Sword Art Online II – 12

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Last week was almost entirely Kirito and Sinon idle in the cave talking, and it seemed like they’d arrived at a plan. That was the planning, this week would be the execution, right? Hold on; we’ve got ten more minutes of exposition and re-planning in the cave before we see a lick of action. That’s a disappointing choice for the midpoint a show that’s had no shortage of them this season.

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I get that asking for a prompt resolution to the Ballet of Bullets arc is something of an unreasonable demand, but the fact of the matter is, I’m just not into it anymore. It’s been dragged out too long and the urgency and momentum aren’t there. Even when we get to action, as we do in the Kirito/Death Gun/Dark Wind/Sinon battle, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Sniping is only so interesting an activity, as is dodging bullets and swinging a purple lightsaber around.

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I’m glad Sinon is able to take out Dark Wind, gaining back her confidence in the process, and isn’t even particularly troubled when Death Gun takes out her scope. As for Asuna, I’m glad the show is trying to involve her somewhat, but this week all she did was move from ALO where she was watching Kirito on TV to the hospital where she watches him on TV.

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The development of her part in this is molasses slow. One thing I did like was how Kirito will never remember Death Gun’s real name because he arrogantly refused to learn it in the first place. But it wasn’t a particularly confidence-inspiring episode going into the show’s second half. I never thought I’d be considering dropping SAO…but even my patience has limits.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 12 (Fin)

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This final episode earns full marks for adrenaline-pounding zeal and sheer boldness, as well as remaining true to its characters until the very end. In the final scene, in the castle’s Aldnoah chamber, the very place where Asseylum snatched a Terran victory out of the jaws of defeat, we not only lose her, but Inaho as well. That’s a steep butcher’s bill than we expected even for a show we thought would be one-cour-and-done; it’s even more daring considering a second season is coming next year.

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On the one hand, it sucks to see Inaho and Seylum go down so abruptly after they had achieved so much. On the other, both had fulfilled their purpose. Seylum shut the castle down, Inaho had held off the baddies long enough to let her, and after she dies, it’s almost a given that Inaho too will either keel over from blood loss or, as is the case, gets shot by Slaine. Both were friends of the princess, and she would have wanted them to get along, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

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It isn’t until his final moments that his memories and feelings of Seylum rush over him like a crashing wave, so on the whole I’m okay with this, it’s a tragic but also oddly logical end for both of them, and it shows that the good guys can’t have it all. (I will say I am extremely glad Inko is still alive and hope we see get to see more of her in the future.) What wasn’t so logical, and what prevents this final ep of A/Z from a higher rating, is what led up to this final scene.

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I don’t mind at all the crew of the Deucalion being too wounded to assist any further, nor do I have any particular qualms with Yuki and Inka making their way through the castle with the princess (Your Princess IS In This Castle!). What turned me off was that here was his already overpowered kataphrakt getting even more buffed up and combined with others into one big Mega-phrakt in a transformation scene that goes on too long in a show that never spent this kind of time on such things before. It was a bit too Gundam-y.

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And you can call it ironic if you will, but after all that build up to how huge and powerful and invincible this guy just became, Inaho is simply able to survive far too long. Even if he’s the best Terran kataphrakt pilot in the world, his primative orange kataphrakt should be crushed like a Coke can in the first minute of fighting. What’s the point of an super-powerful mecha if its shields have such an obvious weakness? This was yet another case of the Martians possessing ridiculously superior technology but no tactics to speak of.

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In earlier battles this might have been excusable, but in particular with Saazbaum, a dedicated, decorated veteran and otherwise capable commander, to fall so easily to the underdog. At least the overarching message that has endured throughout A/Z remains consistent: Inaho and the Terrans only survive as long as they do thanks mainly to appalling incompetence on the part of the Martians. You can’t even say they did a good job with the initial invasion, because they were never able to finish the job.

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Those issues aside, this was still a thrilling and satisfying end to the series (the music-less end credits were particularly stirring)…were that the case, that is. I’ll confess I wasn’t aware of a second season, and it’s not something I’m 100% sure I needed in my life, but A/Z has definitely earned the right to get a close look. Like Inaho, it’s been a mostly level-headed, dependable and proficient mecha show, and I’m curious to see where it goes without two of its leads. But that’s not for a few months yet. Till then, farewell A/Z, and RIP Inaho and Asseylum. You’ll be missed.

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Final Average Rating: 8.50
MAL Score: 8.13

Tokyo Ghoul – 12 (Fin)

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Much of this episode was mind-searingly unpleasant and hard to watch with full focus, and I don’t think that was an accident. To give Ken’s eventual acceptance of Rize within him and the transformation that followed proper heft, The route to the destination had to be as excruciatingly awful as possible.

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Of course, that doesn’t make for the most enjoyable viewing experience, but I think this final episode of Tokyo Ghoul (for the time being) ended up succeeding because it adopted the same philosophy that Ken had always rejected and refused to live by but by the end of the episode embraces with gusto: You can’t have it all. Sometimes you have to choose. Sometimes survival requires change…horrible, irreversible change.

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Yamori is fascinated with Ken’s healing ability, and also getting a kick out of snapping off his toes and watching them grow back. Thankfully this grotesque spectacle is not continuous, but segmented with scenes of Ken in an abstract construct of his mind. While Yamori destroys him out there, Rize works on him in there, eventually uncovering Ken’s unconventional mommy issues.

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Represented by a field white flowers, Ken’s mom literally worked herself to death trying to make enough for her and Ken to survive while her sister came by often seeking money, which his mom always gave her. Rize argues his mom died because she refused to choose between her son or her sister. When Yamori asks Ken to choose between the two assistants who were trying to help him, he can’t do it, and as he wallows in his decision not to choose, Yamori kills them both.

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He might’ve done that anyway, regardless of who Ken chose, but it gets to a more fundamental decision in which Ken has chosen to abstain: the reality is, with Rize within him, he is far stronger than Yamori. Ken loved his mother so much, he vowed to live by the very mindset that led to her death. It takes Rize some talking, and showing him possible futures in which Hide and Anteiku are killed for Ken to finally snap and come around to her way of thinking.

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The first part of TG’s finale last week dealt with the ver external battle between Doves and Aogiri with Anteiku, but it follows it up with a very internal, cerebral battle between Ken’s often self-destructive pacifism and his dark potential. Ultimately, Ken seems to turn because he has so much to lose. He won’t make the same mistake mom did and lose all the people he’s come to care for since.

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To prevent his friends’ annihilation at Yamori’s hands and defeat him, Ken must give up whatever semblance of restraint he had upon his ghoul side, and let Rize out of the cage, even if getting her back in later proves impossible. The white flowers turn red and Yamori is dispatched with ease, and TG closes out its first season just as it began: with Rize (in one form or another) messily feasting upon a ghoul. Because devouring others (one way or another) is what life is all about!

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Final Average Rating: 7.67
MAL Score: 8.02

Zankyou no Terror – 10

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Twelve deals with the guilt of betraying Nine, while trying to have fun with Lisa. Nine rolls the dice and surrenders to the police. Five makes one last desperate grasp at Nine, who “belongs to her.”

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Shibazaki comes face to face with Shunzo Mamiya, who orchestrated the Athena Project and the investigation of whom led to his demotion. An atomic bomb is released into the sky, to go off at 10pm. This episode isn’t messing around, expertly setting up the endgame.

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Interestingly, this episode is Five’s last. For those of you who tired of her relatively petty and nebulous vendetta and terrible English, rejoice, for she ends up doing herself in. Physically deteriorating, she senses the end is near, and after a harrowing chase and crossing the line with her American handlers, all that’s left to do on that highway is thank Nine for being the reason she stayed alive this long at all; to pursue him.

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She has him in her sight, but doesn’t pull the trigger, knowing she’s been beaten. Instead, she gives Nine a chaste parting kiss and ignites the pool of gasoline she’s standing in. This explosion was brought to you by the number Five.

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With Five now gone, all that’s left is for Nine to expose Athena to the world, if that was indeed his plan. The only problem is, the press conference he demanded the police allow him to hold is interrupted by Five’s meddling, and the atomic bomb is loosed, unable to be stopped by anyone.

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While meeting with Shunzo, who was convinced the spirit of Japan was “that of a loser, without a shred of dignity”, and thus pushed forward with Athena, Shibazaki can fathom the scale of the backlash, which looks tenuously close to being realized.

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In his final broadcast, transmitted automatically when Nine doesn’t get to the Hyatt at 8:00 PM, Sphinx One warns that nothing can stop the bomb. If he’s right, then we’re in for a catastrophe in the finale. But I’m not entirely convinced he’s not bluffing at this point.

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I’m not even sure his entire plan from the start was to draw out Five so that she could, well, finish herself off. Also, Twelve even ends up redeeming himself somewhat by interfering in Five’s pursuit of Nine, and I like how he does so on Lisa’s urging, telling him how happy she was when he saved her, and how Nine will probably feel the same way. Five may be gone, but there’s a lot left to sort out.

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