Letter of Challenge, the tenth episode of Taboo Tattoo, shows how much Justice Akatsuka‘s capabilities can improve with intensive practice and guidance from the memories of Brad Blackstone (a.k.a. BB); shows the furor that Princess Aryabahta’s overly-sexualized and condescending challenge video has on Akatsuka, Bluesy Fluesy, and the team; and, finally, shows that the American military has a singular ability to not learn from its past mistakes. At all. Not even a little.
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
After reliving BB’s memories of his escape from the Selinistan Kingdom, Akatsuka agrees to continue the mission to destroy all tattoos. A year passes, and Akatsuka continues training. He’s able to integrate BB’s strengths of planning and combat execution; he’s become a formidable opponent.
Princess Aryabahta’s forces discover their location and leave them a video message. The princess, apparently on a carefree vacation on a private beach in California, taunts them to meet her at the Grand Canyon. Bluesy gasps as she recognizes the prisoner. Whose captivity could so upset Bluesy?
Wiseman explains the trap that the princess has set. He urges the team to stay away until Akatsuka can become stronger. After all, if they can keep Akatsuka, the last of the “keys,” out of her hands, she cannot fulfill her ultimate mission. Will the team listen to Wiseman? Or will Bluesy convince them to go to America?
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
Though the Princess was furious, BB escaped the brown Borg cube that tried to destroy him — as Akatsuka saw in BB’s memories. In that same memory trance, our hero accepts BB’s plea to carry on the mission of destroying the tattoos.
A year has passed, and Akatsuka, Bluesy, Tom Shredfield, Wiseman, and others are training in a remote and hidden mountain camp. By relying on BB’s memories and combat skills, Akatsuka is now able to easily defeat all of them in mock battles; he’s itching to go up against Aryabahta and her Brahman.
One night, after a mock battle, they return to their camp to find it’s been attacked. Whoever did it — and they have a pretty good idea the Princess was behind it — left a video message. Wiseman is reluctant to show it to them, but Akatsuka insists.
The Princess taunts them from a beach in California — a state that’s really close to the final tattoo ruins in the Grand Canyon. She “accidentally” lets slip that Lisa Lovelock’s her prisoner as she encourages Akatsuka to meet her at the Grand Canyon. Against Wiseman’s advice, the team decides — partially at Bluesy’s gunpoint — to go to America to confront Aryabahta.
General Sanders, still alive after last week’s episode, directs the American defense. The Princess has deployed her big guns, though, and they begin crushing the defense — easily. Akatsuka, Bluesy, Tom, and Tamaki arrive and, after subduing some American soldiers, decide to split up: Akatsuka and Tom head for the tattoo ruins while Bluesy and Tamaki engage the Princess’ forces.
While Tamaki engages a Sealed who loves being close to death, Bluesy attacks R. R. Lurker and is astonished when Lisa defends him. They exchange verbal barbs.
Apparently using the others as a distraction, Aryabahta and one of her henchmen penetrate the American military’s command post. They slay the officer in charge. Sanders tries to spout patriotism and attack them, but he spends too much time monologuing, and the Princess’ henchman puts him down.
What I Liked
In the opening scene, Aryabahta is furious that BB has escaped. She personally fires a ball of energy, either as an attempt to vent frustration or as an attempt to kill him. The effect of the Princess’ firing was well done — the sound from the explosion was delayed and it rumbled as if it were so loud it was distorting. Effective!
I ordinarily wouldn’t call out something like this, but for this show, I’ll take what coherence I can get. I liked the clarity with which BB passed on his mission to Akatsuka. That action was reasonable, and it spoke well of BB’s planning abilities. It might have been the most reasonable development in this episode!
I’m glad the series didn’t give us a huge montage of Akatsuka training. Especially to 1980s music! Rocky and its successors were great movies — but their time is past*. We got just enough of a shot of his hair being longer that we suspected some time had passed; and then Bluesy confirmed it.
Seeing Akatsuka in the mock battle firmly established that he’s improved, at least against the Americans. The scene also showed what parts of BB were influencing him — namely, BB’s combat planning and sequencing.
I have to say that I liked how Wiseman tried to lay out their options. Bluesy put a stop to it with a pistol, but Wiseman was making the most sense of any of them. The show portrays him as a mad scientist, so what’s it say that he’s the most sane among them? Though I can’t blame Bluesy for wanting to rescue her friend.
I didn’t think much of Tamaki’s death-flag scene, but I had to laugh at Tom’s reaction. Was he concerned about the death flags? No. He was upset that Tamaki had a real 3D girlfriend.
I like Tom’s enthusiasm at backing-up his team as they advanced on the Americans’ positions.
Akatsuka showed a little perceptivity when he realized Bluesy, even while trying to help him stay calm during the battle, was fuming that the Princess’ forces were slaughtering her old comrades. Not only that, but her reaction showed a mature restraint in the face of provocation.
Tamaki seemed to have decent combat capabilities — I wish I knew more about where he came from or indeed anything about his character. That would make rooting for him more enjoyable! I know he’s a closet otaku, which from my perspective is positive. But have we even met him before this episode?
* Yes, I know the original movie came out in 1976, but the next ones stretched into the 1980s and used musical montages to show training. Fun at the time, less fun now.
What I Liked Less
Akatsuka got all gloomy and revenge-y in the year since the last episode. I’m disappointed that he didn’t develop in a way that showed his own past shaped him. It’s more like he’s two different people. Is that rational, giving him seeing his childhood friend killed right in front of him? Maybe; but disappointing.
Akatsuka hasn’t seemed to learn much about tactics. The Princess’ video is clearly trying to trick them into acting before they’re ready; and they all fell for it (except for Wiseman). Bluesy rationalizing that she’s just trying to help Akatsuka see beyond his revenge felt like an unrealistic stretch. Maybe I’m just over tired of this series’ characters making such bad decisions most of the time.
Akatsuka relishing in the cliche of Americans as all being fat “pigs” was a bit pointless, I thought.
I get the Princess is resourceful. But she’s a bit flashy, too, so I’m having a hard time believing that she got into the United States so easily — and remains in the United States undetected. Maybe I’m nit-picking on this one (and the show’s put me in a mood to be nit-picky!), but…
The whole scene of Tamaki confessing his love was just too much for me. It got even worse as nondescript figures began waving red flags in the background. I like the fourth wall; I think a series should only break it with due consideration (like Deadpool, for example). Seeing it here just frustrated me.
What is it with Sanders and shoving this or that into his enemy’s backside? I don’t think that’s a healthy fascination. He’d do well to let it go. I think it distracts him from the task at hand.
The US military sent non-Sealed after the Princess’ people — again? Didn’t they learn anything from the disaster last time? And the US forces don’t seem to have improved at all! What have they been doing for the last year? Talking about shoving and backsides? When Akatsuka does a better job training than you do, it’s time to hang it up and find a new career.
Couldn’t Bluesy have contacted the US military to let them know she was coming? Wouldn’t that have decreased the chances of casualties? Their attack just doesn’t seem well-thought out.
Was Dean Carter (a.k.a. Awful Shark) one of the American Sealed? The show sure likes butchering American Sealed. He lasted all of 2 seconds. I just don’t care for such one-sided fights. Can’t the Americans deploy any competent Sealed?
So, while Bluesy and Lisa fight, R. R. Lurker intones Bluesy’s past, telling us that Bluesy was the army’s first Sealed. He then starts talking about the family that discovered the Grand Canyon ruins (I think), and the brother perishing after touching a trigger-less tattoo, and daughter going on to become Iltutmish. What? What does that have to do with Bluesy? Even after watching the story for the third time, I don’t think I understand what it meant. So I watched it two or three more times — and I’m still not sure I get it. I get I’m stupid at times, but at what point does a story have to take responsibility for its own telling?
I can’t say I’d be sorry to see R. R. Lurker’s character “retired” from the show. There’s just nothing interesting about him — his juvenile sexual humor just isn’t funny anymore — and it never was. The new character who wants to skirt death as is much more interesting, though she’s every bit as cruel. I think she’s a more effective villain.
Could Sanders be more cliche? Knocked back after the Princess’ henchman arrives, he begins monologuing about the tattoos being America’s strength as he attacks her — giving her guard ample time to eliminate him. How did that character advance to the rank of General with such poor planning and execution?
Jeesh. This show has no respect for American capabilities…
In the last episode, I thought Bluesy lost her tattoo arm and hand; I see in this episode that I was wrong. I guess that’s good news for her!
This show continues to confound me. I really, really want to like it. I like Bluesy. Iltutmish is a tragic and interesting character. The animation’s beautiful. But then an episode starts…
I’ve documented the things that didn’t work for me (the “What I Liked Less” section, above). I think, though, that one of those items bears repeating, because it summarizes what’s wrong with the series: R. R. Lurker telling a story while Bluesy and Lisa were fighting.
First, the show firmly established that Lisa and Bluesy were friends. Good friends. A fight between the two of them should have been dramatic; dramatic enough to deserve some attention. But no, the show decided it was only good enough as background for R. R. Lurker’s monologue — that seemed to drone on and on.
Second, R. R. Lurker’s story didn’t make sense, either from the perspective of point of view or from context. He started out talking about how Bluesy was the U.S. Army’s first Sealed. Okay, fine — she’s fighting right now, so that makes sense in context. Then he starts talking about a family of geologists who went to the Grand Canyon and found the ruins. The first three times I watched the scene, I thought he was talking about Bluesy’s family — I thought the story was about how her brother was killed and she was conscripted into supporting the tattoo effort. But no, I find out at the end of the story that the family was actually Iltutmish’s. But, if that’s the case, how’d she end up in the Kingdom? She had no cash. What? Where’d that come from? Why’s it important now? Why aren’t you telling me about Bluesy or Lisa — you know, the ones who are fighting right in front of you?
For me, that’s Taboo Tattoo in a nutshell. There are a lot of elements that might be interesting and fun on their own. But in this show’s mix, too much seems at odds. The plot doesn’t flow with any logic I can discern. The characters don’t have enough time to demonstrate their connections to each other; every week we seem to get a “Doomed Couple of the Week,” as if seeing some kind of romantic relationship makes up for the lack of time the narrative spent letting us get to know the characters. Bluesy and BB? Tragic! Except that we only learn about that after the fact. The princess? Totally has a legitimate grievance. But we don’t find out about it until she’s become a caricature. So much potential…
I’m really not sure what to expect from the last episodes. Will Akatsuka actually hold his own in a fight? Will he even be able to fight?
You know what? At this stage, I think I’d declare victory if R. R. Lurker meets a deserving end. I’ll consider anything beyond that a bonus!
Am I out in left field here? Am I missing the show’s hidden greatness? Or is it really that much of a disappointment? What do you think?