Blade Runner Blackout 2022

Trixie en route to destiny.

Welcome, all, again.  I’ll get right to the point–I just watched Blade Runner Blackout 2022, and it is amazing!  This is a roughly 15-minute short by the Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame, and he has provided an emotionally charged piece worthy of Spike’s own infamous exit.  Honestly, there’s not much in the way of story, here, so I’m assuming that the two preceding prequels to the forthcoming Blade Runner movie offer a more solid foundation of premise and plot.  (I’ve seen neither, though, so that’s obviously a big assumption.)  This brief piece focuses upon the actions of just three characters, two Replicants (very advanced androids) and the human who loves one of them, as they act to sabotage L.A.’s power grid; nonetheless, it is more emotive than expository.  But it is the emotional depth and resonance to their story that will have you watching it again and again.  How do we–any of us–decide what is most precious to us?  And to what lengths will we go to protect it, once found?  Yes, this is a ridiculously short review, but it’s about a stupendously moving bit of anime.  So do yourself a favor and check this one out ASAP!  (You can watch on YouTube or Crunchyroll.com.)

 

Of MSonic! and Blue Screens. . .

Welcome, all, again.  I apologize for this latest absence, which was caused when my computer blue-screened about a week-and-a-half ago.  On the day after I posted my review of Frame Arms Girl, I left my computer on while going into the kitchen to cook a quick meal.  Upon my return some 15-20 minutes later, I found a bright blue screen showing and also found myself unable to move beyond it.  Being something of a technophobe, I confess to some slight panicking.  The local Office Depot, to which I took my computer problems for years, no longer has a tech on staff, so I went to OfficeMax (aren’t they the same company, now?).  This provided me with a partial victory, as the tech managed to resurrect my computer but not my stuff.  So, basically, my computer has amnesia and I’ve been trying to help her regain her memory.  No easy task when I relied upon her to remember so much for me!  Seriously, she doesn’t even remember her own name.  (Speaking of which, why do folks of my generation–people whom I heard name their cars while back in high school–look at me like I’m crazy when I say I named my computer?  WTH?!)

Lucy gets ready to rock in our spin-off’s prequel OVA

But I guess that’s as good of a way to segue into my review as any, focusing as it does upon a little anime aside called MSonic!, spun-off from Monster Strike but preceded by the OVA A Rhapsody Called Lucy–The Very First Song.  Honestly, I’ve never seen an episode of Monster Strike, which is itself based upon a mobile physics game (and later RPG) of the same name.  The Monster Strike anime series follows the efforts of Ren Homura to establish a new life in his old hometown, despite his inability to remember much about previously living there.  The show has characters playing its namesake game competitively in leagues, using monsters that are actually advanced holograms.  But in the anime’s second season, monsters begin appearing in real life outside of the game.  Not that any of that really matters in our current discussion.

Now, I’ve said before that I’m not a gamer, and I seldom have much interest in anime series that focus upon games (or sports, for that matter).  And MSonic doesn’t.  Made as a miniseries, this short traces the trajectory of D’Artagnyan’s rise to idol status, seemingly as a grateful acknowledgement of the interest displayed by Monster Strike‘s fandom.  Apparently, D’Artagnyan was a minor but unexpectedly popular character, so her personal story is receiving special treatment as something of a love letter to fans.  And me?  I just like the lightness and fun feel of the show–there’s really neither message nor social commentary (subliminal or overt) to examine.  Somebody simply woke up one day and decided to make a show about a cute neko-girl chasing her sudden dream to become a pop idol.  And that works well; certainly well enough for me!

 

Frame Arms Girl, a Guilty Pleasure

Welcome, all, again.  I have recently been watching Frame Arms Girl on hidive.com, and have grown to greatly enjoy it.  And believe me, this was no foregone conclusion.  Like Robot Girls Z, this series focuses upon anthropomorphized cute-girl versions of fighting robots, these originating with the Frame Arms mecha line.  And both lines, original and female, existed as model kits prior to either this series or its previous manga adaptation.  In other words, this show runs the risk of being considered just one long commercial.  But having grown up watching Western cartoons, I’m already quite inured to and unswayed by this situation.  From Transformers to Bratz, marketing by way of animated series has become an established mainstay of toy marketing strategy.  In fact, looking back through the jaded eyes of an adult, even the original Scooby Doo seems like one extended, trippy promo for pot usage–or at least an associated lifestyle.  Not brand-specific advertising, perhaps, but certainly interpretable as marketing.

Yet sometimes these purveyors of plastic blow-molding artifice get so worked-up over a project that they accidentally create real entertainment within their advertising.  Witness My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Now, I’m no brony, but I completely forget about the toys et al. while watching this show.  Great characterization is combined with far-ranging storylines–and all those bright, pretty colors (of course)!–to keep me glued to my seat.  (Speaking of which: hey, Hasbro, has Fluffle Puff been licensed yet?!  Officially licensed?  We fans shouldn’t be forced to go to YouTube just to see Fluffle Puff. . .Hasbro?  Hasbro!)  Anyway, getting back on topic, some shows are able to transcend their inherent marketing raison d’etre.  Frame Arms Girl does just that.

This series follows the daily lives of Frame Arms (F. A.) girls as they learn about the world in which they exist while also fighting each other.  The girls are sentient automatons who stand several inches tall and who possess the rough intelligence of a human 10-year-old when initially activated.  They are designed to accumulate knowledge and incorporate it into their interactions with their environment; in short, they are made to learn and adapt.  But also to fight.  Each girl has weapons, armor, and combat capabilities specific to her person, and uses these as she battles other F. A. girls.  Meanwhile (and for some unexplained reason), the girls’ creator, Factory Advance, seeks to accumulate combat data from their matches.  Things seem just a bit suspicious.

Suspicious to me, maybe, but not to Ao Gennai, the high school girl around whom our diminutive cast assemble.  Ao one day receives a delivery–quite possibly a misdelivery–of what she takes to be a doll sent by her father.  This figure is actually Gourai, a Frame Arms girl specializing in ground warfare.  And after Ao accidentally activates her, two more F. A. girls appear, seeking battle with Gourai.  It seems that Ao has initiated the only successful activation of a Gourai unit, so other models of F. A. girls begin to flock to her apartment in order to test themselves against a truly unique opponent.  This quickly becomes inconvenient for Ao, who then considers just returning the small warriors, but is dissuaded by the promise of monetary compensation for hosting the girls and their battles.  Living on her own and beset by everyday expenses, Ao is quick to seize upon this windfall of financial opportunity.  And so the girls learn that money has power.

But they’re learning a lot more, as well.  Interacting with Ao and each other helps them to recognize and develop emotions, even as they gain concrete knowledge of the world beyond their battle stage.  One bit of learning that does sometimes seem excessive is in the yuri undertones of certain storylines–younger viewers might be made curious while older viewers might be made uncomfortable.  There are even brief moments when the word hentai might not be an incorrect description of the action and dialogue presented.  (I haven’t seen this many panty shots since Strike Witches!)  But the show’s real focus is upon the development of affection and trust amongst these many different personalities, creating an opportunity for friendship.   Which is, of course, magic.  Right, Fluffle Puff?

[Parental Note: this series contains a lot of thinly veiled sexual references, from power cord insertion “punishments” to drop-of-the-hat moaning sessions.  The story itself is pretty good, but the show through which it’s told will be a guilty pleasure.]

Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, a Real Treat!

Welcome, all, again.  I have mentioned several times already the abundance of quality shows available this viewing season, and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits continues that trend!  Imagine taking the very best elements of Sakura Quest, Locodol, and Magica Wars, and finding a way to combine them almost seamlessly.  You’d have something unique yet recognizable, compelling but comfortable–you’d have Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, in which a group of high school students come together to create a hero show in their hometown of Hinano City.   But each girl’s reasons for joining the effort are her own, and half the fun is watching as they try to establish and then settle into their individual roles.  Not only are there too many cooks for just one pot of soup, they’re not even working from the same recipe!

Student council president Misaki Shirogane is the granddaughter of the deceased former prefectural governor (I think, although he might have been the city mayor), whose political and personal reputation has been sullied by the legacy of debt he left the city.  Misaki is desperate to restore her grandfather’s honor and is constantly scouring the city for ideas for its revitalization.  (It seems that, in addition to massive debt, Hinano City is also suffering from a dwindling population.)  Chasing inspiration, Misaki stumbles upon fellow schoolmates An Akagi and Mikan Kise as they practice a routine from the popular children’s character Kamidaio, with which they hope to entertain Mikan’s younger sister Yuzuka.  They do just that, but Misaki secretly films them and uploads the video to the web, then uses the popularity of the clip to entice the two into becoming Hinano City’s new local heroines.  (Remind anyone else of the sneaky way in which Nanako’s uncle recruited her in Locodol?)

As in Locodol, we see a group of girls slowly gain members and build into a cohesive unit, becoming more assured and practiced in the entertainment they offer.  And as in Sakura Quest, these girls take their individual reasons for participating and direct them towards fulfilling a common need and goal: offsetting the city’s debt and shrinking revenue while also restoring civic pride.  Also like the characters in Sakura Quest, these seem to operate with a great deal of autonomy and freedom.  And if you’re wondering about the Magica Wars reference, that comes from the competitiveness  between heroines representing different regions.

Of course, our protagonists are not allowed an easy road, and the challenges they face are many and diverse.  But from the personal vendettas of petty rivalries to the legal repercussions of alleged copyright infringement, our team maintains their drive and continues pushing forward (even if forward seems to strongly resemble a brick wall!).  In fact, the question of copyright infringement leads to the watershed decision to morph into an identifiably local group, the Cheer Fruits, performing original material called “Hina Nectar” shows.  These changes then inspire the recruitment of additional members, in turn expanding the group’s creative capabilities even further!  And the story continues to develop along these lines.  Scenarios and focus change from episode to episode, but the show itself maintains a cohesively positive storyline.  This is a fun series that’s well-worth an investment of your time.  (It simulcasts on hidive.com every Saturday at 8AM.)