Accel World – 21

Haru and Taku meet up with Yuniko in a maid cafe, where she grudingly agrees to give Taku a crash course in the Incarnate System. While she trains him in an arctic wasteland, Haru returns to the real world, and Yuniko’s underling Blood Leopard takes him to a neutral underground duelling hall in Akibahara where they’ll investigate Dusk Taker’s ability to stay off of the lists.

The Red King Scarlet Rain proves a valuable, if reluctant, ally to Haru and Taku in their quest to defeat who’s likely the final boss in this series, the insufferable Nomi Seiji/Dusk Taker. Not only does she welcome them into her Red Legion’s prominence base and give Taku a personal lesson in how to use the Incarnate system, as a bonus she lends Haru the services of one of her subjects to aid in his investigation of Nomi. It’s good to be strong, but they won’t beat Nomi unless they know as much about him as they can; no more surprises.

We liked Yuniko’s sudden shift from her cheerful facade to surly grouch when Haru mentions Incarnate in public; but we’re glad she knows she has a debt to pay and is willing to do so. We also like Blood Leopard’s very matter-of-fact manner with Haru (we too thought at the time she was pretty stiff for a maid waitress!) Plus, her bosozoku motorcycle with voice-activated ignition is freakin’ awesome, and riding it in a maid costume really helps them blend in with the colorful Akiba rabble. The underground duelling bar is another nice touch.

Rating: 6 (Good)

Eureka Seven AO – 18

Ao is a “guest” aboard the USS Ronald Reagan as the carrier group sails to San Diego. Tanaka wants him to sign a contract that will formally end his relationship with Gen Bleu and begin a new one with the Allied forces. Cristophe Blanc and Rebecca are in New York for a UN inquiry. When Fleur and Elena learn about Ao defecting, Fleur gets upset; Elena scolds her for never seeking the truth, then tries to launch Kyrie on her own to get Ao. When the cheif mechanic sees the third engine levels of Elena and Fleur’s IFO’s rising, he gives them the ok to go retrieve Ao. Ao admits he truly wants to go back, and they all return to Gen Bleu HQ. However, after the act of aggression, America declares Gen Bleu a terrorist organization.

These are dark days for Generation Bleu. Once respected and lauded for being an international rescue operation, their concealment of vast quantities of quartz has given their detractors all the ammo they need to alienate them and turn global public opinion against them in the media and diplomatic circles. After the events of this episode – which on a basic level amounts to two girls going after their friend they know doesn’t want to leave them – Gen Bleu finds itself without a friend in the world, and soon, cut off from outside funding. Their alpine refuge may even be at risk. Despite all this, Cristophe Blanc seems amused and even proud that his daughter and Elena got Ao back.

In light of all this misfortune, it makes perfect sense that Ao would want to spare his friends and colleagues by going over to Tanaka and the allied forces, which, after all, outnumber and outgun Gen Bleu. He’s also scared of what the quartz gun may do, while the Americans are more than happy to take it off his hands. But everything about his arrangement with Tanaka stinks. An emotional Elena kicks the blissfully-ignorant-for-too-long Fleur in the butt and they go after Ao. And to his credit, Ao doesn’t turn them away. He knows this stinks too. Damn the consequences, Pied Piper is a team, and he doesn’t want to leave them. But now this means Gen Bleu is an enemy of the world – the “bad guys.” The road ahead will be tough, but they’ll walk it together.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

End-of-Month Rundown – August 2012

We’ve been notoriously inconsistent with when we do rundowns or rankings, but from here on out, we’ll be doing it at the end of each month. Wherever we are on that last day, that’s where we’ll take stock of what we’ve watched, as we’ve done here:

11. Sket Dance – 65-71/- (5.857) – Many episodes are simply all right, but once in a while a great one comes along that has us laughing the whole way through. The series is very self-referential at this point, so much of the humor requires prior understanding of the vast flurry of characters who bow in and out.

10. Accel World – 14-20/24 (6.000) Nomi Seiji is one nasty villain. Kuroyukihime’s little seaside-quest was pretty lame. We’re looking forward to seeing how Haru defeats Nomi without Hime’s help.

9. Binbougami-ga! – 9/13 (6.111)Rindou Ranmaru is a bit of a walking cliche, but we find her butch voice amusing. Momiji’s rival, however, is a dud so far. The comedy has yet to return to the highs of the first episode, suggesting they used up all their best firepower there.

8. Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 9/24 (6.222) – This funnily-named series started strong but then regressed, but at the moment the relationship between Yuuya and Yui is getting more interesting…or rote, depending on your POV. We’d like to see more battles and chaos, but we loathe the Beta monster designs. When blood is spilt it’s over-censored.

7. Rinne no Lagrange Season 2 – 13-20/24 (6.875) – A great reintroduction of the series that resolves the La Garite/De Metrio conflict without typical good-vs.-evil cliches and stayed true to its likable cast. Something big is on the horizon.

6. Sword Art Online – 8/25 (7.000) – The first third of this series has been set-up and adept world-building combined with Kirito meeting girl after girl and forming various bonds with them before moving on. It seems like he’s settled on Asuna for now, so we’re hoping he/they face more challenges relating to clearing the game – admittedly something still pretty far off.

5. Tari Tari – 9/13 (7.222) – Once we sorted out who was who, we started ranking our favorite characters: Wakana, Sawa, Taichi, Konatsu, Wien. Granted, those first two have gotten the most development, but the last two are still irritating so far.

4. Kokoro Connect – 8/17 (7.375) – This was the opposite of Muv-Luv in that it had an uninspiring start, but it has a solid 8.000 average since week 3. It owes that to the strength of its talented voice cast, increasingly textured characters, a nice understated romance, and generous helpings of powerful drama, borne out of the antics of the trickster Heartseed.

3. Eureka Seven AO – 14-17/24 (7.500) – We still don’t know what the heck’s going on half the time, but it doesn’t matter, and we’re not sure we’re even supposed to. Ao doesn’t, after all. And Ao’s proving far more likable lead than his dad Renton. Also, EXPLOSIONS.

2. Hyouka – 14-19/21 (8.000) – The festival arc was epic in its scope, complexity, and conclusion, never neglected the little details, and gave the whole cast something to do. The standalone episodes that have followed have maintained the quality. We’d love some kind of payoff vis-a-vis Oreki and Chitanda, but we won’t get our hopes up.

1. Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 9/11 (8.444) – Truly Noitamina as it was meant to be. Brilliant writing, incredibly vital characters you care about, and a powerful, grown-up story of loss, grief, and the difficulty of moving on. Easily the best series of the year, with only Nazo no Kanojo X and Sakamichi no Apollon approaching its level of excellence.