Rolling Review – Children of the Whales (08)

Boring nihilist versus irritating psychopath? In the immortal words of Ken Watanabe: “Let them fight.”

Episode Synopsis:

Coverage of the rout on Skylos slows to a crawl as we monitor simultaneous events on the mud whale – primarily the fight between The Captain and bob-cut there, the latter of which gets some in-universe nous-powered backstory. Also, a couple of Ouni’s underlings are accosted by other delinquents who don’t seem to appreciate that there are dozens of armored soldiers in sight and earshot who are actively seeking to kill them, and – just in case you weren’t paying enough attention last time – we get round two of Ema singing in the sand (not necessarily in this order).

Back on Skylos, Ouni manages to get the jump on Enemy-Commander-Eyepatch (I wonder if he and Captain Eyepatch had the same thing happen), and covers Chakuro’s and Lykos’ approach to the nous by holding him hostage. The kids get about to the door when Captain Why-was-I-wearing-a-facemask-while-standing-on-the-bridge-of-my-OWN-ship-in-my-introduction-when-I-clearly-don’t-even-need-one-in-actual-combat reasserts control over the situation and threatens to drop some more exposition. Ultimately, this episode is mostly a bunch of people on both vessels making cryptic comments (in varying states of active conflict), although Liodari does probably die.

Review:

Spoilers, I guess. Also, I say “probably” because I wouldn’t put it past most anime to reanimate as anomalous a character as him as a giant sand golem or something, especially if there’s some sort of ancient garden-like place somehow still intact at the bottom of the sand sea. Glad to see him go, though (especially if he doesn’t come back) – he’s wayyyy too intense to be a believable character, even in the context of getting backwash from everyone who successfully fed their emotions to the local nous. I’ll note that we don’t get to see any part of his backstory that explains why anyone trusts someone with his obvious instability with numerous lethal weapons.

Beyond that, though, the episode moves around too much to do anything but tease its other plot points. What “objective” are the soldiers talking about that isn’t “slaughter everyone on Falaina” and doesn’t seem to be “kill Falaina” either? What does the delinquents’ prisoner want with Ouni? What’s up with the hundreds and hundreds of spectral hands?

Yeah, that’s actually not very helpful.
Anybody else get this weird craving for Tang?

This is on top of continuing to raise questions that we already have: How connected to Falaina is the Captain? Does Falaina actually eat emotions, but only from one person at a time? Did the Captain get married before inheriting his current position? What’s up with the giant fish?

Eyes mercifully not visible in this shot.

Of course, the most interesting new question (I mean, assuming no one’s thought ask it already) is based on Captain facemask’s rant at the end: Could it be that Falaina actually eats the life of the Marked? That would be a rough situation to get used to, even if it kinda makes more sense than the “normal” nous.

Are you… are you going to tell us?

Summary:

Not by very many people if we have anything to say about it.

Offing Liodari is a step in the right direction, but there’s still an overabundance of mystery, and honestly I’m not sure that the show was really salvageable coming into this episode. I doubt I’ll be able to recommend it even if that one girl that Lykos saved from the ambush buckles some swash and saves the day out of nowhere.


Previous                                         Next

Rolling Review – Children of the Whales (04)

Surrender at 20 [hours]
Episode Synopsis:

Having no confidence in mounting a successful resistance to a floating island full of emotionless warriors with metal armor and gunpowder weaponry – only to then be faced with an entire country’s worth (assuming that their erstwhile homeland subscribes to the Zapp Branigan school of warfare), the council of elders decides to straight-up sink the Mud Whale and quit while they’re ahead (and before they’re, you know, just heads). Predictably, many of the younger inhabitants of the Whale are not enthused by this decision. Suou is the first to find out, when he is promoted to Chieftain and immediately given the task of actually sinking the Whale – he refuses (before anyone explains how exactly they expect him to do it), and coaxes some potentially helpful gibberish out of the council’s oldest member before he is knocked out and carried away by the Captain.

Neri, the council’s attendant, is present for the exchange and quickly excuses herself to seek help from Chakuro. She finds him, but only imparts her request after a strange force possess her and sends him on a vision trip, where he is encouraged by the spirits of acquaintances passed on. Chakuro recruits Lykos and a handful of his other friends, and they proceed to storm the bowels of the Mud Whale, where they begin to unravel its secret past…

Review:

At the risk of sounding redundant, this is a weirdly paced show. On the one hand, my recent viewing of Shirobako has significantly increased my sympathy for the trials of an anime studio attempting to produce a manga adaptation – trying to cram the story into 13 episodes seems like it’s taking its toll. On the other hand, several of the show’s other questionable aspects thus far seem like they were probably carried over from the source material.

Thankfully, De-Lion-dau doesn’t show up in this episode.

A brief aside: Escaflowne’s Dilandau was revealed to a psycho pretty early on, but I don’t think it was within a minute of his introduction (there’s less room in a thirteener, but this much less?), and he was definitely not a high-ranking officer in a military outfit that was very explicitly predicated on the removal of emotions from its soldiers. You can’t just throw some cat-eyed sadist front and center in the middle of that with no commentary by anyone and expect to be taken seriously. At least the Folken analogue might be doing something interesting, but you’re here to read about episode 4.

Spoilers ahoy.

Have I not been paying attention, or has Captain Eye-patch here only been on screen for, like, five seconds, two episodes ago, prior to knocking Suou out cold and being all buddy-buddy with the Council of Elders? He’s apparently top dog in the Mud Whale’s security detail, but it looks like he knew about the Skylos before the attack and didn’t do anything about it. He’s an adult, but he’s Marked, so he can’t be that old. He seems unfazed by the suicide order, probably because he expected a mutiny and has no intention of stopping it, but he’s also perfectly content with gauging Ouni as a fighter rather than actually helping Chakuro & company in any way.

My guess? He’s hopped up on the Nous that the council keeps in the Mud Whale’s basement. It doesn’t explain everything, but it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that’s happening down there, as Falaina seems to have Neri in its thrall or something. Hopefully the next episode will have some people actually talking to each other about what’s going on around here, because the countdown to Armageddon is rapidly draining my patience for all of the secret mystery stuff which might otherwise be kinda cool. Consider esteemed anime like Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, which was a show of the same length but had the slice-of-fish-out-water thing going for, like, half of its run before rendezvousing with the over-plot. I suppose certain constraints on event ordering, mostly regarding the Nous Lykos, prevent similar exploration here. Ouni’s character trajectory in particular appears to be heavily dependent on the mini-massacre happening relatively soon after the encounter.

I guess the real question at this point is how long the next six days are going to last in screen time. We could be spending the majority of the show leading up to a climactic engagement, but I suspect that Loudmouth McFushiaHair will be back sooner rather than later – unless someone decides to try to steer the island/vessel instead of scuttling it so that, when the Skylos returns, the ol’ Mud Whale will be somewhere else – how good can their tracking systems be?

I did rather enjoy the trippy dream sequence (I am historically a sucker for them) – it starts you off with a couple of things that are, like, “mm, yes – symbolic” but throws a curve-ball or two in that are like, “wait – what?”

Drop on in – just chillin’ with the gals

I’m also rapidly warming up to Ginshu. To those surprised by this given my history with imposed nicknames, something about the way it’s getting started in this show makes it seem like it might be an actual plot point, if a minor one.

What I’m saying is that, for the time being, I’m holding out hope that the “Chakki” thing is an opportunity for character development, which is something that had no chance of happening in Amanchu because of the way the third episode was structured around Futaba accepting her whimsical nickname as an offering of friendship (also Hikari in general). Come on, Ginshu-nee-san! I believe in you!

Summary:

Show better straighten up and fly right – having said that, there’s still plenty of potential here if it does.

(The Con Artists are in no way financially affiliated with Penny Arcade)


Previous                                         Next

 

 

Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (13)

Oh…

Oh God, folks.

If you caught the end of last episode then you’ve probably already gathered that this season isn’t ending without some serious heart-wrenching. And gut-wrenching. Without further ado, then – spoilers ahoy:

Episode Synopsis:

Nanachi explains to Reg via extended flashback how she and Mitty came to be where they are. The White Whistle Bondrewd recruited them from poverty on the surface for an experimental foray into The Abyss, and the “experimental” aspect ended up being using them (and a large number of other orphans) as guinea pigs to test devices that could theoretically manipulate The Curse of The Abyss. Turns out: they kinda can. Subjected to a process designed to force the effects of The Curse from her to Mitty, Nanachi was transformed into a furry but retained her faculties, while Mitty’s fate included the apparently common symptom of being turned into a mindless blob of flesh with the added bonus(?) of becoming functionally immortal. Having observed what remains of her friend being permanently injured only by a weapon similar to Reg’s incinerator, Nanachi convinces him to fulfill Mitty’s last intelligible request and free her spirit from its wretched prison.

And he does.

Riko regains consciousness soon afterwards, and recounts the dream she had while comatose wherein she could sense the presence of someone whose description fits Mitty. While recuperating, she asks Nanachi to join her and Reg on their descent, and Nanachi accepts. After a montage of preparing for their journey, the trio head once more unto the breach.

Review:

We were warned – at least, I was warned. At the very least, I had picked up whispers on pre-season comment threads that the source material for Made in Abyss went dark, dark places (I’d like to thank anyone who contributed to such threads for keeping them spoiler-free). When I became the primary voice in favor of considering the show for our rolling review, I communicated what caveats I had found, but the overall quality of its first episode was simply unmatched by any of its competitors, and so we started our descent.

I feel like I have a relatively high threshold for this sort of thing (notably, I own all of the books and the DVDs for both Alien 9 and Bokurano), so I feel a little guilty for taking the rest of the Con Artist crew and our readers down what has indeed become a pretty disturbing path. For my role in this, I apologize, but it still seems like a very well-put together show, and, hey – variety is the spice of life, right?

::weak laughter::

Anyway, let’s start with offhand questions and comments:

Did we not recover Blaze Reap after diminishing the orbed piercer?

I gather that Bondrewd’s name is Anglicized the way that it is because the kana for it are kind of ambiguous, reading something like bondorudo, but it sounds to me like the emphasis is on the first “do” rather than the “ru”, which would look more like Bondord. I suspect that cases like this are rare enough that trying to get emphasis readings of weird names from the creators for localization purposes is something of an afterthought (although I guess I don’t know if anyone involved in the actual anime production said the name in the author’s presence or if everybody’s just winging it). Plus it’s a total crap-shoot as to whether you end up with Japanese people who only think they know enough about English to decide for themselves.

Also on the subject of obtuse linguistic pedantry: after a few episodes of listening to Nanachi speak, I decided to look into the pronoun she uses for herself. As far as I can tell, it’s “oira”, which is a colloquial pluralization of “ore”. She’s always used it – it’s in the very first line of her extended flashback – and if any of our readers have a good idea of what connotations it’s supposed to have, please drop us an email or a comment or something.

Also: if you think we’re making more than one detailed drawing of this hell-hole, you’ve got another think coming.

The fact that Nanachi now joins the other leads in singing the ED makes me happy (the fact that
Tama-chan/Orby has been there the entire time, less so). Tangentially, the music – and the art, for that matter – in this show continue to be top-notch.

I find it odd that The Curse is deformed by Reg’s consciousness but has no effect on his body. I suppose the whole thing really is artificial (which isn’t terribly surprising, given its resilience to other forms of damage), which raises a handful of questions – including: Is Reg still susceptible to the degradation of sanity that Ozen mentions to young Lyza in episode seven? (not that I expect the story to last long enough for those effects to manifest) How – and why – was Reg’s body made to carry his spirit? And why does it have such a high level of, uh, verisimilitude?

Speaking of which…

I feel, uh, similarly
Off-screen: Riko and Reg in waist-deep water without clothes on

Are we really doing this dance? In fairness to Riko’s perplexity over Reg’s anatomy, sex ed is probably not a priority topic in the orphanage’s curriculum for children her age, but, come on, show – dial it back (here, and regarding her interaction with Nanachi’s personal space issue).

That having been said, a couple of weeks really made me forget the kind of positive energy that Riko brings to the show. There’s something about her irrepressible optimism that’s, you know, subtly disturbing, but refreshing. Nothing keeps her down –

You are too cute for this world

– and the rest of us got pretty low before she woke up.

There’s a little more contrivance in this episode than usual, but Nanachi and Mitty’s story still hits like a truck, and letting it breathe by giving the finale an hour-spot is a big help. Bondrewd is one of the best kinds of antagonist: one who truly believes that he’s acting in the interests of the greater good – and who almost is, save for his complete and total disregard for the lives of his test subjects. Between him and the horrific nature of The Curse below the Sea of Corpses, the two girls are trapped in a world of suffering. Even after Nanachi carries Mitty out of the facility (and I actually like the idea that none of the staff bother to lock any of the doors – she’s the only other person there, and what is she gonna do? Just walk out into the most hostile environment ever drawn on a map?), she is only further convinced that she is powerless to alter the unspeakable fate of the first person to ever approach her as a human being.

The goodbye scene is a tear-jerker and no mistake, but I think it might be the scene immediately prior that I was struck the hardest by. In between Reg’s conversations with Nanachi about why he should accept her request, we’ve seen him observing her. Nanachi has spent no small amount of time devoted entirely to Mitty, and, judging by her halfhearted initial response, his condition that she promise not to commit suicide afterwards was probably not completely unnecessary. “How cruel…” she says, after Reg demands, with tears in his eyes, that she go on living after there is finally nothing left of her only friend, her treasure.

How cruel.

I seriously thought that we were going to revisit this issue when she left the room after Riko recalled her coma visions, leaving Reg with the words “This time, make sure you really protect her.” Honestly, though, it’s the visions that tie this whole affair together. Riko comforting Mitty while she also hangs between life and death, and, more to the point, witnessing Mitty’s spirit transmigrate, really adds a level of power and/or beauty to the story that would otherwise have been very difficult to achieve.

Striking out from the hideout after the prep montage is also a fine place to end a season – a show like this really does need to go out on a hopeful note (but not… too hopeful – watch to the end), and setting up the fresh start of the ::crosses fingers:: next season instead of ending on some twisted cliffhanger (and this is a show that could pull off a pretty good literal cliffhanger) is a choice I want to see made more often.

Summary:

I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. The kids are sexualized a little too much (read: they are sexualized A Little, which, by virtue of being a greater quantity than Not Really At All, is too much), and the pacing got a little wonky in the Seeker Camp, but pretty much every other aspect of the show is rock solid and right up my alley (well, one of my alleys – people can like different kinds of things). It’s dark, but not totally grimdark; it’s a good mix of wondrous and heartfelt and ominous and brutal. Might make for good Halloween watching if you’re looking for an excuse to introduce someone to it. I’m definitely gonna be keeping an eye out for a physical release, and for another season – I wanna see if this elevator goes all the way to Scarytown.

Did we…
Did we go out on a visual comparison between the hut façade and Mitty’s disfigured face?
I didn’t see that one coming.

Previous

 

Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (08)

Brendan will be stepping in for Scott this week, who will return next week.

Riko's hair and jacket make her look like the female Geomancers from Final Fantasy Tactics, which only makes her more endearing to me.
*breathes in*

CHILD.

Episode Synopsis:

Like, ten minutes into Riko’s ten-day survival camp with Reg, she about gets herself wrecked by some sort of subterranean hippopotabyss. The pair then make it their mission to bring down the most moderately dangerous game. Elsewhere, Ozen reminiscences about Lyza.

Review:

Little bit of a slow week, eh? Technically I think more in-universe time passes in this episode than in any of the episodes since the second one, but almost a fifth of the run time is flashback, and even in the present it seems like very little actually happens. While we do at least get to see the kids put together a plan and execute it, I was a little disappointed that we skipped to the end of the training without a montage. I was even more disappointed that Reg managed to refer to an event that didn’t make it into the episode, and that I wouldn’t give an even chance of being relevant further on, though I guess they might surprise me.

Really the meat of this episode lies in Ozen’s memories of Lyza that she shares with the audience and her knowledge of the Abyss that she shares with the protagonists (including the fascinating tidbit that time apparently flies when you’re in the most disturbingly hostile environment known to man). As far as the latter goes, it does seem a little convenient that Riko & Reg get shepherded down their path by someone who knew Riko’s mother very well (and who thought that they were the bestest of besties until some BOY came along), but, on the other hand, I can see this being a positive development for the story.  Without this infusion of knowledge and equipment, the pair would just be skulking around every layer of the Abyss until they meet their unceremonious end (or at least Riko’s) when some yacht-sized abomination accidentally crushes them to death when it rolls over, or reflexively eats them before they know what’s happening, or something. Now they know enough to be dangerous, and can get into some real trouble.

Specifically, we’ve now got a name and a warning for the dude that we catch a glimpse of in the OP, so there are pretty good odds that, before the season is over, we’re going to run afoul of a powerful White Whistle who will be thinking only about how he can separate our heroes from anything they’re carrying that’s remotely useful. There’s actually a handful of other neat revelations in this episode (one of them destroying my theory that Leader is in some way related to Riko), so I’ll give a net positive to Ozen’s flashbacks, even if a couple of them seemed unnecessary.

The most important thing is that we’re back on the descent. For reference, as far as my casual research has been able to determine, the deepest that humans have actually ventured into the Earth is in a pair of gold mines in South Africa which reach almost 4,000 m below the surface. The mines are pretty far inland, though, so that only works out to about 2,000 m below sea level, a depth that Riko and Reg passed back before they made the transition to the inverted forest. Random fun fact: Shiggy says the word “meters” when he describes the layers (well, “meetoru”, at least), but the depths on the map we see in that scene are marked with the symbol which ciphers to the kana for “ro“, which… I don’t know where I’m going with this, it’s just weird.

Yes, I have spent several hours working out the cipher, based on the episode 3 map, other on-screen text, and the parts of the opening credits that don’t involve reading kanji (found a couple of typos, but it’s pretty well done overall). Could I have looked it up? Probably, but what fun would that be? =P

Summary:

We got a decent wrap-up to our mini-arc in the Seeker Camp. I’m excited to leave its relative safety and get back to the dive.


Previous                                         Next

Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (05)

Thank you, Narrator Lady, for reminding us how doomed these kids are.

Episode Synopsis:

Somewhere in the dark and nasty regions, where nobody goes, stands an ancient–

Wait

Wait; no – that’s The Trap Door, a series of UK claymation shorts from the mid-80s about living above an uncharted cave system that regularly spat out bizarre creatures. Some of my earliest memories must be watching those old PAL tapes…

…my family is weird.

Anyway,
Riko continues to display chutzpah, knowledge, and resourcefulness as she and Reg begin traversing the second layer of The Abyss. Unfortunately, she also continues to display how her lack of training, experience, and physical capability leave her dramatically unprepared for this journey as the pair come across more denizens of the deep on their way to the Seeker Camp. A near-fatal encounter leaves Riko without her notebook, but the stress causes Reg’s “muscle” memory to reproduce the energy beam from the prologue, giving this episode its title: “Incinerator”.

Review:

Anyone else ever see that movie Predators? I know there’s a few of us out there. Did any of you think back to the scene where one of the aliens had set a trap with a dead dude and a recording before Riko and Reg put eyes on the corpse-weeper? High fives all around.

For real, though – this place is insanely dangerous. If Riko can be carried away by a creature this easily, and subjected to enough of a vertical rise in layer two for the curse to cause her to throw up and pass out in seconds, she really shouldn’t be down here. She survives, barely, thanks to Reg rediscovering one of his features, and he also saves them from the Princess-Mononoke-lookin’ inbyos.

Beyond brushes with the local wildlife, a good chunk of the episode is also spent further examining the culture of cave divers…

Riko waxes philosophic on the cyclic possibilities of the food chain in The Abyss.

… (those knorks though) and also on Riko being intensely delusional.

Oh, child. Your optimism is as bottomless as this pit, isn’t it?
(we probably are going to see that again, though)

Speaking of both cave diving culture and delusions, does Riko really think that she and Reg are just going to waltz into the Seeker Camp and everyone there is simply going to let them continue to descend? I mean, I guess she does now, since Habolg gave them some supplies and told them that she already has a personal relationship with the camp boss, but surely her plan was to stop there even before that revelation.

Shiggy’s description of the layers in episode three implies that every color of whistle corresponds directly to a maximum allowable depth. Red Whistles can’t descend into the Forest of Temptation without abandoning hope of rescue; only Black and White Whistles can go to the Goblet(s) of Giants; only White Whistles can go to the Sea of Corpses, and the label of the Capital of the Unreturned is really just a name for the depth beyond which literally no-one has ever returned (with reports from the descended seeming to suggest that a lot of ancient edifice remains intact). Presumably the transition from Blue to Moon Whistle comes with access to the Great Fault, although that distinction may not be a particularly useful one if it’s as featureless as it looks – perhaps leading to the additional administrative distinction of allowing Moon Whistles to be instructors. The map has that half-boat sticking out of the cliff, though, so there’s probably something cool down there.

Where was I… right, so Riko’s already a layer out of her depth and wants to go further, but I suppose that’s really going to depend on what she can negotiate with the Unmoveable Sovereign, or, perhaps more likely (since Ozen doesn’t seem to be thrilled with Lyza’s decision to abandon their mission and save her daughter), whether she can slip through her fingers.

Musings and observations!

I was wondering before (I think), but why didn’t Reg take his red whistle? It would make it less likely for him to be immediately identified as a threat by other cave divers (case in point: the Seeker Camp lookout).

Where did the Moon Whistle getting eaten come from? He’s pretty freshly dead. Maybe he was part of Leader’s expedition to retrieve Riko and fell – if so, maybe Leader and their remaining companion will venture into the Forest of Temptation after him, if not after Riko, and we’ll see Leader again after all.

I wonder if Ozen is at all related to the orphanage director.

They’ve got a similar black & white thing going on with their hair

There’s a little less scenery to ogle in this episode than the last one, but everything still looks great. The monsters are drawn with more recognizable line-work than before, but they also spend a lot of time up close and personal, so it may have been necessary from a being-able-to-tell-what’s-going-on standpoint (perhaps in addition to cost and/or logistics).

The music in this show is so good you guys. It’s tonal and ominous and mmmmmm makes me happy and worried at the same time.

On the subject of being worried: the last time I saw an anime ED with people doing this:

…it, ah, didn’t end well. I will also note that the OP and ED change slightly in this episode (the OP in the ending frame, and the ED with a minor addition midway through), though what the point was in hiding the Seeker Camp inhabitants in the ED given how much it focuses on a character who is still yet-to-be-introduced is a mystery to me. Perhaps my greatest criticism of Made in Abyss so far is revealing a future group dynamic outside of the show proper (though Reg does spend an awfully long time up and about before firing the incinerator actually takes its toll).

Summary:

Made in Abyss is moving right along: we’ve covered about the same vertical distance that we did last episode ( ~1300m \ ~4400ft). It seems like we’re probably going to stay at the Seeker Camp for a little while, but if that means learning more about the history of The Abyss in some well-structured exposition and flashbacks (which, at this point, I am fully confident that this show can pull off), I am 100% all for it.


Previous                                         Next