Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 14

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Mahouka’s second cour picks up right where the last one left off: in the midst of a magic high school competition procedural. While ending the NSC at the midpoint would have been a bit cleaner, as things shook out there was still some things to take care of before closing the book on the arc. Perhaps most important among those is also the most predictable development: Tatsuya being asked to compete as a player.

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First, the less predictable developments: Honoka wins in the Battle Board finals with a nice bit of shadow-casting magic that confuses her opponents, turning the dark shades they wore to avoid her optical magic against them. First High’s rookie girls placed one-two-three in Ice Pillars, eliminating the need for a final, but Shizuku decides to take on Miyuki anyway. Shizuku loses decisively, and it isn’t really a fair fight, nor did she ever think she had a chance. Note to everyone else: never challenge Miyuki to anything.

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Another act of probable sabotage by the No-Head Dragons takes out First High’s three-man rookie Monolith Code team. Thanks to the girls—and Tatsuya—the First High rookies are assured at least a second-place finish, but Saegusa wants to take first. When the stewards allow her to form a new team to compete, she choo-choo-chooses Tatsuya, who now gets to go up against Third High’s Crimson Prince and Cardinal George, the first people to come around who actually resemble real competition.

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In a nice move, he picks Mikihiko and Leon as his teammates, meaning if First High is going to win the NSC, it will be thanks to Weeds. Those two (and all the guys, for that matter) have been on the sidelines for a long time, so I’m looking forward to seeing them in action. By giving their second course ringer so much leeway, Saegusa and Juumonji are asking the rest of the students to bottle their pride and outrage for the good of the team, which is a lot to ask a bunch of emotional teenagers.

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Stray Observations:

  • Little Miss Muffet Azusa seems to have pretty much figured out that Tatsuya is Taurus Silver. So yeah.
  • Ichijou Masaki was killin’ Commies and Kichijouji Shinkurou was teachin’ college courses when they were both thirteen. Here’s hoping they don’t disappoint in giving Tatsuya a run for his money.
  • I wonder who the third member of Third High’s team will be? Character #678…
  • We also finally see some Mirage Bat; definitely the silliest-looking of the events.
  • New OP and ED! New Tatsuya+Miyuki imagery, too.

Sword Art Online II – 01

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Aside from a few brief glimpses of the scale and majesty of the new online world of Gun Gale Online (see above) and a few flashbacks to more energetic times, this was a pretty quiet, unflashy opening to a new season of SAO. Yet after more than a year and a half since we’ve seen Kirito and Asuna, I rather appreciated a less hectic, more introspective start that catches us up with what’s been happening in the world.

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For one thing, both Kirito and Asuna (who are the focus of the episode) seem to have more or less retired from gaming. While neither seem to be in the throes of PTSD, they did endure quite a few horrors, and four thousand people did perish in SAO, so I could understand if they decided to be totally done with VMMOing. Still, Kirito wants to transition from playing to R&D, so the virtual world can be made even more like the real world, where holding hands with Asuna conveys a lot more information between them than in current games.

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There’s a definite sense of peace and contentment between the two as they walk hand in hand through Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens, maintaining the subtle but warm romance they started in the virtual world. Having been there myself, I can relate to the deep, inscrutable aura of a 2km x 1.5km area of land virtually untouched by time in the center of the world’s biggest urban conglomeration. It’s a nice nod to their past that the two show up for their date wearing the colors of their SAO avatars.

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Of course, Kirito isn’t really done gaming. In the classic “pulled in for one last job” scenario, he’s lured into a swanky cafe and given free rein over the dessert menu by one Kikuoka Seijirou of the Advanced Communications Networks Promotion Division Section 2 (“Virtual Division”) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Telecommunications Bureau, which is a ridiculous title, but sums up what he does, which doesn’t sound all that different from what Kirito eventually wants to get into.

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Kikuoka wants to employ Kirito’s very particular set of skills to infiltrate GGO and investigate a set of player deaths whose hearts stopped in the real world after they were shot in the game by the lamely-named “Death Gun”. Since people can and do make their living playing GGO, it’s a tough game for an amateur, but if anyone can quickly pick up a game, it’s Kirito, and as the OP (here the ED) suggests, he may well bring a (glowing purple) sword to the gunfights and still kick ass.

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So, we had to sit around in a cafe for some time, but the table has been set for the adventures to come. The player deaths will probably prove not to be mere coincidences Kirito and Kikuoka hope they are. At some point Kirito will meet Death Gun, along with the New Girl, handle “Shinon” (Sawashiro Miyuki), who has Eureka-like hair, a nice bum, nicer aim, and uncertain loyalties. Will they warm to each other, or butt heads? I’m guessing the latter, at first.

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Sailor Moon Crystal – 01

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I’ve neither read nor watched any other iterations of the Sailor Moon franchise, nor do I plan to. When I first heard it was being rebooted for its 20th anniversary, I wanted to go in as green as possible, unfettered by prior knowledge or expectation. Even so, I was aware that Sailor Moon was an immensely popular and iconic cultural phenomenon that directly influenced countless newer series I’ve watched and enjoyed. That carries its own expectations.

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To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece here, and I didn’t get one. But I was pleased with how pure, elemental, and straightforward the storytelling was. That’s kind of a given when you’re dealing with a show that isn’t just “a take” on the quintessential magical girl stories, but is the quintessential magical girl story, full stop. To that end, it sticks with a charming throwback aesthetic that you don’t see very often in contemporary anime.

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That simple story can be summed up thus: pretty but clumsy and unfocused girl steps on a cat on the way to school, removes band-aids from her head. The cat shows up in her bedroom window to bestow a magical talisman that turns the girl into something resembling a heroine. She defeats the villainess, frees the jewelry-grubbing ladies under her thrall, and catches a glimpse of the Dashing Prince of her dreams.

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I liked how Tsukino Usagi’s initial weaknesses ultimately worked to her advantage. Her abysmal test scores meant she wouldn’t be able to ask her mom to buy her any jewelry, without which she didn’t fall under the bad guy’s spell. And because she’s uncoordinated and late for school, she ends up stepping on a cat that gives her the tools to fight the bad guy. Heck, even her quickness to tears turned out to be a useful weapon.

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Usagi doesn’t just look like no one else in the current anime spectrum; she sounds like no one else, too, thanks to the veteran Mitsuishi Kotono, who has always voiced Usagi. Don’t get me wrong, so much of Usagi’s dialogue is sooo stupid, but Kotono’s line delivery is a wry blend of syrupy guilelessness tinged with wry irony. Whether she’s happy or sad or falling down the stairs, Usagi always puts on big, over-the-top productions, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at them.

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That theatricality is put to good use when she transforms, which is the episode’s big visual set piece, employing elaborate CGI that heralds the show’s official arrival to the 21st century. It was a nice surprise, akin to when the cartoonish-looking Panty & Stocking suddenly adopt realistic character designs when they transform. Usagi’s somewhat cumbersome sailor fuku accentuates her clumsiness, but in Sailor Moon kit she cuts a far sleeker, more mobile figure.

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Which is why her first moments as Sailor Moon are so funny: she looks the part, but has no idea what to do or how to do it, and is suitably flustered. Thankfully, Luna is there to tell her, and the bad guy is dispatched; perhaps too easily, but it’s only the first battle; it couldn’t be too hard. And for a few shining moments, Usagi shed the “hopeless dumb girl” act, believed in herself (and in the stuff Luna was telling her), and stood up against evil to protect others.

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This episode was a nice introduction to Usagi, her ordinary life, and the more exciting and trippy life that awaits her. She still has lots to learn, including how to juggle these two lives, but we know she’s going to meet allies, allowing for more interesting battles with tougher enemies. To conclude, despite harboring zero nostalgia for the franchise, this reboot stood pretty well on its own freakishly long, slender legs, and left me looking forward to the story continuing in two weeks’ time.

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Car Cameos: