May 10, 2015

Cybersix, episode 2 "Data 7 & Julian"

In the twisted castle lab of the still unnamed mad scientist villain (we know his name is Von Reichter, but we're playing along until the show decides to reveal that card) he calls forth a panther named Data 7, showing him a picture of two children. As it zooms into one face, morphing it into that of Cybersix, the panther growls, remembering a flower falling apart as a child falls off a cliff. The scientist pets the panther, an ugly scar revealed above the cat's eye, and tells him to destroy Cybersix.

A young pickpocket named Julian wakes up in a room where he's squatting at an abandoned theatre. He takes in the sunrise over Meridiana, but is interrupted by his vile boss, who orders the boy to get some money. Julian hits the streets, first trying to scrape up some honest work, then giving in and swiping a passerby's wallet. That passerby is Adrian, out on a stroll with Lucas. Adrian notices he's been robbed and he and Lucas pursue the boy, Adrian ducking into an alley and using his superpowers to cross the distance with leaps across rooftops. Julian takes cover, finding in the wallet the same photograph of two children. Adrian is suddenly there, grabbing the boy but promising he won't be hurt. Lucas finally catches up and is aghast when Adrian just takes the photo and gives the rest of the wallet to Julian. Julian is uncertain, but ultimately gives the wallet back. Adrian tells Lucas "I know what it's like to be alone" and that all the boy needed to do the right thing was a little courage.

Julian's boss goes up the chain to pay off his boss, but as he leaves, he passes José and a band of Fixed Ideas who knock their way in and take over the operation. They follow the money up to even higher bosses, then further up to the arms dealers, gradually taking control of all levels of Meridiana's criminal underworld. Just as José is pausing to gloat, Data 7 prowls in and growls the boy down, a reminder that Cybersix is supposed to be their main focus.

Data 7 takes to the rooftops, closing in on Adrian, who's tailing Julian through the marketplace. Julian keeps pausing to help people, and when a woman accidentally drops her wallet, Julian ultimately brings it back to her. He receives a kiss from the woman's daughter, and the image of her and the flowers she's holding sparks more memories in Data 7, of falling from the cliff, waking up in a lab, the scientist looming above. Data 7 shakes it off and roars, ducking away. Julian skips away, filled with exuberance over his good deeds, but his boss finds him, roughing the boy up and dragging him back to their home in the theater... only to find Julian and the Fixed Ideas there, declaring it's their new base of operations. Adrian sees all this and sneaks off.

Donning the Cybersix outfit at her apartment, she thinks back to her time as a child, with the other little boy in the photo, 29. The two children skipped along a cliff, 29 noticing the beautiful flower poking out just below the ledge. Cybersix shakes off the memory, racing into the night to save Julian. She sneaks into his room, promising to find him a new safe place to call home. She slinks out to take on José, who has his Fixed Ideas piling munitions on the stage of this, their new arms center. Just as she closes in, Data 7 closes in on her, triggering a massive battle of leaping and twisting and slashing, which more than catches everyone else's attention.

Julian climbs to the rafters, cutting loose and dropping everything he can onto Data 7, even doing a Tarzan swing to kick the cat off a pinned Cybersix. But a poor landing leaves Julian falling to his death, and Cybersix flashes back to the day she lost 29. Julian catches onto a girder and Cybersix grabs the other end, but her position is awkward and she's vulnerable to Data 7. As the panther closes in, he sees the photo on the ground, the "Cyber 6" tattoo on her arm. Images flash together in his mind.

The girder gives and Julian falls, but Data 7 swoops in and carries him to a safe landing. Data 7 bats the picture back to Cybersix, leaving a slash above 29's eye, mirroring the scar on Data 7's head. Cybersix realizes. "You, you're 29!" Data 7 nods, then turns on a raging José. The Fixed Ideas heft up rocket launchers and start blowing the crap out of the place in an attempt to take out both Cybersix and Data 7, but they end up setting fire to their own munitions, sending the entire place up in a ball of flame.

As José and the Fixed Ideas run like hell, Cybersix embraces her long-lost brother, Data 7 having a final memory of retrieving the flower on the cliff, only to fall into oblivion and awaken in his new body, the scientist calling him "One of my finest creations." Back in the present, Julian thanks them both as they all greet the rising sun.


I know I've said it many (many, many, many) times before, but it certainly bears repeating: kids ruin everything. Unless they're evil, like José, Damien Thorn, or Kimmy Gibbler. So imagine my dismay when it became clear that our story this week was going to focus on the exploits of a young "Golly gee!"-type street urchin in need of rescuing. Enveloped by an almost palpable sense of dread, I resolved to root for the bad guys to succeed in knocking off the little twerp and settled in for the suckage.

Approximately 30 minutes later...

Okay, so maybe kids don't ruin everything. Or perhaps the presence of the kid was offset by another indisputable fact: panthers make everything awesome. I don't know, but either way, this is a big step forward from the pilot episode, which I still gave a quasi-enthusiastic thumbs up to despite its issues.

So, how is this episode better? To start with, it's a lot less clunky. I'm still not exactly sure who and what these people are, but even without the benefit of that setup, I can follow what's going on much better this time. There isn't the same randomness that left me wondering if I'd missed some key piece of information along the way. It's also just a stronger story overall, made all the more impactful because it's personal to our hero. At first, I was convinced we were already falling into a "Monster of the Week" rut, but thankfully I couldn't be more wrong.

The final showdown between Cybersix and Data 7 is beautifully executed. Almost cinematic. It's exciting, tense, and ultimately quite moving, the last of which being the most surprising to me. Though the twist of Data 7 being 29 isn't likely going to take anyone by surprise, they do such a good job of laying that emotional track throughout the episode, that by the time we get to the reveal, it doesn't really matter that we already know.

As for what doesn't work, I don't know that this episode takes any steps back, but a few problems carry over from the pilot. The music is still awful. Noel and I may disagree on the opening and closing themes (Noel likes them, I think they sound like Celine Dion B-Sides), but we're in total agreement on the soundtrack, which sounds like it was lifted from a Turkish soap opera. The voice acting is also rather weak. Not distractingly bad, but too flat to really be an asset.

Those, however, are minor quibbles. I can handle the awful music and the uninspired voice acting if we get more episodes that entertain and move me like this one did.

Extra bits:
  • Did I miss something, or did they totally abandon the whole green vial thing?
  • I'm struggling to understand Von Reichter's nomenclature. You hear Data 7 and you imagine a boxy monotone robot, not a badass panther assassin.


Here's what I don't like about this episode... The hair is still funky, with Julian looking like he found a three-day-old roadkill fox and glued its tail to his forehead beneath the token dead bird everyone's sporting. The dialogue is still stiffly written and overly basic, doing little more than simply stating obvious points with no additional flourish, no personality, no banter. We get some decent stuff when we first see Adrian and Lucas chatting about Shakespeare, but not enough elsewhere. While the music is growing on me a tad, especially when it takes on a Roma folk feel and the big swells in the climax, it's still clumsily mixed and arranged, and pops in at inappropriate points, often over-dramatizing bits that already sell well enough on their own without.

That's it. That's all I don't like. This episode is amazing.

I didn't click with the counterfeit cash storyline of the last episode, mostly because it was muddled and hard to piece together despite being a simple setup, but I really like this episode's take on street-level crime. Julian is an interesting character at a point of crisis as he decides the life of a pickpocket isn't for him, that the cost of stealing is too high. I love how he's being harassed by a slimy boss, who himself is being harassed by higher bosses, and how all of this ties into José and the Fixed Ideas strong-arming into the community and absorbing all illegal operations under their command. If it wasn't clear last episode, it certainly is here that the presence of José and the Fixed Ideas is a new thing to this community, that they aren't already existing threats. This is a nice carryover from the previous episode as, freshly established, his scope has suddenly expanded. I'm surprised they didn't make more of the story about the two opposing little boys, but it's a dynamic and theme that still sells, especially as José is shouting "Kill her!" to Data 7, Julian cries out "No, it's not fair!" and José rips back with a leering "I know, but it's fun!" I know José will be around, but will be curious to see if Julian carries on to future episodes.

Data 7 feels like it shouldn't work. Cyber's brother is suddenly a panther, with a backstory straight out of a swingin' 60 Shotaro Ishinomori manga, and this should completely clash against the Julian/José plot. It doesn't. It's beautifully executed as they play Data dead straight, having him be the fantastical overseer of José for the as yet unnamed mad scientist behind everything, and use elements of the Julian plot to tie into Data's backstory with Cyber. Those flashes, of him falling from a cliff, Cyber failing to reach him in time, of flowers falling apart. The slash he makes on the photo to explain the scar over his left eye. These are beautiful narrative stings, on top of some absolutely spectacular animation of a panther in repose and action. Seriously, the fight between Data and Cyber is jawdropping and exquisitely well put together.

The backstory raises interesting questions. Cyber calls their brother 29 before the new name of Data 7 is said, does this mean they both had numbers for names since birth? That they've always been artificially augmented to some degree? And are they genetic siblings or just closely bound mutual experiments? I don't know, but it looks like Data is sticking around, so hopefully we'll get some answers. And I like that with all the questions in the air about Cyber's gender identity, there's no indication of how they identified as a child, and they're drawn in a style which could honestly go either way. I don't even know for certain where 29 stood on things as he's drawn almost identically as a child, with the only indication being Cyber calling him "brother". It's intriguing stuff for a 16-year-old cartoon, playing on themes you don't even see today, while also not treating it like something shocking or scandalous, just how things are.

I especially love that we get to spend more time with them as Adrian as he follows Julian, observing the child's plight and using tenderness to nudge in the right direction. It's a nice contrast moment with Lucas, who goes all stern mentor mode, whereas Adrian uses charity to teach the kid that the wallet means more than the cash inside it, not only leading Julian to give it back, but to refuse to run off with the next wallet which literally falls into his hands. And hey, seeing Adrian laugh a few times is a nice touch as he was so sour in the last episode, and I am finally buying the friendship between he and Lucas.

The script is again credited to Andrew D. Hammell, with story by Koji Takeuchi, but it again makes me question the actual meaning of these credits. Stiff dialogue aside, this episode does not feel like it was crafted by the same hand as the last one, which again, wasn't bad, just had a clunkiness at odds with the fluidity and interweaving on display here. For those who don't know, anime is often constructed in a way reminiscent of the famed Marvel Method of comic books. You'll have a head writer - often credited for "scenario" or "series construction" - who blocks out the season as a whole and outlines the episodes. This, I'm betting, is indeed Koji Takeuchi. Unlike western shows where this showrunner or story editor will then dole out the stories to individual writers, the outlines are instead given to the episode directors and their storyboard artists, as they break the story down into shots. THEN scripters are brought in to add dialogue to the already constructed sequences. That's what I feel like we're getting here, with writers known for primarily doing dubs at the time just filling in dialogue over what the animators have already laid out. And if this is the case, Keiko Oyamada is one hell of a solid episode director and I very much look forward to the rest of her Cybersix entries. Anyways, like the Marvel Method - which itself was a fumbly mess when Stan didn't have a gifted storyteller of an artist to pick up his weighty slack, but flourished as a technique when perfected by others from Roy Thomas onwards - there's times this style can work, and times it doesn't. And the method is hardly without exception in anime as there are shows which do rely on full scripts from a writing staff. I just don't feel like that's an exception we're getting here. Which isn't a bad thing, as there certainly are artists capable of also being excellent writers, I'm just curious how the dialogue will fare when the enigmatic Andrew D. Hammell isn't the one credited for it, and if storytelling quality is indeed going to be based more on episode directors than writers.

Overall, though, a magnificent episode, kicking José's threat up a notch, bringing in new characters and new layers to things, and executing it all in a giddily astonishing display of late 90s animation at its finest. Even in the quiet scenes, like when Adrian is tailing Julian in the market, you can see that these are top-of-their-craft animators digging into material they're genuinely passionate about. They never skimp out on the quality. Not once. Never. And I'm glad they get a story here that's worthy of that dedicated skill.

Some extra thoughts:
  • I love that there's women Fixed Ideas, though why can't they be bruising with their bros? Why does the featured one have to be a maid shrieking at black cats in her path? And how can she speak when the others can't? Still, a neat design.
  • I'm guessing there were copyright reasons they couldn't just call the panther Cyber 7.

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entirety of Cybersix is available on DVD, thanks to Discotek Media.

1 comment:

Tony Williams said...

Here's what I don't like about this episode... The hair is still funky, with Julian looking like he found a three-day-old roadkill fox and glued its tail to his forehead beneath the token dead bird everyone's sporting.

LOL! They never have said where this is taking place, but my feeling is that its set inside a Flock of Seagulls video.

The backstory raises interesting questions. Cyber calls their brother 29 before the new name of Data 7 is said, does this mean they both had numbers for names since birth? That they've always been artificially augmented to some degree? And are they genetic siblings or just closely bound mutual experiments?

Yeah, I'm wondering about that as well. My feeling is that they're clones of some sort.