Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 02

Takamura Yui’s trainee unit is sent out to face the BETA, but they find themselves quickly overrun and without sufficient ammo. As her allies fall all around her, all Yui can do is fall back. She, Izumo and Yamashiro are given cover by their instructor, but are still intercepted by BETA. Izumo and Yamashiro are eaten before Yui’s eyes, and she’s saved at the last moment by an elite mecha. She wakes up in a medical camp; Kyoto has fallen. She witnesses a birth, breaks down, and vows to reject extintion for the rest of her days, something she still lives by three years later.

Last week we heard a whole lot about the BETA invading, but didn’t actually see a whole lot of focused combat, or the ensuing invasions. The tension built up was all about impending doom. Well, the doom comes this week, and in spades. The BETA are every bit the implacable, merciless foe we labeled them last week and then some. They not only destroy humans and their civilization, but they eat humans too, in a disturbing, visceral spectacle of gore. While mostly obscured by darkness, still evoked strong feelings of dread and disgust and a sinking feeling in our stomach. On a larger scale, the images of the Japanese Navy bombarding its own capital – destorying 1200 years of history and sending national morale into the toilet – are no easier to watch.

Now we know why the characters were so bland last week: because they never made it past this week. The sole survivor of the last two episodes is Takamura Yui. This is bold and gutsy. How many recent series have killed so many people in its first two episodes? This opening one-two punch thus serves as an elaborate and vivid backstory for Yui, showing us exactly all she’s endured to become the person we’ll see in the following episodes. The emotional investment Total Eclipse earned from us was held and intensified. Having gone through hell and back with Yui, we find ourselves hating the BETA as much as she does, and can’t wait to see how she’ll start fighting back. We’ll need a ray of hope soon…we can only wallow in hell so long.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Hagure Yuusha no Estetica – 01

Ousawa Akatsuki is returning to the normal world after a long stint as a “hero maverick” in another dimension, after having defeated the Demon King Garinth. He has brought with him the daughter of Garinth, Myuu, who he passes off as his long-lost little sister as they undergo preliminary exams at Babel, a school that helps Akaksuki and other victims of “Samon Syndrome” polish and control the powers they gained in the other dimension. The student council president, Hikami Kyouya, takes an interestin both, as a prophecy states Ousawa will rise to become “True Hero” and “Supreme King.”

The concept of ordinary people who are transported to other dimensions and take on the persona of epic heroes, only to return to earth with the same powers – is not a terrible one. Where this series really falls flat on its face is in the execution, right from the start. An initially interesting-looking chase scene at the beginning ends with the hero relieving all his attackers (all maids, natch) of their bras, instantly eliminating any and all dignity and solemnity. Har har.

Visually speaking, the character design is dull, and many scenes are over-saturated or washed out by light, obscuring faces and details. The choice to mention and show Myuu’s boobs – purely for the sake of mentioning and showing her boobs – leads us to predict that future episodes will expand on this topic…and like Akatsuki’s cocky playa attitude and his albino rival Kyouya’s evil grins, we see that getting old fast.

Rating: 4 (Fair) (dropped)

Kokoro Connect – 01

Cultural Research Club” (CRC) Members Aoki Yoshifumi and Kiriyama Yui report switching bodies last night, to a skeptical Inaba Himeko. Then, in the middle of club, Nagase Iori and Yaegashi Taichi switch, leading to an awkward incident with their classmate Fujishima. Reporting back to the CRC, the two prove they have in fact switched bodies, but while discussing how long they’ll stay that way, they switch back, and everything returns to normal…for the time being.

This episode’s first half was a repear of the pre-air episode, which failed to impress or engage us, but the second half, in which the effects of the body switching rather than a mere account of same, was better. It’s clear this first episode was just a quick introduction of the quintet of characters and what they’re about to get themselves into, and in that limited regard, the episode barely succeeded, with the promise of more complex body-switching in the near future.

Taichi and Iori’s seiyus (Aki Toyosaki is the latter’s) did a decent job mimicing the other’s personality in another voice, which is admirable considering we barely know either that well yet. But having just seen Natsuiro Kiseki, a superior series out of the gate which dealt with body swapping quite well, this series will have to go the extra mile differentiating itself. The characters are still pretty bland, too.

Rating: 5 (Average)

Sword Art Online – 01

In 2022, a revolutionary new VR MMORPG called Sword Art Online or SAO is launched, with an initial group of ten thousand “lucky” players. Kirito, already an SAO buff having participated in the earlier beta, has been looking forward to nothing else, but when evening arrives, his newfriend Klein isn’t able to log out, as the button doesn’t exist. All players are teleported and held in the main plaza, where an avatar of SAO’s programmer, Kayaba Akihiko, informs them SAO is not a game, and there is no escape unless you clear the 100 floors and complete the game, or die trying. And when you die in the game, you die in real life.

The “Game Gone Wrong” premise is by no means new in the world of anime, but here we have an immediately fresh and engaging take on it. We came into this series blind, not knowing it would in fact take a turn for the sinister. The initial minutes in which Kirito logs on and enters the world is a sequence full of wonder and anticipation, but when Klein casually learns there’s no log out button, and he laughs it off as a bug, we knew it wasn’t just a bug; this isn’t going to be fun and games, but a struggle for survival. After that initial realization, the series wastes no time efficiently setting the rules and the stakes. Many players freak out, but knowing what needs to be done, Kirito simply gets on with it.

And the stakes are high: 213 players are killed by having friends or loved ones unwittingly removed their NerveGear helmets (though it’s left to our imaginations how such dangerous equipment is available for sale in 2020.) Clearly the Programer Kayaba is a megalomaniac who created the world of SAO so he could rule it; the fact that he eliminates everyone’s idealized avatars and reverts them to how they look in real life underlines his thirst for power. A final ominous message at the episode’s end further indicates the hardships ahead for Kirito, Klein, and a yet-to-be-introduced but large host of others: after one month, 2,000 players die – a fifth of the total – and no one has managed to clear the first of 100 floors. Clearly the difficulty is not set to “novice”.

Rating: 8 (Great)