Zankyou no Terror – 03

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Twelve isn’t content to wow a bunch of dummies; he wants a counterpart: someone at least clever enough to decipher Sphinx’s riddles; someone to make a game of this, because when you’re raised in a government facility where love doesn’t exist, what is life but and elaborate games? And in any game, Twelve wants a worthy opponent.

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Well, Mouse…Meet Cat: Shibasaki is officially on the case. Every bit the Japanese Lester Freamon, “natural police” who dug a little too deep a politically sensitive case years ago. Doing so exiled him to the archives and presumably cost him his family. We also learn he’s the son of Hibakusha, which combined with his wan complexion and haggard appearance make him an object of compassion.

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Shibasaki and Twelve/Nine are a lot alike in that both had things taken from them, but they still survived and have been living on, in an almost dormant state. Now the Sphinx has awakened and is bearing its claws all over Tokyo. Shibasaki, once the force’s ace detective, nicknamed “Razor”, has been taken out of its sheath, and the rust is shaking off fast.

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Just as a great comic can make a joke out of anything around him, on the spot, a great detective can find inspiration for the case anywhere around him, as long as he keeps his eyes and ears open. The spark that leads to solving the riddle comes from Mukasa, who defeats the “green dragon” on his online phone game. In the process, he won over a skeptic in the young hotshot Hamura, who would do well to watch and learn.

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Shibasaki also muses that just as Mukasa is playing a cooperative multiplayer game, connecting with random people rather than playing alone, the young duo of Sphinx are similarly reaching out for a human connection, one sophisticated enough to solve their riddles and hang with them in a protracted chase that will sharpen both Sphinx’s claws and the Razor’s edge.

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But no matter how wounded or lonely these kids may be, Shibasaki won’t forgive them if they use the plutonium trump card they stole, and retrieving it is paramount. Twelve and Nine seem amused by the old man’s righteous indignation, but they also seem happy to have a legit playmate.

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As for Lisa, well, she’s mostly on the margins of this episode, deciding to run away from home. It seems unlikely she’ll be able to find her one-time saviors, but maybe Nine will find her. He seems more interested in her than Twelve, who seems more interested in an albino kid from the facility who haunts his daydreams.

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Zankyou no Terror – 02

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Nine and Twelve are most definitely, as Shibasaki’s old cop partner/boss and current head of the terrorist investigation says, trying to pick a fight with the country. I can take an educated guess why: the country they’re picking a fight with is the one that made them the super-intelligent, resourceful terrorists they are. Or heck, maybe it’s not revenge after all, but just a simple challenge: “If there’s someone who can stop us, come forward; we’re waiting”.

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Maybe the likes of Nine and Twelve can no longer go on living out their existences devoid of challenges or legitimate checks on their abilities. Someone does indeed answer the call, after a fashion: Shibasaki, the washed-up detective sharing a dark, dank office with another cop who spends most of his shift surfing the web, which is ironically how Shibasaki was exposed to the YouTube videos “Sphinx” posts before each attack. This week, they get all “Oedipal.”

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This was a particularly literary episode of Zankyou no Terror, as the police pick apart that Sphinx nickname in an attempt to try to piece together the M.O. of their adversary. Interestingly, as brash and devastating as last week’s attack was (the Tocho cost taxpayers so much money it’s nicknamed “Tax Tower”), there were no fatalities, which if anything is an even greater sign these two kids know what they’re doing. It’s also easier to root for them when they’re doing all they can to minimize public harm.

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Speaking of which, that first attack was also apparently the first time their desire to minimize casualties took a more specific form, vis-a-vis, Mishima Lisa. Nine doesn’t simply call her an innocent witness, but an accomplice. He twists the dagger by telling her there’s no going back. And yet there’s barely any further contact between them this week, save one scene where Twelve cruelly threatens Lisa, saying he’ll kill her if she puts a toe out of line. I guess he thought his Nine’s approach was too soft?

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I like the idea that Twelve thinks Lisa needs a stronger message, because it means he sees more to her than a helpless, hapless little girl. I’m hoping to see more of the strength and guile still hidden within her that we caught a glimpse of last week when she took that leap of faith. It’s also encouraging that Shibasaki was very close to foiling their latest attack on a police station, after he dismissed the most obvious answer to their YouTube riddle.

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Again, the details this week shine: Lisa being almost perpetually dunked in an inky darkness, so much so that when she’s finally out in the bleak sun she looks terribly vulnerable; the devious noodle delivery service-as-bomb delivery system; the Sophoclean analysis. There was also the feeling the mouse was still very much in control here, but the cat has woken up, stretched, and is alert and ready to hunt. How many more brilliant attacks can Sphinx pull off before they’re caught? Will Lisa become a true accomplice?

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Zankyou no Terror – 01

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Finally we come upon the first episode of “Terror in Resonance”, by the end of which Nine and Twelve make a mini-9/11, and bring a third into their circle. To be honest, it left me a bit morally conflicted, though that’s probably the point. On the one hand, I cannot discount the show’s technical and artistic bona fides, what with Watanabe Shinichiro storyboarding and directing and Kanno Yoko handling the soundtrack. On the other, the supposed “heroes” just blew up half of the Tokyo City Hall.

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After a thrilling, imaginative (snowmobile!), literally cold open in which two masked rogues steal some nuclear fuel from a snowy facility and the most visually complex and beautiful OPs of the season, we transition to a sweltering Summer day in present-day Tokyo. We see the faces of the gents who pulled of the nuke heist: the calm, cool, analytical Kokonoe Shin, and the warm, impish Kumi Fuyuji. In private they call each other “Nine” and “Twelve” respectively, and both the OP and a dream Nine has hints that they’re escaped test subjects.

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Kokonoe and Kumi seem intent on adopting the appearance of normal lives. At their age, that means attending high school. There, they cross paths with Mishima Lisa, a plain girl who is bullied by her peers and her overbearing mother doesn’t seem to help her appetite. She’s trapped, helpless, and miserable. Both Kokonoe and Kumi see that in her, and it reminds them of the people they couldn’t save. So when she happens to be in the building they’re planning to blow up, they give her the choice: die, or join them.

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Unsurprisingly, the desire not to die outweighs whatever reservations she has about becoming the boys’ “accomplice.” She takes a literal leap of faith into Kumi’s waiting arms, and into a new life. And it’s likely City Hall is just the beginning of Kokonoe and Kumi’s plans. So here we are, watching everything go down form the perspective of the “villains,” while also getting a brief taste of the detectives who picked up their scent by chance—a YouTube video.

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This brooding, stark world was presented with nigh impeccable artistry and care; this show is right up there with Aldnoah and DMMd as the Eye Candy Kings of Summer. It also challenges us to root for terrorists while only giving us the slightest hint that they may be justified or at least understandably motivated in their illegal and ultimately murderous activities. So what drives them, why are they so good at terror stuff, what are their goals, and how does Lisa fit into the equation? Moral qualms aside, I won’t deny I’m excited to find out.

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Space Dandy – 03

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This episode exhibited that sometimes there’s a definite method to the madness; that the chaos is very carefully constructed. Therefore, while a multitude of stuff flies past the screen in the course of an episode, a small, innocuous detail from the beginning could pay dividends in the end. There’s a great cat’s cradle of cause-and-effect that propels Dandy, QT and Meow on their adventures, who all end up partial contributors.

Let’s unravel that cradle:

  1. Dandy is having no luck with the alien hunting, getting desperate enough to try to pass Meow off in disguise.
  2. With no money, QT has to stretch pennies to feed the other two, purchasing 365 packages of space food that’s 10,000 years past its sell-by date.
  3. With no money or edible food, Dandy must whip out his Boobies card (also an effective distraction for Meow) It has enough stamps for a free meal, But it too expires in less than three hours.
  4. With no money, edible food, or time to waste, Dandy hits the “Warp” button. Then he gets impatient, and hits it way too many times (waiting for computers to do something can be a torturous ordeal; good to see this won’t change in th distant future.)
  5. Let’s not forget Meow’s role: last week, they spent all their money chasing the Phantom Ramen, with no alien to show for it.

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All of that leads to their adventure: crash-landing on an inhospitable planet littered with skeletons. There are two life-forms there: a swarm of vicious, disgusting-looking monsters, and a blonde hottie named Mamitas, who has also crash-landed. In a classic don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover scenario, the hottie turns out to be the more dangerous, all-devouring Deathgerian; so dangerous, in fact, that the second his men identify her, Dr. Gel turns turns his fleet around. (Her photo in his monster catalog, kneeling in a meadow, is priceless.)

Both the “ugly aliens are evil” and “the pretty lady is evil” are well-established conventions, but both so well executed here that we remained in the dark right up until Dr. Gel entered orbit, even though Mamitas just got finished saying “I’ll eat anything.” Her metamorphosis into a mammoth monster covered in boobs evoked shades of Cronenberg’s “body horror” oeuvre, both aesthetically and in the subtext of Dandy’s somewhat jejune view of women. It’s also just an awesome design in its own right, as is Dandy’s FLCL-inspired mecha “Hawaii Yankee.”

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Back to cause and effect: the fact Deathgerian wants to eat everything becomes it’s downfall, as she swallows a few boxes of the spoiled space food QT bought and gets sick. The monster turns out to be unique enough for Scarlett’s “OK” stamp and a reward of 99,000 Woolongs. All’s well that ends well…except for poor Meow.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Space Dandy – 02

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Space Dandy is the intergalactic comedy that takes its time and hangs out in bars—ramen shops. When none of Dandy’s alien quarry turns out to be rare, he ejects Meow into space, only letting him back into the ship when Meow promises he knows the location of a Phantom Ramen. A wide-ranging culinary journey ensues, with the contents of the bowls growing more bizarre and outrageous as Dandy’s bank account empties.

So what happens here is that Dandy, eager to make a buck, agrees to spend what money he does have matching noodle bowls with his unreliable new sidekick, who Dandy knows is only interested in eating and wasting time. All the while, Meow is inadvertently telling the enemy Dr. Gel exactly where they are by tweeting each restaurant they patronize. Dandy also meets the lovely (and limber) Scarlett, who takes out the first wave of Gel’s foot soldiers not to save Dandy, but as payback for spilling her bowl.

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Honey may give Space Dandy the time of day, but that’s her job. Scarlett is not the least bit seducd by Dandy’s wiles, especially when he asks for money. Still, once QT discovers Meow’s tweets and his phone is disposed of, the threat from the Gogol Empire is neutralized. It’s about this time when we started wondering how Dandy & Co. get themselves killed this week, but the episode’s final act didn’t follow that pattern; not exactly, at least. The only similarity to last week’s ending is that Dandy and Meow end up in another tense, dangerous situation, as the source of the stale but tasty Phantom Ramen turns out to be in a wormhole.

But after that mind-bending journey they emerge on the other side in a very calm, eerily gorgeous alternate dimension, and the comedy is put on hold for the surprisingly moving story of an ancient Earth-trained alien ramen master, possibly inspired by Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which we still have yet to see). The alien lives there alone for centuries, and his tears are the secret ingredient. After hearing the old alien’s tale, out of deference, Dandy lets him decide if he wants to come back with them. He declines, and in a hint of karmic justice, Meow loses his to-go bowl in the wormhole, and only Dandy gets the final taste ever.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)