NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 02 – Diner of Illusion

In addition to showing us a lot of cool stuff, NH2K41 can add another feather to its cyberpunk cap: it’s able to cover a lot of narrative ground in these two episodes. There’s a lot of information to convey, and while it isn’t always the most elegant or subtle (we learn the Kuroki brothers were abandoned because…they mention it while looking at a photo) it’s all easy to digest. And Takuya’s whiskey on the rocks looks frikkin’ epic.

The show also wastes no time connecting our two pairs of brothers, as Yuuya has a momentary vision of the Kirihara brothers, who are once again just trying to fill their stomachs in an unassuming diner. Unfortunately for them, the fugitive Miracle Mick is there, along with a Harley Quinn-style femme fatale, who uses Mick’s celebrity to bilk a 2D three-man band out of all their cash. She, not Mick, is the one with the psychic power: the power of mind control.

It isn’t long before the Thought Police (Takuya and Yuuya’s squad) show up, but they’re just there for Mick and the woman using him and manipulating the musicians, whom she sics on the cops like brainwashed dogs. The order comes down to arrest everyone in the diner, even the cute waitress, but when they start getting rough Naoto gets pissed off and uses his psychokinesis to fight back, stopping all the bullets Neo-style. In the process, Yuuya learns he has a skill: psychic shields.

Naoto, Naoya, and the waitress are able to flee, while Mick and the band are arrested as scapegoats. Then the mischievous woman, Kobayashi Kimie, reveals she’s a cop who was working undercover to bring Mick down. She also demonstrates her powers of illusion in one of the coolest manners possible: by “stabbing” the four squad members with glass spikes. It’s as pretty as it is gruesome.

That’s when Takuya, Yuuya, Reika and Michio learn that it isn’t that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that the government wants the public to think it doesn’t exist. Psychics, like the four cops are about to awaken to be come, are the exclusive purview of the government. If they have to use supernatural powers to root the civilian world of the supernatural, so be it.

The waitress Naoto saves isn’t particularly thankful, as now the cops will be after her since she’s a Psychic too (though not, as she says, a “monster” like the brothers). She thanks them before shuffling off, warning them to keep a low profile. That may be tough in what is clearly a police and surveillance state where everything that has a microchip could be watching or listening.

The fact that when the Kirihara brothers escaped from the lab where they spend fifteen years, only to find themselves ten years further into the future than they expected, doesn’t help matters. Naoto thought they were going somewhere where their own kind were accepted and coexisted with regular humans. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Clearly the girl in the school uniform is a part of the experiments at the lab, as she’s returned unconscious and with a weak pulse, but alive after an apparent trip to the future. The question is, is there any way to prevent the awful post-WWIII dystopia that exists in 2041?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

Steins Gate – 23

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Just moments, by Okabe’s reckoning, removed from consigning the love of his life to temporal oblivion for the sake of Mayushii, he gets a call from Suzuha, who has arrived in the undamaged time machine Future Daru and Okabe built, in cool resistance soldier get-up and her braids pinned up behind her ears, urging him to come with her on a mission to save the world from World War III. Okabe is extremely disinterested in any more time-meddling, nor does he give a hoot about the 5.7 billion people Suzuha says will die in the war.

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But two things get him to hop into that dicey space-capsule looking contraption with Suzu: the possibility that Kurisu can still be saved, and Mayushii, after showing a moment’s reluctance in her face, urging him to help this Kurisu friend of his, whoever she is.

And as I had always suspected, saving Kurisu means plucking an arrow all self-respecting time travel stories have in their quivers, and traveling back to the beginning of it all, in this case, Professor Nakabachi’s talk at the Radio Kaikan Building back on July 28, and stopping her from being stabbed.

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At first, this seems all too easy, at least practically speaking: as Suzu prepares the machine to jump back to the future, all Okabe has to do is keep an eye on the Kurisu of that time, while avoiding the July 28 Okabe, lest he create the kind of unsolvable paradox that rends the universe asunder. Frankly, Okabe’s main difficulty is bumping into Kurisu herself on a staircase, and being so relieved and in awe to see her breathing, the fact she has no idea who she is doesn’t even bother him that much.

Of course, things always end up more complicated and fucked up than initially indicated, as we learn along with Okabe that Nakabachi is Kurisu’s father. When she presents him with her latest theoretical paper on time machines, seeking his approval, he flat-out snatches it from her, intending to publish it under his own name. When she objects, a scuffle every bit as nasty as Okabe and Moeka’s ensues.

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I’m not entirely sure why the father-daughter meeting takes place in such a dark and isolated room (besides the fact that that’s where Okabe found her in the first episode); but Kurisu’s unconditional love for her father blinds her from his current state of weakness and volatility. “No daughter should be smarter than her father,” he says, trying to choke her to death.

Things take a turn for the tragically ironic when Okabe springs out of hiding to save Kurisu. Physically he’s a match for Nakabachi, but Kurisu isn’t able to get away, and in the confusion and darkness, Okabe ends up accidentally stabbing Kurisu in the gut with Nakabachi’s pocket knife, just as she wrenches free.

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Forget gut punches, this was a gut-stab to me as well, even though I knew something like this was coming, there was never going to be a way to emotionally steel myself for it, any more than I could for Kurisu’s sacrifice last week. “This is the perfect end for you,” says Nakabachi as he flees with Kurisu’s paper.

Well, it is an ending, as Kurisu dies in Okabe’s arms, sorry she got him involved.  But since this show is based on a visual novel and involves time travel, we also know it’s not the only ending, and it’s certainly not a perfect one. For that, Okabe has to save Mayushii without losing Kurisu.

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But as Okabe and Suzu return to August 21, the experience of watching Kurisu die has left him defeated; her blood is still all over his lab coat, still fresh despite traveling forward three-plus weeks. This small detail injects a measure of hope in me: unlike the pink thread, Kurisu’s previous way of “marking” him, the blood didn’t vanish. Sure enough, Suzu confesses to Okabe that in order to save Kurisu, he had to fail once.

The present is already changed by his actions: Nakabachi appears on one of AKiba’s many public TVs, announcing his defection to Russia with his Kurisu’s paper on time machines (and Mayushii’s metal upa that has her name on it…so that’s what happened to it!). The paper is the key that leads to WWIII, fought with devastating temporal weapons.

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But as I said, Okabe is physically and emotionally spent, and having failed once more, is ready to throw in the towel. That’s when he receives a ringing SLAP from Mayushii. He didn’t give up when he visited her grandmother’s grave with her, and helped her get better, and she won’t let him give up here.

Here, as in the beginning when she gave Okabe’s blessing to go with Suzu to the past, Mayushii proves her worth. Saving her meant sacrificing Kurisu, but saving Kurisu depends on Mayushii convincing Okabe to keep moving forward, which only she can do. And she does. Suzu directs them to Okabe’s phone, which he left in the present, which has a new video message.

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That grainy message is from the Okabe Rintarou of the Future, who helpfully lays all  the cards on the table. The two objectives remain: destroying the paper and saving Kurisu. But simply trying to save Kurisu and change the past will always end in failure (as it did with Mayushii before) due to “attractor field convergence.” More to the point, changing the past changes the three crucial weeks Okabe and Kurisu had together, which must not be lost.

A different approach is called for, one in which he deceives his past self into believing Kurisu is dead when she’s really alive, which will take him to a third world line that he’s called “Steins Gate”, which he and the present Okabe agree is a name chosen despite “no really meaning anything.”

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Future Okabe breaks down the parameters of “Operation Skuld”, named for one of the three norns in Norse mythology (whose name can also mean “debt” or “future” that decide the fates of people. The fact there are three ties in to the existence of three main world lines Okabe has had to weather in order to secure the fates of those he loves. As long as his past self sees Kurisu in that pool of blood, the past won’t change and Kurisu can live in the present that results.

The video ends with a Good Luck and an El Psy Congroo. The fact that his older self, in spite of all he’s been through is still able to channel Hououin Kyouma shakes our present Okabe out of his funk, finishing what Mayushii started. Thanks to her and his future self, he is able to take up the mantle of Kyouma once again, and even let out the first evil laugh we’ve heard from him in a good long while.

I never thought how good it would feel to hear it again. Optimism is back in the air, he’s a mad scientist again, and he’s feeling good about deceiving his past self and the world in order to save Kurisu.

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