Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 02

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Unlike so many anime on the air today, Arise doesn’t hold your hand too much with long narrations or official introductions or long narrations. Instead, it tosses you into the deep end of its intricate cyberpunk narrative. You’ll either sink from the sheer weight of proper nouns, or swim among all the interesting ideas.

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I’m here writing this, so I was mostly able to navigate the occasionally opaque cybercop-talk of plots layered within plots. There’s a dense, sophisticated story unfolding, necessitating quite a bit of exposition, but it’s nicely balanced with—and sometimes, occupying the same space as—nifty bursts of good old-fashioned cop action.

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Standard fare like busting windows and firing guns, and setting off sprinklers are more setting-specific stuff like a robot containing the two minds of identical twins working together, or Motoko’s colleague being implanted with false memories until he’s not in control of his own body. Arise is a show that blows stuff up real good and makes your mind churn.

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As for Motoko, she’s fearless, reckless, and superbly competent, neither afraid of mussing her hair or losing a layer of synthetic skin tossing her body at attackers. She and Batou are almost as in sync as those cyber-twins in the heat of battle, tossing guns at one another and not flinching as each kills the bad guy behind the other.

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As to the plot: Emma Tsuda is identified as a tech officer under Motoko’s former 501 colleague, Lt. Col. Kurutsu, who was investigating a hacker known as “Scarecrow” whom apparently had the same disorder she had.

While Emma used cyberization to “structure her attenuating selfhood” (making herself more and more a “Tin Girl”, the “Scarecrow”, AKA Brinda Jr., achieves selfhood by dubbing ghosts, stealing bodies, and assuming the identities of others. The two live within Emma’s body, and though his brain and her heart are fading away, they yearn go on living together after death.

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These odd soulmates are unfortunately pawns in a bigger, more dastardly plot spearheaded by military bigwig (and somewhat scary-looking cyborg) Colonel Hozuki. She’s in cahoots with a foreign weapons cartel, and used Scarecrow to eliminate said cartel’s domestic competition, while trying to pass Emma off as the ringleader in a diversionary massacre.

Motoko and Batou follow Togusa and Emma to a thrilling dock standoff where Tin Girl and Scarecrow desperately transfer to a next-gen mecha. When Mokoto dives in to try to get more info on the virus, they flee again, only to be blown up by a warship just offshore. To top it off, Hozuki, supervising all this from her chopper, is herself hot down by the cartel, reaping what she’s sown.

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If I didn’t quite get all that right, please forgive me, for I watched this quite late at night, but suffice it to say Motoko and her team are rewarded for uncovering Hozuki’s plot by being given special authority, and tasked with continuing their investigations into the hacking virus, along with any organizations involved.

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Considering Motoko doesn’t wear a military uniform anymore (preferring a fetching red leather suit), it’s clear more authority and autonomy suit her just fine. These first two weeks of Alternative Architecture covered the events of the fourth and final Arise OVA, while the preview indicates we’ll be going back to when Motoko did wear a uniform.

So if it felt like we were just thrown right into the middle of everything—not a bad way to do things in this kind of setting, IMO—it’s because we were; now comes the backstory.

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