm equipment to aliens on the side. Boimler ends up being sucked on by an alien spider-cow creature for far too long, but the whole incident demonstrated that his green instincts caused him to overreact on more than one occasion while Mariner got the feel for things and was able to improvise them out of peril.

Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is on a date with Ensign Barnes that, unlike LaForge’s many dates, starts out pretty well! The issue is, the Cerritos’ XO Commander Ransom came back up to the ship infected by a bug bite that turns him into a vicious black bile-spewing zombie, and soon more than half the crew succumbs to the same transformation.

While it could have come off as too-cute-by-half to have the Rutherford and Barnes remain completely calm and even continue their small talk as their comrades start eating each other in the Ten Forward-style bar, the comedy worked for me since it tracks that Starfleet officers would keep their heads even under extreme conditions. Similarly, D’vana enters a gory hellscape of a sickbay, but feeds off the professionalism of her Chief Medical Officer (who is a Caitian) is, and comports herself well in triage duty.

What ties Boimler’s close encounter on the planet to the zombie virus aboard ship is the purple-pink goo secreted from the spider-cow, which cures and de-zombifies the crew. Thus it’s established that despite her refusal to submit to Starfleet orthodoxy, Mariner inadvertently saved the ship by letting the spider-cow suck on Boimler as long as it wanted. I got a really cozy feeling from the scene of the four officers taking a much-earned breather, their deeds going unsung as the senior staff takes all the credit.

While I hope she doesn’t back into saving the ship every week (something that would make her akin to early Wesley Crusher aboard the Enterprise) in a pilot it works pretty well at establishing the value of her approach to a Starfleet officer’s duty. If she breaks a few regulations, she’ll be able to rely on Boimler (who doesn’t rat her out to the Captain) and her other fellow junior officers to rein her in or bail her out.

“But wait, Zane,” you may ask: Why would you want to live in this Trek world—in which the crew turned into vomit zombies and a drunk officer cut another’s leg to the bone with a contraband bat’leth—but NOT want to live in Discovery or Picard? Because the violence, xenophobia, and general lack of human progress is too virulent and unrelenting in those live-action series, while the violence in Lower Decks is more stylized, comic, and by dint of being animated doesn’t feel as real (and thus depressing).

Also, it’s clear Lower Decks isn’t centered around violence, whether it’s threatening to blow up Qo’noS, enslaved androids being hacked into causing a massacre, or beheading people you don’t agree with. It’s far more aligned with the values of TNG. Its goal of being a Trek comedy inevitably bring up The Orville. I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Orville because it too took place in a lighter-hearted TNG-style world that’s futuristic but also bright and fun.

But as hard as it tries, Orville will always be homage with a hint of satire. Whatever else it is, Lower Decks is Star Trek, through and through. Production of live action Trek is delayed In These Times, and no telling if what we ultimately get won’t be filled with more violence and despair, and the further erosion of my preferred Trekkian outlook. I didn’t know this going in, but Lower Decks is just the Trek I need, just when I needed it.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The show’s logo may be hideous, but the opening sequence is beautiful, showing the Cerritos getting damaged in various ways against gorgeous space backdrops. The credits are also in the same font and color as TNG, which is just fine by me!
  • The USS Cerritos is the perfect balance of familiar details (like the Enterprise-D style deflector dish) in a new orientation. While a little awkward-looking, it’s a clean enough design, and I actually prefer it to the Orville.
  • The Senior Staff is mostly in the background, which is how it should be, but I do like the Riker-esque Cmdr. Ransom and the big burly Bajoran security chief. As for the doctor, she’s from a catlike species first depicted in the original Animated Series but a live-action Caitian admiral appears in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was my favorite Trek alien for a long time, even though he was just in the background.
  • On that note, another great thing about an animated Trek is that you can have as many alien officers as you want without worrying about the makeup budget. Orions, Bolians, Andorians, etc.
  • It’s astonishing how many Trek lore Easter eggs this episode manages to cram into the half-hour, but most of them feel organically integrated, rather than shout out “Remember THIS?” or “Remember THAT?” The old didn’t get in the way of the new, but added texture and color.
  • This is a show that rewards die-hard Trekkies, not just with familiar sights and sounds but in how qualities of past Trek characters and episodes inform the crew of the Cerritos.
  • Mariner’s dad is an admiral, but her mom is also her Captain!
  • Rutherford’s date with Ensign Barnes ends up kissing him in a moment of passion after an emergency EVA, but he’s so preoccupied with a code fault in the airlock, and the fact she isn’t preoccupied with it, he later decides not to pursue a second date.
  • The second part of this joke is that Ens. Tendi agrees with his reasoning. Both of them are total Starfleet nerds and I love it.
  • That was a hell of a battle through the decks of the ship…reminded me of the DS9 Genesis game where Sisko has to run through the corridors of the Saratoga after the Borg attack.
  • I have never seen Rick & Morty, but I think part of why I think I’m okay with the very un-anime character design is that I’ve also been recently watching Avatar and Korra, which features an almost-but-not-quite anime style.
  • Other quick production notes: the voice actors all do great work bringing their characters to life, while the orchestral score does what a Trek score should.
  • I’ll be reviewing this series going forward, but future reviews will be shorter and feature fewer images, I promise!

Gibiate – 02 – Lights Out

Remember my comment about being able to feel the enthusiasm of the assembled talent emanating from the first episode? Yeah, that wasn’t the case this week, as Gibiate joins the list of anime I won’t be continuing this Summer. It’s a disappointing, but unavoidable cut considering its misfires.

However, things start out okay, with Kathleen recording Sensui for posterity, then sparring with him to determine his ability. He’s pretty good, and is even trained in Western swordsmanship. If only he had a more worthy opponent than the Gibia.

I also like the explanation both for Sensui and Kenroku’s RPG glow-up and Kathleen’s own cheerful attire: in such dark times, one must look as awesome as possible. This means Sensui not looks very much like a lone-wolf FF protagonist. Kenroku now rocks blue hair, making the two more discernable from a distance.

There’s also a beat where Kathleen’s mom—an Edo-period history buff, which is kinda convenient—informs Sensui how his lord and guardian ended up dying. Sensui carries the guilt of not being by his lord’s side at his end…ignoring the fact the lord sent him off into exile for his own missteps. I imagine Sensui didn’t even consider that betrayal.

Despite a relatively solid first half involving character interactions in the light, Kathleen and Senroku mostly remain ciphers while Sensui is your typical stoic honorable samurai. Then the lights of the camp go out and all hell breaks loose…and unfortunately not in a good way.

First, the ease of the Gibia’s attack calls into question how this camp even survived as long as it did. This night doesn’t seem any different than previous nights other than the fact Sensui and Senroku have joined the survivors, so I guess that’s when the plot decides it’s time to expose the camp’s many many logistical and tactical flaws.

“No backup lights or power” is pretty egregious. “Guards firing off all their ammo in all directions” is another. The supposedly brilliant Yoshinaga deciding to burn the camp to create light that will repel the Gibia, only for fire to be too dim to make any difference. Of course, all of this is overridden by an unavoidably fatal flaw: the Gibia designs and CGI is embarrassingly horrible.

This camp looks utterly doomed if it wasn’t for Sensui stepping up with the katana Maeda finally gets to him, but only after the old man suffers wounds we know will eventually turn him into a Gibia. When there’s a Gibia with armor too thick, Senroku tosses a grenade at it. Oddly, the blast disables the Gibia but doesn’t hurt Sensui—who was standing right there.

The Gibia attack that must have claimed at least a quarter of the already fewer than 100 survivors. And yet only one person gets a hero’s sendoff, complete with cheesy Casino keyboard music: Maeda, who we barely knew. There’s no accounting for how many others were lost or whether this whole camp thing can continue.

There’s also the little matter of Gibia being a virus, and that by slashing them left and right like a crazed banshee, Sensui gets their blood and guts and other fluids all over the damn place. Isn’t that, like, a problem? Never mind; this episode has killed by enthusiasm for continuing with Gibiate. Which is a shame, because the first episode had so much potential.

Gibiate – 01 (First Impressions) – Samurai Pandemico

Okay, this might not seem like the best time for an anime about a goddamn pandemic, but there are times when battling literal monsters seems preferable to the current sociopolitical situation, and it looks like Gibiate will have plenty of that, so let’s dig in, shall we?

It’s 2030, and a virus that transforms humans into monsters has spread across the globe (likely hastened by anti-maskers). Kathleen Funada is one of only one hundred people in all of Tokyo who hasn’t been infected.

There’s an immediate realism and intimacy to introducing her via a home video diary of events for posterity. And despite her idolish appearance, her gloom is palpable, and reflected in the de-saturated palette.

Meanwhile, all the way back in 1600, samurai Kanzaki Sensui and ninja Sanada Kenroku are on a boat leaving Edo. Both have been exiled; Sensui because he took the blame for his lord’s strategic blunder; Kenroku for murdering a motherfucker (who apparently deserved it).

When they’re caught in a horrific electrical storm, they both pass out and wake up in Edo, now Tokyo, 430 years later. Definitely some shades of Kuromukuro, which I enjoyed quite a bit, and potential for amusing fish-out-of-waterage (and samurai ownage).

The two wander the strange streets until they encounter a man who transforms into a bizarre beast (the CGI is merely passable). With no weapons, the pair can only do so much, but they’re fortunately saved by Kathleen, armed with a heavy-duty taser.

Sensui and Kenroku accept a ride with Kathleen and an old man named Maeda, neither of whom doubt the origin of the two very traditionally dressed and spoken men. By the same token, the pair aren’t particularly freaked out by the “wagon” that’s faster than any horse. They learn they’re in what was once Edo, and that the monsters are called Gibia.

Maeda gets dropped off to grab a katana he owns so Sensui can be useful, while Kathleen drives them to the camp where what’s left of Tokyo’s uninfected hold out. She introduces them to her mom, whom she later laments is so “mentally broken” she can’t tell humans and Gibia apart.

They then meet Kathleen’s boss, Professor Yoshinaga, who is trying to develop a cure for the virus and end the last two years of misery. He may look like a Final Fantasy villain (thanks to awesome character design by Yoshitaka Amano), but Sensui also looks particularly “Amano-y”, so I’ll trust that both of them are good guys for now, and just ridiculously cool-looking.

The professor warns Sensui and Kenroku to avoid being stung lest they want to be Gibia themselves, and if they can hear the sound of drops of water inside their head, it’s a sign they’re already infected. Interestingly enough, the first scene in the episode is Kathleen in a bathtub listening to water drip out of the shower head.

In addition to the Amano design, the OP theme was composed by the Yoshida Brothers, and many other eminent Japanese creatives are involved in its production. It feels more like there’s more passion and sincerity than calculation and cynicism behind this project.

Gibiate is a fun grab bag of classic anime tropes, and I’m already stoked to see how two vintage warriors can contribute to the cause. While it’s too early to tell if it will add up to more the sum of its myriad parts, it is nevertheless a very well-executed piece of entertainment, balancing the dreary bleakness of its future with the occasional vivid flash of hope.

Hundred – 12 (Fin)

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That’s all, folks; Hundred is over! At least its first season; there’s no mention of a second but certainly talk of “more things happening in the future” which could be just that; talk. And we never learn why hundreds are called hundreds…I guess they just thought “hundred” sounded cool? It kinda does!

Anyway, if this is the last episode, it goes out with a bang; several bangs, in fact, from Vitaly’s hand cannon. She only uses one of the three hunter “tools”, Nakri, to get through an electrical security barrier. After that, a revived Mai-Mai trades gunfire and forces her to flee. So yeah, about all those possibilities with the three conditioned Hunters on her side…that didn’t pan out.

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In fact, Vitaly’s grand master revenge plan comes to a screeching halt just as quickly as it totally overwhelmed the rest of Little Garden’s defenses and Slayers…all thanks to Judar. Seems like she has some kind of romantic past with him (gross!) and the reason she’s here is because she’s A Woman Scorned.

Ultimately, she just wants to kill Liza by shooting her. You’d think such a science and technology whiz would have a backup plan if Liza’s shielding was bulletproof. Not only that, Liza takes semi-corporeal form to shield her brother so he can shoot Vitaly, killing her and ending what had been a pretty built up threat with all the finesse of air coming out of a balloon.

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Speaking of unappealing noises, Vitaly’s last gasp tactic is have all her replicants emit a loud screeching sound, but Liza kisses Karen, giving her use of her legs (hey! why not?) and Karen and Sakura neutralize the noise with their non-animated singing.

Ethereal Liza also kisses a KO’d Hayato in order to give him the strength to take down not only Vitaly’s flagship replicant, but a Nesat who’s gone absolutely berserk due to her siblings getting hurt.

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Nesat threatens to explode after a predetermined period of time, taking the ship with her, but Hayato is able to reach into her subconscious and calm her down by telling her they’re friends now, and the final threat is dealt with without much fuss. Glad the Hunters didn’t end up getting hurt or worse, and now that they’re free, they can be useful members of garden society.

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That just leaves the resumption of the festival, culminating in, what else, a fireworks show, under which Emilia and Hayato dedicate themselves to being with one another. Unfortunately, while they’re kissing, the entire rest of the cast comes topside, and their myriad reactions are priceless.

Suffice it to say, Emilia’s secret is out: she’s a girl, and a princess, and loves Hayato. Of course, Claire isn’t okay with that, and unleashes her Hundred cannon at the lovebirds to close the episode, and possibly the series. The goofy slapsticky mood of the scene indicates she’s not really going to murder Emilia and Hayato, just scare them. Still, she’s not exactly setting a good example as captain of Little Garden, is she?

Sooo…Hundred: Definitely a show. With stuff that happened in it. Totally inconsequential and derivative stuff that hardly ever went anywhere interesting, but mostly fun stuff nonetheless. Will I be tuning into any possible second season? Maybe…if nothing else is on.

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Hundred – 11

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Though shit was going to hit the fan immediately after Vitaly activated her  army of Evil Roombas? Nope! That doesn’t happen until five minutes into the episode.

Instead, we get more of Karen and Sakura’s concert, which consists of several slow pans over still images set to music that seems to be coming out of a handheld Dictaphone speaker. Needless to say, the shit can’t hit the fan soon enough.

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Claire is actually made aware of Wendy’s unconsciousness, short-term amnesia, and talk of coreless savages, and for a second there, one hoped that she’d lock down the entire Garden before Vitaly could accomplish too much, but…NAH.

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Yeah, time to go up a shirt size, AMIRITE? One thing’s for sure: VItaly knows a good villain tailor.

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Anywho, when the Roombas start turning into giant robotic bees, they’re treated as a nuisance…until they turn out to be much more than that, and the Garden is literally brought to its knees.

One assumes Vitaly has been planning this multi-pronged attack since she left the Garden…which begs the question: why the heck was she allowed to roam free and buy up so many warplanes? Where’d she get the money and raw materials in a world supposedly beset by the scourge of the Savage?

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I loved this: Karen and Sakura informing their crowd of 100,000 that they’re going to evacuate, but everyone else should stay right where you are! Never mind if a giant plane crashes into the stadium – The Slayers Will Protect You!

Somehow, if I were in that crowd, Sakura’s assurances wouldn’t be very comforting. I mean, she doesn’t even bother to lip-sync; she just stands or flies around smiling while the music plays?

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I do love Claudia’s attitude: she doesn’t care what’s happening, because she wasn’t able to share a chocolate banana with Emilia. Sure, she springs into action when Vitaly’s robots storm the flight deck, but it’s clear that she’s only attacking them because she’s less likely to hang with Emilia if Emilia’s city-ship sinks.

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Claire orders Hayato and Emile—who are on the sidelines this entire episodefor some reason—to protect the three captive Hunters, but with the Garden’s shields failing, Hayato decides to go topside instead, and Claire lets them go, hoping Mai-Mai will suffice as prisoner guard.

She doesn’t; Vitaly takes her out without much difficulty, then activates some kind of sonic torture device that bends the three initially reluctant kids to her will. I tellya; this Vitaly is one omnipotent villain, and this episode doesn’t reveal any obvious flaws in either her plan or her many powers.

She basically made Charlotte, Claire, Judar, and Little Garden look pretty damned weak and foolish all by herself. Now that she has three obedient (for now) Hunters flanking her, stopping her is going to be a bitch. But if anyone can do it, it’s Hayato…with some help from his friends, of course.

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Hundred – 10

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It’s a festival episode, which means lots of inconsequential milling around soaking in the sights and sounds. But before that we meet Wendy, a slayer we later learn is friends with Reitia and Fritz, who is overpowered by Vitaly Tynyanov (who has an interesting fashion sense). Vitaly brainwashes Wendy into getting her into Little Garden undetected. It’s pretty telegraphed.

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Not only that, Erica just as clearly points out the means of Vitaly’s future mischief: an increased number of Roombas Vitaly is inevitably going to turn into killing machines, all as her Hunters…well, not rot, but shall we say lounge comfortably in the bowels of the Garden. I came to like that trio of near-as-makes-no-difference siblings, and hope they play a bigger role next week.

Hayato also shows off a new talent: ruining surprises, when he tails Sakura to a room where she, Karen, and Char are preparing said surprise. When Judar visits later, it had me wondering whether the blonde bishonen bastard had some kind of scheme in mind for Hayato’s sister, seeing as his own sister is presently powering the Garden. A backup generator, mayhaps?

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Emile is spared Claudia sticking to her like glue for the duration of the Festa due to the latter’s security detail, which means Hayato has Emile’s undivided attention. Her enthusiasm—and her photo of Erica in a maid outfit—gets her in trouble, however, when Erica turns the tables, dressing “him” up as a girl, then getting Hayato to grab her real boobs.

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As for the Strongest Frail Imouto in the Universe, she takes the stage with Sakura donning a Hundred that will enable her to stand and walk and even fly. Of course, like the last time there was an idol concert, Hundred can’t be bothered with animating any part of it, meaning the show has all the excitement and dynamism of a Tuesday morning PowerPoint. I guess the episode blew its budget on all those maid extras, huh?

Anyway, as predicted the moment a Roomba and a Wendy showed up, Vitaly infiltrates Little Garden during the concert, and activates the Killer Roombas by making one vacuum up her cigarette butt, which is a pretty bizarre but cool way of startin’ some shit. Unfortunately, all of that shit will have to wait until next week; this episode was all setup and fluff. BRING ON THE EVIL ROOMBAS.

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Hundred – 09

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Don’t look now, but Hundred has been steadily improving in the last three weeks, and this is its best all-round episode yet, leaving me so entertained, charmed, and even a little impressed, that I had no choice but to award it an implausible 8 rating and my genuine recommendation.

Now, does that suddenly mean this is a good show? Totally depends on your definition and mood. I’m not going to get into that, and focus on this one good episode, which may not have necessarily surprised or shocked me at any particular point, but it did execute, without getting too cute.

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The opening battle between Harvey and the Hunters gets things off to a fast, exciting start, with the leader Krovanh taking advantage of the sudden rain to put the disadvantaged Queen on the ground quickly.

Their advantage in tactics and numbers doesn’t last, as the cavalry arrives in the form of Erica, Hayato, Emile and Claudia. It’s nice in particular to see Claudia not goofing off and seriously fighting with the others.

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Even with four-on-one, the Hunters are no slouches, as Krovanh crosses both swords and ideals with Hayato. But we know how badass Emile can be when s/he’s serious, and it’s very satisfying watching her pick apart Nakri’s game and “finish” her with a blast-punch rather than a spearing, then turn on to the other girl, Nesat.

These are the first instances of actually feeling a bit of sympathy for these core-hunting machines, but it’s not the last. Nesat’s “You’re going to destroy my eye?” line got me right here (pointing at my chest).

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We learn that the three hunters were once child slaves working in a mine until they escape, trudged through the desert, and were “adopted” by Vitaly Tynyanov, who turned them into Variants and put them to work hunting for cores.

It’s clear Krovanh and the other two aren’t doing this because it’s what they always dreamed of, or even because they want to, but because no other options for survival have ever presented themselves…until now, of course!

Hayato understands Krovanh’s intensity and rage, but he’s not going to let him stand in the way of his own quest to put smiles on everyone’s faces without hurting anyone, which he attempts to do by putting on his Judge Dredd armor and proceeding to try to beat the shit out of Krovanh!

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This could go on all night—and I thought it would—and probably been able to sustain an episode with Hayato eventually getting the better of the hot-headed kid because, well, he’s Hayato (note that I won’t use his whole name every damn time like most of the other characters anoyingly do).

But, and here’s where a bit of a surprise comes in, a one-on-one duel isn’t all that’s in store for us. That duel is suddenly brought to a halt by the arrival of the biggest, baddest, most legitimately intimidating Savage yet to grace the screen of Hundred: a dragon-type. I’ll call him Drogon-dred, or Drode for short, because why not?!

Drode’s Savage version of dragonfire is a gigantic beam that can wipe out an entire regiment if left unchecked, but his Savage version of dragon scales is a wide-area barrier that no single sword strike or cannon blast can penetrate.

That only means one thing: these two fighting groups have to stop fighting each other and align their powers against this thing; that’s the only way it’s going down. Krovanh, who still needs this thing’s core (to avoid the wrath of his master), offers a bag of the hundreds he’d taken from Harvey’s Slayers so far, and takes Drode on in hopes he can snag that juicy core.

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But even when he almost loses himself to the Variant virus, he can’t put a dent in Drode. Claire and Emile put their cannon together, but Erica suspect they’ll need more. Nesat destroys the hunters’ jamming device so all Slayers can be contacted and their attacks coordinated. It’s a nifty bit of teamwork with previously bad guys you’re temporarily in a truce with, along with some more interesting tactics than “just keep hitting the damn thing).

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Drode’s no fool, however, and he launches an attack just before the slayers can get their off, disabling some of them and forcing some to misfire. Claire needs MORE POWAH, which Professor Char concludes she’ll only be able to get in the needed amounts…by trading tongues with Hayato.

Emile is against this (because she loves Hayato), as is Erica (because she loves Claire), but Claudia, in one of her few lines this week, doesn’t see what the big deal is (because she loves Emile). I’ve liked Claudia, but the episode saw that she could wear thin if over-used, and effectively reduced her role this week to that of a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.

After a perhaps unnecessarily-passionate kiss between Claire and Hayato atop a moonlit bluff, Claire charges, up, crosses the streams with Emile, and combined with all the other slayers’ beams, finally brings Drode’s shield down.

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After that, Judge HunDredd Hayato does what he does, taking care not to lose himself too much in his decisive (and cool-looking) finishing blow. Drode’s head and neck are cleved and his core is shattered, and he falls helplessly into the water like a sack of potatoes. Very satisfying.

However, that attack took a lot out of an already sleep-deprived Hayato who’d just had a little French with Claire, so when he goes into the drink, he has to be rescues. No problem for Emile, an excellent swimmer and transfer-er of air from her mouth to Hayato’s, which just happens to be, for all intents and purposes, a kind of kiss. It also brings him back from Variant Berserk Mode.

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With Drode defeated with authority, Judar has his sister Claire bring the Hunters back with her to Little Garden. She and Erica are suspicious about his motives, and judging from the look of him smirking at the moon with his sake, we’re supposed to be to.

But at the same time, I’m glad these three kids are coming back to the boat, which will almost certainly be better than going back to Vitaly empty-handed. That is, of course, assuming Judar won’t strip them down, put them in tubes, and experiment on them…which is far from a sure thing!

If he doesn’t and the Hunters can interact with the LG’s general population (or at least Hayato & Co.), that will help build out their characters. Meanwhile, Hayato is good as new, to the relief of his little fan club of Emile, Karen, and Sakure, and Vitaly doesn’t seem to mind her hunters won’t be returning, because she’s got a lot more where that came from; likely improved versions.

This was a fine episode because it never let off the action gas until Drode was dead, underplayed the haremness, expanded the central conflict to one between Judar and Vitaly, with our younger heroes as their chess pieces, and made Vitaly’s pieces more human. Next week will be hard-pressed to top this, but that doesn’t mean Hundred can’t give it a try.

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Hundred – 08

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The bad news: this wasn’t a particularly mockable episode of Hundred. Why? That’s the good news: it wasn’t really that bad, as far as episodes of Hundred go. The ‘fight monsters, then fight over Hayate’ formula has been spiced up nicely by Claudia, voiced by the talented Akasaki Chinatsu, who exhibits her usual tremendous range and energy.

I’ve loved Akasaki’s work ever since Kill Me Baby! and seeing her give Emile a taste of her own medicine is never not fun. Claudia’s also a pretty capable Slayer, so it’s not like it doesn’t make sense to have her around.

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Naturally, Claudia works to separate Hayato and Emile at every turn, an urge she shares with Claire, not least because both know she’s really a girl. Claudia wants Emilia and Claire wants Hayato, but there’s no real alliance between them, which is why Claire puts both Hayato and Claudia on her team while her veep Erica is paired with Emile.

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Even though the Hunters are lurking around hoping to poach savage and slayer alike, Claudia kinda drops the ball by leaving Claire and Hayato alone so she can run back to Emile. Not only is her lie about the two “going on date” inaccurate, it’s also unsuccessful, as Emile isn’t one to simply tuck tail and return to her homeland just because Claire won Round One. By that same token, Claudia isn’t about to give up on Emilia.

As for Claire and Hayato, the former slipping on some mud is enough of a reason to go skinny dipping in a hot spring. She slips again while getting out, landing naked on Hayato, but in between the moments of silliness they have a fine little chat about how both of them are fighting primarily for family, not just out of duty and honor—and how there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Speaking of honor, it doesn’t seem like the Hunters have much, as they start ambushing and scavenging the various slayer teams dispersed throughout the area. Claire mobilizes in her full armor to put a stop to it, but an earlier mention of heavy rain affecting beam weaponry gains significance when the heavens open up just when she’s about to dole out some beamy justice. Looks like a job for Hayato.

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Hundred – 07

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The Quest to Kill Karen continues: she survived a rowdy idol concert, so lets put her out in the blazing sun! Seriously, if she can endure this many trips outside her hospital room, why is she confined to that hospital room?

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For THAT. She’s got them hanging out for that. Gotta cushion Hayato’s clumsy falls, right?

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Oh, great, here we go: Bishounen Bad Guy #4,678,594. Claire’s older brother Judar. I’m sure he’s not up to no good, no sir!

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“Mmmm…but not you, Karen. Sorry.”

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Boobs? It’s boobs, right? Gotta be boobs.

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WHOA…Judar went and splurged on the most expensive lamp at IKEA Little Garden! Wait a minute…there’s a girl in there! Judging from all the white mist around her body, she’s nude, too! She’s your and Claire’s sister Liza, you say? Why’s your sister nude in there?

Never mind; Judar wants to see if Hayato’s Super-Awesome Energy can wake her up, even though she powers the entire city-ship? Uh, buddy, you got backup generators, or am I missing something?

Claire pulls a gun on her brother when she finds him down there with Hayato. How’d she catch up to them so fast, when it took the two of them so long to descend and get through all those security doors? Is Judar just messing with Hayato, and there’s a screen door that leads straight to the top deck?

Never mind again; I’d probably pull a gun on him too. Dude’s totally evil.

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Some people immediately took a hatred to Emilia’s highly-caffinated childhood friend Claudia Loetty and wanted to lower her into a volcano mere seconds after meeting her. Wouldn’t you know it, I was not one of those people!

I dunno…I kinda love her. Her voice actor (I wanna say Akasaki Chinatsu, but not sure) has stellar range and timing, and Claudia is pretty much the manifestation of all the built-up misfortune Hayato has been collecting while taking all of those lucky ass-backward trips into lady’s hearts, crotches, boobs, and mouths.

Sure, at some point Claudia may also come to fall for Hayato, but that seems a pretty long way off. And any cute girl who doesn’t love Hayato and is actively trying to make his life harder is alright with me. Hayato needs more people like this in his life, lest he take what he has (everything) for granted.

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You see? There is nothing inaccurate about this statement. This girl speaks the truth. She is after my heart. Take it to him, sister!

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Yes, because she’s desperately in love with Emilia (who turns out to be a princess back home in Gudenburg, dontchaknow!), Claudia has zero patience for those who’d seduce her  (hence her hissing and spitting upon meeting Hayato). She also challenges Hayato to a duel in a dojo, her with her flail/mace thingy, and he with his shinai.

It doesn’t seem like a fair fight, until Hayato easily defeats her in the most hilarious way possible. She then tries to bargain for a rematch, but is refused and runs off crying. Yes, Claudia is very very annoying, but I’m very glad she’s around. She made this normally bland, stolid love-fest genuinely interesting and funny for once!

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Hundred – 06

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Anyone hoping this week’s Hundred would out-do Bakuon’s T&A quota may come away disappointed: there was precious little time for girls to throw off their clothes and jump Hayato, what with all the battlin’ going on. And hey, what do you know, Sakura’s Hundred also gives her defensive capabilities. Why does she need a part-time bodyguard, again?

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Apparently not from the pack of elite variants who poach savages. The group of three (four?) make the Little Garden students look a bit silly; though perhaps that’s not entirely fair as you’re talking about pros (albeit young ones) against amateur students. Nice outfits, though.

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Sakura expresses a little confusion over Emile’s possessiveness towards Hayato (being a “boy” and all), but nothing comes of it, and in any case, there’s no time for fooling around since there’s savages to fight! Only the hunters fought and beat the savages for them. And there actualy was time for a lot of standing around and talking. As for the savages, they seem really slow and dumb.

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The savage hunters, imaginatively called “hunters” by Claire at their debriefing, are after savage cores, because cores and variable stones are basically the same thing, both technologically and monetarily speaking. But this is all Top Secret, so don’t tell anyone, even though the science loli told half the cast.

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Sakura spends a good amount of time on a beach with no bodyguard, it seems, because she’s already there when Hayato answers her summons. When Hayato says everyone’s looking forward to the concert, Sakura goes into a pity spiral, saying people are only affected by her song because she’s a variant and that’s her skill. Hayato rebuts: she touched him and Karen way back before she was an idol, so quit hatin’ on yoself!

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The concert ensues, and, erm, it’s okay I guess? Pretty underwhelming. They never even bothered to animate Sakura singing; not even once! Which begs the question, why have such an ambitious idol concert scene if you don’t have the budget? I don’t know, but at the end Sakura breaks out the same song she sang to Hayato and Karen, which is nice.

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After giving Karen, who really should be dead from all the exposure to the outside (why else would she be confined to a hospital room the rest of her life?) an autograph and handshake, Sakura closes in for a big ‘ol smooth on Hayato’s cheek, making the polyamorous lil’ scamp blush like a rose – and outrage all the other girls present currently crushing on him.

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It wouldn’t be Hundred without closing with an even more ridiculous portrayal of Hayato’s harem, in which three of his girls tug and pull at him like he’s the last carton of milk at the store during a blizzard. You break him, you bought him, ladies…and what are you gonna do when you get him?

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Hundred – 05

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What’s Kirishima Hayato’s secret for getting all these hot ladies falling at his feet? From what I can tell, it’s to be as nondescript and vapid a character as it is possible to be while still able to be called a “character.”

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They don’t just fall at his feet of their own accord, though: they forget they don’t have their bikini top tied on, or slip and fall on top of him. So it’s not just vapidity, but the fact that physics itself seem to favor the guy.

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Hundred does its darndest to not spend any more time than it needs to on silly matters like protecting civilization from a scourge of powerful monsters. Instead, it prefers having Hayato go on a date with Emilia after turning down Claire’s swimming challenge.

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Wait, but isn’t he supposed to be Sakura’s bodyguard, you ask? Apparently not full-time. Which is unfortunate, because Sakura disappears when he’s off the job. Thankfully, she used his GPD signal to track him down so she can take him somewhere special to her. Emilia gets ditched. Don’t hate the playa…

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I’m not sure Hayato signed up to have Sakura prattle on interminably about her increasingly dark and cruel past as they admire the islands’ version of the grand canyon (the geography of this place, and why its not overrun with savages, escapes me).

I think I fell asleep during some of the exposition, but from what I heard, Sakura had the same virus as Karen, was sold to a mad scientist and injected with Savage cells in an attempt to build a super-slayer. Not-fun times.

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Then Sakura proceeds to connect every significant part of her life to Hayato, from the one who set her on the path to idoldom, to the one who preserved the place where she apparently has good (rather than horrifying) memories, and the fact both of them are variants and thus “share the same fate.”

I imagine Sakura is going to be disappointed when she learns that Hayato does not and will not belong to just one woman. He belongs to them all. His blandness…it’s just so breathtaking.

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Oh HEY! It’s a savage! Those variant kids from last week, perhaps? They come pretty late in this episode. In fact, they come at the very end, before Hayato has any time to break out his Hundred and, you know, fight them.

Instead we spent what felt like an eternity watching Hayato jump from one girl to another, turning one Claire for Emilia, ditching Emilia for Sakura, and telling Sakura, who is pouring her heart out, to “calm down there.” Maybe the real monster in Hundred is Hayato.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 03

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Well, Mumei and Ikoma got on the train, but hardly any of the ingrate cowards aboard want them there. Unfortunately, they can’t do shit about that, and Mumei makes it clear that if they think she’s their enemy, the feelings mutual and they’re welcome to die by her hand if that’s what they want.

It’s great that Mumei hasn’t the slightest will or compulsion to calmly explain herself. She saved all their pathetic lives; that should be enough reason for her to be allowed aboard. Ikoma, on the other hand, would like to explain himself, but he doesn’t quite get it yet himself.

Ayame, who is de facto in charge of the train following the loss of her father, tends to agree. She’s the only one standing between the Kabaneri and the jumpy ingrate cowards eager to kill them, and she lets Mumei and Ikoma stay in the boiler car, provided they promise to stay there.

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Mumei doesn’t keep her promise long, as she senses a Kabane and rushes into a car full of scared evacuees, including a woman who is pretty clearly bearing a Kabane child, a possibility that probably escapes Mumei because she’s never come across it.

The resulting standoff with guns is defused when an engineer warns the train must stop before reaching the next station to repair the precious water tank, which I’m starting to think was manufactured by Ducati.

While the train is stopped we get a little more world-building with the evacuees, led by elders and holy men, conduct a funeral service for the scores who were lost. Ikoma takes the opportunity to recount the story of how he ran from his sister rather than stay and fight, resulting in her death (he also still carries around the green stone he and his sister kept as good-luck charms).

Ikoma wants to believe his past cowardice and trauma are exceptional in some way, but Mumei is again on the spot with the cruel truth: Ikoma isn’t special, and neither is his story: the weak died; the strong survived.

That cynical but not-wrong summing-up implies Ikoma is strong, by the way, even if he gets his ass handed to him in his first “training” sessions with Mumei. Clearly she believes him strong enough to be his shield when she falls asleep.

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But she gets no sleep tonight, as a gang of disgruntled ingrate cowards gathered by a tsking ringleader (who of course hangs back) challenges Mumei, despite Ayame’s pleadings for calm. Again, Mumei exposes her arrogant streak, perfectly fine with taking out anyone who raises a weapon to her with killing intent.

Ayame again, somehow, manages to stop a full-on fight (i.e. massacre) from breaking out, by pulling out her dagger, putting it to Ikoma’s chest, and proving to the malcontents (and to herself) that he’s not the enemy.

Meanwhile, Mumei slipped away to hang with the women, and kinda proves that she’s not the enemy either by comforting a baby and generally being able to slip into the role of ‘just one of the girls’.

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That act doesn’t last long, however, as after all the fun, Mumei gets hungry. She declines an offer of dumpling soup and asks for blood instead. That’s right; the dun dun duuuun moment occurs at roughly the same time for both Mumei among the girls and Ikoma with an initially relieved, thankful, even bashful Ayame.

This week, I came to empathize a little more for the ingrate cowards of the train. They’re weak, and can’t help being freaked out by the mere possibility a Kabane is walking among them, pretending to play nice, but only for now. Mumei doesn’t help matters by being aggressive and arrogant, but she can’t help being like that either, because she’s strong.

But like a vampire, she still needs blood to stay strong (and operating at peak efficiency). So does Ikoma, which is why after leaking a bit of blood, he starts to go at Ayame like, well, a thirsty vampire. I also learned this is a show that likes its cliffhangers, despite the fact that we know Ikoma isn’t going to remain in that state forever, nor is he going to kill Ayame.

But his and Mumei’s sudden need for fresh blood certainly doesn’t help their chances of ever being trusted by the people they keep saving.

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