Friday, March 28, 2008

Romeo X Juliet 6

Dr. Whirlwind stands atop the effigy and demands the innocent people be set free. "Now that you have the genuine article, surely you've no need for these imposters!" The crowd's all, "Hey, yeah! What the fuck, dude?" The guards aren't having any of that, though. They yell at the crowd and point sharp things at them. When Dr. Whirlwind reminds the guards that their duty is to protect the people, the crowd again goes, "Why, yes. That man has a valid point." Everyone yells at everyone until a guard overlooking the ruckus gets impatient and lets loose a flaming arrow, hitting Dr. Whirlwind in the shoulder. Lord Dipshit turns with a chuckle and says he'll let the fake Whirlwinds go free as 'compensation' for getting shot with fire. Once the innocent men are set free, Lord Dipshit tells Dr. Whirlwind that once he's dead, "we'll reveal your true identity." Knowing that his family would be next on the chopping block if that happens, Doc says that he can't let that happen. He looks down at the still-flaming arrow and gives the famous 'Don't Cry for Me, Neo Verona' speech - which I'm sure is very touching - then drops the arrow on the tinder below the effigy. The crowd looks on, not quite sure what just happened, and Juliet, of course, loses her shit and runs away.

Romeo's flying above the city, as he's doing any time something important is going on, and sees the fire. He sees someone from the crowd being beaten by a guard and asks what's going on. Lord Dipshit (Cerimon) tells Romeo that the Crimson Whirlwind is dead. "He said he was no match for the great Cerimon and set himself ablaze." I'll stick with 'Lord Dipshit.' Romeo does the shaky anime eye before flying away on his magic horse, but doesn't get far before spotting Juliet crying below him. He lands then runs up to her, saying he's so happy she's alive, because he was so sure she was the Crimson Whirlwind, which is just silly, I mean, HER? The Whirlwind? That's just stupid. Right, Juliet? ... Juliet?

... oh. Juliet tells Romeo that she can't see him any more and Romeo asks why. She tells him, as dramatically as she can, that she is the real Crimson Whirlwind. Romeo's eyes get huge and he clearly can't believe it. Despite the fact that mere seconds ago, he was so convinced that she was the Whirlwind. So convinced, that upon hearing of the Whirlwind's suspected death, he was off to cry in a corner with his Dashboard Confessional CD. But now it's a shock, for some reason. Before the silence can get anymore awkward, Juliet flips off a railing to a walkway below where she runs away. I bet all the cool shit is happening off screen. That's why everyone keeps running there.

The next day, Benvolio is expositing that his father considers the whole 'Whirlwind thing' to be done. Adding the understatement of the year, "Threatening to burn innocent citizens alive was simply going too far. My father plans to punish the captain of the police [Lord Dipshit]." For no conceivable reason, Romeo almost lets it spill that the Whirlwind killed last night was a fake. This clown is part of the ruling order?

After the break, we're in court. Because that's where you go to spice up your drama and/or action story. I know I can't get enough of parliamentary procedure. Romeo and his father take a seat high above everyone else, while Benvolio's dad is joined by Lord Titus down below. Lord Titus is laughing like an ass and clearly drunk. [Point of reference, Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare's tragediest tragedy, actually losing popularity in Victorian times for being too bloody; I feel good things coming] The first bit of business today is a decree from His Majesty the Archduke Montague saying, "Martial law is cool; agree or disagree? Also, disagreement means death." Benvolio's dad is the first, and only, to stand and disagree, saying that to continue to let bad things happen will, like, not make good things happen. The Archduke tells the court to shut up. He's not being oppressive, pshaw. "Is it not the father's duty to punish the child when it errs? The father must whip the child, even as tears stream from his own eyes. For a family to live under a single roof, there must be discipline above all else." Turning his back to the court, the Archduke bellows that if the governor wishes to protect the commoners so much, he should become one, and decrees that Vittorio de Frescobaldi (Benny's dad) be stripped of nobility. The court then votes on both the martial law bill and the denoblement of the de Frescobalid name. Everyone in court stands to show their affirmative vote, including Lord Titus, who can't look Vittorio in the eye. "Don't take it personally," he says. Hey, I'm with you. The bearded bitch is scary.

Team Odin rides on a gondola looking sad and pensive. Antonio asks everyone if the Doctor's family knows that he died. But no one answers.

Benvolio and family are being driven out of Neo Verona. Romeo flies down on his horse to see his friend off. Benvolio tells Romeo that they're bffs, and that if he ever needs anything to just pick up a magical, steampunk phone and give him a call.

Mrs. Dr. Whirlwind is telling Juliet that they're thinking about moving to the country. The city's too... the-military-wants-all-the-poor-dead, nowadays, "so my husband wants to leave." And, just to make us sadder, their little girls are in the background playing with Antonio, having the greatest time ever. Juliet tries to say something, but Mrs. Doctor butts in, "He believes in you. He trusts that the iris still blooms." Then one of the kids just has to ask, "Where's daddy?" Without faltering, Mrs. Doctor tells the kids that their father has to stay in town to watch over his patients. Which the kids totally buy. After their cart is full, Juliet tells the family to be safe, and Mrs. Doctor replies, "And may the whirlwind blow again. He lives within you even now, so keep your spirits up."

On their way back, Juliet asks why Mrs. Doctor didn't blame her for the death of Mr. Doctor. Curio says, "Lancelot left everything to you." What? First of all, we're starting to pull from the wrong set of mythos. Secondly, does that answer anything? Does he mean to say that Mrs. Doctor doesn't blame Juliet because she knows Juliet was there to watch, and already blames herself for it? Shut up, Curio. Francisco adds, "Besides, he became the Crimson Whirlwind; the real Crimson Whirlwind." Okay, the both of you are in the expository penalty box; you may only speak when the plot absolutely demands it. As they get closer to wherever the hell they're going, a shadowy figure walks out to greet them. Juliet and Curio get ready to attack, but Francisco stops them, saying he's an ally. Proof of which can be seen by his doofy looking badge.

What's up, mysterious stranger? "Vittorio de Frescobaldi and his family are set to be assassinated. This is presumable by order of the archduke himself. The elite guard is waiting to ambush him on the outskirts of the city. They will attempt to make it look like the work of bandits." Well boy, you are sure full of information it would've taken a full scene or two to dole out artfully. Thanks for getting us to the last act! Hope to see you again when the plot gets bogged down unnecessarily by emotional tertiary characters.

In the Carriage of Imminent Doom, Benvolio is trying to comfort his crying mother. "But we have to leave our home behind and move outside the city..." with POOR people! Dad tries to paint a sunny picture on this crapfest, when the cart hits a pothole and shakes violently. We cut outside to see that the carriage is stopping by some neo ruins... yes, ruins in the futuristic, still thriving, floating, Victorian-like Neo Verona. Aside from the buildings that can be seen past the cliff, they're pretty much in the middle of nowhere. When Dad looks through the peephole to talk to the driver, he's almost stabbed in the face. Dad is ready to stay and fight off the driver-assassin for a few seconds while his family runs, but Benvolio and mother only get a few steps before a small fleet of soldiers come running out of nowhere. Nobody expects the Neo Veronan Inquisition. Just as things look dire, Team Odin jumps down like so much Major from Ghost in the Shell and attacks. It should be noted that Juliet, while still dressed as Odin, is NOT dressed as the Crimson Whirlwind for this fight. While the boys take care of the guards, Juliet squares off with the driver-assassin. She tells the family that, if they wish to live, they'll come with her. They start to run but the driver throws a dagger towards... any of them, I guess. Juliet deflects it with her sword, but falls to the ground as if she's been hit. I'm not really sure what happened there. Pulled muscle? The assassin comes in to finish his job, just as a Ryouma is heard nearby. Juliet, horribly hurt somehow, is just barely able to look up and ask if it's Romeo. But it's not. It's... this guy.
If we're dipping into Arthurian mythos, I'm declaring all bets off. My guess is Zach from the Final Fantasy VII series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shigofumi 4

I think this series is growing on me. It’s unique, it’s filled with real emotional depth, and it isn’t afraid to leave things unsaid. The audience isn’t assumed to be stupid, and I respect that. So should you.

It’s a tense tennis match. 40-15. So maybe not that tense, if you know how tennis is scored. The girl tosses the ball up, it hangs in the air an impossibly long moment, and the girl smacks it over the net and right past her opponent. Yahiro wins! Pretty handily, too. The girls shake hands and then face the judge. The judge, another young lady, stares down at Yahiro with something more than admiration. Their tender moment is interrupted by a gaggle of younger girls surrounding Yahiro and calling her “sempai” and such. The judge looks at her and smiles, and a single white feather drifts down from above.

After the intro, we find Yahiro with the judge, Nanae, and they’re talking about all the overeager new young girls fighting for Yahiro’s attention. Nanae tells Yahiro that the best way to get rid of them is to get a boyfriend. Yahiro gets upset and turns around. Nanae tells her that she (Yahiro, that is) likes to be teased, and then she hugs her from behind. With something more than admiration.

That single feather we saw earlier finally falls to the ground and Fumika and her faithful staff, Kanaka (I can never remember her name), stand in front of a house. Yahiro, first name Ran, lives there with her father. Kanaka wants to know about the shigofumi to be delivered this time: it’s especially thick and heavy. Fumika won’t say what’s in it, naturally, so instead Kanaka asks about what we saw happen in the very last episode, with Kaname running up onto the roof after Fumika. Flashback, to Kaname asking “Mika” why she shot her father, and he’s saying that he’s been looking for her ever since. Fumika says a command to disappear, and, after some hesitation, Kanaka takes them away from it all. Back in the animated here and now, Kanaka is curious, but Fumika says that she doesn’t remember the boy at all.

Just then Ran runs out of her house and straight into Fumika, who holds up the shigofumi for her. After explaining what the damn thing is, Ran says, “Maybe next time,” and takes off again. Fumika speaks the sender’s name, and this freezes Ran right in her tracks. She turns around, smacks the shigofumi to the ground, and says that she doesn’t know that person. Oh, but I think she does!

At the train station, Ran is sitting by the window while the rest of her teammates toss candy back and forth. She’s looking pensive, and Nanae comes up and touches her on the face with a cold soda can. Nanae thinks that something is wrong, but Ran denies it, as any sane person would. A shigofumi?! Pfft. The younger girls loudly ask if they want to play “old maid” with them. Nanae (team captain, as it turns out) tells them to have a little more respect for their fellow passengers. Ran is the cool one, and proceeds to joke with everyone. Just then the train leaves, and we see Fumika standing all alone, with her undelivered shigofumi. She says they’ll have to get a pass to leave the city, and Kanaka is pretty excited. So am I!

Now we turn to Kaname and his family. His father, Noji the detective, is pouring stew over his rice, and Kaname tells his father that he saw Mikawa on the day of the incident at school. Last episode, remember? Noji slowly lowers his bowl and mutters, “Mikawa Fumika?” It’s impossible! Are you seeing the connection here, faithful readers? Fumika is pretty clear. The surname, Mikawa, is the same as the writer that Fumika quoted, too. I see plot threads being expanded.

Back with the tennis team. They’re in the country at a training camp. Nanae and Ran are ordering supplies, but Ran continues to look disturbed. She has a vision of people standing in the store’s doorway, and gasps, but the vision ends and a hip, attractive couple walks in. Ran stands rigidly, and Nanae stares at her. Afterwards, they’re riding a bike (Ran in front, Nanae hanging on behind her), and Nanae asks Ran if she really dislikes men that much. Ran says that she lives with her father, but Nanae cleverly rebuts that Ran doesn’t think of her father as a man. Ran scowls, but then she gasps (again), for Fumika is standing right in the road in front of her!

She holds out the letter, says that it’s from Tateishi Naoko. Ran mutters something about abandonment and flies off without taking the shigofumi. Kanaka isn’t really surprised. Getting a shigofumi could be scary, but Fumika vows that the letter will be delivered. Another voice says that young people are so very confident, and we pan up to see another girl, Chiaki, sitting in a tree above them.

Chiaki, a rather cute blonde, is dressed like Fumika: jacket, hat, short pleated skirt, but she has a scarf too. She jumps down from the tree limb. Yes, we can sort of see up her skirt. Woo? So Chiaki is the shigofumi carrier for this particular area of Japan. She has her own staff-thing, Matoma, who speaks in a calm, masculine voice. Have I mentioned that Kanaka sounds like a stupid teenage girl? Chiaki looks Fumika over and explains that shigofumi carriers are dead people, and thus they don’t change, but Fumika, Fumika, she’s growing. What exactly is going on here?

Enough of that. I want to see the tennis girls again, and I am happily obliged. Ran is having a tough practice, and taking it out on the younger girls. Later, back at their big group house, Nanae and Ran stand in the kitchen chopping up vegetables. Ran cuts her finger, and Nanae runs over and sucks the blood away. With something more than admiration. Then she asks who Tateishi Naoko is. Ran confesses that it’s her mother. Nanae thought that Ran’s mother had died a long time ago, but that’s obviously not true now, is it? Turns out Ran’s mother really had an affair and ran off over ten years ago. Ran hated her mother. Hated her even when the man she ran off with beat her up. That’s a powerful hate, but I know that some things can be unforgivable. At least, they can be unforgivable for a very long time.

Night falls, and Ran is alone in her room. The door opens and she excitedly turns toward it and cries, “Nanae.” But it’s only Fumika. She doesn’t say anything, only holds out the letter. Ran takes it and throws it in the trash. Kanaka is indignant. Ran says that she can do whatever she wants with the letter, and Fumika supports her. She leaves, and the shigofumi remains in the trash.

The next morning the girls are all running. Ran keeps having visions of her mother (I assume), and she trips on a rock and falls. Next thing we know she’s on a bed with her ankle wrapped up and an ice pack on it. Nanae is treating her, and she apologizes and holds out the shigofumi. Ran sits up and asks if she’s read it. Nanae asks Ran to read it herself. She will worry and wonder if she never does. Nanae puts the shigofumi into Ran’s hand and leans in close. She knows that Ran is scared, but she will always be with her. Their faces are just inches apart, and we’re suddenly looking outside, at trees, then at bottles of water on a shelf with light streaming through them, and I do believe that we have artfully sidled away from something much more than admiration between Ran and Nanae. I am reminded of Part One, Chapter 30 of Nabokov’s Lolita, where the Author leaves us at the moment of entanglement between Humbert and Dolores to contemplate an image Humbert might have once painted.
[1] This, my friends, is skillful ambiguity, and I tip my hat to the writers.

We see Nanae leave the building. Ran lies alone on her bunk with the shigofumi still in hand. She tosses it to the floor and mutters, “Nanae, you tease.” But what is the tease? The letter, or something more?

We see the bottles of water again. Turns out that the sunlight shining so prettily through them is being concentrated on one tiny point on a shirt, which starts to smoke.

At the tennis courts, the girls are practicing, until one of them sees the house on fire in the distance! Nanae looks on in horror.

The house is burning, quite right. Ran limps along the hallway, but flames and falling rafters are sort of getting in the way. In the distance, Fumika and Chiaki watch from a tree limb. Chiaki tells Fumika not to get involved. She looks slyly at Fumika and says that they are merely messengers, and it is a major violation to do anything more. Kanaka assures Chiaki that Fumika is merely ensuring that the shigofumi was delivered, but Fumika says nothing at all.

Ran manages to make it outside, but now she’s surrounded by billowing black smoke. She may die anyway, and tumbles to the ground. The shigofumi falls out of her hand. She reaches toward it, now wanting to see what’s written. She starts calling for her mother, and a statue in the courtyard stares down at her, in a very matronly way, and something like a tear runs down its cheek.

It’s not a real tear, of course. It’s a raindrop. A storm begins to douse the fire, and soak the shigofumi. A little farther away, the tennis team arrives. Nanae runs to find Ran, who is still prone on the courtyard floor. She looks at the letter and asks her mom not to leave. She has a vision of her mother, with another man, retreating into the distance, and we hear little Ran calling for her. In that tree, Chiaki asks Fumika if she caused the storm. Fumika says that it wasn’t her. Someone else did it. How kind of them. We see the matronly statue again. Fire alarms ring in the distance.

Flashbacks. Ran’s mother is talking, reading the shigofumi aloud. She’s sorry that she left, but Ran turned out well anyway. The woman talks about different matches that she went to watch (apparently without Ran ever knowing). She urges Ran to do her best. Now, Ran and Nanae lie on a rock over a creek. Ran talks about the letter, about how her mother went to see every single match of her daughter. Nanae asks Ran what kind of person her mother was. Ran, by way of answering, takes Nanae’s hand in her own and says, “A tease.”

[1] If you haven’t read Lolita, then go read it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blood+ Finale on Adult Swim

This weekend [AS] reached the end of a long, tortuous road: Blood+ reached its fiftieth, and final, episode, and no one cared. Maybe someone liked this show; maybe they cried a little bit at the very end; maybe that person and I could get along and be friends, but I somehow doubt that.

This was, quite simply, a horrible series. So horrible, in fact, that “horrible” is quite frankly too weak a word to use. An atrocious series. An abominable achievement. An abortion of animation. It’s that bad. A storyline that could have comfortably fit 20 episodes was stretched into a bloated 50. The characters were nothing more than cardboard cutout stereotypes. In some episodes, the dialogue seemed to consist of every other line being “SAYA!” The plot, oh the plot. Where did it ever make any sense? The animation wasn’t very good, either. Awful, just awful.

I don’t know what was worse: that thousands of man-hours were dedicated to creating this monument of crapulence, or that I watched most of the episodes, thus letting go of tiny little slices of my life that I could been using to—I don’t know—drink beer or sleep. I’ve been trying to recall some of the better moments of the show, so that I can at least point to one moment or two and say, “Well, maybe this one scene validated all of that,” but I just can’t.

All I can think of was the one episode, maybe 32, where Diva invaded the crew’s cruise liner so that she could molest Riku. However, the scene, the idea—much like they very concept and execution of this entire series—turned out vulgar and crass, instead of achieving the haunting sublimity that we wanted so much.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Death Note 10

Now, what you've all been waiting for, a friendly game of tennis! Well, not so friendly. Light is trying to figure out L's true identity while L tries to determine whether Light is Kira (spoiler: he is), and they're each using the match as cover to analyze every word and move the other makes. The match itself is dull - stiffly animated and not trying to be an accurate representation of the real thing - but during the match we get a look inside the competitors' heads as they try to anticipate the next move. They know each other well.

Light's dad, the elder Yagami, is under pressure from his boss, who's under pressure from the media. They argue about stuff, and Yagami assures his boss that L is trustworthy. After their match, L reveals to Light that he suspects him to be Kira, "but only 1%." Then they have tea, and L shows Light the messages Kira made prisoners leave in episode four. Light tells him about the hidden message, which I still think wasn't originally intended to be a plot point, and L reveals... a fourth message!?! Light is shocked, because he knows this last one is fake, but he doesn't show it, correctly guessing that L is trying to goad him into throwing a fit. It's a clever ploy, since Light's ego is his greatest weakness, but he's just a bit too smart to fall for it. Maybe if he hadn't had his guard up already. Light turns the tables on L, accusing him of being Kira, but overplays his hand by asking for proof that he's really L, something L already predicted he'd do. L continues to elevate his personal risk in an attempt to flush Kira out, and is seemingly on the verge of inviting Light to the investigation headquarters when they receive simultaneous phone calls! Light's dad just had a heart attack!

It's not Kira, of course, and it's not fatal. He was just stressed out from the case. While they're all together at the hospital, Yagami confirms that L is indeed L, so Light gets what he wanted... or does he? L explains why he suspects Light (the Ray Penbar disaster), and Light says he'll help with the investigation, promising his father that he'll "send Kira to his execution" himself. Heh. Light's little speech has Yagami convinced that he can't be Kira; even L thinks he's sincere. Yagami reminds us why he's the one true hero in the series, explaining to Light that while he believes Kira is evil, more than that he believes the power to kill is evil, and he pities whoever was burdened with such a power. His words cut straight to the heart of the series. Had Light not found the note, he'd have likely become a great detective. Maybe he'd even develop the capacity for love. As it is, he's doomed.

Light is torn up inside. He feels horrible that anyone could think he might be the vicious mass murderer Kira. Like, totally! He asks L if there's anything he can do to prove his innocence, going so far as offering to be locked in a cell for a month, his every move observed. L declines. Alone with Ryuk, Light shows his true self, barely able to contain maniacal laughter as he talks about how great it was to find the note and how thrilled he is by the prospect of the utopia he intends to build atop a mountain of corpses. We shift locales to a scummy news network willing to run any story - the more sensational, the better! They're out of ideas, but don't despair, here's a package from Kira himself! Cassette tapes and a letter, proof of his Kiraness and a message to the world.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shigofumi 3

A schoolboy stands on a train platform, ostensibly waiting for that train, whilst listening to his mp3 player, playing a game on his cell phone. He’s piloting a little ship around, shooting stuff, looks like he reaches the next level, and the screen says, “YOU ARE ALIVE.” Telling, no?

The train approaches. Wind flips his hair around, and he takes a step toward the edge of the platform. His eyes become glassy; he takes another step to the edge. He’s pretty close. Suddenly, the train roars by, and he yelps and jumps back, away to safety. Cue intro! This episode is sponsored by Bandai, MediaWorks, and Lantis.

We rejoin the show on a roof. Some students are sitting there and talking. Kotake is the kid we saw on the train station. Sen is the hip-looking one. Kaname wears glasses and looks smart. Kotake asks the others if they’ve ever thought about jumping in front of the train. Kaname is incredulous. You’d die, of course. Kotake says that it’s not about dying, it’s about making the jump. There’s no difference, Kaname says. Sen seems to get it, though. Kaname says that he’s never thought about dying. Kotake asks Sen if he’s ever thought about it. The hip guy thinks for a bit, and then answers, no! He looks strange though, and when a hot girl comes to get him for lunch duty or something, he looks at Kotake for a few moments, and it’s maybe a little uncomfortable. He goes down with the hot girl. Kaname chides Sen for being so forgetful. Kotake says that humans manage because we can forget sadness and pain. Kaname points out that’s from a game he’s been playing.

Cut scene, to Sen with the girl. They’re talking and joking in a science lab. There is no audio, and we focus in on Sen.

Later, Kotake is at home playing a video game. Looks like it’s on that fancy new Wii. Lots of hand being moved around. His cell phone rings and he, still playing, answers it. Kaname asks if he’s heard the news. No. Sen is dead.

The scene abruptly changes. A couple of guys in an alley are beating and kicking another guy. Apparently, they’re pimps, and he got their prostitute pregnant. Sure, she aborted the baby, but she’s still ruined, in the eyes of all prostitute-dom. Someone suddenly says “Wait” and we all turn around to see our most favorite-est little shigofumi deliverer, Fumika. She tells everyone that her job comes first. The pimps tell her to scram, and move to toss her out away. She easily flips two out of her way, uses her staff to knock the gun out of the hand of the third, and delivers the shigofumi, that letter from the dead, to the guy on the ground. He accepts in, taking everything in good fun, and grateful to not be dead yet. He takes the letter out of the envelope and sees a piece of paper with a bloody red handprint on it.

He’s confused. Fumika repeats that it’s a letter from the dead. The staff leans in and says, “Right, father?” Fumika leaves, as her job is done. “You’re not here to save me?” the guy asks. No, her job is just to deliver letters. She walks away and the pimps move in to finish off the dude. He screams in agony. Fumika and her staff talk a little bit about how he had it coming, but she gets a notice that another shigofumi needs to be delivered.

(As an aside, letting aborted babies write shigofumis seems pretty twisted. I bet the Christianists would love that.)

The next morning Kotoka stands on the train platform and listens to two girls talk about Sen. There was no suicide note. They can’t understand why someone would want to die. Kotoke arrives at school and it’s besieged by reporters. They’re asking students if Sen was being bullied. Some moronic kid says that he has to tell his mom to tape the news for him tonight because, you know, he might be on it. Kotoke enters the classroom, and there’s a little stand of flowers and some more girls are saying that they were Sen’s friends. They would have helped him. Kaname tells Kotake that the principal wants to talk to him.

He sits in a room facing a line of teachers and administrators and stuff. The school’s reputation will be affected. They demand to know why Sen committed suicide, but Kotake has nothing to say. Later, he’s on the roof with Kaname and watching a news report where Sen’s father is being interviewed. The man insists that nothing was wrong at home, and that the cause of Sen’s death must have been some problem at school. Kotake turns the screen off, and he and Kaname wonder if they were ever really friends with Sen. Seems like they didn’t really know that much about him, and Kaname wonders if maybe it’s natural to just not know that much about a person. He talks about a girl he knew in middle school, who one day shot her father. He and girl were…pretty close, but he doesn’t understand what happened. “What others are thinking is beyond the scope of our understanding,” he says. The show then devolves into an extended discussion on the problem of other minds, with the boys arguing about McDowell’s reductionist viewpoints.

Okay, so that actually doesn’t happen. Instead, Fumika floats down from the heavens. Her staff, in pendant form around her neck, wonders why people commit suicide. Fumika says that it’s because humans are broken. They just have too many flaws. The pendant laughs and we watch as a feather drift into the air, like so many broken people.

Next we see Kaname (remember, he's the smart guy with glasses), looking dour, in his room. Kotake lies on the floor in his own room. He’s watching the news. One woman says that Sen must have been bullied at school. A guy says, no, he must have been abused at home by his father. Someone else says it’s the “Boredom Syndrome.” Kotake turns them all off. They’re all wrong. Just…fade to black now.

The next day Kotake is still wondering why Sen killed himself. Even if it’s impossible to know what others are thinking, he still wants to know. We're given a lot of internal monologues in this episode, which goes to show that we can indeed know what an animated person is pondering, if not a real one. The door to the classroom opens, and in walks Sen’s father. The classroom, he declares, is now a court. Everyone starts screaming.

Of course, the news crews arrive quickly. Mr. Sen has barricaded the room pretty well, by stacking desks against the doors (no one has ever defeated desks stacked against a door), and he says that he just wants to know why Sen died. It’s a natural feeling. You can sympathize with the man, and maybe under the same conditions you might do the same. A girl says that Sen was always cheerful. She doesn’t know what happened.

Outside, the old cop from the last episode (remember, the one who didn’t shoot Asuna) shows up. Noji is his name, but he’s here because his son is in the classroom too. He looks to the side and sees Fumika, and he calls out to her, but she disappears. It was nothing, he tells someone.

Back in the classroom, Kotake is thinking (flashbacking) about the phone call from Kaname, the one where he learned that Sen died. “You’re joking,” Kotake says, and the conversation is juxtaposed with the screen of his computer game, where is character is stuck against the wall and losing life. His little fox creature dies, and the game asks, “CONTINUE?” Cruel. In the here and now, Mr. Sen asks Kotake is he was close with Sen. Kotake says yes, and Mr. Sen asks if he knows what happened, if someone was bullying Sen, if Kotake is covering for someone. A real friend would want whoever is responsible for Sen’s death to be found.

Kotake gets angry, and asks Mr. Sen why doesn’t he know why Sen died, since he’s his father. Mr. Sen says that he never abused Sen. He didn’t do anything wrong. He doesn’t get the chance to say anything more, because just then the barricaded door flies open, and all the desks get shoved out of the way for little Fumika.

Outside again, the cops are sitting in their big van. Noji worries about his son, Kaname. The SWAT team arrives.

Kaname gapes at Fumika. She’s here to deliver a shigofumi, for Kotake, from Sen. Kotake takes the letter. Mr. Sen comes in to grab it instead, but Fumika gets in the way and gives him a nasty look. As Kotake starts to open the shigofumi, Mr. Sen tries to take it again. Fumika takes out her huge gun and holds it against the man’s head, which seems pretty amazing, considering how short she is.

Kaname’s eyes narrow and he has a vision of that girl from middle school with her gun. “Could she be…?”

Fumika tells Mr. Sen not to interfere. She’s really dedicated to her job, although at this point I don’t see the point, because she’s already delivered the letter. Does she really care what happens after that?

In the hallway, the SWAT guys move into position.

Kotake starts to read the letter, but Mr. Sens asks him to read it aloud, and the boy agrees. Dear dead Sen talks about their rooftop conversation. He admits that sometimes he’s wondered, what will happen if I jump? It’s not about dying, it’s not about wanting to live. Kotake has a vision of standing on the train platform and standing next to Sen, who smiles at him and jumps. Then he jumps, and then everyone jumps. It’s about the jump.

The letter ends. There wasn’t a reason, Sen says. Just like taking a different route home. He was just in the mood. Finis, and I stop to think about that. Is suicide really sometimes about the jump, and not the dying? Perhaps, or are we glossing over the pain and agony that can drive men and women to take their own lives? I’m sure that there are those who know people who have committed suicide without any apparent reason (maybe you’re reading this right now), and there’s just an ache inside because you want to know why but you can’t, for there is an impenetrable barrier between life and death. I hope that sometimes it is about the jump, and that maybe someone can find some solace in that.

Mr. Sen doesn’t believe it. Kotake tells him that Sen really did write that, but he doesn’t get to say why, for at that moment the SWAT team tosses in a flash grenade and it explodes with a blinding light and Mr. Sen is apprehended.

Mr. Sen gets dragged away. Kotake stands up and says because he and Sen were friends.

Meanwhile, Kamame runs up some stairs. We flip outside, to where Fumika is standing on a roof watching the entire scene. She mutters something about how death doesn’t save humans; they just disappear. The staff asks what she means, and Fumika says that those are words from a writer, Mikawa Kirameki.

“Mikawa!” Kaname shouts from behind her. At least, he asks if she’s Mikawa. He’s the guy from middle school, he tells her. Fumika stares at him, and he asks why she shot her father. The staff gasps. We suddenly see a girl lying in a bed, I’m assuming that she’s in a coma or something, and the book on the table next to her is by Mikawa Kirameki.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Screw It: Random Recap #1

Due to a vague hardware issue, I cannot play the anime series I've been reviewing. I was going to recap episode two of Kitaro, or any of the other series I've been neglecting, but instead, will have to stick my hand into the Mystery Box of Anime and see what shows or movies I have laying around to talk about. So... let's see...

Ah, Cowboy Bebop. One of the first anime series that introduced me to what good anime could be. Up until I caught an episode of this series on Adult Swim, I equated all anime with seizure-inducing, way-too-fucking-peppy cartoons badly dubbed into English. And it seems that Cowboy Bebop was the gateway-anime for a lot of fans. I won't bother with a lot of character descriptions or backstory since, if you're reading this site, you most likely know these characters well. So, let's jump right in.

Cowboy Bebop: Episode 20 ("Pierrot le Fou")

The episode starts out with the shadow of a fat man in a tall top hat against a building. A POV shot flies us up and over the building, while the sound of a cape flapping in the wind plays in the background. A set of legs and a cane fly through the air over 'The City,' as two security agents step out of a car. As the agents help an important-looking man out of a building, the formerly flying man walks down the alley towards them before gliding several feet closer. The agents ready their guns and the man shows his face. "I have come here to take your lives," he tells them.


Spike plays pool in a dimly lit hall. He wins, of course, and the unnamed man playing with him walks away without a word. Spike lights a cigarette outside and happens upon the fat man entering bullet upon bullet into the security agents, the important-looking man, and the car, using his cane-gun. Spike looks unimpressed. That is, until the man twirls his cane-gun, turns around, and greets Spike in a low voice. Spike dives behind a trashcan as the Penguin-looking fat man unloads a few shots. He fires off some shots, two of them hitting Non-Penguin in the chest, however they bounce off of a green field of some kind. Non-Penguin laughs and grits his teeth, making a sound that makes me uncomfortable. Non-Penguin hovers into the air and comes at Spike. If you've never seen this episode, this is the moment that Non-Penguin (Pierrot) becomes one of your favorite badguys. The dude's fucking creepy. The two engage in fisticuffs for a short while before Spike fires off a few more rounds, finding Non-Penguin really hard to hit. With a series of somersault kicks that Guile himself would be envious of, Non-Penguin leaves Spike on the ground, helpless and with a cane-gun pointed at his face. Before he can leave Spike a mess on the pavement, Non-Penguin is startled by an alley cat. He turns to try and shoot the cat - which, for some reason the seemingly invincible assassin can't hit - which lets Spike find a canister of explosive, plot-convenient gas. He rolls it towards Non-Penguin and shoots it. The resulting explosion takes out the entire block, probably killing dozens of families sitting down for dinner, and lightly tosses Spike into a wall. As he gets up, a knife pierces Spikes right arm, and Non-Penguin is standing behind him. Spike runs, but Non-Penguin fires some sort of Spike-seeking grenade that goes off just as Spike hits the nearby river. The nearby river that was probably built by the same people that leave giant, explosive canisters littered in back alleys. The shadow of Non-Penguin stands in front of the water for a second before fading away.

Jet's standing on the roof a building hitting up one of his contacts, Bob, for information on the crazy fat guy. Bob isn't keen on sharing information on this guy, but eventually gives up the name, "Mad Pierrot." Jet looks up at the audience, a little stunned, to make sure we heard the same thing.

Back on The Bebop (the spaceship), a bandaged hand reaches for an orange. Faye, of course, gets to it first. She sits on the table to eat the orange and berate Spike, who is covered in bandages. As he is wont to be. Faye drops the orange peel on Spike's head and walks off.

Later the same day, Bob is still telling Jet about Mad Pierrot. Based on the lighting, Bob's been talking about this guy he doesn't want to talk about for hours. Turns out, Mad Penguin has been killing top officials at the ISSP (Inter-Solar System Police) and everyone who gets a look at the guy without dying, eventually gets hunted down. "They say he appears with a smile, and he leaves with a smile." Plus, there's that creepy-ass floating trick he has. The dude's like The Penguin and The Joker rolled into one. Also a vampire.

Ein goes to tell Ed she has an e-mail, which she immediately takes to Faye. It reads: "Hello, boy, you're invited to a wonderful party..." Faye figures out that the e-mail was sent from that weird guy who almost killed Spike, and tells Ed that they can't tell him about it. She doesn't show it often, and tries not to, but she clearly cares about these people. Well, she doesn't want them hurt. Of course, they do kind of pay her rent... In any case, it doesn't matter, because Spike was standing behind her the whole time. The e-mail came from 'Space Land,' which sounds like a stupid amusement park for the future. It's like having a smaller, less-authentic, probably-smelling-of-vomit Disney World underneath the real thing, where all the people dressed up like cartoon characters just lay on the ground with their cartoon heads off. Spike wonders aloud if 'this is the one [he] won't come back from.' When Faye looks at Spike, semi-concerned, semi-annoyed, he says he was just screwing around. Bounty hunters have their own sense of humor.

Jet calls and Ed tells him that Spike left for 'somewhere.' He already knows who Spike went after, and asks Ed for a favor before the scene abruptly ends.

Spike lands outside of Space Land and steps out of his ship (Swordfish II), then grabs his side, still not healed from his last fight. Making sure he looks cool, he puts his hands in his pockets, his face down, and struts into the park. 'Cause if you're gonna die, do it looking like you don't care. Spike walks through the closed amusement park, which is full of rides covered with cartoon animals, which I guess are prevalent in space. At least it's night, so the shadows make everything look more like a Silent Hill game than Disney. There's a good twenty seconds where the only sounds are Spike's footsteps. A rarity in media these days; especially in an action series. Producers are so afraid that people will get bored if there isn't something happening every two seconds, that a soundtrack is almost always filled with some kind of noise. As Spike enters the center of the park, Mad Penguin turns on the lights and welcomes him to his doom. He then throws his arms into the air as fireworks 'plode behind him, the rides turn on, and slightly slowed down carnival music plays. Bullets are exchanged, glass shatters, and Mad Pierrot bounces around like Daffy Duck.

Spike takes shelter in some sort of holodeck set to that ice level in Super Mario 64, where a Navi-like sprite continuously informs him that, "It's dangerous in here!" Pierrot slides down a hill on a penguin and greets Spike with a cheerful, "Hi!"

Jet talks Ed through an ISSP database, that 'doesn't exist to the general public.'

Elsewhere in the park, Spike manages to shoot Pierrot a few times, but it's only to remind us that Pierrot has some sort of body armor. The bullets bounce off and Pierrot flies off laughing. Spike shoots and kicks a few animatronic cartoon mascots for good measure.

Ed finds 'it' and Jet tells her to find a file with the codename 'Tongpu.' She tries a few times to hack into the file, but is rejected.

Spike is hurled through the air by an explosion, landing in a rollercoaster car that takes off down the track. Pierrot passes Spike in another car, and wraps a whip around Spike's neck, dragging him out of his car and onto the track behind Pierrot. Spike's ride doesn't last long, as Pierrot tosses a grenade onto the track, letting Spike fall into the water below.

Ed hacks the file, which contains a flashback with a groovy techno soundtrack: A man in white lays helpless on the floor of a white room. Quick shots of vials and cells being injected are intercut with shots of the man in white gaining weight and looking sick. Various experiments are done on the man, including one where he gets shot and a green force field protects him as he shakes violently from pain. All the while, a black cat with two differently colored eyes looks on. The Ghost of Exposition Past voice-overs: "ISSP Assassination Ability Improvement Experiment, experiment sample chart number 46. Codename Tongpu. Confirmed a strong regression of the mind during the experiment." The AAIE was cancelled, and number 46 was to be kept out of sight and mind indefinitely. However, during his transfer, Tongpu sort of flipped out and escaped. Jet takes over and explains that Tongpu was first just out for revenge, but now seems to just like killing folk, and his mind is still regressing. "So, he's like a child with superhuman fighting abilities... there's nothing as pure and cruel as a child." Sweet. When I have a kid, they're so getting a chest cannon and laser eyes. But on with the show.

Spike pulls himself out of the water and Pierrot starts launching grenades at him. Faye flies into the action in her racer and opens fire on Pierrot. With a few grenade shots, Pierrot hits a giant pig statue which knocks Faye's racer down and forces Spike to dive through a store window to take cover. Thanks Faye. Why don't you sit out the rest of this episode? Pierrot laughs at Spike, lying helplessly in the store. As he tries to get up, Spike knocks a toy cat out onto the sidewalk. It starts to meow innocently, and Pierrot starts to freak the fuck out. He flashesback to the flashback we saw in the last scene and shoots the toy, but regains his composure quickly and shoots the gun out of Spike's hand, just as he was running away. A parade of giant, animatronic cartoon characters is coming up the road between them, as Pierrot points his cane-gun at the degunned Spike. Lights from the parade flash in and out as the two stare each other down. Spike reaches for a throwing knife he's been hiding behind his back. The light shines on Spike's cybernetic eye, which just happens to be the same color as one of the cat's eyes. Pierrot falters for a second, giving Spike his chance to toss his knife into Pierrot's leg. Spike gets a bullet in the shoulder, which isn't a big deal for an anime character. Pierrot, seeing the knife in his leg, starts to bawl like a six-year-old who just scraped his knee. As he screams for his mommy, literally, the parade meets Pierrot and tramples him. A giant cartoon dog steps right on Pierrot, ending the screams. Spike looks on, with the blank stare that only comes from watching a murderous man-child get smooshed under the foot of a giant, dopey dog with a snare drum. Jet calls Spike on his iPhone to tell him they've figured out what Pierrot is, but Spike calmly tells Jet that it doesn't matter anymore, then hangs up. Spike stands up, and as we pull away from Space Land, informs us that he 'hates theme parks.'

See you space cowboy...