If episode 17 of Rahxephon was about Ayato’s failure – his entirely understandable and thus all the more tragic moment of conviction based on faulty facts – episode 18 is his final descent and attempts to recover. It is densely packed with the answers he seeks – answers which even undermine the audience’s privileged position compared to the characters by giving a direct insight into the enemy’s plans – but offers little redemption or closure. Its final line is “where can I go?” as he escapes the Mu and flees, but without ever reconciling with any of those he has alienated in the process. It could even be seen as prophetic of future misfortune – he is rushing onward in the Rahxephon to do what he thinks is right, motivated only by a desire to do something.
Take my hand,
I’m a stranger in Paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry eyed,
That’s a danger in Paradise
Mortals who stand beside
An angels like us
Tony Bennett – Stranger in Paradise
Episode 17 of Rahxephon is a fruitless, frustrating buildup to a moment of horrible catharsis divided into two parts that lay plain between them the mysteries of the series. These are mysteries that the viewer knows, or has worked out by inference, but which not all of the characters know to the same extent – and the ways in which they learn these things, in the worst ways at the worst times, set up a grim future for Ayato. The revelations in the episode are not really revelations to the viewer but instead to Ayato, and mark the point where he finally gets what he wants.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game which is best discussed after completion; its most interesting ideas, those that set it apart from the mixture of old and new FPS it is, are ones that are best experienced and then discussed. As a result this article will take the form of a short review and then a lengthier discussion of what the game does, and whether or not this is effective. As a game it plays very much like an early-era PC FPS; the player collects weapons, can carry many of them, dual-wield them and collects health items to heal. At the same time it has been updated to take into account the ways in which the genre has developed; the health items are supplemented by limited health regeneration to prevent situations becoming completely unwinnable, weapons and abilities are upgraded by completing challenges and mazelike secret areas hidden behind walls are replaced by small side areas containing optional collectibles.
It plays well; the player movement feels weighty and responsive like Killzone, the weapons feel powerful and the action is a good mixture of Call of Duty style visual setpieces and intense combat against large numbers of enemies. There are a decent number of missions, the writing is snappy and effective and the only real complaint in gameplay terms is that there are not quite enough action climaxes. It is, arguably, formulaic – but at the same time it is an update of a series that near enough invented the first-person shooter, and so adherence to a successful formula seems entirely understandable. Thus as a game it is easy to recommend Wolfenstein: The New Order to anyone who has enjoyed previous entries (such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, or the classic Wolf 3D)
– This section contains significant discussion of the entire plot and themes of the game -
One of the most memorable things in ZZ Gundam is the character of Haman Karn, the series’ ultimate villain and a character who was introduced in its predecessor, Zeta Gundam. As the leader of the enemy forces of Axis, she is the orchestrator of all the conflict that takes place throughout the series, and her character serves as a distinctively threatening “true” villain in a series otherwise filled with minimally threatening comic figures. A key part of her presence on screen is the hugely entertaining energy with which voice actor Yoshiko Sakakibara plays the role – a theatrical, over-the-top performance that suits the often extremely silly action of ZZ as well as being a suitably menacing femme fatale when needed. Yet while Haman is a memorable character, and certainly one of the memories a viewer of ZZ will take away from the series, her role in the series itself is ultimately one of its weaker points.
While the A-plot of Eureka Seven episode 38 continues the story of Dewey’s coup d’etat and how it has put Stoner and Holland on the back foot, the more interesting story is the B-plot of Renton and Eureka trying to reconcile after an argument. In a recent article about Captain Earth I discussed how a real high point of the series was its treatment of the alien child Teppei’s relationship with his biological father, who he had never seen in his life. Teppei was presented as so alien he could not comprehend why it mattered that he met his father, and why this man was so attached to him. It was a strong episode, approaching a stock mecha plotline (of the alien prince, or the half-alien half-human such as Eiji from Layzner – with whom Teppei’s father shared a name) from an interesting, more human perspective. Eureka Seven 38 approaches the same plot with the benefit of almost 40 previous episodes to build up its concept of a relationship between the human and the alien; it is by now the most important theme of the story, and that finally it comes to the foreground in plain terms continues to drive on a steadily-building sense of tension.
There are a large number of attempts at light-hearted mecha animé; comedy and the ridiculous, in some form, has generally been a part of the genre from the beginning. Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa’s mecha manga which would in turn be adapted for animé – Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, two foundations of the genre – are frequently absurd, darkly comic and violent, while their animated forms toned some of the extremes down and added less grotesque humour. While such series were not specifically comedy animé or parodies, they nevertheless accepted that the genre – aimed for younger audiences – could be funny. This continued through series like Daitarn 3, which is filled with absurd scenes and strange villains – and if anything was already acknowledged, in a fashion, by Zambot 3 removing the punchlines from the expected comic violence to make it real.
By episodes 7-8 of Captain Earth, the return of action – the clashes of robots that the opening credits and past episodes have hinted at – is welcome. A more human focus must be balanced with action, and the further the balance tips away from the action the better the human stories must be. While Captain Earth has hinted at interesting, sufficiently developed human aspects to suit a more conceptual science-fiction series – with nods to traditional super-robot aesthetics that serve more as pop-cultural touchstones via Akari and Daichi than a defining concept – episodes such as 6, which spend significant time setting up a core conflict that must, necessarily, be fought with super-robots work strongly against this.
Yawara, a sports animé adapted from a manga by notable writer Naoki Urasawa, is a curious series; it is, first and foremost, incredibly funny and takes sport as being both something one can take very seriously, or not seriously at all. It is full of visual humour, and incongruous references (a timer at the end of each episode saying “X Days to the Barcelona Olympics” evokes more than anything Yamato‘s timer saying “X Days to the Destruction of Earth”), but at the same time often has an affectionate – if light-hearted – message to say about sports culture, or young people. If anything, the intensely silly, dramatised reactions to strange events – far more parodic than many sports or girls-school dramas would be – make the events feel less like the series moralising and more like a chance to laugh at a ridiculous world.
Ann Leckie’s 2013 novel Ancillary Justice is a good piece of science-fiction, a space opera novel that innovates within its subgenre by adapting elements of other science-fiction subgenres. In its more philosophical plot it evokes classic science-fiction in the vein of Pohl or Simak, as interested in presenting an alien, experimental future as telling an all-action story. Most interestingly to me, it is a story about the aftermath of a war of occupation and the ethics of occupation, from the perspective of a protagonist detached from emotional and moral norms in a society whose norms are themselves distant to the reader’s. That one can read the novel and at times wonder if the society being described is human in any understandable sense – or indeed “good” from a modern perspective – without it falling into caricaturish acts of exaggerated cruelty sets it apart from many of its peers.
Episode 6 of Captain Earth was something of a disappointment compared to the others; it was a competently handled exposition episode marking a transition from one plot arc to the next (via the complication of a situation that was beginning to become clear), but at the same time it did not provide the forward impetus that the series needed. In many ways it is interesting because of what is learned from it – thus only to someone invested in the story – rather than how it tells this story. As has occurred previously in the series, it takes the conclusion of an event that seems cut and dried and extends it out – in the first instance it was a long, cathartic wind-down from a frantic robot fight, and in this case it is a more languid look at Teppei’s reaction to the events of the previous episode. This idea – of turning single-episode plots into two-part stories in order to focus on their repercussions – is one of Captain Earth‘s strengths, yet here it does not work as well, perhaps out of familiarity.