Before the Black Out: More Human Than Human | OWLS “Diplomacy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic, “Diplomacy,” I decided to incorporate my loose thoughts on Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 into this glance at the past, the present, and the future of the franchise’s iconic sci-fi world. The matter at hand: In an age rife with incredible development, improvement, and achievement, when did humanity lose its defining future–its ability to reason compassionately?

Whenever we have a disagreement with someone, we use our words to express our thoughts and opinions. However, there are those who would rather use fists instead of words—those who forget that being “right” isn’t the most important thing, and those who lose sight of compromising and acknowledging differences in opinion and belief. Diplomacy is an important skill and tactic that not many of us have or are able to utilize properly especially in “social media wars” for sensitive issues and anime discourse—we just express our opinions without really listening.

We will be exploring some of the best negotiations scenes in pop culture media and discuss how effective these diplomatic moments are and what we can learn from them. We will also discuss why communication and listening are important traits to have, and whether or not there are other means to enforce peace.

I’ll be taking this in a bit of a different direction, like say, what happens in a world without diplomacy—a world without choice—where issues can’t merely be talked through, but require brute force to get a point across. War is necessity. I’m talkin’ about the dawn of a revolution, the beginning of the blackout bigger and darker than the world had ever known. Welcome to Blade Runner.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt (this month’s theme was admittedly tricky for me, so I hope you all enjoy a VERY different OWLS post)!


A brief discussion on the 15-min fall 2017 anime short “Blade Runner: Black Out 2022,” produced by Cygames, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). It serves as one of three short films based on the original film by Ridley Scott as an intended sequel to fill in the events before “Blade Runner 2049.” SPOILERS only for “BLACK OUT 2022” will be present.

A Dystopian Vision of Our World, the Not-So-Far-Off Future

Set three years after the events of Blade Runner, we are presented with a vision of Los Angeles in 2022: a grim, metal and rain-coated field of shacks and skyscrapers that continues beyond the horizon as far as the eye can reach. It’s an overcrowded metropolis in which millions of people roam the streets, shoulders practically touching, yet people couldn’t feel more disconnected on a personal level. The scene is gloomy, very neo-noir in tone, and the only sense of organization comes from not the city’s inhabitants, but its layout and structure; a handful of massive, sprawling, and imposing ziggurats distinguish between the penniless street-dwellers and those empowered with privilege.

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Between the maze of ominous alleyways and towering steel spires, one would find two types of species: the living, us standard human types, and the manufactured, bio-engineered androids coined “replicants” (these happen to be new Nexus-8 models, mind you, which mean that their lifespans are programmed to be just as long as a normal human’s—a significant improvement since the four-year lifespans of Nexus-6 models in the original Blade Runner). Already faster, stronger, and smarter than humans, this latest replicant enhancement robbed humans of their final upper edge against the robots, and unfortunately, this didn’t settle well with the populous.

Hunters, fighters, and police began their assaults on a race that didn’t even get to choose its genes—their maker, in fact, was human, so why the cause for outrage? Human nature, that’s why (cue events of 1982’s Blade Runner). Replicants were brutally hunted down, more killed than imprisoned. Feeling the urge, the drive, the right to power over all they create and manipulate, unjust violence by humanity broke out everywhere, and it’d only be a matter of time before the Replicants as a whole decided to fight back. In their rise, humanity fell further to the lowest levels of jealousy, corruption, and greed.

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A Means to an End

FINALLY, we get to Black Out 2022, a brief tale that begins at the climax of the Replicant Revolution, a stage craftily set by what I’d imagine to be many painstaking hours of sorting out the details so that the franchise’s history flowed smoothly with the coming of Blade Runner 2049. We find a young female, a replicant named Trixie, in the streets being approached by a group of thugs when Iggy, a once-soldier replicant, bursts onto the scene and rescues her. Iggy had left the battlefield once he realized that, in the war on terror, BOTH sides were using replicants as disposable pawns. Flash forward and together the two team up with other members of the underground replicant freedom movement to destroy the Tyrell Corporation’s database of registered replicants, so that replicants can no longer be hunted, as well as plunge Los Angeles into the dark ages via atomic bomb. Heaven and hell are for the humans—now, THIS life, is all the replicants have.

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Too often, these war shows about rebellion cause us to contemplate the same questions: How did things turn out this way? Was this really the only way to win? Did we even really win anything in the end? And you know, I find them to be more rhetorical than anything. Rather than asking a serious question and expecting a straight answer, these questions merely exist to put a point out there. How did things turn out this way? Well, because we kept agreeing to disagree, that’s how. But really, perhaps it’s because, somewhere deep down in the darkest of our human selves, we wanted this result—this form of means to bring us to the end. As the saying goes, “If you go down, go down fighting,” right? Then WHAT is so wrong about rigging a bomb to protect the lives of millions of ill-fated replicants? (rhetorical question, just think)

Maybe there isn’t a way outta this one. Sometimes, words alone are not enough to probe individuals to act. Replicant injustice was akin to a crueler version of slavery by the time of the revolution—it was humanity who created beings capable of achieving self-realization and freedom, and it was humanity who purposefully dangled that freedom in front of their innocent, unknowing faces, far beyond their grasp. I hate to admit it (and no, I don’t condemn the use of atomic bombs, ever), but maybe the replicants were right on this one.

According to basic psychology, Kohlberg’s theory on moral development might have an explanation to the justification of rigging the great black out of 2022:

Of his 6 stages, the last is the rarest case of man, one in which he weighs universal ethical principles. Gifted individuals like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. fit this bill, as they pass judgments based on universal human rights (whether it’s for or against the law, this is inherently right/wrong). They tend to disregard law and social agreement for what is believed to be the greatest good for all, kinda like groovin’ to the beat of their own drum. Whoever is leading the Replicant Revolution is likely such a charismatic character, one who is seeking an end where replicants can live freely regardless of how many laws they have to break getting there. Now, back to the Blade Runner . . .

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If Only We Could Talk Things Through

BEHOLD, THIS is the future you asked for, humanity. THIS is the world in which you gave all of your power up to an oppressive state that knows all and sees all, and thus it created more slaves. THIS is the route where humans essentially reduced a complex lifeform into a machine. This is . . . the black out is . . .

It’s the world you deserve.

Call me bitter, but there’s a time and place for war, there really is. When some people get their head SO far up their asses that they close off their mind to new ideas and thoughts, it’s time for change. And that is EXACTLY what the replicants did and in the most peaceful way possible. Through the black out, two lowly replicants transcend their original purposes to become free-thinking individuals.

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The film ends just as it began: Iggy walking away from a storm of ash and flames with an eye patch, symbolizing that he, like Trixie, has cast aside his original purpose as a replicant soldier (replicant IDs are located under the eye), transforming him into a cold warrior fighting for justice and the freedom of his kind. Now, in theory, all men are equal, and the means of terrorism have brought upon a glorious end: all of the world is painted black. There is no record of who is or isn’t a replicant. Is it an ending of hope? Well, if you find their actions to be “stage 6 justification” like I do, then it might be. Enslavement of any kind should never be tolerated, and as such, sometimes we need action to prove a point—much like asking a rhetorical question. To quote MLK Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, as with the rest of the franchise, shows us a future void of diplomacy. It’s a world where those who are inferior neither get a voice nor a chance to negotiate their terms of living. There is no fairness. There is no thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or care given to the replicants. To change the treatment of their kind, the replicants had to think bigger and above themselves—to a region of thought that even most humans fail to fathom—accurately becoming, as ironically as the Tyrell Corporation proclaims, “more human than human.” And it is through the awe-inspiring darkness of the black out that we see the light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr. 
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Once again, I didn’t even get to discuss the art and animation of the world of Blade Runner in the anime style—which is perhaps the single most interesting element about this entire short film!!! Guys, 2022 is seriously beautiful, both fluid and engaging during the action scenes, and simply breathtaking in terms of landscape. JUST LOOK AT IT. MY GOD, what I’d give to just walk through the blue, rainy, compact streets of the city!! It’s like a dirtier, grittier version of Ghost in the Shell, and if that means anything to you then you ought to give the franchise a watch.

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Speaking of, this is NOT RECOMMENDED for a blind watch. You won’t get any of it. It’s designed to serve as a one of three prequel short films to the latest Blade Runner 2049and boy did they help a ton! So yes, start with the 1982 Blade Runner, as I highly recommend it, then make your way up. For Black Out 2022, I’ll gladly place it under the “Cakes” menu for future reference.

This concludes my November 10th entry in the OWLS “Diplomacy” blog tour. A new friend of mine, Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) chose to explore how her otome stories and games taught her that you can’t please all the boys with your charming diplomatic ways. Then look out for Lita (Lita Kino Anime Corner) tomorrow, November 11th with, well, it’s a surprise!  Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

LISTEN TO THIS. “Almost Human” by pop-singer Lauren Daigle is an interesting choice for an ED theme, and I wouldn’t have picked a different one. SO GOOD!!

 

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United We Stand in Ghost S.A.C. 2nd GIG| Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2004 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG” and its recap 2006 film “Individual Eleven,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.

Cafe note: I reviewed the first season right here, so check that out prior to reading this. Many thanks, happy reading~!


Back to the Cybernetic City

With the Laughing Man’s agenda terminated by Motoko Kusanagi and the gang, Section 9 is no longer forced to operate in the shadows. Taking an interest in the way the brutal hunting force operates, Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Kayabuki re-establishes Section 9 as her final attempt to fend off the latest rounds of cyber-terrorism, and find a party whom she could trust her life with. This new deadly collective, “The Individual Eleven,” has led a string of seemingly unrelated terrorist plots and assassinations across the nation.

Just as the Major and Chief Aramaki begin investigating into these gruesome cases, however, the Japanese government faces a forced confrontation by the alarming build-up of foreign refugees who were ousted from their homes during the Third World War, and are now seeking asylum in Japan. Section 9 attempts to juggle both crises, but their constant bumping heads with Kazundo Gouda of Cabinet Intelligence Service leads the Major to suspect he may be even more tangled up in the mess than the “enemy” is, and that perhaps both The Individual Eleven and the refugee crisis are just two parts of one titanic movement.

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The Stand Alone Complex branch of the hit Ghost in the Shell franchise returns to the scene to reaffirm that everything, be it physically or digitally, is interconnected by the pushes and pulls of a techno-dystopian society.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

S.A.C. 2nd GIG wastes no time in welcoming us back to its inner universe. Unlike its predecessor, 2nd GIG features a clearer, more concisely written story. It achieves this by appropriately placing its “stand-alone” episodes within the timeline in less-congested areas of heavy plot action. Sticking to a story written in sequential order, 2nd GIG feels a lot easier to grasp, even if the characters themselves are more “complex” this second time around. I can see why fans acknowledge this series as the superior one not simply because the visuals are upgraded, but the linear way in which the story is told—even if the concept may not rival that of a wizard-class super hacker—seems more straightforward. Either that, or it just took me 26 episodes prior to get used to Kamiyama’s directing.

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Critical characters to not only the series but the franchise as a whole are introduced quickly and efficiently, these namely being Kayabuki, Gouda, and Kuze, the eventual leader of the refugee camp and a mastermind in guerrilla warfare, both on the battlefield and in the net. Watching Kayabuki crumble before but endure the weight of those dirty politicians and back-alley deals emphasizes one trait that defined the Major as such a relatable character for so many: the strength of women, and the power, beauty, and grace that comes with enduring unfavorable outcomes and situations. Ghost in the Shell, like much of entertainment, explores the notion that life is one big power struggle; it’s as unavoidable as the rising moon or the flowing tides.

New, Twisted Faces

Speaking of power, Gouda is clearly not meant to be a likable dude. His *literally* twisted face should be an indicator of his reliability. He’s a competent and sophisticated man, using people and manipulating scenarios like he does with data. Though he’s got several tricks up his sleeves to be used against all of the pawns in the game, including the Major, his sheer level of skill and sneering wit make me MELT with a swelling love for his character. And John Snyder, his English VA absolutely knocked the role outta the park! We honestly need more intelligent rivals like him in anime; he’s a dick, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. Gouda is always one step ahead of the game, and stacking the deck is the only way to secure a trump card in this dirty world.

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The Major’s foil finally manifests in the form of Hideo Kuze, an calm yet equally interesting antihero who holds a similar background. While I cannot mention too much without spoiling, I will say that he’s just as calculating as Motoko and Gouda, and perhaps more skillful and inspirational than both of them on a personal level. He’s quite interesting, so let his words sink in . . . everything he does is for the people . . .

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Aside from the Major’s few moments, those members of Section 9 that did not previously have an episode for their own backstory (Pazu, Saito) receive one now EXCEPT for poor, poor Borma, the fat guy. While the Tachikoma’s return with more amusing exclamations and ideas, Togusa takes takes the back seat for this ride. One of these days we’ll get the backstory details and spotlight that they ALL deserve, but that time is sadly not now.

Improved Presentation Transcend S.A.C.

The two-ish year gap between each series really does reiterate the fact that Production I.G is the king of science fiction anime. Most of the characters receive new outfits and gear, all of which show off their differing personalities. The Major’s transformation from light gray and white to a dark gray and black skintight suit add contrast to the series’ new tone, a perfect match for some of the unsettling truths regarding the Major’s past. Her leather trench coat and obsidian visors complete the look. Besides the returning overly impressive architecture, it’s all the tiny details in character design that make 2nd GIG a fashion show for our models, both the sleek and the grungy alike.

Kanno returns to add that techno-blues/cop show soundtrack from the first season. Many of the tracks were even reused, so it’s not an entirely “new” OST. The epic action music in particular was done better this time. Where she doesn’t stand out in background music Kanno definitely makes up for with the new opening “Rise,” once again sung by the lovely Origa. “Rise” is the epitome of cyber punk trance dubstep, a song that hypes itself up with its intense beat, ascending chord progressions, and deep lyrics. Exhilarating stuff!

Since the characters remain largely underdeveloped in terms of background info, many just watch the show for its intriguing story, to which I point you toward the 3-hour (eek) recap film titled Individual Eleven that hones its focus solely on the core case from beginning to end. It is a recap, however, so all of your favorite one-off episodes are not present, and a lot of cool detours were cut, such as a fatal mission flaw by the Major that made my heart skip a beat. I give the same caution that I dished out last time, though—Individual Eleven features an entirely different English voice cast. While the wonderful Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Crispin Freeman, and now John Snyder should never have been replaced as Motoko, Togusa, and Gouda, respectively, the new cast largely remains serviceable.

United We Stand – The Individual VS Society

Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG continues as a more light-hearted cop-chase approach to the original 1995 film, and by this I mean that it is less about self-reflection and more geared towards the interactions people share with others. It’s also no laughing matter, either, presenting the sadness of war, and that in the near future warfare is still terrifying and tragic. 2nd GIG resumes its heavy, confusing political drama, but its new emphasis on securing a cyber body through the black market is neatly explored with greater depth, ironically “fleshing” out the world.

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The sequel to the beloved Stand Alone Complex is a successful piece of science fiction and sociological analysis. It’s a series rooted in the effects of technology on people, be it the goods, bads, or really bads. Sharpening its linear storytelling and enhancing its setting and character designs, one really shouldn’t stop at the first season—continue to uncover the fate of Section 9 as the original story intended!

“The refugees have given me countless names. I joined forces with them with the intent to save them. But maybe the real reason I united with them was to keep the loneliness at bay.” – Kuze

Final Assessment:

+ Story told sequentially with with focused, linear direction

+ New character designs are more appealing; Major’s new look

+ Production I.G upped their game again!

+ Both Gouda and Kuze are excellent characters

+ Explores the pillars of social order through a cool story; the war on terror continues

– Section 9 members STILL don’t get the backstory treatment they deserve

– Recap film English dub remains pestering

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GitS S.A.C. 2nd GIG also deserves its “Cake” title (4/5), a must-watch if you’ve already started the first! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Thankfully the action weighs well against the political banter. What did you think of the Individual Eleven story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Still lookin’ fresh, Batou and Major

No Man Laughs Alone in Ghost S.A.C. | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode fall 2002 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and its recap 2005 film “The Laughing Man,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.


City of Steel, Bodies of Iron

It’s 2032, the cyberization age. Because most brains are now encased in a metal mold, people can access the net just by thinking and slide into mechanical bodies through a connecting cable alone. Walk along the streets and one would find fleshlings, cyborgs, and robots alike coexisting as if it were commonplace. The power of the net has virtually blurred the lines between the physical and the digital, which can breed both terrific convenience and terrifying crime. Completely ineffective in halting cyber crime, as it typically is, the government has hired Security Division Section 9, a group of ruffians specialized in taking down hackers and terrorists alike.

Led by their Chief Daisuke Aramaki and Major Motoko Kusanagi, this small squad rules the shadows and grungy back alleys in an effort to clean up the city. When a great super hacker dubbed the “Laughing Man” rears his head once again after 5 quiet years, however, the Major and her troop face what could be their greatest social threat yet. Unlike their most recent cases, this one proves to be not as simple as SHOOT + LOAD + REPEAT, but rather an intense chasing game of CTRL + ALT + DELETE.

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The iconic franchise and its much-loved figurehead return to the streets after a silent 7 years since the groundbreaking film’s worldwide release in 1995. While it’s neat to see the title reinvented into a series, I found all of the GitS films, recap or not, to be far superior to the series. Before I go further into the franchise, let’s evaluate Stand Alone Complex and weigh its own merits.

It’s Not like the Movie, and that’s Perfectly Fine

This pun has already been pitched a million times, but to aptly put things, many of the episodes of Stand Alone Complex are, well, stand-alone. These episodes all tackle the lives of individuals of all all social classes, and how they interact with society and the Section 9 crew. The true underlying story is only tossed here and there as hints before the grand finale. Unlike the 1995 classic, which honed in on the psychological balance between human and cyborg, both of the GitS series challenge society instead, providing much sociological questioning such as “how much can people be “cyberized” before it’s no longer a human society,” or “whether the net truly brings people together or tears us apart.” Because it was less egocentrically based, I found myself less prone to self-discovery, but more open to social understanding. It’s a bit of a letdown at first, especially since the Major’s self-reflection is what sold me to begin with.

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Where the plot may stumble and confuse, the characters provide entertaining banter and motivation. Being a more light-hearted approach to the franchise much like the original manga was, it’s appropriate to chuckle here and there at the strong man Batou’s unfortunate misdemeanors around the still-intelligent Major, or admire the human normie Togusa’s total dad bod. The presence of the cute Tachikomas, blue insect-shaped and car-sized robot AI, helped to not only alleviate unnecessary government actions that frustrated me, but also provide that quintessential self-pondering of being a robot vs a lifeform similar to what the Major dealt with in 1995. They’re annoying at times, but they remind us as to the joys of feeling alive.

A Stunning Sci-Fi Story and World

People watch this show for the genuine Section 9 crew and for high-paced, explosive combat layered with a complicated cop show setup. For its 2002 release, SAC has aged remarkably, providing some of the most engaging sci-fi action that rivals today’s anime fights. What ultimately brought it all together was the world itself, though. The towering skyscrapers and low, wrap-around market places give off a bustling effect to Newport City. The occasional gray sky and drizzly weather is almost enough to take one back to 1995, and the traffic—my goodness, all the road traffic! What a headache! Watching the characters drive from location to location allows Production I.G prove that they are the masters of anime architecture. The complex interwoven highways and cars almost act as a mirror of society itself, in that we’re ultimately all just a small part of the great flow.

Story-wise, it’s quite complicated, honestly. I held off on any Ghost in the Shell until I was older simply because I felt I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it fully without encompassing a greater intellect. (I’m still no genius, though.) To assume one has to be smart to enjoy this series isn’t true at all, but when it came to all of the political nonsense between government officials and sketchy deals, it is a lot to consume, I’ll admit.

Much of this can be negated, however, if a person checks out the 3-hour (yikes) recap film that reorganizes the Laughing Man snippets that are littered throughout all 26 episodes and places them into a more logical, sequential order. The [sadly] very few valuable backstory spotlights of Section 9 members are lost, but if one’s just in it for the core story, then this recap film satisfies immensely. The only caution I can give is to those who prefer English dubs; The Laughing Man features an entirely different vocal cast from the series, and while it is utterly DISAPPOINTING to hear brilliant actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Crispin Freeman replaced as Motoko and Togusa, this other cast doesn’t do a bad job. Nope, not at all, and these are very large shoes to fill.

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While everyone praises Yoko Kanno for her sheer masterpieces of music, Stand Alone Complex is not her most memorable work for me. She keeps with the flow of light dialogue and adrenaline-filled action, balancing the two just fine, but I can’t recall any specific tracks besides the opening, “Inner Universe,” sung by the late Origa, a piece of music that perfectly captures the ENTIRE franchise. Its haunting yet entrancing beginning put me in full-dive mode every time. It’ll live on with the likes of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” as anime’s bests, and rightfully so.

Let Me Walk Away Laughing

It’s no surprise that SAC is different than 1995: different directors, production date, arcs adapted, character introductions and routes taken, etc. What hasn’t changed is the same powerful studio behind the project and the unwavering calculations of the Major. Ghost in the Shell is a franchise that explores possibility through the unification of humans and technology. It also shows us the worst case scenario—its abuse, and how that turns people off from all things cyber entirely. SAC‘s first season is a little hard to understand thanks to its divided attentions, but so long as you trust in the Major’s new face and follow your ghost, you may walk away having thought of something new, and that’s what sci-fi is all about.

Batou: Nowadays . . . people entrust their memories to external devices because they want to set down solid physical proof that can distinguish them as unique individuals . . .

Motoko: A watch and weight training gear, both of us have clung to useless scraps of memory, haven’t we?

Final Assessment:

+ This incarnation of the Major can be just as meaningful so long as you have an open mind

+ Emphasizes that Production I.G is king of city architecture and sci-fi worlds

+ Works in sociological approach that defines the franchise today

+ That opening combined with all the fluid combat gets the blood pumping

– Such a lovable cast deserves greater backstories

– Overarching story is hard to follow, but recap movie helps

– Missing out on series dub in recap film


Stand Alone Complex is welcomed at the cafe as a “Cake” title (4/5), one too sweet to miss out on if you have the time! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Sometimes the intermixed action sequences were the only bits that helped me stay awake! SAC has been around for YEARS now, so what do you make of the series? Did you enjoy the Laughing Man story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Batou, his Tachikoma, and Major. Stay fresh, Section 9.

“W” Does Not Stand for “Wonder” in Dimension W

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Dimension W,” produced by Studio 3Hz, based on the manga by Yuji Iwahara.

Enter the near future – 2071 to be exact – and you’d find a world transformed and reinvented by “coils,” battery-like bolts which tap into the fourth dimension to channel unlimited energy. Though New Tesla energy company’s coils can be bought off shelves, secretive bootleggers would rather sell illegal coils to earn a living in this seemingly Utopian era.

Not if they are stopped by Collectors, though. These individuals hunt down private companies and illegal coils for a bounty, often living reckless and dangerous lives lit by the night sky. Dimension W enlarges the life of Kyouma Mabuchi, a Collector with a pretty scarred past that caused him to detest coils—He refuses to use them for anything, be it powering his car or a gun. On one particular spree, Kyouma runs into Mira, a robot girl who runs on coils like we rely on blood. As Kyouma grudgingly extends his rough hands for a partnership in the biz, the two uncover the truth of this elusive fourth dimension and how its entire foundation might actually stem from Kyouma’s long-lost past.

Looks are deceiving. Much as how Mira (despite being a robot) is surprisingly more humane than Kyouma, Dimension W has the solid setting to create an unimaginable sci-fi story, yet falls short in nearly every department. Namely, it fails to further explain what exactly a “coil” is. We know what they can power (and what happens when they are disrupted), but we don’t know how they work. And for a science fiction series, breaking down what futuristic concept is being introduced should be the first priority. Now, we did get a half-assed reasoning in the last episode, only to find out it was based on a faulty concept all along. Pretty sure that’s not how energy works . . .

Where this anime does shine is in its characters. Specifically, the leads, Kyouma and Mira. The dynamic between them is great, the vintage Kyouma always muttering “piece of junk” rather than the android’s name as if he defies the idea that coils can produce something so human in nature. In fact, he’s like an old man resisting an iPhone because he knows how unprotected technology leaves folks these days. Kyouma’s veteran past may have left him stubborn and grim, but Mira, for some odd reason, is able to break through his wall and find a beating heart under that worn, red happi coat of his. I mean, Mira is adorable as f***, so it makes sense. Over the course of the series, Kyouma will grow to accept and respect this lime-haired heroine, and that development in itself is a huge driving factor for the show.

The actual plot lacks a cohesive run. Dimension W’s first five episodes are an incredible mix of mystery, high-energy action, and wonder (I even thought for a while there the title’s “W” stood as such), but after an intense two-episode story midway, the setting is shifted towards a location rooted in memories of the past – Easter Island – and the plot becomes unraveling the events which took place back during Kyouma’s Grendel days. We seem to have ditched building on the futuristic setting and the ‘wonder’ surrounding the coils for a lame survival battle with a crap ton of new characters with zero background. Like, what? I thought the show was about Mira and Kyouma and their suspenseful jobs as Collectors fighting off the enigmatic masked cyborg “Loser.” This could’ve been the next Psycho-Pass, but instead we got yet another sci-fi with an unmemorable plot! All was especially disappointing considering FUNimation Entertainment’s first-ever assistance/partnership with the show’s production. I was really hoping for a bang!

At least the technical execution was pretty faithful. Very little has come from Studio 3Hz, but the team managed to pull off a halfway decent-looking anime. While watching Kyouma throw his skewers all over the place was amusing, there were quite a few noticeable shortcuts made. One is that on occasion, characters will be zoomed up during dialogue with solid-colored backgrounds behind them. Another was the lazy animation in the last couple of fights, particularly that of with the show’s lame antagonist. Again, I really enjoyed the character designs and the first few episodes. After that, not so much.

What really got me was Yoshiaki Fujisawa’s epic music. You may recognize his soundtracks in Gate, Love Live!, Yuri Yuri, and others. Watching FUNimation’s Production Diaries on YouTube, we got insight into his inspiration for writing not only DW’s music, but soundtracks in general. Really interesting stuff for a music buff like myself.

By now it should be no surprise to you that I was pretty disappointed with this anime, especially after seeing many behind-the-scenes clips and knowing the work that went into the project. When it comes down to it, the plot is the one at fault. Dimension W had great potential, starting off with strong leads and an impressive premise. Once the ball got rolling, all I kept doing was looking back at the previous episodes (well, that and the clock to see how much more time I had to wade through), and I felt the show itself was doing the exact same thing. The conclusion was also pretty lousy, given that I came in wanting to exploit the coil system rather than the scientists who made it. Fantastic start, but a hard flop to the finish.

“I think things that remain even after time passes are wonderful. It’s proof that the people who made them and used them were alive. By holding them dear, I think it makes the present shine even more.” – Kyouma’s wife, Miyabi Azumaya

Enough about being trapped in the past! What did you think of Dimension W? Did you make it all the way through? I know several decided to drop the show, and while I wish I was able to do that, I’m the kind of guy that needs to see things through ‘till the end. My report: Dimension W will be recognized as a “Coffee” here at the café! Not bad, just a bit too bitter for my taste. I’m still catching up on comments from the last review, but let’s talk more about the show down below! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

 

Plastic Memories: Sadly and Ironically Unmemorable

A review of the 2015 spring anime “Plastic Memories”

In the near future, androids that possess human emotions called “Giftia” can be seen all over the place. Produced and managed by the SAI Corporation, these Giftia practically blend in with society, the only catch being that they cannot live to be older than nine years, after which their memory needs to be wiped clean to prevent further contamination.

Upon bombing college entrance exams, Tsukasa Mizugaki is offered a position (through his father’s unknown relations) at one of SAI’s Terminal Service Department. Their job –  to retrieve nearly-expired Giftia and delete their memories.

Tsukasa descends into madness as he begins to take away the precious memories of his friends one by one, discovering that they are Giftia. Teaming up with a rebellious organization to stop SAI from creating more false hopes and plastic memories, Tsukasa and his sexy female companion Isla arm themselves to spill blood and delete data in hopes of a brighter future. But can a future be salvaged from these lost, crushed dreams?

Naw, I’m just kidding. It deceptively feels this way at first, though we could only wish it continued. Plastic Memories is actually a love story. Yep, one unmemorable love story at that.

Tsukasa is partnered up with Isla, a petit Giftia whose only practice and profession is serving tea to her co-workers. She’s a bit of a klutz and quite shy around him, but after a few retrieval cases, the two fall for each other and become more than office co-workers. Little does Tsukasa know, Isla only has a few months remaining before she herself is to be turned in.

Built in a sci-fi setting centered on a broken concept, this anime could have gone in several more interesting directions. Had I known that it was a love story from the beginning, then maybe I could have appreciated it more. Thing is, the anime also tried to be more than romantic. Slice-of-life, comedy, and sexual teasing are all tossed in to hinder the true development of the couple. You’d have a truly touching scene at the apartment, then someone waltzes in naked, Tsukasa freaks, and the whole moment is lost; “Plastic Memories,” more like plastic emotions –  Quit toying with my feelings and cue the tender skits, please!

Also, for sacrificing the whole potential plot towards this absentminded relationship, the romance isn’t even that great! I didn’t feel any pull between Tsukasa and Isla until the end, which is obviously too late. Plastic Memories was ultimately too distracted with other elements, and thus couldn’t keep my absolute focus – But right as I decide to close out of another wasted episode, the show manages to hook me back on with a heartwarming event.

When it comes to romance, or whatever this anime decides to sport, it’s up to the characters to convey the feelings out of my heart, and very few times do they actually achieve this goal. Determined Tsukasa and shaky Isla kindly function as one and manage to keep things as genuine as possible, but the supporting cast really likes to bump heads with our leads. They’re the typical office cast: the sideline tsundere drama, the loud spoken honest boy, the soft spoken kind boy, the grungy pervert man, the boss too kind for anyone to handle, the supervisor with a stick up their ass, so on and so forth. Had the directors not spent so many episodes of Isla and Tsukasa bumbling around in stupid antics with said cast, then they could have received actual depth rather than cheap one-liners. I really wanted to like this cast, but I couldn’t get into them because anytime deep fondness was expressed, someone had to jiggle their boobs or put another in a headlock. So frustrating!

The only character I’d like to highlight is Michiru (Eva’s Asuka lookalike), a well-developed tsundere who, like the series, could have taken a very different route. It’s obvious that she harbors feelings for Tsukasa, which could have made Plamemo a stereotypical love triangle, but Michiru is not there to makes things worse. She sticks up for Isla and even tutors the two, guiding them down the love path she wishes she could walk. Thanks Michiru for not fitting the mold and being delightful all by yourself! 🙂

Previously I had not seen any anime by studio Doga Kobo, so this was joyfully new for me. Characters and their expressions are cutely designed. Architecture of this futuristic setting was handled well, too, and the colors are always bright. There are a few awkward inconsistencies when it comes to facial details, and sometimes the action transitions choppy, but none of it was particularly bad; nothing spectacular, either.

Going back and listening to it now, the OST contains several upbeat string and vocal songs, usually featuring a guitar as well. For the softer scenes, tracks like “again & again” in the first half set the mood with beautiful piano. The opening “Ring of Fortune” by Eri Sasaki also accents this beauty. Overall the OST is not standout, but sweet and supportive.

Plamemo‘s biggest problem is the fact that it starts out with several heartbreaking retrieval cases that are honestly so depressing you can’t help but shed a little water from your eyes. This exposition starts you off thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to have my heart torn to pieces by the end.” But then when the show shifts to the romance, it distracts itself with dumb antics that don’t feel they should belong in this kind of show. It was only by the final Ferris wheel scene where I could actually feel the connection.

But I couldn’t feel sad either, for after all of this nonsense in the office and quiet days at home, it was time for the show to end, which it did so happily and without regret. It’s sad and ironic to say that I won’t remember Plastic Memories all because of its misplaced foolery and nonsensical direction, but it was the one that decided to poke fun at itself, not me.

“Having happy and beautiful memories won’t always bring you salvation. The more beautiful a memory is, the more painful it can become. Both for the one who’s leaving . . . and for the one left behind.” – Isla

+ Heartbreaking first four episodes are so powerful; compelling end on par with beginning

+ Michiru’s character added depth where there was none

– Continuous, overused antics stop this anime from being memorable

– Interesting premise with varying direction, route chosen was somewhat disappointing

– Side characters lack dimension

And that concludes my thoughts on an anime that tried to juggle it all, but dropped the pins. For cafe awarding, it can be found under the “Coffee” menu. Did you have other thoughts on Plastic Memories? Leave your comments below, “like” if you enjoyed this review and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

ALDNOAH.ZERO 2nd Season

One of the most controversial anime to come out these past couple of seasons finally comes to a close. But who comes out on top? Slaine fans get “Slained” and you Inaho dogs, just sit there and don’t smile. Nah, I’m just kidding! Caution: Spoilers for both seasons are present!

Picking up from the first half’s suspenseful ending, silent protagonist Inaho undergoes a surgery that connects some sort of calculating machine into his shot eye. No. He’s not dead, but the thing’s pretty cool. The Deucalion suits up for battle, and while the Terrans celebrate their temporary “victory” / prepare for any Martian activity, the Martians step up their game.

As Slaine, the Terran-born Vers soldier accompanies Count Saazbaum, who seeks revenge on Earth, an “accident” occurs and Saazbaum is killed. In an attempt to restore the Vers Empire and reclaim the blue planet, Slaine ascends to Count status and primitively the throne with a new gal who literally came out of NOWHERE, wheel-chair-bound, lavender-haired Princess Lemrina.

Rather than stand by twiddling their thumbs, the Terrans take the fight to the Martians, and an all-out space war rages! But the fate of the two races ultimately resides in Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia, whose preserved body in Martian Custody slowly reawakens . . . a bullet to the brain and she didn’t die either. Damn.

I’ll admit – I really enjoyed the first season, especially the end. Sure the plot and characters went downhill after the first 6 or so episodes, but it kept me thrilled to see what would happen next.

Season two is a bit different, however. First the pros. The show starts stronger than ever before with the inclusion of Asseylum’s sister Lemrina was probably one of the series’ best moves. While my favorite moments in the first season were obviously the glamorous, high-energy robot battles, season two’s were the drama talks among the Martian hierarchy. The manipulative Lemrina is an essential part of Slaine’s motive for justice, for she can change her appearance to mirror Seylum’s, masking any idea that Seylum had died. In turn, she is a thorn in his side, desiring his affection and secretly wishing that she could replace her comatose sister for good. Though these additions couldn’t save the series in the end, the spicy and dramatic relationships really turned up the emotional dial for this sequel – I only wish I could’ve see more of Lemrina.

Now the cons. The plot is an obvious wreck. Poor pacing, bad balance of characters, and a much different (lesser) tone than the first half resulted in a LACKLUSTER ENDING. Seriously, after two seasons of killer alien robots and explosive combat and emotions – no one died. Not even any of Inaho’s friends took the fall. I’m not saying that death is a good thing in anime; it’s simply that ALDNOAH.ZERO went through a lot of trouble and no one bit the bullet.

Overall, season two values a softer and more emotional approach to a very different story. While the franchise still retains its innumerable plot holes, lacks proper character attention, and frankly sh*ts on its own design, A.Z is still passes as a decent tragedy.

Characters, what’s to say? The sequel drops any supporting Terrans, so you can all forget about Inaho’s friends. Well, maybe besides Inko and his sis. That Marito guy doesn’t even get any follow up to his problems, whatever they were. Just poor balance of characters.

More of the Martian counts are introduced as distinct personalities, which ties back to one of the greater things this sinking ship of a show offered. Their intense qualms regarding loyalty to the almighty dick Slaine made for more interesting views.

Inaho is still pretty meh. He still swoops in to take out the Counts, calibrating all of their weaknesses and eliminating them in the last second. His eye causes him suffering, but he endures the pain for the computer’s benefits. One part of the show really startled me, and that was the smooth transition from Inaho to the eye “talking” to Seylum. Supposedly, the eye grew a consciousness of its own or something cause it carried out Inaho’s last words to the Princess. Just goes to confirm Inaho is nearly no different than a robot, cause I hardly noticed the shift in dialogue – and they even stated it.

It felt really weird when Asseylum woke up from her coma, as if Lemrina’s whole world came crashing down on her – and it kinda did. Too bad Asseylum wasn’t as near as complex as Lemrina, for she remained the same old boring, dutiful Princess. However, she grew some balls in the end and surprised everyone. When that happened, A.Z woke up from its nightmare and ended things right then and there.

Slaine was by far the most developed, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He went from being an obedient servant of the Vers monarchy to a stubborn, stuck up b*tch. I guess it proves once again the power is greed trope. I can distinctly recall him saying that he had pretty much started down the road to hell, and that there was no turning back. His decisions make absolutely no sense; he does retarded stuff, and in the end gets blamed for everything that happened. Humanity will remember that the whole war was because of him. Like . . . wut?

A-1 Pictures’ animation didn’t drop in quality whatsoever. It’s still pretty solid, so if you’re one for the Kataphrakt CGI fights, then you’ll be satisfied. Characters are colored in lighter tints to contrast the black nothingness of space. I love the characters and their expressions! Also, the Martian Kataphrakts are freakin’ cool, even if their design makes little to no sense.

The OP “&Z” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki mirrors the softer appeal the anime presents while the ED “GENESIS” by Eir Aoi, to me, captures the downfall of Slaine and the ultimate tragedy of the show. Beautiful.

Hiroyuki Sawano continues to impress with touching, somber piano solos and full orchestra tracks. Though the small OST is repeated over and over again to where you can predict what song will play next, the tracks are still great, supporting the mood admirably. His attempt to milk what he could out of A.Z wasn’t in vain; there are several touching moments centered around Slaine, Asseylum, Inaho and Lemrina that were particularly beautiful despite their relevance to the plot.

If you watched ALDNOAH.ZERO’s first season, then go ahead if you haven’t already and finish this thing off. To others, I would avoid this franchise in general for its inconsistent plot, poor distribution of character development, and at times nonsensical scheming. The show is not bad, it’s just messy, and I would only watch it if you are searching for high-energy, well-animated, robot space combat or political drama, though do realize that that part eventually goes down the drain. I’m glad ALDNOAH.ZERO is over. It’s just a shame that the writers couldn’t learn from their mistakes – the show had A LOT of potential.

I guess that’s it. THE ANIME DOESN’T END HORRIBLY WHATSOEVER. If you watched A.Z, please leave a comment below with any of your thoughts. I’m a bit lost when it comes to this show. If you had similar musings, hit the like button for more anime reviews. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host