June 28, 2015

Cybersix, episode 7 "Brainwashed"

In the basement lab of his mansion, José gloats about the completion of a cybernetic helmet. He summons the Chief of Police (dramatic sting!) who nods as José requests the six best detectives on the force.

In the marketplace, Julian is panhandling with an impressive display of Cat's Cradle. When a group of thugs start shoving through people and toppling stands, Julian trips them up and makes a fool of them. Just as they're about the pound the kid, studly, moustachioed Detective Henrique shows up, sending them to clean up their mess and jokingly inspiring Julian to give their leader his wallet back. Henrique gets a call from his Chief.

At Police HQ, Henrique and five other detectives are fitted out with the helmets, claimed by the Chief to designate them as a special unit. As soon as they're all on, José is revealed, activating the helmets and using them to brainwash the detectives into believing Cybersix is responsible for having robbed a bank. They're also outfitted with watches timed to bring them in for periodic "recharges", as well as high-tech laser guns. José gloats.

At the cafe, Adrian and Lucas watch as a storm rolls in. Lucas says it's nice to have a warm home, reminding Adrian he has someone he hasn't looked in on in a while.

As rain washes over the streets, Julian seeks shelter in a doorway. Cybersix and Data-7 appear to keep him company, and he tells them about his buddy, Detective Henrique. This intercuts with Henrique and the others scouring every alley, warehouse, and street they can find in search of their prey. As the rain clears, Cybersix and Data-7 walk Julian home. She suddenly ducks a laser blast and leaps everyone to the safety of the rooftops. Watching over the ledge, both she and Julian are shocked to see the gunman was Henrique as he continues searching. She's confused about the police being after her, so she tells Data-7 to stay with Julian while she leaps off to investigate.

At the cafe, Lucas jokes with the waitress on his way out, when two detectives burst in, demanding any information the patrons might have on Cybersix. When nobody speaks up, they leave. Lucas returns to his apartment, only to find Cybersix there. Neither has a clue why she's wanted. He wants to help, but she reassures him she'll figure it out. As she zips out the window, he sighs.

On an abandoned ship in the marina, Julian wakes to the sunrise and wants to go out and help with Henrique, but Data-7 isn't letting him go anywhere. Julian whips out his Cat's Cradle string and starts luring Data-7 in with some tricks, which results in Data-7 getting his paws tied up as Julian races out the door.

At the market, Julian starts tailing Henrique, and figures out a connection between the man's demeanor and the strange helmet he's wearing. Henrique's watch goes off and Julian follows as he leaves.

That night, another storm rolling in, Adrian says goodnight to Lucas and returns home, only to find an apologetic Data-7 at his apartment.

At the mansion, Julian watches as Henrique enters, then, peering through a window, sees José and the Chief of Police as the detective is hooked up to have his helmet recharged. The boy is snatched by a Fixed Idea, and José's anger quickly lights at a gleeful idea.

Cybersix and Data-7 search from the rooftops, eventually finding Julian strung up atop the mansion. She knows it's a trap, but goes in anyway, falling down a chute and into a quickly sealed chamber in José's lab. Julian is brought back in and is held under guard, pleading with a silent Henrique for help as José digs into a bucket of popcorn and watches Cybersix begin to drown as the chamber is filled with fluid. Julian pulls the Cat's Cradle trick again to distract his Fixed Idea guard, and in the ensuing pursuit, rips the helmet off of Henrique's head.

Data-7 bursts in, but he can't break the chamber. Henrique's head clears enough for Julian to quickly fill him in, and the detective hefts up his laser gun and blasts the chamber open. Cybersix makes short work of the Fixed Ideas while Julian makes José dizzy with a spinning chair and Henrique gets his mitts on the Chief of Police. The room is quickly filling with water, which is complicated when shorts and a fire leave high-voltage cables dangling all over the place. Our heroes all scramble, and the Chief is revealed to be a Techno when electricity hits him and he bursts into a cloud of steam.

As the smoke clears, José crawls out of hiding, only for a cable drop on his leg and the ensuing zap launches him to the moon. He somehow makes it back to the mansion and has to sulk through a report to Von Reichter.

On a rooftop, Cybersix and Data-7 bond over the importance of friendship as they watch Henrique and Julian share ice cream in the cafe.


Please don't have José. Please don't have José...


Son of a...

To be fair, it's not a terrible inclusion of José. I'll get to the plot in a second, but he's a fitting mastermind, there's some good use of Fixed Ideas muscle, and even his comedic shtick isn't overplayed. That said, we get another Techno here and it would have been nice to give the Chief some more focus with José just being the secondary mastermind in the shadows or something. Or even just have the Chief operate directly under Von Reichter. Either way, we need some more exploration of the Technos in general and letting one headline this plot would have been a nice angle, if only to give some more weight to the shocking moment where he dies by bursting into steam.

About the plot... I do think this is a weak setup. I like some of the ideas here, such as framing Cybersix, which sets the police - as personified by Henrique - on her tail, and creates a struggle for Julian as he sees two of his friends pitted against one another. That's good stuff, the problem is that they strip it of weight with the brainwashing angle. By removing all of Henrique's agency, there's no drama to the choices he's been manipulated into making, no actual struggle between he and Julian as the boy struggles to defend Cybersix. This could have been a great character piece that boldly dropped Henrique into the scenario, but as it is, he's little more than just a cool mustache dude with nothing explored beneath a nice surface design, and no sense of victory when he ultimately sides with Cybersix, due to it being the result of a removed helmet instead of an actual choice on his part. And back to the Techno, the cartooniness of the scenario even strips out the reveal that José's mission to conquer Meridiana has reached a point where the CHIEF OF FREAKIN' POLICE is under his control.

My problems with this lack of depth are somewhat balanced out by the actual execution of the episode. The animation continues to be stunning, with great action, marvelous little character flourishes (love the quick bite Julian snatches from the apple as he climbs out from hiding in a barrel of them), and some more amazing cat animation of Data-7. And while I have issues with the broader plot, many of the individual scenes are very nice. Lucas begging Cyber to let him help. Julian thwarting the punks. Julian escaping Data-7. Julian staring down José who recognizes him with an infuriated "You!"

This episode really is Julian's, and he headlines it well as he starts breaking down the mysteries and digs into what's going on. I do find the boy a solid character, far above the typical "annoying kid" sidekick we usually get. He's still not above swiping a wallet here and there, but he's much more selective about who he'll steal one from, and I like how the influence of a better batch of adults in his life is showing in the nobility of his actions.

I just really wish they could have set aside the elements actually holding this episode back. It's still an entertaining watch, it just doesn't dig into what strong ideas and themes are there enough to stick much beyond that watch, and I'm already struggling to remember much of anything about Henrique as a character beyond basic generics and his design. It is an unfortunate fumble of what could have been a really compelling intro.

Digging into the credits of this one, we've got another plot by producer Koji Takeuchi. The script is credited to Michael Van Lane, his only writing credit I've been able to find. He doesn't appear to come from the dub circles of the rest of the writing staff, and all I can find is that he was the story editor on a 2008 documentary called Ayaa: A Hero's Journey. That's better luck than I had with episode director Mayumi Masaji. Every director until now has been firmly entrenched in that TMS group we first talked about in our Episode 1 post, but I can't find any additional credits for this name. Nothing at IMDb, nothing at anime databases. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. It could very well be a pseudonym, but I have nothing to confirm that either way.

And a few extra thoughts:
  • I know, I know, this is a fantastical fantasy adventure show. That doesn't mean I'm going to buy the way they drag-and-drop fake the surveillance footage they use to incriminate Cybersix here. And why do they even need to put Cybersix in that footage? Just show a picture to the brainwashed cops and say "she's your target!"
  • I let it slide because it is a cute and lovingly animated scene, but there's really no reason why Data-7 couldn't have just snapped right out of Julian's string with the same level of ease the Fixed Idea later did.
  • We've had multiple episodes where Data-7's lair is in an abandoned control room along the subway, so I'm not sure if the abandoned boat is his new place, Julian's current place of residence, or just some spot they found to hide.
  • Julian's comical poses during his Cat's Cradle bits: good implementation of Tiny Toons/Animaniacs style humor. José's ridiculous rocket launch at the end: poor implementation. Especially right on the heels of the surprisingly violent punch of the Chief's death.


If nothing else, Cybersix is a very unique show. Its backstory - you know, the exploration of which the series dropped like a hot pizza roll a few episodes in - is quite dark. And one need not be detective Yashimoto to deduce what they're hinting at with Von Reichter and his goose stepping son. But then at the same time, it's also a very earnest show. At times even sappy. Like when Cybersix keeps commenting on the importance of good friends in our latest episode, complete with schmaltzy music. Moments like these seem lifted from an old T.G.I.F. sitcom. All that's missing is Danny Tanner and a little "Zippity-bop-zoo-ow!" at the end of the theme song. Combined with the Lovecraftian monsters, vaguely European setting filled with American-sounding characters with European-sounding names and increasingly weird plots, it's an odd bag of tonal trailmix, that's for sure, and very different from the more traditional "I'm the bad guy!" [Bop!] "I'm the good guy!" [Bop!] 'toons we've done in prior Showcases.

[Cue broken record] This weeks episode brings us yet another one of José's convoluted schemes to capture Cybersix. Actually, framing Cybersix and then brainwashing the city's best detectives into hunting her down has some potential, but it's wasted thanks to some unimaginative execution. Cybersix is rather passive here despite her predicament, and the best detective work displayed by our zombified flatfoots involves two of them bursting into a restaurant and asking if anyone has seen Cybersix, then quickly bolting before they can get an answer. Like last week's episode, more effort seemed to go into cooking up the premise than coming up with anything interesting to do with it.

I'd be remiss if I don't also briefly mention Julian. He's certainly a likeable enough character, and Cybersix's concern for him is touching, but it seems as if he's been deemed the Kidnap Kid, as he currently sports a three-for-three appearance-to-kidnap ratio. Surely they can find something better for him to do than get captured. I'm also curious about what his current living situation is. His abusive guardian(?) was busted in the second episode, but unless I missed something, I have no idea where Julian's ended up. The fact that Detective Henrique seems to share Cybersix's concern for him makes me wonder what's going on there. I'll say one thing, whatever's going on, he hasn't let it effect his attitude. He faces his shitty circumstances with such positivity that I'm waiting for the reveal that he's a robot or a Mormon or something.

"Brainwashed" represents probably the laziest and least inspired episode to date. It was never quite as insulting to my admittedly weak intellect as "Blue Birds of Horror", but at least that had a dose of bizarre going for it.

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


j.j.sydor said...

Idk, I was totally up for the Brainwashed premise, because this episode is actually basically a sequel to "Yashimoto, Private Eye." Jose's plan in that episode did nearly work, except for the fact that Yashimoto had ethics. This is an upgrade to that plan, using more detectives, and the brainwash tech to make sure sympathy for the enemy isn't an issue. Its super cool for a show, especially one of this time period when it wasn't often done, to have a villain use what was a good plan in a previous episode and try to improve upon it.

The show even was smart enough to build a plot around the obvious end of a brainwashing plot device-that is, playing with the trust of the involved characters, and watching what they do. Brainwashing itself might seem like a boring device to some, but the point of it is how it makes the characters react. The show had the right idea, but I don't think it went far enough with its character drama. It came off a bit afraid to make its characters distrust and fight amongst each other.

Otherwise, I like that the show revisits Julian, and shows his life didn't get magically better after the events of the second episode, and it actually shows Cybersix making good on her promise to look after him, when he could have been a one-off character for a problem-of-the-week episode.

NoelCT said...

That's a great point about the repeat and escalation of Jose's plan from "Yashimoto" to here, J.J. I think that's one of the major issues with them sticking Jose in every single episode is that they're drowning us in Jose so much that the key elements of his plotting and empire building sometimes get lost in all the gag sequences. Had there been a break from him in the two episodes between, I think that callback would have had a lot more resonance. It's definitely a cool element, though. Plots like this are usually discarded wholesale, so it's awesome to see "Ok, here's take 2, hopefully with more kinks smoothed out." :)

I'll let Tony speak for himself, but I do still really enjoy the episode and the premise, it's just, yeah, holding back on the character drama kept me from loving it. Even if they kept the brainwashing angle, there's ways to let Henrique have some rich character moments in there, like having his feelings clash with his programming and his breaking free be the result of himself fighting the device instead of just having it ripped free. The lack of ensuing drama does weaken the payoff, but certainly not the setup, and it is still a good watch of an episode. I know Henrique plays a more ongoing part in the comics, but will be curious to see if he pops up again now that we're hitting the back end of episodes. He's definitely got a lot of potential for some neat threads.

About Julian, I especially love that he's not asking to be rescued or protected or supported. He just wants someone who will check in from time to time, but is otherwise able to manage and seems happy on his own. His situation isn't an ideal one, but it's also not a plight he's asking to be saved from, and it's awesome seeing the new adults in his life respect that to a large degree.

Tony Williams said...

Both very good points, Julie. I saw Jose's plot as recycled, but it could just as easily be viewed as upping his game. From a concept standpoint, I still believe this episode had the most potential. The "flaw" was in its execution IMO.

I do agree about Julian. At least it didn't A.) Never show him again, or B.) Have him land with some Leave it to Beaver warm and fuzzy adopted family. However they could tone down his Pollyanna attitude a touch.