Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"So what are they doing again?"; the PSY girls/Ultra Rare

Kourin, Suiko and Rekka are together the most enigmatic of Vanguard's cast. After 56 episodes, the information we have on these characters is very broadly spread out and very little is actually divulged on their goals. Still, let's compile this information for reference purposes;

Ride 6
To start, the sisters' Card Shop PSY is shown to be accessible by train from Aichi's home town, being based in a much denser business district than Card Capital is. Contrast this to the more residency-focused area Aichi lives in.

As a location note; the regional championship Aichi and co. attend is referred to as being the Kanto regional tournament. Kanto is a division of Honshu, Japan's largest island, encompassing seven prefectures, the most notable of which is Tokyo.

PSY's stock is stated to be rare cards that aren't available for sale elsewhere. In other words, a high-end shop not suited towards beginners, but rather for professional customers. Worth noting, the PSY members themselves freely use their rare cards--Kourin has at least one Star Drive Dragon in her deck, and Suiko gave Aichi Alfred without any second thought.

The ceiling of PSY is a planetarium. Bizarrely, ten planets are shown, thereby confirming that this is not a model of our solar system

Ride 6 marks our first introduction to the Vanguard Fight System. Rekka mentions (to herself) that it can't be used by just anyone, and when Aichi activates it, is visibly surprised that it did. Kourin later asks him what tournaments he's won, implying that the System itself will only respond to tournament winners.

The other possibility is that the System responds to individuals with PSY Qualia. This is possible, but slightly discouraged because Ren and Aichi are the only out-and-out confirmed Qualia bearers in Vanguard, so the PSY girls themselves would not be able to use their own fight stage.

The oft-repeated statement that none of the PSY girls have pupils is incorrect. Kourin is drawn with small ones in close-ups.

The girls have access to some fairly advanced technology, in addition to the Fight System. Kourin's earrings work as a two-way radio transmitter, and Suiko is seen to use some form of tablet computer.

After her fight with Aichi, Kourin instructs him to enter a tournament and return to the shop when he's gotten stronger. Suiko herself comments that he will most likely return, indicating confidence in Aichi.

Finally, Morikawa states at the episode's end that the shop disappeared and he's completely unable to locate it.

Rides 16, 19 & 20-22 
While the card shop doesn't reappear, the PSY girls make their second appearance as the upcoming idol group, Ultra-Rare. However, their appearance is limited and nothing comes of it until 19, when Suiko begins to observe the final matches between Team Q4 and Team Handsome. 

No surprise for the event hosts, Ultra-Rare has their own room from which they can observe the fights. There is an idea currently circulating that the PSY girls are aliens, but I've never known an alien that reads magazines to pass the time.

Note the change in Suiko's expression while she observes Kai's match. Typically she's very composed and all smiles, but this is the first time since the very beginning of ride 6 where she shows worry. Later on her usual smile returns, but at this point the shot is clearly positioned so that we can see her frown.

Once the match is over, Suiko is the only member to have nothing to say about Kai's fight. Suiko and Rekka marvel over his strength, but she keeps carefully quiet.

In ride 21 Rekka notices a difference in Aichi's behavior, a difference which Suiko seems just slightly alarmed over rather than passive, as would be usual for her. During the regional arc's conclusion in 22, they start to suggest that Aichi could actually win the match, though Kourin is opposed to this idea. Ultra-Rare hands out the medals at the regional award ceremony, Rekka to Misaki, Kourin to Kamui and Suiko to Kai and Aichi; it's also at this point that Suiko invites Aichi to drop by her shop, indicating that PSY believes he's gotten sufficiently stronger.
Ride 23
The shop's next appearance was for some time its most memorable, since it also accompanies the introduction of Suzugamori Ren. One thing that tends to get lost amidst this first appearance, however;

Kai deliberately avoids going to PSY, reinforcing Suiko's reaction to seeing him in the previous ride.

This time the characters have difficulty finding the shop, and Morikawa flat out can't get in. Aichi seemingly only finds the place due to his (itty baby-level) Qualia--we're given a panning cue where Aichi starts staring at Ren through the walls of the mall, without having any idea that he's even there.

Kourin actually protests Aichi's presence in this ride, but Suiko insists that she invited Aichi. Apparently, the three sisters had decided ahead of time on selecting Ren for their (still ambiguous) plans.

According to Kourin, the PSY girls had made arrangements with Ren prior to his arrival. The key idea here is that this is not the first time they have spoken--PSY has direct access to Ren and can contact him easily enough to arrange this episode's fight. Considering how big the position of national champion is in the world of Vanguard, this shows either serious connections or prior acquaintance.

Kourin makes this statement, further implying that they've done prior scouting on Ren, after he uses his PSY Qualia to determine that Blazers' Pleasures will be the trump card. Suiko and Rekka both concur with her.

It's at the start of the fight that Kourin first shows adversity toward Ren. His statements about what he "likes" in Vanguard throw off her mood considerably.

"It turned out the way we expected. You have..."
On top of having arranged the fight ahead of time, Suiko states that they were expecting the outcome. Ren confirms with Suiko that she can feel his "power"--which we know by now to be PSY Qualia. However, when Ren asks to their motive, Suiko says that they will only decide whether or not to share that after the national tournament is over.

"Is that so? Then you can watch me at the next tournament. There's something I'd like to discuss with the three of you then. About power..."
Kourin is done with Ren after this, but Suiko insists that he's the top fighter, and that's all that matters. Rekka finds Aichi irrelevant in light of Ren, but we can see by Kourin's expression that already she's considering Sendou over Suzugamori.

Rides 26 & 27
Ultra Rare appears at the national tournament next, introducing the opening ceremonies and singing one of their songs before the first matches.

 Like at the regional tournament, Ultra Rare has their own room from which to observe the national competition. In fact, their position as an idol group basically gives them a free pass to see each and every competitive Vanguard event.

As more credit against the alien theory, would aliens make fun of one another's age and put a lot of care into their makeup? These are very normal, human behaviors and there's no need for them to put up appearances in private. Typically when you want to give an audience a cue that there's something not human about some characters, you'll show strange eating habits or never show them eating, but Suiko drinks regular bottled water in this episode.

Ride 32
Ultra Rare appears once more, being responsible for totaling up the different team scores and announcing who broke out of the elimination round.

Rides 39, 40, 41 & 42
Ultra Rare makes an appearance at the second Kanto regional, giving another performance. Suiko notes that because they're doing multiple songs now, they're able to go to more tournaments.
 "After all, he's not the one, right?"
Suiko replies that she also has her eye on Misaki; however, after observing Tokura's fight in 42 she states that even though she gets a "strong vibe" off of her, the girl has no Qualia.

Again, they drink some kind of sports drink and read magazines in this episode. Too human for the alien theory.

Ride 40 is the first time the PSY girls start to really consider Aichi's Qualia. Kourin dismisses it as being impossible for him to have developed it into an "at will" ability like Ren has, but Suiko instead of commenting has a flashback...

 ...to an event that only Aichi saw. From Ren's comment in ride 23, and their general bickering over who does or does not have Qualia, and Suiko's mention of sensing something from Misaki in 39, it appears that Suiko is the only member of Ultra Rare who can actually sense PSY Qualia. Thus, she is the only one among the girls who is a possible candidate for it. If Suiko herself has Qualia, it would reconcile nicely with the Fight System responding to those powers instead of to tournament winners, though that particular hypothesis has its own problems.

In ride 42 Suiko states that the PSY Qualia she senses in Aichi is unmistakable. Following his fight with Kyou, the others are all surprised, but Kourin pulls a complete 180 on her opinion of him and insists that it was fate that he came to PSY.
Ride 43
For the third time we see the shop itself appear. Note that despite a fairly tall building being centered on back in ride 6, this episode shows PSY as being located in an underground mall, near to a subway entry.

Additionally, the colors on the logo each correspond to one of the girls' hair colors; Suiko, Kourin and Rekka.
Kourin mentions that Aichi is here earlier than they expected. So he's supposed to appear, just not at this time. The culprit of that appears quickly enough; Suzugamori Ren.

"That he's one of the ones that we've been looking for..."
Kourin is very eager to be transparent with Aichi; going by her expression however, Suiko appears somewhat hesitant, and suggests to make this up as they go along.

The moment that follows is...complicated. Suiko does not want Aichi and Ren in the same room. An explanation of why is at the end.

Incidentally, Ren brings us another demonstration of the same mutual connection between him and Ultra Rare that Kourin implied in 23, using their "chosen" line on Aichi. Whatever Ultra Rare is choosing people for, Ren seems to already be aware of it, and quite confident of his own chosen status.

"That suits our purpose, too."
Suiko really doesn't care about the means; as long as Aichi and Ren develop their PSY Qualia and become strong fighters, that's all that matters. Furthermore, this situation has worked in her favor, as Aichi now has his Qualia on 24/7.

"How well will he be able to use it?"
Aichi is being evaluated by two parties here, Foo Fighter(via Ren) and the PSY girls(via Suiko.)

During their fight, Kourin once again changes her position on Aichi. Now that he shares the same level of power as Ren, she refuses to acknowledge his strength. And even though Ren shows both Suiko and Rekka a vision of Cray in 50, Kourin is actually the first of the PSY girls to be sent there, by Aichi when he executes her as Blaster Dark.

Suiko, who has been shown to be beholden to Aichi's visions and sense the use of PSY Qualia actively, smiles while Aichi does this.

Kourin shows that, at least Rekka and herself, have no idea what PSY Qualia actually is. Suiko may be the only member of Ultra Rare to have known what type of people they were searching for from the beginning.

Ride 44
For the first time we see Kourin acting alone, pursuing Kai. Unlike Suiko, Kourin does not appear to be familiar with Kai, nor did she actually know his name before Aichi said it in 43. Thus, Kourin is unaware of the situation between Kai and Ren. Toshiki himself explains that he's seen that power before, and that he "couldn't stop him, either," but does not explicitly state that the person he's referring to is Ren.

Important; Kourin is already familiar with the underground fighters' prototype Fight System. There are functionally identical Fight Systems located throughout the Foo Fighter base shown in ride 41 and in ride 56's episode preview.

Kourin confirms during her fight with Kai that he does not have Qualia, but it takes a much longer time than it would with Suiko--she's only able to tell by the way he fights, not by sensing it. She's also the one who gathered up Aichi's deck after he left PSY, and the one who passes it on to Kai.

Rides 45 & 46
Suiko and Rekka introduce the national tournament together, minus the third sister. Rekka is merely puzzled by Kourin's absence, while it appears that Suiko definitely knows where her sister has gone to. Later, in the aftermath of Aichi's rematch with Jurassic Army, Rekka notes Aichi's increased strength, and Suiko breaks off the thought with a "but..."

Later Kourin arrives by way of the back entrance, observing Kamui and Misaki as they organize a plan to keep Aichi from fighting. And though her sisters see her arriving from above, Kourin does not actually meet up with them right away, instead taking a detour to observe the unconscious Aichi.

"It's only our duty to..."
"I know!"
Upon returning to her sisters, Suiko cautions Kourin against becoming "too involved." Clearly she's not talking about the PSY Qualia candidates--Suiko herself has already deeply involved Ultra Rare with those people, and Kourin wasn't meeting with any such candidate besides. Suiko is exclusively worried about Kai here, someone without the power they're looking for.

Ride 48
Initially, Kourin observes Aichi alone. By the time we cut back to the other girls however, Suiko and Rekka have traded places with Kourin on the couch. The episode ends with Kourin stepping out for air, begging for someone to stop Aichi.
And of course, Suiko doesn't share her opinion on what needs to be done.

Rides 49 & 50
Ride 49 opens with Ren already at PSY. Here we see that the holographic displays require some form of regular maintenance, which Suiko tends to. Her worries finally come to a head in this episode, as she's well aware of Kourin's independent activities, and doesn't have much confidence in Aichi coming to meet Ren.
Speaking of Kourin, she assists Kai directly--what Suiko calls "meddling"--by bringing him to the underground fighters' Fight System.

"I'm counting on you, Kai Toshiki."
Ride 50 shows us another section of the card shop, a cafe area. Suiko insists that she's taking Ren his coffee because he's an "important customer"--a comparison which Ren himself first made back in 43. While Suiko states it earnestly, Ren meant it to be ironic, as he and Aichi were only "important" customers in the sense that they possessed Qualia.

According to Suiko, Ren's demeanor is irrelevant so long as he has been chosen by PSY Qualia. Ren shows his "gratitude" by using his Qualia in conjunction with his Shadow Paladin deck to enter into a vision of Cray with the girls. This vision takes place on the same field used in the fights between Kai and Ren, as well as Kai and Aichi.

Ren finally begins his conversation "about power" with Ultra Rare, stating that while he does not know what their aim is, he is grateful to them for PSY Qualia.

This marks our first implication that there is more behind Ultra Rare. Rekka balks openly at Suiko even alluding to a third party, and Ren is only confused, but the eldest sister insists that he will meet "him" soon.

Kourin is visibly disturbed by Aichi's speeches in this ride.

Ride 50 ends with Suiko concluding that even though they both bear PSY Qualia, Suzugamori Ren and Sendou Aichi have chosen fundamentally different paths; and she's looking forward to seeing them clash in the tournament finals.
Ride 53
Taking leave for the New Years episodes, Ultra Rare returns to open the tournament finals. Unlike the rest of the audience, none of the members are surprised by Ren's speech--until moments after he divulges the nature of PSY Qualia on national television. While Kourin is the only one to break her stage persona to protest, Suiko is still visibly upset by this.

Ride 56
Ultra Rare eavesdrops on Aichi's fight with Koutei. While fleetingly Suiko senses PSY Qualia, the feeling fades as Aichi rejects its power. Later she suggests that it may be his true power, and Kourin replies that they couldn't see that aspect of him before because of PSY Qualia--showing a deliberate disdain for Suiko's methods.

As the fight continues, Kourin continues to side with the idea that Aichi is stronger for not using his Qualia, and Suiko seems swayed by this. Ultimately however, Suiko maintains her position, stating that Aichi will not be able to win his fight against Ren in two weeks tomorrow without putting PSY Qualia to use.

Rekka, musing on the novelty of a fight between two people with PSY Qualia, asks if the winner will be the "chosen one." This is a different position from how Suiko and Ren himself treated the term "chosen"(or "customer" earlier), where there could be multiple chosen. Suiko changes the direction of conversation;

"I think it means enough that they're going to fight. And when they do, PSY Qualia's...true meaning will be revealed."
For the second time we see "Him" come up. Kourin asks if that's "His" will--but Suiko refuses to answer.

In the Manga
While PSY is missing for many of the earlier chapters, Suiko appears alone in volume 3. Some years ago she challenged Ren to a Vanguard fight;


This is my solo attempt at a translation of the narration boxes;
Narration 1: ある時ふつと現れた少女とレンは戦うた——
Translation 1: “When this girl and Ren fought——”
Narration 2: それからレンはPSY·久オリアにのめり込んだ——
Translation 2: “After that, Ren was completely absorbed in PSY Qualia——”

The key phrase here is のめり込む which means “to be completely absorbed in, to fall for.” So it could also be “After that, Ren fell for [the power of] PSY Qualia.”

While the manga and anime do not share a cohesive storyline, there is some continuity overlap between them. Case in point, we knew of Suzugamori Ren, the Foo Fighters and PSY Qualia itself before we did in the anime--in fact, the release of volume 2 came just a few days shy of the anime's debut of PSY Qualia. It is not so impractical to think that Suiko's appearance in the manga also took place in the anime.

Furthermore, there is an ever-surmounting pile of circumstantial evidence in favor of Suiko being involved in Ren gaining Qualia;
  • Suiko is the only member of Ultra-Rare to be made visibly discontent while watching Kai's fight against Team Handsome, and the only one without commentary on it. This is because she recognizes Kai as Ren's friend from a few years past, and is now concerned because he appears connected to someone that she sees potential in.
  • She also presents Kai his award at the regional conclusion, even though her only target for invitation at this time is Aichi. This is most likely her confirming his identity.
  • Kai directly avoids going to PSY in 23, “coincidentally” the first time that his old friend Ren appears, and “coincidentally” avoiding the person who first introduced Ren to his power. For reasons described below, he may have some idea that PSY was involved with Foo Fighter.
  • Ultra-Rare has easy access to Suzugamori Ren, a very high-profile figure in the world of Vanguard. The best way for this to happen would be for them to have contact with him before his ascent as national champion. Suiko's desire to avoid Kai, concern over Kourin approaching him, and the manner in which she handles Aichi and Ren being in a room together suggests that she is the one whom awakened Ren to his abilities. Kourin and Rekka's lack of familiarity with Suzugamori also enforces the idea that Suiko approached him alone. And though he speaks in the plural, Ren does not wait for all of the girls to be present when entering the vision of Cray in ride 50, and the direction of his speech is very specifically targeted at Suiko.
  • Backing this, Kourin is familiar with the Fight System that the underground fighters have access to, which is the same one in the Foo Fighter HQ. Note that PSY is the first place we are shown in the anime to have such a system in place. The implication is that the card shop PSY was Ren's backer in hiring Kashiwagi Construction to build the Foo Fighter base, and donated its fight systems—possibly as an extension of “His” will. This is why Kourin is familiar with it. The prototype system the underground fighters have access to is probably an old model once used by either the Foo Fighters or by PSY/Ultra Rare. 
    • Because of the way their meeting is worded in ride 44, Kourin still does not know that Kai knew the boy her sister brought Qualia to.
  • Suiko is hesitant to tell Aichi the truth behind their observations and his Qualia in ride 43. This is probably rooted in Aichi being familiar with Kai. Telling Aichi what's going on could make him an unwanted spanner in their plans.

    • This makes Suiko's shock at Ren's presence in 43 complicated. Suiko is having a mild freak out beneath that stoic expression, because she just lost all control of the situation. Ren and Aichi need to be far away from one another for her to stay safe, because right then Aichi doesn't know that she's responsible for Ren's Qualia awakening and by way of long-term cause and effect, Kai leaving Q4.  

      If Ren were to tell Aichi where he got his power, and how Kai left him, Aichi would most likely give up his power quest and Qualia to make Kai come back. From Suiko's perspective, this has the potential to create a chain effect whereby Ren is also demotivated away from seeking power, capped by the exponentially-more-likely possibility of Kai coming after her directly once he knows specifically how Ren got his powers. Not only would this ruin all the work Ultra-Rare has put into finding and cultivating persons possessing powerful Qualia, but it would also compromise her own safety and potentially endanger the sisters.
She's packing her bags right now.
  • Suiko does not herself appear to have PSY Qualia. While she can sense it as Aichi and Ren sense one another, she can also sense Misaki's recall ability, something which Aichi cannot.
  • From their dialogue in ride 45 we can infer that Suiko does know that Kourin went after Kai, and her overall plans are once more on shaky ground. Aichi being absorbed by his Qualia is good for her, because it will make him a better Vanguard fighter--Suiko does not especially care about the personality of her "chosen ones." And yet again, making Kai aware of any of this is dangerous to her.
  • Chosen;” Someone who fills these two criteria; 1.) Possesses PSY Qualia and 2.) Is as powerful a Vanguard fighter as they can naturally be made to be. According to Rekka and Kourin, there is only one chosen. According to Suiko, one person being chosen does not exclude other people from being chosen. Backing this, she continues to scout Misaki and Aichi long after they have already established that Ren meets their criteria. As Suiko appears to know the most of the three sisters, her viewpoint is probably the most reliable.
  • According to Suiko in rides 50 and 56, conflict between the chosen is more important than the chosen themselves. Kourin suspects that this is "His" will--Suiko's refusal to respond could be taken as an admission that it is so.
Circumstantial though it may be, the sheer amount of evidence favoring Suiko's involvement in the past is overwhelming. Finally, Ultra-Rare's observed purpose;
  • Find individuals with the potential for PSY Qualia.
  • Awaken that property in them.
  • Develop those individuals into becoming “chosen.” Their idol group's name could even be taken to be as a pun—they are searching for the “Ultra-Rarest” of persons.
However, Ultra-Rare does not give people Qualia. As stated by Suiko in ride 50, the ultimate source of Qualia appears to be “Him,” whose will Ultra-Rare is executing.

Additionally, they are not allowed to become “too involved” with persons who do not possess Qualia. The way Suiko acts, it appears that they cannot compel a “chosen” to do anything, nor are they supposed to contact the powerless.

Hopefully, we'll see some concrete answers this Friday.