Sword Art Online – 21

Kirito and Leafa reach ALfeim’s capital, Arun, and log out at an inn. In the real world, Sugu comes with Kazuto to visit Asuna in the hospital, and she gets conflicted feelings from meeting her. Meanwhile, in the game, Asuna snoops around the World Tree complex, finding huge labs where human cerebral experimentation is going on. She finds a console and is about to log out when she’s apprehended by scientists with slug-like avatars, who put her back in her birdcage and change the passcode. When Kirito and Leafa reach the base of the World Tree’s trunk, Yui suddenly senses “Momma” above them, and Kirito shoots up into the sky.

First of all, kudos must again go to the background and establishing shot artists; we know the word “awesome” is overused in modern society, but it’s the most fitting word to describe it. It’s like Minas Tirith on steroids…and shrooms. Despite all it’s flaws, SAO has always exceled at creating a really cool-looking world you’re really envious of not being able to visit. We especially liked how creepy and Mod the laboratory facilities Asuna gingerly explores. We’re not so enamored with the way in which she was ultimately captured and re-deposited back where she started.

First of all – Tentacle Grape Monsters Casually Threatenin’ Grape + Scantily-Clad, Defenseless Asuna = Obvious Fanservice. This isn’t shokushu goukan, so entangling Asuna in tentacles is both capricious and arbitrary. Also, while we get that they gave these guys inhuman form to add to the general creepiness and wrong-ness of this whole experimentation venture, their words and actions are enough to dehumanize them; they could have just been guys in lab coats. And while we knew Sugou’s evil plans would inevitably attract other unsavory people who worked for him, both his and their evil – the sheer horrifying scale of it – remains a little hard to swallow. Those seeking more ambiguous, “grayer” antagonists will have to look elsewhere.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Oh yeah, Suguha continues to stuggle with her feelings for her brother, and decides she must bury them deep within her so she may someday forget them. So no change there. As you were.

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Sukitte Ii na yo – 08

Mei kisses Yamato, but has nothing to follow it up with, and in a moment of shyness she pushes him away with her words, and he goes home. Rumors persist, and in a new magazine interview, Megumi all but declares her love for Yamato, though not by name. After pushing away Asami and Aiko, Megumi goes home alone. Aiko tells Yamato about the rumor, and he chases after Mei to clear things up. While at work, Mei meets Takemura Kai, who is transferring to her school. Right after accidentally breaking her bracelet, Yamato appears and apologizes.

This episode is called “New to Love”, and quite appropriately so. By the end, Mei learns that she’s not the only one new to love; Yamato is to. As such, they’re both going to make mistakes, and they’re both going to worry and not say what they should say or say what they shouldn’t say, and misinterpret each other’s words and actions, and see deeper meaning in trifling events. The difference is, Yamato is new to love despite being fawned over by the masses and having been involved previously (with Aiko). Mei is new new, as in she’s barely ever spoken to a boy before Yamato. Her newness is such that when the golden opportunity comes for her to tell Yamato what she feels about his modelling and Megumi, she just chokes.

She’s in her head too much, and that’s causing her pain, which is all she says she’s experienced since falling for Yamato, which makes part of her want to just quit by the end. But of course, pain isn’t all she’s experienced. She’s also experienced RABUJOI love and joy in her dealings with Yamato – and it’s mutual, despite her suspicions. Thankfully, the episode doesn’t end in an ultra-ambiguous mess of emotions – both Mei and Yamato finally gets to say what they should have said days ago, and with a well-timed kick in the pants by Aiko, Yamato spills the beans and assures her nothing’s going on with Megumi. But as last week’s kiss proved, one moment of clarity won’t be enough to maintain their relationship. There’s got to be an open dialogue.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. Oh yeah, about Kai, the mohawk dude. He just kinda showed up. Grabbed Mei inapproprately, asked if he could have her key, and left. Is he going  to be competition for Yamato? We’ll see.

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 09

With Shun gone for four days, Satoru gathers the others and suggests they go looking for him. He and Saki travel to his house in Pinewood, but it is totally cordoned off in all directions, and they find that a huge gash has been made in the forest, with a burnt-out tree trunk in the bottom of a pit that reminds Saki of the one in Shun’s house. Meanwhile Maria and Mamoru ask around school, but everyone from Pinewood is absent. Curiosity leads them to check out the inner yard, and they see three adults release two tainted cats from their kennels, and mention Shun. Maria comes to Saki in the middle of the night to tell her this, and she sets out alone to find Shun, but its confronted by one of the cats in the forest.

Whatever year it actually is in Saki’s world, it might as well be 1984 (while that monolithic tree they see brought 2001 to mind). People who do not obey and conform to the “society of love” live in constant fear of death, or worse – by the hands of the “Ethics Committee”, which may as well be called the Ministry of Love. People are supposed to stick to their particular vocation, and not pry in anything else, even if it concerns family or friends. In Saki’s case, her older sister vanished long ago, and she forgot about it like a good girl. But now she’s remembered. Now someone she cares about deeply – Shun – is in some very serious trouble. She cares about him so much she’s willing to risk everything – her freedom, her life, her parents’ peace-of-mind – to find him. Which is badass.

We don’t hand out tens willy-nilly; only three first-run episodes have received our highest rating so far, along with a handful of Retro Reviews. But we consider this episode the best and most complete of the series so far; a masterpiece of tone, mood, and tension. It’s not particularly flashy, but never before have the stakes seemed so high, or have Saki and her friends seemed to be in more danger. We’re not even sure what the real deal with Shun is yet – only that he may be turning into a full karma demon (that doesn’t sound good). This episode is the best kind of building-up episode: one that creates so much anticipation for the future, but more than holds up by itself as a comprehensive study in layering trepidation on top of disquiet on top of dread.

The moment Saki hears from Maria, she goes into Full Rescue Mode – suiting up with the talisman Shun gave her (and which she may believe was also a wordless message to come after him, not just a memento mori), and using her Cantus to good effect, bringing a loud wind that will mask her movements, flying through the air, and racing down the river. If she’s discovered, she’ll most certainly die, and the episode projects that perfectly. While a ten need not be totally perfect, we could not list a single flaw in the episode anyway. From the precise pacing to the stirring primeval score to the consistently excellent costume design, this was a winner on all fronts.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

P.S. The tainted cats have pumps for feet…very strange.