Glass Mask

glassmaskThe Junkyard presents a review by Daz of the anime series Glass Mask.  Contains some spoilers: 

Recently I felt that I was doing myself wrong by overlooking the longer shows. Some of these shows have been on my watch list for a very long time yet I always just scroll past them when searching for something new. I make excuses about time or how I could have watched two or maybe three shows in that same space of time. This just simply isn’t cool so I decided to pick one and stick with it. I mean, it isn’t like I haven’t watched longer running anime before. Monster, Dragonball and Hajime No Ippo are long and I enjoyed them greatly so why hold myself back from something that could be the best thing I’ve never seen?

I decided upon a show called Glass Mask and what an amazing experience it was. Never have I seen a show quite like this one. It’s about a young girl called Maya who wants to be an actress. You find her mimicking lines from TV shows in her bedroom or even at school. Acting out scenes by herself gets her instantly treated as a weird girl and it isn’t appreciated by her mother at all.

This typical negative behaviour towards the arts (music, dancing, acting, etc) is something that I have had to deal with and it’s confusing and hurtful: constantly being told to do “normal” things yet watching as they idolise the very people they tell you you cannot be. Maya fights against this and I’m truly glad she did. It’s something I wish I had the power to do when I was a kid. Hey, if I ever find myself in a situation where I can go back in time, I know what to do.

Maya and her mother work in a ramen shop where her mother is very critical and ashamed of her daughter, always treating her like a let down and never giving her praise. This creates a situation where everyone treats Maya the same way, like she’s nothing. A nobody. Especially to the daughter of the people that own the shop.

One day Maya sees an advert for a play that’s happening in her area starring a very talented young actress called Ayumi Himekawa. She is absolutely delighted by this but doesn’t have the money to get a ticket. Upon finding this out, the daughter of the shop owner decides to be spiteful and buys a ticket and shows off to Maya. At that point, a snow storm happens. Maya’s mother is very ill yet they still need deliveries going out. The daughter then tells Maya she can have the ticket if she makes ALL the deliveries by midnight.

Her eyes open wide at this opportunity and she sets out immediately. She cuts it fine but manages to do it. As she meets outside to get the ticket, the daughter is so shocked and angry that she throws the ticket into the air and it blows towards the sea front. Maya isn’t about to let this pass her by and runs off the pier into the sea and gets it. Already I know I’m in for a good show. The drive of this kid is phenomenal. Even when faced with near impossible odds, she manages to come out on top through her own sheer will.

She watches the play and is blown away by it. It’s everything she’s ever wanted and more. There and then she decides she is going to be an actress.

Walking home she starts reciting parts of the play which gains her the attention of a mysterious woman who previously saw her dive in the sea all for the sake of a ticket. The woman confronts her with a proposition… Will you let me make you an actress? It turns out that the woman was an old starlet who just happens to be looking for somebody to star in her play called “The Scarlet Angel”.

Maya agrees and is whisked away to an acting school where she is immediately mocked by the students there for not knowing what to do and having no acting background except for one…

The girl from the play, Ayumi Himekawa. She notices the raw talent and natural ability that Maya has and instantly puts the students in their place and vows to keep an eye on this unknown prodigy.

What we get next is the gripping story of a young girl with an amazing natural ability trying her best to make it and her rival who has all the skills to make it to the top. Who will get there to win the role of the coveted Scarlet Angel?

This had me gripped from that very first episode and writing it all out makes me want to watch it again. It’s that good. The writing is excellent. There is never a dull moment. As you are whisked through their lives, you see and feel it all. The acting performances they give are amazing and the way the scenes play out just amps it up to the max.

The name “Glass Mask” refers to the fragile mask that actors have to wear each time they become a character. One tiny mishap can shatter the moment and ruin the Illusion. I never hear or see anybody talking about acting in this way and it’s great to get inside the minds of people that pretend all the time. What do they do to become somebody else? How do you come back from that? How much of themselves do they lose? It’s all very fascinating stuff.

One gripe I had with it though is the weird love angle that occurs between Maya and the owner of a studio. The first time he lays eyes on her, he becomes infatuated and makes sure she can be all she can be. He puts her through classes, he sorts out living accommodation, he makes plays available to her but he does all this through the acts of a fan… He sends Maya a blue rose every time she is in a show. She has no idea and uses her “fan” as a way to motivate herself. All the while, she actually hates this guy. He is horrible to her and creates some true heartache in their actual lives, and yet he’s winning her over secretly. I found this super creepy. This is grooming. It’s not cool to watch and would make my skin crawl every time he was on screen. I wasn’t a fan of that angle at all. There are boys her own age so there’s hope that she ends up with them. Fingers crossed…

This leads me on to my other gripe with this show: the ending was poor. I couldn’t believe it. How could something this amazing have an ending like this? Well you see, it doesn’t really have an ending. It’s left open in what’s another case of “manga wasn’t finished yet”; something else ruined by this strange need to adapt things with no ending. It will never make sense to me. It’s still enjoyable though. The ending was not about to put me off. It just stopped it from being a masterpiece.

This show gets a 9/10 from me. It’s absolute top drawer. Some of the episodes are amazing: 38 & 39 in particular, as Maya and Ayumi show off their skills once again but on a bigger scale. I could quite easily watch those two over and over.

Glass Mask was an amazing 51 episode ride that is well worth the time even if the ending is a bit off. And oh yeah, let’s not forget the groomy bit…

Actually let’s.  DT

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Erased Episode 7

Satoru and Kayo Erased Out of Control 7“Out of Control”

The view from Igirisu:

“Go back! Go back! Just once more… please!”

Whether it’s sheer willpower that takes him back, or heightened emotions, or his prayers being answered, Satoru returns to 1988 and his date with Kayo at the museum. Understandably, the tears flow. This time he can’t make a mistake.

We continue a couple of important themes that have been bubbling under the surface of Erased. Last week, Satoru wanted to give Airi some words of hope and asked what a superhero would say. This week he has to come up with some kind of an explanation for the extraordinarily perceptive Kenya, and this is what he says:

“I’m a superhero… or… I want to be.”

Kenya seems to be the cleverest 11-year-old in the world, realising that Satoru isn’t the same person he used to be, and testing out the theory by making up the title of a book that he never actually lent to Satoru (it’s not a real book title, in case you’re wondering).

“Satoru, who are you?”

He’s incredibly astute, and a powerful ally. There is always a nagging feeling on first viewing of Erased about whether he can be trusted. After all, we have seen him having secret meetings with Gaku Yashiro, so could he be part of some shady conspiracy? He does come across as totally genuine and trustworthy, but the writing is clever and we can’t quite be sure.

Another clever bit of misdirection this week happens when Satoru visits Yuuki, planning to give him an alibi. We know that he’s not the murderer, but it hasn’t been entirely clear up to this point if he has paedophile tendencies or not anyway. When Satoru tells him that he is dating Kayo there is a fleeting moment when Yuuki appears to be shaking with jealousy and Satoru is getting ready to defend himself with a craft knife… and then the tables are turned on us and it becomes clear that Yuuki is simply experiencing powerful emotions at the thought that this poor, lonely, beaten child is no longer alone. He cares deeply for the welfare of the kids he knows. It’s a great bit of writing.

From then on, Satoru starts changing events dramatically, providing Yuuki with an alibi and getting Kayo to agree to him “kidnapping her”. He comes very close to killing Kayo’s mum, and here we come to the other major running theme: the importance of friendship. Kenya stops him from going too far, and does so simply on the grounds of logic: if Satoru kills her and gets caught, the game’s up for him and he can’t help Kayo. Again, this is great writing. If Kenya appealed to Satoru on a moral level it would be hard to side with him. He would still be right, but we’ve witnessed the monstrous actions of Kayo’s mum and we’ve seen her smile while she disposes of her dead daughter’s possessions.

Thinking back to watching Erased for the first time, it provides a viewing experience that can’t be replicated the second time round. Satoru’s attempts to save Kayo (and his mum) have failed once. In fact, everything he has tried to do has failed, other than giving Kayo a happier last few days (which is important). So when we see things apparently going well for him, we can’t help but expect something to go wrong. When I watched this the first time I was on edge through this whole episode, and the ending seemed to confirm my suspicions.

This is a fabulous “water cooler moment” series. It’s such fun to discuss after each episode, and the topic when I was chatting to my wife about this episode the first time round was very much about the mistakes Satoru was making and what we would do differently. Surely he’s trusting too many people? Surely too many people know where Kayo is hidden? Surely it would be easy to find her because of the tracks in the snow? Surely one of Satoru’s friends is betraying him? But we were forgetting the key theme of Erased: the importance of friendship. Sometimes you just have to trust people.

Either way, with somebody entering the old bus where Kayo is hiding, are we about to see Satoru fail again?   RP

The view from Amerika:

Satoru was arrested at the end of the episode 6 and I stayed my hand at immediately watching another episode.  That wasn’t easy.  I wanted time to digest what happened.  Two days later, I started episode 7.  Out of Control opens with a recap and picks up at that moment right after Satoru noticed the watcher.  He’s about to be pushed into the police car when he screams “Go back”.  There is an incredible effect of “negative lighting” the scene, coupled by a blast of music and a freeze frame image… and he’s back in the past with Kayo.  There was no doubt in my mind that he’d go back, but it was a question of how he’d do it.  This gives him a second chance to correct the death of Kayo.  It’s also his last chance, as he says “this is my last revival!”  We now know he will not get another chance after this.  He has to get it right.

Today I had a conversation about superhero movies.  (For the record, today I’m still back in 2019; this article is a time traveler’s dream, rather appropriately.)  The conversation was regarding good superhero movies and TV shows.  It seems I chose a good day to watch this episode; a day when I should be talking about Erased as another good superhero series.  It comes about this way… Satoru is lured into talking to Kenya by a comment about a fake book.  Kenya goes all Vorlon on Satoru, asking “Who are you?”  The scene is heavy with drama; a big moment as Kenya begins to figure out that something is different with Satoru now.  Satoru has the chance at a big reveal; something truly inspired…  he thinks it through, struggles, and upon imagining a Power Ranger, he blurts out “I’m a superhero”.  While it’s a laugh out loud moment, Kenya draws the point home later, when he compliments Satoru for trying to save Kayo.  “You already are a superhero.”  And like a good superhero time traveler, that means he has to do some things to prevent a calamity.  One of these moments leads him to nearly pushing Kayo’s mother down the stairs, and that’s when Kenya turns up.  And that’s when we really see a band of heroes start to form.

The episode is a testament to something I believe in very strongly: Friendship.  Friendship often comes about when we are kind to people.  It’s part of why I loved Capaldi’s final advice in Doctor Who: “love is always wise, and hate is always foolish… always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind”.  Friendship is a magic bond and can bridge time and space.  It defies all the laws of nature.  Even the first Doctor pointed out in Twice Upon a Time, good should not win.  But it defies the odds, and that’s because of friendship.  I have friends who have been brothers and sisters to me for over 30 years, and many span continents.  My family are friends as well; the distinction being that you can’t choose family but you can choose friends and I am very close to my own family.  When we help each other, we grow and become better.  We find joy in helping each other.  In many ways, we become like superheroes.  If you think superhero stories mean action and explosions … you’re only seeing a small part of the picture.  Doctor Who and Star Trek  are both about superheroes because they show us that there is someone who cares enough to put themselves on the line for others.  And that’s what Satoru is willing to do, and when he does it, others follow.  Satoru gets it: love is wise, being kind matters.  Satoru is a superhero whether he succeeds or not.  But I sure as hell hope he succeeds!  ML

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Babylon 5: Dust to Dust

b5If there’s one thing we’ve learned at this point, It’s that G’Kar is an outstanding character.  Actually, that wasn’t what I was going to say. I was going to say, it’s that Straczynski thinks big with his story telling.  But those two ideas come together in Dust to Dust.  Let’s rewind to the pilot episode, The Gathering.  Depending on the version you’ve seen (because for some completely befuddling reason, the Amazon version doesn’t have this scene in it) there is a moment where Sinclair has to talk a criminal down from committing murder.  The man is in possession of a drug called Dust.  So from the first few minutes of the series, we’ve heard about this drug.  Now, Bester is on the station trying to find a Dust smuggler.  Through his involvement we learn what Dust does: it opens peoples minds and makes them, temporarily, telepathic.  It has a devastating effect on actual telepaths.  We also learn that the Narn, who have no natural telepaths anymore, can use the drug.  (No doubt you see where I’m going with this…)  G’Kar gets his hands on some Dust and, with everything else that’s gone wrong for him and his people, he thinks, “what the hell” and takes the Dust.

So look, this episode is what: 43 minutes long?  But what towers over everything else is the moments G’Kar and Londo spend together.  But we have to be fair to other elements of the episode, so let’s sidestep that for a moment.  Let’s look at the brilliant scene where Ivanova almost blows Bester’s ship out of the sky and Sheridan has to intercede.  He advises her to “fight them without becoming them.”  It leads to a great moment with Sheridan’s Army of Light meeting with Bester surrounded by Minari telepaths.  Sheridan then “gives it to him straight” telling Bester he doesn’t like anything about him, including his uniform and attitude.  This isn’t even as blunt as it will get down the line.  There’s also Vir’s return to the station to mention.  He comes back like a teenager having been away from home experiencing a trip to Hawaii!  It’s a fun moment but what really makes his return special is the scene in the meeting room when Vir tells everyone “one day he will surprise you!”  Is that Vir’s rose-tinted view on Londo, or is he right?  Will Londo come around one day?

But that’s about as long as I can wait; it’s time to get back to the Dust.  When Londo’s doorbell rings, it’s Vir who opens it and is promptly knocked out.  G’Kar enters…  I should point out that this doesn’t happen until almost 30 minutes into the episode.  As G’Kar decides to delve into Londo’s mind (after beating him up a bit first), Londo’s scream signifies things have just become deadly.  G’Kar learns that Londo’s position as ambassador was a joke; he was given the role no one else wanted.  “How does it feel to be helpless?  To be the victim?”  G’Kar hopes to make Londo feel what he and his people have felt.  As he burrows deeper into Londo’s mind, the great Andreas Katsulas pours his soul into the acting: “All of it, Molari!  ALL OF IT!!!!”  He then sees images of everything Londo has done leading to the near destruction of G’Kar’s homeworld.  It is a stunningly powerful moment.  Then a voice: “It is enough.”  G’Kar sees his father, as he was described in last season’s And Now For a Word.  His father tells him to “honor my name”.  G’Kar’s interpretation seems to be initially to fight the Centauri but when an old man appears, he says something that really starts to get into G’Kar’s mind (and ours): “We are a dying people G’Kar.  So are the Centauri.”  I’ll pause here to go back to the first episode after the pilot, Midnight on the Firing Line.  Kosh tells Sinclair:

Kosh: “They are a dying people.  We should let them pass.”
Sinclair: “Who, the Narn or the Centauri?”
Kosh: “Yes.”

At first I thought this was just great storytelling.  It wasn’t until G’Kar asked who he is that I started piecing it together: “I am who I have always been.”  And the final message from Captain Cryptic, the same message he gave Sheridan when he was trapped on the alien ship in All Alone in the Night: “I have always been here.”  I realized it before the angel appeared to G’Kar: Kosh was manipulating him.  But… why?!

The encounter left me talking with my family: why would Kosh get involved?  Why stop G’Kar finding out everything?  Perhaps he was trying to protect the Army of Light so the secret wouldn’t get out but I don’t think I buy that because Kosh often knows things about the future.   Wouldn’t he have an idea of who G’Kar really is and what he’s capable of?  Wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Which leads to the more important realization.  G’Kar learns more about himself than Londo; his experience opened his eyes to something we all need to remember.  “We are fighting to save one another.”  Not the Narn; all of us.  Sometimes we have to fight our own demons, which is exactly what G’Kar is made to face.  He is gaining wisdom, and that’s significant.  “How have you chose to honor [his father’s] name?”  It’s not about vengeance; it’s about life.  To have a life of meaning, not a death of ignominy.  “It no longer matters who started it, G’Kar… Turn from the cycle of death.”  As messages go, what he learns is far more significant than the secrets Londo was keeping because through that message, real change can begin.  “You have the opportunity here and now: to choose, to become something greater and nobler…”  And this episode leads to that change.  We are about to see the evolution of a character.

We thought G’Kar was amazing before?  Let’s see what 60 days of solitary confinement can do for him.  Even as he is on trial for his actions, he has an inner peace about him.  He doesn’t even need his “bible” while away, as he tells Michael, “I’m now somewhat closer to the source.”

I’ll share one more idea about the interaction.   Was Kosh really being cryptic when he said “I am who I have always been?”  He says it while in the guise of G’Kar’s father.  I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to that statement than met the eye.

Dust to Dust is an outstanding episode.  And every time I watch it, I am both delighted that I had the opportunity to meet Katsulas, and broken-hearted that I didn’t say more to him.  The man was as much the legend as his character.  The universe is a better place because of him; both ours and Babylon 5’s.  ML

The view from across the pond:

Vir is back again this week, a welcome happy sight among the bleakness of the current ongoing storylines, and he turns up wearing the 23rd Century equivalent of the Hawaiian shirt:

“It’s a Minbari ceremonial coat of welcome.”

He is gone again by the end of the episode and there seems little point to his return other than to provide the usual contrast to Londo, and to continue to be the only nice Centauri we have ever seen. He also has the best line of the episode:

“One is foolish, the other frightened.”
“Telling which is which, that’s the hard part.”

If Vir’s role in this episode seems repetitive, that’s because the whole episode is repetitive in nature. Bester is back, and just being Bester as usual. We seem to be building up to the big reveal at the end, that Psi Corps created the drug Dust, with Bester’s help, but this is no surprise at all, so doesn’t actually offer much in the way of a new insight into any of the characters. I did find a couple of points of interest. Firstly, Bester’s willingness to accept the drug that suppresses his telepathic abilities suggested to me that he is immune to it. This wasn’t confirmed (although it was perhaps hinted at), so maybe this is something for another episode. Secondly, his conflict with Garibaldi was rather interesting.

“The badge and the uniform does have certain advantages.”
“Like intimidation?
“Absolutely, just like your badge and your uniform.”

That comes dangerously close to making a very subversive point about those who wear a uniform, doesn’t it, and it’s hard to argue against it. There are times when JMS’s writing comes across as gloriously anti-establishment, bearing in mind that his whole big story arc is about our heroes trying to quietly topple a corrupt government, and constantly at loggerheads with anyone in a position of political power.

JMS also gives us an anti-drugs message this episode. I’m all for one of those, although I prefer it if a writer finds something more interesting to say than drugs are bad. I’m not sure he does that, and I don’t think there is any coherent message behind the fact that the drugs actually function as a means to an end for G’Kar. This is a pivotal episode, in which G’Kar becomes the first person to find out about Londo’s deal with Morden. I’m looking forward to the consequences of that.

G’Kar’s actions buy him two months in prison, which seems extraordinarily lenient for buying an illegal drug and then nearly killing two people while under the influence. It would have made more sense if a scene had been inserted into the episode either showing the judge being influenced by somebody, or making it clear that her lenient sentence was as a result of her feelings about the Centauri occupation of Narn, but in the end we were left to conclude that the justice system has become entirely toothless in the future. We could almost say the same about Ivanova issuing an order to murder somebody going unpunished, except nobody other than Sheridan witnesses that act. It is quite an extraordinary moment, and illustrates the depth of her feelings towards Psi Corps, although it beggars belief that one person would be able to order everyone else off the command deck. Surely there would be safety procedures to prevent that from happening?

So the interesting thing from here on in will be seeing where we go next with G’Kar. The vision of his father as an angel gave him some food for thought:

“Some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.”

There’s really no way for that sentence to make sense, is there. Sacrifice one person and by definition all are not saved. We are also given a reminder that Garibaldi still has G’Kar’s book. Even after two months of G’Kar sitting and smiling to himself in prison, if Garibaldi has learnt Narn by then to a standard where he can read an ancient text, he’s a cleverer man than I am. Is there still Google Translate in 2260?   RP

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Project: Lazarus

project lazarusCavan Scott and Mark Wright are back with the next chapter in the Forge trilogy and they are back in style. (Actually, I wrote “trilogy” before knowing there is a third part because on my first run-through, I had stopped buying the audio stories at issue 75.)    Project: Lazarus differs from Project: Twilight for a key reason: this one plays as two separate but connected stories, while the original is a self-contained one.  Mind you, I did not know that going into it.  Like always, I put the CDs in the drive without looking at them, so I was not to know what I was getting into.  Yet again, Big Finish amazes me with the comfort they show while experimenting with an idea.  And once again, they do a great job.

Maybe it’s that every now and then, we need something “new”.  The straightforward storytelling is all well and good, but that makes up the way we listen to and watch most stories.  Big Finish is willing to try unexpected things.  For instance, the moment this one started with Colin Baker’s theme music, I knew who the Doctor was.  What I didn’t expect was for the story to end in part two.  Were we in for another story to be presented out of sequence, like last week’s Creatures of Beauty?  I listened to parts one and two on the same day, one on the way to work and one on the way home.  By the next morning, it didn’t hit me right away that part three opens with Sylvester McCoy’s theme.  It finally hit me when McCoy started speaking.  What follows is another two part story with a twist.

It started with Baker’s two part-er.  Nimrod is back and he’s been working with Cassie, who has been brainwashed into forgetting she has a child.  For those who may have forgotten, Cassie was our “good vampire” from Project: Twilight.  I bring her up because it’s through Cassie that we notice how surprisingly violent this story really is.  Cassie brutally kills a man using slime that she forces down his throat. The Doctor is tortured as Nimrod tries to induce regeneration so he can understand it (leading ultimately to Project: Lazarus).  The 6th Doctor even loses an arm… well, more on that in a moment.  And if all of that is not bad enough, Cassie is killed by Nimrod in using that exploding grappling hook thing of his.  The sound is horrible.  But what’s worse is the effect it has on the Doctor, Evelyn, and the audience. The first half leaves us on that note.  When McCoy comes in for part 3, several centuries have passed for him, while in Nimrod’s time, only 4 years have gone by.

When McCoy arrives and meets his former self, he has no memory of ever working for the Forge, but that’s what the Sixth Doctor is doing.  The immediate question is: why?  Knowing what happened to Cassie, we can’t imagine the Doctor ever offering his services to Nimrod.  Whether it was a memory of my first time with this story, or the fact that the idea was predictable, the clues are there from the start of part three that we are not actually dealing with a multi-Doctor story.  The Sixth Doctor working for the Forge is a clone, harvested during Nimrod’s brutal torture of the Doctor.

Overall, the story is full of twists and turns that leave us wondering about how Nimrod will strike next.  He and the Forge are great villains.  We’re also left wondering what’s wrong with Evelyn, as Cassie lets on.  And what does McCoy’s Doctor remember about her?  And when will we find out about that?

In some ways, I was reminded of Dalek when listening to this.  The Forge might have been Henry van Statten’s own museum.  I found some fun in Colin’s exclamation that fans typically just want a signed photo.  And I liked the mention of the Doctor’s coat, because he’s wearing the far less common blue one.  (The inside cover of the CD shows the coat in question, but I discovered while getting my notes together for this write-up; there were three covers.  I have the one with McCoy on the front!)

I also have to compliment the attention to continuity.  We hear about bowships and Rassilon’s mandate to hunt down and destroy all Vampires.  There are also references to McCoy’s era as the Doctor from Battlefield and Remembrance of the Daleks.  

Big Finish really does live their motto: they love stories.  And they share them with us in new and unique ways.  I can’t wait to see where they go next. But even more than that, I can’t wait to find out what happens next with The Forge.  (I have a bit of a wait ahead of me!)  ML

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The Prisoner: Many Happy Returns

The Prisoner Many Happy ReturnsThe Prisoner is at this point fast becoming a series that is enormously enjoyable to watch, as long as you switch off your brain before you start each episode. This one is nothing more than an extended escape and recapture, with a twist ending that is inevitable right from the start, but you have to admire a series with the confidence to make something akin to a James Bond story, but with no dialogue at all for the first 20 minutes. When Patrick McGoohan got the script and saw the lines he had to learn he must have thought all his Christmases had come at once.

Problem #1: where did all the people go? My mind was happily wandering at the start of the episode onto the subject of Number Six’s house and how it looked like a very comfortable life for a prisoner, when it suddenly became a lot less comfortable. No water, no electricity, no music… no people. So who was controlling the switch-off, and where did everyone go? If Number Six doesn’t discover an underground bunker or something in a later episode this is a massive oversight, but even if he does how do you organise something like that overnight?

Problem #2: why does Number Six build a raft? I enjoyed his preparations very much. He makes a thorough search of the island, including our first view of the mountains. He leaves an IOU in the shop, once again illustrating that he’s basically a good man. He takes photographic evidence to convince the people who put him on the island in the first place that the island exists… yeah, well, we’ll get to that. Then he makes a raft. On the face of it, this is a little less ambitious than his previous escape attempt, carving a boat out of a tree, and I can understand why he doesn’t fancy doing that again, but why is he doing it at all? The boat build was because he wanted to leave in secret, but look what’s in camera shot when he’s setting off. There’s a real boat literally right there!

Problem #3: why is he so scared of the gun smugglers? After 24 days on the raft, during which he sleeps four hours a day (impressive), writes the number of the day and underlines it (angrily), and shaves (got to keep up appearances, even on a raft), he gets his possessions stolen by gun smugglers and gets thrown into the water. When he boards their boat, he sneaks around for ages and concocts a plan to make them think the boat is on fire. But why is he bothering? They are just two average Joes from his point of view. He’s taken out worse then them with ease before, more than once, and without the element of surprise.

Problem #4: why does Number Six leave the gun smugglers in the same room? Textbook mistake, and one that is hard to believe from an experienced secret agent. Of course they are going to untie each other. James Bond would have realised that there was a much better place to store tied-up gun smugglers. It’s called the sea.

Problem #5: why does he go straight to the places where his recapture is guaranteed? He is clever enough to avoid the police, presumably working on the assumption that he can’t trust the authorities and they might be trying to track him down, but then he goes straight to London. Of course there’s going to be an agent of his enemies in his house. Of course his former employees are now his enemies. At least he now has confirmation of that, as he seemed to be in some doubt about who his enemies were, but really, how much confirmation did he need? His captors have the single-minded aim to find out why he resigned, so it’s pretty obvious that they are his former employees and their associates. The minute he heads to London his recapture is guaranteed.

Problem #6: what’s with this whole charade anyway? When episodes of The Prisoner make sense, the story of the week is connected with trying to extract information from Number Six or breaking his spirit a little more. This presumably is supposed to be the latter, but it’s clearly not working, is it, and what an extraordinary thing to stage just to make some kind of a point. And what point exactly? He is always going to be recaptured? He has no friends? Surely that plays into his hands. Now he knows who his enemies are and if he ever gets away he is in a much better position to fight them. Why give him that advantage for no gain? And why take such an extraordinary risk? Apart from when the Colin Gordon #2 got desperate and took things too far, all the Number Twos have been at great pains to keep Number Six alive. Once he is dead they can’t find out the truth about his resignation. There was a very real possibility that he could have died at sea during his escape attempt. There also must have existed the possibility that he would be clever enough not to go back to London and would escape recapture. His arrival on the South Coast of England was a massive coincidence that we were expected to swallow. He just happened to be heading in the right direction, from an unknown starting point, and of all the countries he could have made landfall at, he ended up in his own. And that’s another tactical error on the part of his captors. Now he knows where he is.

So it’s an episode that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny very well, to say the least, but still manages to be something of a triumph of style over substance. And although the ending is guaranteed from the start, when the expected twist happens it’s still a moment that packs a punch.

From here on in, the task that awaits Number Six is clearly defined. He simply needs to escape the island, take down the entire British secret service, and destroy the village. I wouldn’t bet against him.   RP

The view from across the pond:

There’s something wrong in the Village.  The water stopped working and everyone is missing.  This gives #6 a chance to build his own raft after cutting down some trees.  (How many hours are there in a day in the Village?)  Yes, the old “you’re on your own” ploy.  This is a clever strategy employed by the new (missing-from-the-opening-credits) #2.  It’s a diabolically clever idea to break him and hey, by the way, if he doesn’t break, we can say it was a birthday gift. Fair dues on all sides.

Ok, first and foremost, it has got to be said that this episode is utterly bizarre from a television perspective.  First, there’s not a single line of dialogue until around 18 minutes and then that’s not even in English, and the first English words come in at 22 minutes when #6 encounters gypsies.  “Where is this?” is all that #6 says to Caveman Pete (the poor chap looked like he was a Neanderthal) before being escorted to the others of his clan.  (The woman who makes odd guttural noises to indicate drinking and speaks with a supremely brusque tone is surprisingly pretty though!  Her voice is a stark contrast to her appearance!)  But superficial things aside, the episode is, to quote a certain door, “way out”.  Let’s imagine how it went down…

#2 tells her mysterious superior(s), “hey, I’ve got this idea: we leave him to his own devices.  Either he’ll settle in or he’ll try to leave.  If the former, he’s settled, but the latter is more likely, and we can watch him from the See-saw room, because he’s never been there and won’t think to check it!  He’ll then build a raft.  Let’s say that takes him the better part of a day because he has chopping power.  Then, he’ll go out to sea for 25 days.  His birthday is March 19th, remember!  If we time this right, we can have him home for birthday cake!”

Yes, things go pear shaped when pirates or gunrunners come along and try to throw him overboard and leave him for dead, but that just makes the above plan worse.  It means there were things they couldn’t have predicted.  Of course, knowing the Village, the gunrunners might have been working for the Village but for one little thing: #6 is too valuable to throw overboard.  The first time I watched this, when I saw them eating cans of food with the Village logo, I thought they were Village minions but then I realized, they are eating from the food #6 had packed that they pinched.  Plus, what would the Village need with high powered machine guns.  (One might ask that of the US too, but let’s not go there today!)

Then we get to Mrs. Butterworth.  She’s ridiculously nice to #6 which is odd because he harasses her the minute he sees her, and hasn’t changed in 25 days.  (I never saw toilet paper on that raft either… I’m just saying!)  Luckily she is not only nice but she has clothing for him, which considering how cruel #6 tends to be to some women he’s encountered, one might expect the same for the woman who is now living in his home.  To prove he’s who he claims to be he states the license plate of the car to her, as if that proves he has knowledge of … well, anything…. I’d be more inclined to think than he just read it as it came down the road.  (It’s a bit obvious, no?)  She helps him get back to his people in the government!  Jolly nice of her.  This really does make one wonder if the Village is actually British run or if they are so powerful, they fear nothing.  The latter is rather scary!  They listen to his story, corroborate the facts, and decide: “Right-o old boy, wot!  We’ll go searching for this prison of yours!”  Then the milkman shows up.  It is super-important to remember that milkmen have top secret clearance at all government facilities.  (Would-be spies trying to get into the White House: take note!  I’m sure milkmen are still allowed to walk around unescorted!)  The milkman delivers his wares to the pilots changing rooms and not a soul bats an eyelash because everyone knows, milk is good for pilots.  The old switcharoo is done (*NB: this is not a ploy but an action.  Check your Villains guide book for more on these!) and the new pilot rubs it in #6’s face with a “be seeing you” before ejecting the him back to the Village.  He makes it back home in time for cake… just in time for his birthday.  Happy Birthday Parick McGoohan and #6 – ironically you both share the same birthday.

Well, I did tell you it was way out!  It’s a fun one, absolutely, but makes very little sense.  But it gives one more hint to the order of things.  Episode 5, The Schizoid Man, shows us the date as Fed 10th.  Some days go by at least; maybe the better part of a month.  This takes place over at least 25 days culminating on March 19th. So, either this almost immediately followed The Schizoid Man, or another year has gone by.  One final observation: this is the second female #2.  At least the Village was ahead of its time!  ML

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The Quintessential Quintuplets

Quintessential Quintuplets MikuFutaro Uesugi is an academically brilliant but friendless student whose family are living in poverty. When his little sister tells him that a tutoring job has been lined up for him that will pay good money, he is delighted that he might be able to pay off his family’s debts. There’s just one problem. His pupils turn out to be a family of rich quintuplet girls who have transferred to his school, and he has just spent the day accidentally insulting and annoying them and generally behaving in a creepy manner. What’s more, they have transferred from their previous school because they are failing academically and have no interest in studying, certainly not with Futaro.

The start of the series is very predictable for this kind of harem anime, with the only gimmick being that the harem are all sisters. Most of the usual tricks are in place, with some clumsy fanservice, girls who are colour coded by their hair and accessories, and a grumpy protagonist without much going for him, with the obligatory cute little sister. The girls are stereotypes: the one who hates him, the one who fancies him, the sporty one, etc, etc. All the usual stuff. The art style is also nothing to write home about, although the character designs for the quins and the different mannerisms they are animated with do help them to become individual and distinctive pretty quickly.

That’s just the start of the series though, and things improve massively very quickly. As everyone gains confidence in what they are doing with this series the fanservice fades away, and the writer starts tackling some teenage issues with great thoughtfulness. There is of course the obvious romantic angst, and a love triangle that eventually moves towards being a love hexagon, but more importantly the girls’ individual issues and personalities start to emerge. Although she is far from being my favourite character, Ichika (shorthand: the short haired one) has the most interesting storyline, with a big secret that she is hiding from the other girls and an ambition that goes far beyond thoughts of anything academic. As is typical for a harem anime series, Futaro becomes a fixer: the one who sees problems in the girls’ lives and is there to help them. That might be a cliché, but it does actually turn him from an apparently emotionless academic loner into somebody who you can understand just might be attractive to the girls. His brusque manner and lack of interest in romance is actually a reflection of a deeper personality than the average teen, and is far from an indication of a lack of empathy. The way that gradually becomes apparent to the girls is what really makes this series shine.

This is a 12 episode series, with the final third of those taking place on a school trip. The series really takes off for those last four episodes. Superficially it centres around a legend that couples who hold hands around the campfire at the annual dance will end up getting married (and we know from the very start of the series that Futaro is going to marry one of the quins, but we don’t know which one), but more importantly the nature of the relationship between Futaro and each of the girls is examined in turn, and what he means to each of them. At times it is almost like the writer knows where he wants to place his characters but doesn’t have a good way to get there. Most problematical is the test of courage, which has Futaro and Yotsuba (shorthand: the sporty one) inexplicably frightening everyone on a section of path right before a dangerous bit that forks off in two directions, one way signposted to safety and the other leading to a cliff edge. Not a good place to make people jump out of their skin and get them running off without thinking about what they are doing. Moments of clumsiness like this do make the series feel like it needed one final polish to the scripts. Also, each episode ends with a brief chatter from the sisters about “Quintuplet trivia”. It focuses on nonsense like their bra sizes and makes them all sound completely air-headed when in fact one of the main points of the series is to show how academic intelligence is not the only thing that matters, and these five girls are clever and thoughtful in different ways. It’s not uncommon for an anime series to have a light-hearted bit like this at the end (Lucky Star perfected the approach), but it’s a handwave attempt at a comedy tradition that tries too hard to be funny and fails.

The series is bookended by Futaro’s future wedding, but if you are hoping to find out the identity of the bride then just bear in mind there’s a second series on the way. There are plenty of anime series that deserved a second season much more than the Quin Quins and never got one, but it’s a happy little series with much more depth and much less lazy fanservice than the premise would have suggested, so I’ll be happy to tune in for Futaro’s next attempt to keep these five girls from flunking out of school.

I’ll leave you with the end credits, which don’t have the best visuals in the world but feature by far my favourite of the two songs used in the series.   RP

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Can You Hear Me?

Doctor Who Can You Hear Me Zellin“This whole section’s covered in fingers.”

Only on Doctor Who. I don’t think any other series would be crazy enough to show the villain’s fingers flying off and attacking people on their own. That’s a good thing, though. The one thing Doctor Who can’t be accused of being is ordinary. The fingers detaching themselves and flying around was actually quite creepy. Sticking themselves in people’s ears… not so much. The generic monster with big teeth has also lost its impact now, through overuse, but maybe it’s OK that the monster was generic this week, since it was there to represent a creature from a nightmare. In any case, the real monsters here were Zellin and Rakaya, the bored gods, finding nasty ways to amuse themselves throughout eternity.

Similar ideas have been tried before, and some of them got name-checked, in a lovely little bonus for fans of the classic series. The Eternals (Enlightenment) “have their games”, the Guardians (The Key to Time Season) have their power struggles and the Toymaker (The Celestial Toymaker) “would approve”. Well, he might approve of the cruelty, but I’m not sure he would approve of the methods. They might appeal more to the Dream Lord, who didn’t get a name-check, perhaps because his modus operandi is a little too similar to Zellin’s for comfort. Then again, this has felt like a season where quite a few things have been a little too similar to past triumphs.

When you introduce a godlike foe into Doctor Who there is always an extra frisson of danger. They can’t be killed, and their power is on another level. These stories only have three resolutions. The god has to either decide to go away and leave the Doctor alone for the time being, perhaps because he has proved himself in some way, or the Doctor has to escape for the time being (with or without the help of a randomiser!), or the god has to be trapped somehow. The problem with trapped gods is that somebody can always stumble along and let them out, and then it’s not always easy to put them back in their box again. For another story that follows this pattern, see Pyramids of Mars. The difficulty with this approach is finding a believable way to put the god back in the box, and a clever way to do that is to turn his own powers against him somehow. Here, the latest (and one of the best) temporary companion this season, Tahira, literally conquers her own fears, and uses her nightmare against Zellin. She is the latest in a long line of female characters who empower themselves, and it is good to see this era doing that in more ways than just the Doctor being female.

We have also been tackling some major issues this season, often in a frustratingly preachy way, but Can You Hear Me? has the theme of mental health problems, anxiety in particular, running through it and actually very cleverly integrated. The only slightly clumsy bit was the Doctor’s history lecture to nobody in particular:

“Islamic physicians were known for the enlightened way they treated people with mental health problems.”

Thank you, Miss. Which page of the text book were we supposed to be looking at again? But for a change the Doctor had some good things to say about humans, and that was long overdue.

The extent to which mental health issues effect so many people was represented beautifully by the Doctor’s three companions. Ryan’s old friend Tibo was suffering with anxiety; we had a flashback to Yasmin’s school days, when she was running away from her life; and then we had Graham acknowledging he is living in fear of the return of his cancer. Two of those were dealt with beautifully. The third, not so much. Tibo was encouraged by Ryan to join a support group, and finally heard those words that matter so much to somebody suffering with mental health problems:

“It’s not just you.”

A kindly police officer talked Yas into fighting on with her life, and then we had a beautiful moment where she returned to see her rescuer three years later. Both of those resolutions tugged at the heartstrings. What happened to Graham baffled me, though. Maybe it was supposed to indicate that finding help isn’t always straightforward, but he was brave enough to open up to the Doctor, his best friend in a way I suppose, and the Doctor had no words of comfort for him.

“I’m still quite socially awkward.”

Perhaps just being there was enough, but no. I don’t think that’s good enough. You could think up all sorts of excuses for this: the Doctor is an alien; the Doctor has her own issues, etc. But in the end she just continues to be a difficult version of the Doctor to warm to. How many hundreds, or thousands of years has she lived now? How much experience does she have interacting with humans? And she can’t bring herself to find some words of comfort for a friend or, dammit, use some future medical tech to scan him and cure him of any lurking nasties.

So I had a few gripes with this, but overall it was a far superior episode to the vast majority of this very variable season. The use of the asylum in Aleppo was an inspired way into a story about mental health. Zellin was very scary and Rakaya was awe-inspiringly dangerous. Tahira was probably the best one-off companion of the season. The best-buddy friendship between Ryan and Tibo felt very real and honest. Best of all, there was a fabulous bit of animation to represent Zellin and Rakaya’s history. I love that kind of visual inventiveness.

A really good episode then, but also one that might just help a few people in need. Despite the misfire with Graham talking to a brick wall of a Doctor, the key message here was to ask for help. It’s there if you look for it. You just might not find it in a blue box.   RP

The view from across the pond:

There are times when the phrase “I didn’t see that coming” is ridiculously appropriate.  Episode 5, for instance, Fugitive of the Judoon, is one such example; whether we’re talking about Jack or the Doctor, I can say honestly, “I didn’t see that coming!”  Getting one of those episodes in a season is lucky.  To get more than one… that’s amazing.  This is especially true considering Chris Chibnall hasn’t been delivering the most positive of messages.  Twice this season, we’ve been effectively yelled at for not taking care of our planet. (Albeit in fairness, one of those wasn’t Chibnall’s writing, but as showrunner, I expect he has some say in things, and I expect him, of all people, to understand the show, so I still hold him responsible.)  So this week, the seventh of ten episodes for our season, I wasn’t expecting to compliment Chris Chibnall.  But I ask myself, since this does very little for the overall story arc… barely even acknowledging it for that matter, short of a brief flash again… why do I feel Chibs needs to be congratulated?

First, it’s properly scary.  The giant sloth creatures (Chagaska) get a great pre-credit intro with their hand wrapping around the face of one of its victims.  That hand is scary enough but coupled with the close-up scream in front of the pseudo-companion Tahira, we’re back in front of a monster that is all terror.  This can’t be reasoned with.  Couple that with “Freak hands” Ian Gelder’s Zellin, who appears and disappears at will and whose fingers fly off on their own, we’re given a double feature of terrifying enemies.  The nightmare man that Zellin is offers us insight into our “fam” and we see the lows in their lives and watching him exploit that is both heartbreaking and scary.  Think Freddy Kreuger, but actually scary rather than all dimwitted puns.

Next, it has an appropriate use of humor, something I think is absolutely critical in Doctor Who.  (Note the word “appropriate”; it’s not done to such an extent that it takes away from the fear factor.)  Graham yet again takes top prize with: “You get me an A to Z of the universe and I’ll be able to stick my finger straight… oh, no, I’ve got no idea!”  The Doctor gets a few lines this time too, including her calm “oh, come on…”  Ryan’s jibe at Graham about images from his mind being “dark and weird” was another good one, and back to Graham once more for his witty comment about coping with Grace’s death, so it “stops me getting stuck in the past” were dialogue triumphs!

Another reason to applaud the episode is that it actually utilized its modern special effects to great extent.  The Chagaska on the ceiling was outstanding.  The two planets colliding were beautiful.  But the use of transitions between dreams was amazing.  The animated sequence was unique too; something I wasn’t sure I liked because I don’t know if it was needed, but I did appreciate because it was experimental, and we need that sometimes.  It didn’t have to be a big thing, and it wasn’t… it was just an interesting transition for the episode and is brief enough that it takes nothing away.

I also want to credit the writers for continuity.  We didn’t have to go crazy with it, but the mere mention of Eternals, the Guardians, and the Toymaker were all great “shout-outs” to the past.  Fans of the old series like myself will appreciate the references.  Fans of the new series may be intrigued enough to research them or maybe they take them as just other enemies and move on.  Either way, it did not take away from the story, but it let us know the writers actually are paying attention to the series origins.  (Feel free to peruse Enlightenment, The Ribos Operation, or The Celestial Toymaker for more information on these races, respectively.)

And while at it, the Doctor is a hero again as Yaz sums her up in a simple, but elegant way: “She’s basically the definition of impossible”.  The cast is on point again, this time all shining.  I’ve noticed a lack of spark from Jodie in comparison to her cast this season, but this time they all shined.  Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) was a fantastic pseudo-companion; delightful having someone from 14th century Syria on board the TARDIS and she plays the part beautifully.  (Wouldn’t it be wild to see someone in the crew that isn’t a member of modern society?)

Finally, the biggest reason to applaud this episode was that it’s full of positive messages.  I had truly started to think that the Doctor was done looking at the human race as “indomitable” (Ark in Space), when along comes this episode calling us magnificent.  She shows us that Tahira actually conquered her own fears because that’s what humans do: we face our fears and keep going because we are amazing.  As if that weren’t positive enough, the episode teaches us that 14th Century Syria was actually aware of mental health issues driving home a small point of education in a meaningful way.  Then it goes on to help address issues of mental health in our time, most notably through Ryan’s friend.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was offered and I could not help but be reminded of Vincent and the Doctor when the episode ended, offering a similar hotline for people who may experience similar issues.  I mean, this was why I fell in love with the series to begin with all those years ago: hope and kindness.  Oh and don’t think for a moment I did not appreciate the scene with Yaz and the cop who offered her a lifeline.  There was such truth in the cop’s words about how much more we come to understand with age that I had to congratulate the writer.  Was this Chib’s contribution or his co-writer, Charlene James?  Whoever wrote that did a great job.  (I loved when Yaz went to see the cop at the end!)

Were there problems with it?  Sure.  Zellin and Rakaya are more powerful than the Toymaker, Eternals and Guardians, but the Doctor defeats them far faster than any of the others.  I accept this mostly because the Doctor is far older now and should have a few more tricks up her sleeve.  If they were not established as being basically “gods”, I’d be annoyed that twice this season the TARDIS has been invaded, but I guess “gods” get a free pass.  I also knew almost instantly that the creatures were projections of Tahira’s mind, so that lost any shock value before it was announced, but it plays a fairly small role in the episode, so I won’t hold that against anyone.   I did think the scene where the Doctor flips her sonic out of her pocket and into her hand was about as idiotic as Tom Baker using his voice to break glass in The Power of Kroll, but again, if that’s the extent of my criticism, I can live with that happily.

In the end, I don’t know who to say thank you to: Chibnall or James, but when I walk away feeling good about life having just been in the company of the Doctor, I call that a success, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t see that coming.  ML

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