Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody

24_haruhi01fThe junkyard presents two articles about the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody.

The view from 5930 miles away:

I’ve learnt a lot about Japanese culture and traditions from watching anime, and consider it a big bonus of watching some of the creative output of another country. Maybe if more people took the trouble to broaden their horizons beyond their own country’s film and television we would all understand each other just that little bit better, and there might be less xenophobia in the world. If you didn’t know about Tanabata, it crops up in plenty of anime series, and this week it’s Haruhi’s Tanabata episode.

This provides the origins of the title of the episode, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, because a custom of Tanabata is writing wishes on tanzaku, small pieces of paper which you hang on bamboo. As Haruhi mentions, these wishes are made to the gods Orihime and Hitoboshi, represented in the night sky by Vega and Altair. Ever the literal thinker, Haruhi works out the distance it will take the wishes to travel to those stars, and sets the SOS Brigade the task of writing wishes that will be appropriate to 16 or 25 years into their future. For anyone who wasn’t a quick enough reader, or couldn’t be bothered to pause the DVD, here are the wishes in full. First, gentle-natured Mikuru has domestic concerns, and phrases them in a gentle way:

I hope to get better at sewing.
I hope to get better at cooking.

As we would expect from Nagato, she doesn’t waste words:

Harmony
Innovation

Koizumi says his are “a little ordinary”, and he’s not wrong. At times he can be a difficult character to like as it is impossible to get a rise out of him and he comes across as a little smug. As expected, his wishes are boring and a little bit irritating:

My family’s well-being
World Peace

It makes you wonder if he’s trying to make an impression. Can Koizumi’s word’s ever be trusted, and taken at face value? Do we ever see the real Koizumi? Kyon’s wishes are what we would probably expect from a teenage boy looking to the future, with just a touch of weirdness:

Gimme money
Give me a house with a yard big enough to wash a dog in.

It’s not just the slight weirdness, but also the demanding nature of the wishes that indicates that Haruhi’s behaviour is perhaps rubbing off on him a bit. As for her own wishes (or demands), the first is predictable for Haruhi, and the second is a gloriously bizarre bit of Haruhi nonsense:

Make the world revolve around me
I want the rotation of the earth to go in the opposite direction.

After that bit of fun, we’re into the main plot of this timey wimey episode, with Kyon being taken back into the past, meeting the older Asahina again, and meeting the younger Haruhi for the first time. This is where some of the references from previous episodes come to fruition, such as the “quod scribbles incident”, and Haruhi thinking she recognises Kyon in the first episode. We are also setting things up for the Disappearance arc, with Kyon identifying himself by a fake name (John Smith).

Some clever things happen here too. Have a look at this conversation between the kid Haruhi and Kyon:

“So do you think aliens are real or not?”
“I guess they are.”
“And time travellers?”
“I wouldn’t doubt those either.”
“How about ESPers?”
“I’m sure they’re lurking around every corner.”
“What about sliders.”
“I haven’t met any of those guys yet.”

Note how when we meet Haruhi she is looking for aliens, time travellers and ESPers, but doesn’t mention sliders. Kyon influences her strongly, and paradoxically that’s based on what he knows of her future. Similarly, Haruhi is inspired to go to North High by Kyon being there, but more importantly him mentioning another girl there who shares Haruhi’s beliefs. Of course, that girl is Haruhi herself.  What might Haruhi’s life have been like if this encounter with Kyon had never happened?

Then we have another demonstration of Nagato’s abilities, when she freezes time for Kyon and Asahina for three years, and the strange thought that they were present in her flat when they visited before, and finally we see Haruhi in a thoughtful mood:

“I remembered something about Tanabata from three years ago.”

This opens up all kinds of questions about the nature of Haruhi and Kyon’s relationship. Just how much does she remember? Was she first drawn to him because of this memory (another paradox)? The encounter was clearly a key moment in her life.

And finally we have some new end credits. I mentioned before about the jumbled episode order on first broadcast, to give the series a more dramatic ending with the sixth episode consecutively. To confuse matters further, the second series went back and filled in some of the chapters of the manga that hadn’t been made for the first series, so when we watch the episodes consecutively we are going to jump back and forth between the series one openings and endings, and the series two openings and endings. We haven’t seen the new opening yet, but the ending is a bit on the psychedelic side, accompanied by another great tune from the Japanese voice artists: Tomare! Nothing will challenge the fun of the season one ending theme though, Hare Hare Yukai, and that gloriously odd dance from the members of the SOS Brigade. A full version of their dance can normally be found on YouTube if you’re interested. Seeing my son trying to perfect their dance moves as a toddler was great entertainment.

Haruhi is a fun series. But it’s also thought provoking and tinged with moments of sadness. This episode there was the quiet little revelation that Nagato was in “standby mode” for three years, waiting in her empty apartment.

“It is my role.”

Every so often, Haruhi reminds us that our “role” in life can be a tough path to follow, and Kyon is finding out that part of his path seems to be oddly pre-destined.   RP

Our thoughts and prayers are with Kyoto Animation, who suffered an arson attack this week, sadly resulting in many fatalities.  They are the studio behind Haruhi, along with many other wonderful anime series and films, including Clannad, Hyouka, Sound! Euphonium, K-On!, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions and A Silent Voice.  To think that such creative people, who have brought so much joy to so many people around the world, could be targetted in such a cruel way is horrifying.  We wish for a speedy recovery for the survivors of this terrible tragedy.

The view from 6,868 miles away:

What a weird series.  Episodes 1-6 all follow the series title pattern The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya.  Get to episode 7, and we get The Bordeom of Haruhi Suzimiya.  Now episode 8 deviates totally with Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody!  What??  I thought this would be a slog based on the title.  Then Kyon starts talking about his mood: “My usually chipper mood was wandering around Brazil”.  Ok, this would be a funny one.  Haruhi wants everyone to put their wishes on paper for the celebration of Tanabata, and everyone has something different.  Some are nice (world peace) while others are more comedic (I want the world to revolve around me).  As Haruhi states, “It’s apples and oranges!”  Hilarious.  Ok, I can live with another comedy episode if I have to, but I’d rather story…

Then Haruhi starts talking about Time Travel.  And the episode becomes a time travel delight!

Mikuru takes Kyon back in time by three years, then promptly becomes narcoleptic.  Her future self appears, they talk, then Kyon has to carry the younger, narcoleptic Mikuru to the Yuki of three years ago.  In the process, he spots a 3-year-younger Haruhi.  She is unfazed by the fact that Kyon is carrying a girl around with him and only uses the fact to threaten him into helping her.  He then becomes responsible for the weird glyphs found on the ground which was first mentioned in episode 1.  He then sits on the steps to answer some of Haruhi’s questions and mentions that he goes to North High, which looks like it was the prompt for Haruhi going there 3 years later.  Damn and blast, that’s good writing.  Eventually, Kyon gets the sleeping beauty to Yuki’s house where Yuki puts them in suspended animation for 3 years so they wake up right after they left.  This leads Kyon to realize that when he first visited Yuki, his older self was in the other room! 

Man alive!  I love time travel.  Have I mentioned that in the last 2 years since starting this blog?  When time travel is done right, I get hungry for more.  This is where most series fail though.  You know, you want more like you want more chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream, and the waiter brings you pistachio for the second batch.  (As much as I loved the recent Avengers: Endgame, it was not for the time travel elements, which I felt were flawed.  My favorite time travel movies were the ones that got it right and ended up giving me that double scoop of magnificent right off the bat!)

I don’t know what episode 9 holds because my current self is not in my own future yet, but I’m heading there now.   Let’s hope we keep the momentum going…   ML

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Babylon 5: Babylon Squared

b5We come now to a magnificent episode: Babylon Squared.  Up until now, the series has been moving along a straight path but Babylon Squared adds a wrinkle when the station detects some serious time distortions.  This is a powerhouse episode and you have to be paying attention to really catch it all.  But we can start by going back to the episode Grail, where Jinxy says that the previous stations were cursed.  Go back still further right to the start of the show, and we learned that Babylon 4 vanished without a trace.  Babylon Squared fills in the backstory.  More importantly, it shows a future event: an older, scarred Jeffrey Sinclair traveling back to do … something.  More importantly still, we see… or more specifically, we hear Delenn with him, so how far into the future is this?   We’ll come to that.  In the whole season, there has been no indication of any race with time travel abilities and yet, something in the future must happen to send an older Sinclair back to B4.  This becomes something of a mobius strip: some time in the future, Sinclair goes to B4, while B4 is unstuck in time and interacts with his “present” self.  Like I said, powerhouse!

Much is revealed in this story.  Yet again, we hear that prophesy says that humans have a role to play in the future, according to a revered holy man, Valen.  (There’s a lot of “In Valen’s name” and “Valen go with you” in this story, so it’s clear that he’s a central figure in Minbari belief.  As we see toward the end of season 2, even dinner rituals reserve a place at the table for the return of Valen, so we can assume he’s a Christ-like figure)  Delenn is on Babylon 5 to see if there’s validity to the prophesy.  She’s part of the religious caste, so seeking meaning in religious mysteries would not be considered a sacrilegious act.  Delenn is also seen doing something in her quarters, preparing for something.  This will become clear in the final episode, Chrysalis, just two stories away now.

The series goes a bit “meta” with the superb line that “we are surrounded by signs and portents”, as that was the title of episode 13.  In some ways, this episode is a stand-alone, but there are things happening that are as critical as Signs and Portents.  It’s what makes this show so good; things actually connect.  So to validate that, we have a flashback of Michael speaking to his former love interest Lise Hampton.  This event was 2 years ago for him.  What does it mean in the flashforward when Sinclair and Michael are separated?  Does that mean the battle we see is also only 2 years away?  Michael tells Jeff during the battle that this is what he “was born for” and he appears to go out, guns blazing, shooting at an unseen enemy.  Is the future set in stone?  Are these just signs and portents?  Can they be avoided?  This story sets a tone: there is a potential future that Jeff and Michael have seen and neither have any idea what it might mean.

You can’t have a powerhouse episode without some levity.  Michael and Jeff have a very deep and meaningful discussion on their way to Sector 14 to investigate the tachyon particles: when putting on pants, do you zip and then button or button and then zip!  It’s a brilliantly comical moment; Jeff’s a no-nonsense guy and boggles that these are things that trouble Gariballdi.  Their friendship is a highlight of the show.  A scene like this is not a detractor from the story as it builds characters, but it also gives the audience pause for a laugh, which becomes needed as the episode progresses.  Most of the episode is a tense, edge-of-the-seat joy ride.  There are too many questions in the end and the audience has to wonder: does it mean anything or is it a buildup to something else.  And who was this Zathras character anyway?  What did he mean by “not the one, not the one”?  What happens in Sinclair’s future?  And why is Delenn kept off-screen in that final scene?  (It’s very clearly her, but we only see her arm… why?)   And does any of it matter, or can it all be changed?  Time will tell.    ML

The view from across the pond:

“It must be a great relief, knowing you will never again return to Babylon 5.”

…if only.  We’re still on Season One.  Seriously, though, this is a very significant episode, containing one of the most important ethical debates the universe has to offer: zip first, or button?  The correct answer, as Sinclair and Garibaldi both identify, is button, of course.  I mean, we’re not animals.  A quick bit of googling reveals this was some padding on the part of the writer, trying to stretch the episode out to the running time, and he has been rewarded by being asked that question himself at conventions over and over again.

It’s not the only bit of humorous padding in the episode.  I like how grounded in reality this whole thing is (unusual for sci-fi), to the extent that it’s ok to show the Commander and Security Chief of the most important space station in the universe playing a trick on somebody and stealing her breakfast.  That’s real: a couple of buddies having a laugh.  Sci-fi so often forgets to do that kind of thing, but it makes the characters come alive.

Way back at the start of this whole thing I noticed a reference to Babylon 4.  Being the intuitive chap that I am, I expressed a hope that it was more than a throwaway line, because it sounded interesting, and here we are, finally picking up on the story of the missing station.  I can’t lie – it was a bit of a disappointment when they found it.  I was hoping for a creepy deserted hulk of a station with icky aliens in the ventilation shafts, or something like that, and instead it was just some time travelling shenanigans.  And I should really start filming some of my observations while I watch these, just to avoid reactions like “yeah, right”, when I say things like this: the person inside the spacesuit was blindingly obvious.

The flash forward to Sinclair and Garibaldi in the future was more promising, although Garibaldi’s vision of the past seemed like nothing more than a bit more padding.  Anyway, here’s a quick roundup of some of the things that made me smile:

  1. Zathras.  His Gollum-speak was fun, and his accent did a tour of the world.  His cheek clicking was absolutely hilarious, although I suspect it wasn’t meant to be.
  2. The security fencing.  It was made of that thin plastic webbing stuff they use in the building industry.  I’m not sure what exactly they normally use it for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for security fences.
  3. The Grey Council, who are so important that they can’t afford chairs.
  4. The Grey Council, again, who are so important they can’t afford to light a room.
  5. The Grey Council, who vote by switching off their spotlights.  This literally made me giggle at the thought of them all stumbling around afterwards in the dark to try to find the door.

So yeah, I’m loving this series, but not necessarily for the reasons the people who made it intended.  20 episodes in, and we most definitely reached “so bad that it’s good” territory.  Sorry, Mike.   RP

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Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane

tricksterIn writing last week’s Warriors of Kudlak, I mentioned that the series was still firmly in a safe place for kids.  With this weeks Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane, we begin to see just how solid the story telling can be and I am not so sure it’s as kid friendly as it had been.  That said, I’m extremely happy with the direction it’s going!  Written by Gareth Roberts, we have a powerhouse story with a terrifying villain, The Trickster, who plucks Sarah Jane Smith out of time on the eve of an asteroid strike that can wipe out mankind.  Without Sarah Jane and Mr. Smith, there is no way to stop the impending cataclysm.  Worse, no one remembers Sarah Jane… except Maria.

First of all, let’s talk about Amy Pond.  Why Amy?   Because we meet Amy as a child and we know the person she obsessed over, the Doctor, is real.  When he leaves her and appears over a decade later, we find out that Amy was devastated by his absence and she tries to bite her therapists because no one believes her claims about the Doctor.  In this story, we see Maria as she goes through that same ordeal.  See, Amy we saw after the fact.  Maria, we get to see as it’s happening.  The nature of these 2-part stories is that there’s not a lot of room for building up on the idea, but the fact is, Maria has to convince her dad that the neighbor he remembers is not the right one.  This is exactly what Amy would have gone through for years, while Maria only has to live with it for a day, and we see just how traumatizing that day is!  To add to the horror of the story, after Maria is whisked away to the void, her dad, Alan, is left with the memory of his daughter but his ex-wife insists there was no Maria either.

This is heavy stuff; what classic Trek may have called “cerebral”.  Chrissy, Maria’s mom, even says that maybe had she had a daughter, she and Alan would not have broken up.  It’s powerful writing.  For something this powerful, you need a villain that’s up to the challenge.  The Trickster is a terrifying one.  His eyeless face and fanged teeth are a nightmare to behold.  The episode echoes the events of Turn Left which was broadcast a year later.  In that story, the Doctor references the Trickster’s Brigade, of which the time beetle appears to be a member.  Presumably the Graske are also a part of this force.  They all seem to be intent on destroying the reality we know even if it means destroying the earth.

The asteroid ends up being little more than a means to up the stakes, but taking Maria back to meet Sarah Jane in the 1960’s is inspired.  Maria has to deal with the sudden change in where she was, but it’s nothing by comparison to the void, the vast nothingness, where she was left with Sarah Jane.  Of note, the 60’s versions of Sarah Jane and Andrea both recognize how out of place Maria is because of her clothing.  It’s another mark of a good writer!

But I could not watch the episode without some small gripes.  First, why does Sarah Jane trust Maria the most?  She was told to give the magic memory box that keeps her alive in Maria’s mind to the person “she trusts most” but why wouldn’t that be Luke?  She doesn’t know any of these children that well but at least Luke is being raised as her son.  Based on her list of accomplishments, she mentioned the first three stories (Bane, Slitheen and Gorgon) implying to me that this story takes place very early in their time together.  So, why Maria?  My next annoyance is with Andrea Yates.  Jane Asher plays her incredibly well and I really did feel for her even as she goes further down the rabbit hole of bad decisions, but it wasn’t anything to do with the character or the actress; it was her name!  Doctor Who has so many opportunities for world-building yet it just slips through their fingers like sands through an hourglass.  Yates was the name of a certain Captain that Sarah Jane was fond of during her early UNIT days.  Hell, the episode goes out of its way to focus on a book about UNIT so there’s an “in”.  Why not make Andrea part of Mike’s family, maybe a sister or something, and add a level of tension to the story.  If Sarah Jane had died, Mike’s sister would have lived… now Sarah Jane (and the audience) know the stakes have just gotten even higher!

A few nice touches that warrant comment.  The song “Always something there to remind me” is a genius touch as Andrea is reminded of her mistake all those years ago and she can’t get away from it now.  And the Trickster’s comment to Sarah Jane might just as well have been addressed to Lis Sladen herself: “Your life was so important.”  Lis may be gone in the real world, but Sarah Jane will live on.  I am glad this episode was the one that focused on the power her life had, both in the fiction of the series and the reality of fandom.  ML

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Steven the Deuteragonist

stevenCompanion Tropes 28

Most readers of this blog will have probably heard of the term “protagonist”, and also “antagonist”, but in less common parlance is the “deuteragonist”.  This is mainly because the term describes a far rarer kind of character in fiction and drama.  I would argue that Doctor Who has just one deuteragonist in its entire history, and that’s Steven.

Doctor Who is built on a clear hierarchy: Doctor, companion(s), villain(s).  I suppose that Doctor should have an (s) on the end of it as well, just so we’re not ignoring multi-Doctor stories, but that’s beside the point.  So, in the normal course of events we have the protagonist, and that’s our hero, the Doctor, and we have our antagonists, the villains.  Then we have the companions, who are sidekicks, or supporting protagonists.  But Steven is unusual in the realms of the companions in that he is more than just a sidekick.  There are plenty of occasions where the show revolves around Steven just as much as the Doctor, and he is just as important in driving the plot forward.  There is also at least one occasion where he is more important than the Doctor, who is absent or largely absent.  That makes him a deuteragonist (from the Greek for “second actor”), or second lead.

Without getting into the whole back story of Doctor Who at the time Steven was onboard the TARDIS, this happened because Hartnell was either (a) ailing and/or incompetent or (b) considered by some of his behind-the-scenes colleagues to be ailing and/or incompetent.  Which version of history you believe is a matter of choice, but I prefer (b).  Either way, Steven got a much greater chunk of the action than most companions, and was often written as the hero of the show.  The closest comparison to be made is probably Ian, although he is very much one half of Ian+Barbara.  They might not be a couple as such, but they are written basically as if they are in narrative terms, most notably in The Romans.  Steven is different.  He’s the second hero of Doctor Who, and has five different companions of his own: Vicki, Katarina, Sara, Anne Chaplet and Dodo.  He is almost invariably paired with his companions, while the Doctor goes off on his own and either drives his strand of the plot, or disappears from the narrative.

The Time Meddler is really Steven’s first proper story as Doctor Who’s deuteragonist, and he is immediately paired with his first companion, Vicki.  Together they advance much of the narrative, discovering Eldred wearing a watch, getting captured by Saxons, going to the monastery, figuring out that the Monk is lying, breaking in after dark, finding the gramophone, trying to get back to the TARDIS and failing, going back to the monastery, finding the Monk’s TARDIS.

We’ll skip swiftly past Galaxy 4, in which Steven is barely utilised beyond getting held hostage and trying to escape, although in that sense he does have his own plot strand, but The Myth Makers finds Steven in much more traditional second-lead territory, venturing out of the TARDIS alone to try to save the Doctor (note, the Doctor is damsel-in-distress and Steven is hero), captured by Odysseus, concocting a plan to get taken prisoner by the Trojans to save Vicki (again, driving the plot without being a Doctor-follower), fighting Paris, imprisoned and freed by Vicki, and finally fighting a Trojan soldier and getting badly wounded.

In The Daleks’ Master Plan, Steven is briefly paired with new companion Katarina, gets the plot strand meeting Bret while the Doctor is wandering around on Kembel.  Then he gets paired up with his new companion Sara and has his second encounter with old enemy the Monk.  Later, Steven and Sara get separated from the Doctor again and find the Dalek underground base, until they get captured by Mavic Chen.  Again Steven is strongly driving the plot with help from, let’s face it, transitory female companions who turn up and get written out rapidly.

The Massacre turns all this up to eleven on the deuteragonist scale, with Steven now paired with another one-story companion: Anne Chaplet.  The whole story is told from Steven’s perspective, and at the end of the story he gets that big dramatic moment where he threatens to leave, placing the two leads at odds with each other due to their different ethics and methods.

In The Ark, Steven collapses with a fever.  Note how often he gets captured/injured/taken ill.  Placing the hero in jeopardy is standard dramatic stuff.  Then he tries to organise a revolt against the Monoids.  The Celestial Toymaker once again finds Steven in the main hero role, while the Doctor is absent, a disembodied voice playing a board game.  Steven is paired with his companion Dodo, and I think that is a perfectly fair assessment of the situation, what with Dodo living fully up to her millstone status for this one.  So for 8 of the last 12 weeks Steven has basically had all the action, while the Doctor has been either absent or invisible.

In The Gunfighters the Doctor is taken into custody by the Sheriff, virtually dropping out of the narrative again.  Steven tries to smuggle a gun into the jailhouse to help free him, is confronted by a rabble who think he is an associate of Doc Holliday, then heads out of town to search for Dodo, ending up eventually at the Clanton ranch.

In his final story, The Savages, Steven and Dodo venture outside the city and make contact with the “savage” leaders.  After returning to the city to help the Doctor, Steven finally shakes off the shackles of his co-lead and becomes the hero in his own story, as a mediator between the “savages” and the elders.  Later Big Finish stories reveal that Steven became a sort of a king, and that makes a lot of sense.

But look at that exit from the series, and how it reflects on the importance of Steven as a co-lead.  Susan gets dumped.  Ian and Barbara go home.  Vicki becomes “and Cressida” (i.e. married off).  Katarina and Sara are killed off.  Steven becomes a king (well, near enough).  The only way for a character like Steven to leave Doctor Who is to follow his own path, and it has to be an important path.

If you made a list of the most significant companions in Doctor Who, most people would probably overlook the ones from the mid-late Hartnell years, and I think a lot of that is due to so many of the episodes being missing.  Vicki is probably the most important companion there has ever been, in terms of securing the longevity of the show, but Steven deserves to be near the top of the list, carrying the show through a period of intense instability.  Steven Taylor: Doctor Who’s only deuteragonist.   RP

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Sword of Orion

sword of orionThis idea of not looking at the covers is paying off really well.  Since the stories don’t even announce the titles, I go in blindly and see (ha, pun) what turns up.  This story starts out with setting the scene.  Charley and the Doctor are concerned about their new pet, the Time Pterodactyl, Ramsay, so they need to stop to get him medicine or something equally fake to give them a reason to go shopping.  Some smuggling operations, a bazaar (though, it’s a shame they didn’t call it Akhaten), and a mystery involving a ship called “The Silver Jackal” all develop.  On its own, I would not necessarily have made the connection, though I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, but the moment echo-trumpet plays, I knew without a doubt, we are encountering the Cybermen!  Let’s talk negatives.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….

First, let’s go over Rule One of Earth Space Patrol: never name a ship anything with Silver in the title.  Cybermen are drawn to this like termites to boats with names like “Wooden Carrier”.   Where is Eggplant Eagle?  Crimson Crusader?  Yellow Submarine?  They are all safe, because someone knew better than to name them “Silver (fill in the blank)”.  I know Nick Briggs is awesome and was probably trying to capture the excitement of his own childhood, but we’re a more intelligent audience than we were back then and we demand better storytelling.  Silver Jackal could have been called Cyber Carrier and no one would have known.  Second, Charley is going back to her Winter for the Adept counterpart personality, sounding like a posh ass.  “Oh, you could say that…”  When she’s just talking, she’s fine.  When she flips to Edwardian Adventuress, I want to jettison her out the airlock.  Lastly, this story has the most abrupt cliffhangers of any story thus far.  They turn up out of nowhere and suddenly end with a “Destroy” … like, out of nowhere, am I making that clear?  Then after the reprise, it’s covered in 10 seconds, while most every other story takes a whopping 2 minutes to recap.  Clearly they are thrown in for the sake of the cliffhanger and little else.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….

Now, here’s the crazy thing: this story is intense and very interesting.  Those complaints are minor when held up against the power of this story.  The cliffhangers really do seem to be there for the sole purpose of chapter breaks, but if you didn’t need them and listened straight through, this is a fantastic story.  Charley notices things before the Cyber-reveal like the lack of creature comforts and the really big chair.  There are hints throughout.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….  The music is perfect too, as the typical Cyber trumpet sounds.  Grash (Bruce Montague) is a little over the top for my liking, but the cast works really well together and it feels like a bigger cast than usual for the Cyber-threat.  I am unsure how I feel about Deeva (Michelle Livingstone) because of episode 3.  In episode 3, they go out of their way to let us know something is amiss with her.  I admit that this leads to a really great ending but it felt too forced.  There was no lead-up to it in the first two parts, so its sudden arrival seems forced.  But, as a fan of philosophy, I love the end dialogue as Charley discusses the differences between Cybermen and Androids.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….

Oh, I do want to give special acknowledgement to one thing that I thought was superb about the writing of this story.  Charley is an “Edwardian adventuress” so she would not know what an “android” is and she does struggle with the word.  She also doesn’t understand what a server is and the writing shows that this has not been overlooked.  So while things like continuity are not a big thing, at least the writer was paying attention and that counts for a lot.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet….

I did find flaw with the story, like the overused musical queue and a few other aspects, but overall this is an action packed story that hasn’t forgotten its roots.  Long live the Cybermen.  Echo-trumpet, echo trumpet…. ML

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Erased

erasedI’ve said this a few times, so at the risk of annoying people with repetition, “favourite” and “best” don’t have to be the same thing.  I wouldn’t describe Erased as my favourite anime television series, but I do think it is the best I have ever seen.  I am not yet a sufficient expert to make any more claims than that, but it must surely be a strong contender for the greatest anime series ever made.  Erased is phenomenally good, an incredibly exciting and compelling thriller.

The main character is Satoru Fujinuma, a 29 year old man who has the ability to go back in time moments before a life-threatening event.  He calls this gift “revival” and uses it to save lives, often at the cost of his own wellbeing.  All of this is set up very quickly, and we soon get to the main thrust of the plot for the entire series.  Satoru’s mother gets murdered, and he is thrown back into the past, not mere minutes as usual, but right back to his childhood, retaining his adult memories.

The time he returns to is significant.  Although he had virtually blocked it out of his memory, three children in his neighbourhood were murdered when he was a child.  Their murders are somehow connected with the death of his mother, so he has a chance to put everything right: save the victims, save his mother.  The first victim was a lonely girl in his class.  Satoru befriends her, tries to save her… and fails.  Catapulted back to the present day, he is the chief suspect in the murder of his mother, and the only person who believes in him is a work colleague who is attracted to him (it’s subtle).

Satoru has to find a way to try again.

I can’t tell you how uneasy this series makes you.  The first victim is a quiet girl named Kayo, who is being violently abused by her mother.  Satoru might have the mind of an adult (although the impression I got was that it is not entirely as simple as that), but he has the body of a child.  How can he protect Kayo from her abusive mother and the mysterious murderer who is trying to abduct and kill her?  Each time he seems to have succeeded, everything seems fine and happy, but as a viewer you can’t help but feel on edge, waiting for the next thing to go wrong.  Is it enough to just keep her alive until the end of the day that history says she was murdered?  No.  History keeps changing around him, thwarting his every move.  But, little by little, poor, abused, miserable Kayo’s life gets better.  She gets to enjoy a real birthday celebration.  She has friends for the first time in her life.  It’s incredibly emotional, and this anime really makes you care about the characters so much.  Then there are the other victims to think about.

The only slight criticisms I can level at Erased are these: firstly there is only really one possible candidate for the murderer, although (a) that in itself becomes something of a red herring – surely it can’t be him? and (b) I found one of Satoru’s school friends a major red herring as well, because he seems too good to be true, and oddly adult in his speech and intelligence.  Secondly, there is a lovely little romantic thing going on with Satoru’s work colleague in the present day, but there is not time for this to really go anywhere by the end of the series, which quite rightly focusses on the fascinating strategic battle between Satoru and the killer.  It’s not completely ignored, but it feels like an afterthought, despite being beautifully set up earlier in the series.

But really I can’t recommend this highly enough.  It will keep you feeling on edge for 12 exciting episodes, and the artwork is beautiful, melancholy and atmospheric.  If you only ever watch one anime, make it this one.  It’s an incredible piece of work.   RP

We will have an episode by episode detailed look at Erased starting in January 2020.

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Mirai

miraiWe welcome new contributor Daz to the Junkyard.  The following is his review of the anime film Mirai.

Being able to fully appreciate things depends on your own life experiences I feel and whilst this is a sweet movie that tells a relatable story, I couldn’t get into it.

Mirai is about a young boy who suddenly has his world turned upside down by the birth of a new baby sister. No longer getting the attention he used to get is new and upsetting and we see him learning to cope with and understand these feelings.

His back garden becomes the place where he is able to self sooth whilst also learning self reliance.

Yes you can relate to this if you put it in any scenario and I understand that, but the whole older sibling thing is wasted on me as I’m the youngest. Quite frankly I don’t know if that’s what stopped me from liking this movie. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen or dealt with this kind of film before so it was over for me before it had begun and I was just left waiting for the inevitable ending.

The art style is good. I loved how bright and clean it looked. The animation is the star of this film for me. It is really clean and fluid. There was one scene where the dog chases a ball and it was just great.  It only lasted about 3 seconds but I appreciate little things like this as they didn’t need to animate that at all but they did it anyway.

One annoying thing about this film was the sound. Whenever the parents spoke (especially the mother) it would get really low so I would have to turn it up. I must say that this was the dub as I didn’t like the sub so I don’t know if it had the same sound problems.

I give this film a 5/10. I just see it as average. If you’ve never seen anything that you related to before and this was it, I understand how it can be seen as amazing but I think being older has screwed me over on this.   DT

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