July 19, 2015

Cybersix, episode 10 "Full Moon Fascination"

A scared, bespectacled man runs down the street at night. Clutching claw marks on his shoulder, he collapses and transformers into a werewolf. He's bestial, out of control, but another werewolf on a rooftop, shaped like a woman and with long, flowing red hair, speaks of her excitement that she can make others like her.

Lucas is chasing papers in the wind when the bestial werewolf sets on him, raking claws across his shoulder. Cybersix swoops in, taking the creature down until it turns back into the scared man, who runs away. Cybersix is concerned about Lucas' shoulder but dashes off when he says he'll be okay.

While Adrian and Lucas grab a meal the next day on campus, a beautiful new teacher (with long, flowing red hair!), Elaine, introduces herself, in particular to Lucas who's instantly smitten with her and all afumble. Adrian doesn't take this well, especially later as he sees the two laughing through the halls together, then sharing a meal at the usual table at the cafe.

For Lucas, things aren't quite as wonderful. That night, he goes to bed with a dizzying ache, then wakes up covered in new tufts of body hair. He does his best to shave it away, but the new shagginess to the hair on his head gets a big laugh from Lori and the other students in class. Adrian can't get through to him, hair keeps growing, and cramps suddenly hit mid class, leaving Lucas staring as his hands shift back and forth from claws... glowing eyes watching from a vent overhead.

That night, Cybersix visits Lucas to see what's going on, but he chases her off, saying he has a visitor coming. Hurt, Cybersix leaves and Elaine arrives, but the other woman catches a scent in the air. She makes Lucas tell her about Cybersix, then she also takes off, Lucas left confused and in a haze. Cybersix doesn't get far before she's attacked by the woman werewolf (it's Elaine, let's just go ahead and start calling her Elaine, they aren't even hiding that it's Elaine), but they're interrupted by police and WereElaine gets away.

The next day, Adrian decides to follow the couple, listening as Elaine grills Lucas for information on Cybersix, and constantly ducking away as Elaine seems to always know Adrian is there. That night, while suiting up, Cybersix wonders what these feelings of jealousy and concern mean and if its a sign of her humanity.

Lucas is struggling to clear his head and finally goes through a full transformation, WereLucas going on a bestial rampage. Cybersix and Data-7 are quickly on his tail and preventing him from hurting anyone. WereElaine quickly joins the fray, attacking Cybersix and manipulating WereLucas into attacking his friend. Fighty stuff happens before Cybersix works out WereElaine's identity and finally gets through to Lucas, who instead attacks WereElaine. More fightiness, leading to Cybersix using a crane to knock WereElaine off the building.

On the ground, Elaine reverts back to human form, revealing she was another creation of Von Reichter. With a final apology to Lucas, she dies and disappears into smoke. Lucas reverts back to human form, even the claw marks on his shoulder disappearing. He doesn't remember what happened and Cybersix says it's better that way as she looks off to the moon. A wolf howls.


"Full Moon Fascination" may sound like the title of a mid-80s Ozzy Osborne album, but in fact, it's the lifeboat here to rescue me from my month long ordeal stuck out here on the Sea of Suck. If you're just joining us, it's been a brutal four weeks (at least for me), with each new episode during that span seemingly upping the lame quotient and doubling down on stupid. Even more difficult than enduring those episodes was having to come here week after week and dump my growing disillusionment on you. That's why it thrills me to no end to tell you this week's episode is not awful. I repeat, is not awful. Is it good? Well... let's just say that all things are relative. For instance, is Spam good? Perhaps not, but if you've had nothing but stale bread for a month, that Spam is going to taste like filet mignon covered in awesome sauce.

The first, and perhaps best, thing about "Full Moon Fascination" is - no José! While the diminutive dictator started out as an amusing novelty, he quickly devolved into the show's weakest link, and unfortunately he's appeared in every episode thus far. Like a boxer who's been hit one too many times, I've become so conditioned to José being here that I spent at least half the episode bracing for his arrival. When it become clear we were too far in for him to appear, I let out a deep sigh of relief, sat back, and actually enjoyed Cybersix for the first time in ages.

Besides the lack of José, there's a number of enjoyable elements in "Full Moon Fascination". I like the introduction of a classic horror element (though I find it curious that Wikipedia lists the original airdate as November 11th, nearly two weeks after Halloween), and though the classic mythos, including the full moon referenced in the title, are all but ignored, the general atmosphere and aesthetic are well done. I also get a kick out of Lucas' labor with lycanthropy. Sure, it's all more or less lifted from Teen Wolf, but if you're going to steal, steal from a mediocre mid-80s comedy, I say.

What probably shouldn't have worked but does (sorta) is the love triangle - or love square, whatever - with Lucas in the middle. It finally forces some feelings to the forefront, and though I'm sure I speak for most of us when I say I'm so over the dull and painfully protracted "will they, won't they" thing here, this is by far the most overt attempt to move the ball down field so far. Small victories, folks. Small victories.

So, this is where we find ourselves. A thoroughly decent episode with some notable highlights tears asunder the dark veil of the last month and blinds us with its mediocrity. In case it isn't already obvious, that compliment is written across the back of my hand.

(additional stills)


Let me start this episode by talking about José. José never appears once in this episode. I can't begin to tell you how huge of a relief this is. Yes, it's still a plot tying back to Von Reichter, but that's never been the problem, just the constant, middle-man filtering of every plot through the screwball antics of little, raging José. Elaine being an experiment is never in question, why would it be at this point in the series where everything is, but letting her operate on her own gives a whole new atmosphere, personality, and genuine threat to her mission which would be robbed by having José bouncing up and down around her in anger and joy. I really wish a few of the previous episodes could have stumbled on this first.

I'll admit there isn't a whole lot to Elaine. She's the femme fatale vamp who swoops in and seduces Lucas down a dark, destructive path that threatens everything he holds close. What makes this compelling is Lucas, who's been struggling to justify his presence in a few of the last episodes, suddenly becoming hugely relevant by becoming the primary focus of the story. He's a man of passions, and while he's quietly been building a close bond with Cybersix, here comes Elaine, gorgeous, giving him time and attention, and he gets swept up in it. This is a nice tie to the Teen Wolf trope of having his primal urges gradually overtake him in the form of an actual bestial transformation. I like these moments, of him having to hide his newly grown mullet mane from his students, or doing a quick power shave through a nightly growth of body hair. Honestly, when we opened in his classroom that morning on the students staring off screen, I expected the reverse shot to be him covered in shaving nicks and bandaids! I especially love how the humor quickly gives way to horror as he loses more and more control, with dark rings around his increasingly lost eyes.

There's absolutely no mystery to the story, mostly because they give the main werewolf the exact same head of cascading red hair as Elaine. It is a bit much to have the story wait until the very end for Cybersix to put two-and-two together, but I didn't mind it for the most part as they play Elaine as though we know who she really is. The quiet looks she gives, animalistic sneers, sniffing the air to see if Lucas has had another woman in. She's voiced by Janyse Jaud who also does Lori, and they do a great job of playing all of these notes just right so that we catch them without them feeling over-the-top.

A quibble I have is that I don't entirely get Elaine's endgame. There's the werewolf dude in the opening, but then we never see him again. Where'd he go? Why is she focusing all her time on Lucas instead of spreading around and building an entire pack under her thrall which he gradually falls into. We catch occasionally news reports of wolf attacks all over Meridiana, so maybe there is something broader going on in the background, but the focus is purely on Lucas. It's great from a character standpoint, but it does also lead the climactic battle to drag on a bit when it could have used a bit more variety and momentum, like what you'd get with a larger pack of wolves. It's still amazing, though, with the werewolf action flying as fast and furious as anything we've seen on the show, Lucas roaring through his conflicting desires, and Data-7 again getting some great action.

If I have one major point of contention, it's that they go the typical route of having Lucas come to in the end with no memory of what happened and Cybersix telling him he doesn't want to know. I hate it when shows do this. He's just been through a major thing, let those memories linger as something he has to deal with, especially in terms of how this might affect their relationship. This is one of those hallmarks of episodic storytelling I do despise, and if they're going to have some small threads linger from ep to ep, which they have, I really wish this were one of them. It's also just a lousy capper to focusing the episode on Lucas, as the lack of consequence gives the arc no endpoint to land on so it just reverts back to where it started. Even for Cybersix, this has been a nice examination of her being both jealous at and concerned for her friend (seeing him in their diner with someone else was a perfect gut punch), and it would have been nice to see her and Lucas have to work through that. Still, I do like the moment where Cybersix wonders if her jealousy is a sign of her humanity.

This is our third episode by Keiko Oyamada, who previously directed "Data 7 & Julian" and "Gone with the Wings". While the latter of those is still the weakest episode of the season for me so far, this week is a great return to the slick blending of characterization and action we got from her first outing. There's very little that's special to the story of this episode, but it succeeds because of its focus and humanization. The writer is Barry Whitacker, co-story editor for the series who previously did "Yashimoto, Private Eye" with his partner Judy Valyi. He's flying solo on this one, but it's another strong example of him putting a supporting role front and center to the point where it's more that character's story than it is the lead's. It's a refreshing shakeup of perspective, and yet another angle I wish a few previous episodes had taken.

This is a solid episode. It's a basic story, but well told, with strong action, beautiful animation, and gives Lucas a nice solo story, which he's been needing for a while. I wish it could have nailed the landing a little better, and there are some weirdly random cartoony bits (that FLCL head lump on the first werewolf!), but this is definitely on the stronger end of the season.

Extra thoughts:
  • I criticized Oyamada for the blandness of her incidental characters in "Gone with the Wings", but they do a nice job here with the tiny roles of Initial Werewolf Dude, especially with his sweater and scarf opening outfit, and the couple in the car who unfortunately run into WereLucas. Makes me wonder if such things are outside the control of episode directors on this show. If such is the case, while I stand by that episode's criticism, I withdraw pinning that aspect on her.
  • Adrian's "Oh brother" is fantastic.
  • Not sure how they did it, but the layer technique they use for Lucas' body hair looks great. Completely out of line with the usual body hair croutons, but as I'm still not a huge fan of those, I'm not complaining.
  • Interesting play on Lori here, going more the class clown route than bully and gang leader. I like that she gets to show some smarts with a correct answer, and even show some concern when Lucas gets all weird. Maybe she's grown a bit from her feature episode.
  • So much shock over spontaneous fingernail growth when Adrian/Cybersix has quietly been doing it for months now!
  • The vampire elements of the pilot are definitely no longer in play as Elaine doesn't leave a green tube behind when she evaporates.
  • Why did Cybersix need a crane to knock Elaine off the roof? Is this one of those things where they couldn't have the hero simply doing it through kicking her or something?
  • Fantastic shot of Von Reichter, triumphant over his castle and backlit by flames.

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


NoelCT said...

it's been a brutal four weeks (at least for me)

Huge emphasis on that parenthetical. ;)

Seriously, that you were down to equating this with Pole Position. Those are some fighting words, sir!

Tony Williams said...

If co-writing this blog has taught me anything, it's to always emphasize that I speak only for myself :p.

In retrospect, comparing Cybersix to Pole Position may have been a bit harsh. After all, at least Pole Position had a good theme song.

NoelCT said...

Theme song, yes, Pole Position > Cybersix.

Setup, characterization, character design, background design, animation, storyboarding, editing, crafting of individual stories: Cybersix > Pole Position. :)

Let us remember, regardless of how simplistic and episodic Cybersix has been, it's yet to have a story about everyone fighting over a chicken which has been trained to respond to the playing of an ancient flute by climbing into Aztec ruins and pecking out a sequence of glowing, bleeping buttons on a stone panel.

Honestly, for all our criticisms of over-reliance on formula and an episodic structure, Cybersix has been no worse at it for me that Street Hawk was. :)

Tony Williams said...

- Get back to me when Cybersix gets a talking car.

- Well when you put it that way it just sounds plain silly.

- Very true. But again, Street Hawk had that theme for me to lean on. Speaking of which, been meaning to revisit me some Street Hawk here.