Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 06

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This episode went down a totally different route than the one I expected, but that’s okay; as Commodus said, “I rather enjoy surprises” — the good kind, anyway! Rather then delve back into last week’s mysteries, the show shifts its gaze to Hanamiya Nagisa-senpai, who’s been a bit of a mystery all her own, having been relegated to a supporting role in the ensemble thus far. This week she gets top-billing alongside Sou, and it isn’t wasted.

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As the club members are talking about their futures after school — something that doesn’t particularly interest Sou — we learn that while Nagisa’s family is fine with her going to college, they’ve still arranged for her to marry the heir to another powerful conglomerate, Reito Hikaru. In a show about lost futures, Nagisa never really had one of her own making to begin with; she was bred to grow up quickly and realize her responsibility as a family bargaining chip; a key resource. This is something no one else in the club has to worry about.

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An an effort to assert her own will, Nagisa decides to blow off an arranged meetup with Reito-san, instead hanging out with Sou and learning that they’re alike: like her, he’s so content with the time he’s living on now, he’s loath to even think about his future, let alone set it in stone. When Reito tracks them down by chance, Nagisa pretends she and Sou are dating.

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This is a common trope in anime but its particularly effective here, and not just because Nagisa isn’t a tiresome tsundere. “Cornered” by Reito, the ever-shrewd and quick-thinking Nagisa uses Sou as a shield. But she doesn’t mistreat him, and in any case, Sou, who is so flustered when Nagisa says she loves the club and again when she praises him, is just fine hanging out with Nagisa a little more today.

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Before he knows it, Sou is in one light, cordial pissing contest after the next with Reito, and while Reito seems to be into the “competition” just as much, he’s a total gentleman throughout, especially where Nagisa is concerned. That’s just as refreshing as Nagisa being so awesomely un-cliche in the way she carries herself and acts towards her two suitors.

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Of course, Reito eventually tells Sou he knows he’s not really dating his fiancee. He knows because he’s in the same position as Nagisa: a bird in a cage, raised specifically to forge bonds with other powerful groups. As such, he’s well aware that such birds must assert their own wills from time to time, even if they’re bred to always fall back in line in the end. He is willing to give his life for the good of his family, and he’s confident that Nagisa feels the same way.

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Sou is not so sure, though on the rooftop in private, Nagisa says she’s used to it, that there’s nothing to be done. This is bigger than her and Reito, and their futures are fixed so that their respective businesses will thrive long into the future. Sou doesn’t like the resignation one bit, and asks Nagisa to please keep being the freewheeling person he knows and loves, because he and the gang will be there to help her if things don’t work out. Also, after she made him blush all day, finally Sou gets her to blush a little herself, having told her exactly what she wanted and needed to hear.

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Then Reito drives Sou and Nagisa home in his E65 BMW (Not a Toyota Century? Not Old Money!), Sou, returns to his dutiful “fiancee” Kaori, like a salaryman having returned home from a long day with a tough client at the office. Only the office was an arcade and his “client” was a friend who needed his support.

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We learn the episode’s cold open, in which Nagisa bathes with Yui, actually took place after the long, surprisingly emotional day we just witnessed. Nagisa confides in Yui that today she learned that the future isn’t quite as locked into place as she’d thought; no doubt a point Yui would agree with!

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Sword Art Online II – 18

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We start in a warm and familiar log cabin in the forest on a cold and snowy night…

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Perhaps well aware its audience would only tolerate so many recaps, SAO II wisely avoided a re-telling of what was a brief, self-contained Excaliber arc. What we got instead was still lightweight enough to make Colin Chapman blush, but rather than a random, partially-baked, pulled-out-of-its-ass Norse-loaf, both distinct halves of this episode were steeped in the SAO we’ve lived through and emotionally resonates the most for us. It was a warm, cozy episode.

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Full-size Human Yui > Tinkerbell Yui. There, I said it.

God, I almost forgot Yui was once normal-sized! Yes, we go all the way back to the halcyon time of almost perfect contentment on Aincrad’s 22nd Floor, a log cabin in the forest where Kirito and Asuna fell in love and built a home and family. Unlike Kirito, Asuna didn’t really like her home and family in the real world, so when they lost their cabin, it was like losing the only home where she’d ever been happy.

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So when Egil notifies Kirito and Asuna that the 21st through 30th floors of New Aincrad are open for exploration and clearing in ALO, they jump at the chance to find and reclaim that home. Their friends and family help out, and unlike the Jotenheimr arc, there’s an actual important purpose to their fighting that I care about. The boss on Floor 21 puts up a fight (on Christmas Eve!), but with their usual excellent teamwork the party brings it down and advance to the next level.

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Asuna’s well-earned jubilation at returning to Floor 22 to find their cabin just as they left it, and Yui returning to her normal size after they press they “Buy” button together…I’m not gonna lie, I got a little glassy-eyed myself. It’s a beautiful little moment; filled with joy. And now we know why in the episode’s cold open the gang was in that cabin!

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The timing couldn’t have been better for Asuna, either. As the daughter of a super -rich aristocratic family in Kyoto, her family subjects her to meet-and-greets and omiais with sketchy rich douchebags. There isn’t any indication she’s being forced into anything, but it’s clear ALO isn’t just an idle escape; it’s where she finds strength and control over her life. There, she has a family in Kirito and Yui and the rest of the gang. But still, you’d think her folks would let her choose for herself after she came so close to being freaking coma-raped last season.

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It’s at her home in the cabin in the woods where she’s having a study sleepover session with Kirito, Yui, Sugu, Liz, and Silica, where she learns of Zekken, a mysterious but singularly powerful dueler offering a unique eleven-hit combo sword skill that matches her preferred setup to the one who beats him (or her; they’re continually referred to without gender).

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Liz, Sugu, and even Kirito have already gone up against Zekken and lost, so it would seem to fall to Asuna to get the job done and win that skill for herself. That’s a good thing, as it would be nice to have Asuna front and center kicking ass again, as we’ve only seen the slightest tastes of her in action thus far this season.

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When Asuna is shocked Kirito couldn’t beat Zekken, Liz has a very good theory for why he lost. Sugu remarks that Kirito wasn’t slacking off, but nor did he dual-wield. As Liz puts it, Kirito will probably only ever fight with everything he’s got if the game is no longer a game, such as it was in the days of SAO and when he was fighting to free Asuna. It’s a nice bit of analysis from Liz, another one we hear far too little from.

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No green-bobbed Slylph Asuna? BOOOO!

Just kidding, Blue Asuna will do just fine for the upcoming fight. A new ending sequence prominently shows a girl who somewhat resembles Asuna but isn’t Yui or anyone we’ve met before, and furthermore matches Zekken’s general color scheme. Combined with the way the gang talked about Zekken without specific gender articles, this girl is probably Zekken herself. I for one am excited to see where this new Asuna-centric arc takes us.

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And now, your SAO II Moment of Zen:saoii18mz

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 05

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 05 has all the pieces of a fantastic thirty minutes of anime, but never quite comes together as a fantastic piece of anime.

Ultimately, it falls down because all these pieces, as understandable and dare-I-say believable as they are, do not fit together. At any given moment, the story lurches from breath-taking action, to relationship dialog, to Scooby-Doo style mystery.

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Emiya starts off his day by ignoring Sabre’s recommendation and going to school. Alone. Then he runs into Rin, who is completely besides herself at how stupid he is, and how he’s totally ignored her warning that she would kill him next time too.

Despite his recent encounter with Berserker, and nearly being killed by Lancer before that, Emiya’s character fails to grasp how dangerous his situation is. More accurately, his attitude comes off as ‘Whatev’s! I know best’

Thank goodness he doesn’t whine when Rin tries to kill him later.

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In some ways, I could see Emiya as a proxy for the viewer. (at least, young male viewers) He’s bold, knows enough to follow along, and isn’t totally useless . He’s like any starting JRPG character and we’re right there with him.

So, naturally, if he were our RPG character, we’d probably throw him stupidly into every fight and expect the level balance to make it beatable too.

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However, this is an anime and we have to watch Emiya ignore everyone and rush in stupidly. We don’t have any control to make the decision for his character, and there’s clearly no level balance to save his skin, which makes his decisions feel all the stupider.

Honestly, who here isn’t wondering why he isn’t trying to learn more magic, grind up some n00bs for XP, or locate a secret magic weapon? \I’d never invite this thick head on a raid and that’s the truth!

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At school, Emiya has lunch with the student council president, learns about mysterious bad goings on (the archery captain-chan never came home from school and Shinji the douche-hole was the last person seen with her)

So naturally, Emiya decides to put on his investigation hat and look around the school after everyone has gone home.

You know, completely ignoring the fact that mages don’t fight in public because PEOPLE are around. SMERT!

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Then Rin tries to kill him or, more likely, beat sense into him over how stupid he’s being OR, since he’s already been warned, remove his command seals so that she can have control of Saber or, just because he’s incredibly annoying.

Rin’s conflict (that she likes Emiya or feels responsible for him) is obvious and accounts for why she doesn’t put all her effort into actually killing him but I’m sure this is an area many viewers will find annoying. Very very very well animated but tsundere’ly annoying.

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Then a girl screams, clearly being destroyed by Shinji and the fight is broken off. Until Emiya prevents Rin from being killed with his arm and runs off to fight against Assassin all alone.

Again, showing that he’s profoundly ignorant or just plain stupid.

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After a fight that can only be described as putting even Bahamut’s animation to shame, Rin saves Emiya AGAIN, considers herself frustratingly semi-in-his-debt AGAIN, and they go to her house to talk about.

Ultimately, they talk about family and info-dump us a bit, drink tea, and form a truce that Emiya will no doubt take for granted and make Rin want to kill him again.

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From morning exposition to aimlessly screwing around at school, to mystery investigation, to angry relationship fight (with magic) to compassionately helping a civilian, to another magic fight, to info dump and happy relationship moments, the constant shifting of gears gave me whiplash.

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold.

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That said, while it didn’t hit last week’s balance of exposition with action, this week was in no way as eye-rolling as our first major info dump at the church. If anything, the erratic focus captures how life must feel for Emiya.

However, I get the feeling that Emiya is kind of stupid and his erratic world would flow a whole lot smoother if he was smarter about living in it.

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Amagi Brilliant Park – 06

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Amagi Brilliant Park episode 6 is just delightful. Its premise is simple: the park is understaffed and Sento has been drugged with a ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ magic pill, which makes the interview process even more ridiculous than it would otherwise be.

Between Sento banging her head on the desk to avoid telling Kanie-kun her true feelings about him, Sento’s premonition-dream about three of the female applicants, and the totally absurd group of applicants not including those three, episode 6 keeps its jokes fast and plentiful.

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Sento dreams that Kanie-kun will hire three lovely ladies and replace her. The idea of this is so distressing that she wakes up, having shot a hole through the roof of the dorm building!

Then, at breakfast, Macaron the lamb mascot slips a magic pill into her curry and the day goes downhill fast.

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When Sento figures out she’s been Heartsleeve’d, and it obviously doesn’t take her long to figure out she’s spilling her guts to everyone, she brings her frustrations down on the culprits with both barrels. Poor Tiramie wasn’t even involved! (even though he was going to ask her some compromising questions if he had the chance)

Unfortunately, Kanie-kun doesn’t get what’s going on and doesn’t let Sento excuse herself from the interview process.

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The interviews are generally outrageous. A former mayor who lost his bid for reelection, a failed baseballer, a Luchador, and a ninja are among the few looking for work, whom Kanie-kun hires without a second thought.

On top of that, all three girls that Sento dreamed about show up for interviews and she just loses it.

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Adachi Eiko is a mature woman from the film industry. She’s done ‘AV,’ which Moffle and Kanie-kun take to mean Adult Video and have trouble responding to her. It’s later revealed to Sento that AV actually means Animal Videos, but its a fun situation to watch unravel.

Bandou Biino has recently been stabbed by her older brother. The brother actually shows up with stockings over his face and also naked and gets destroyed by Moffle in a fight.

Chuujou Shiina is a twin-tail high schooler who stutters and is nervous. She barely gets screen time, due to Biino-chan’s commotion, but is also hired because whatever. They need staff.

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What a gaggle of weirdos!

Great gags, character development and more time with the terrible creatures known as Tiramie and Macaron. There isn’t much more I could ask for and, while it certainly isn’t tight enough or unusual enough for a perfect 10, episode 6 gives us yet another perfectly great experience.

Bravo!

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Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru – 05

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Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru episode 5 gave us all its got: brightly colored characters, vibrant effects, bizarrely abstract looking enemies, and a battle that lasted almost 20 minutes.

So? Was it good?

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That depends on what you want from this show?

For me, last week’s signs of on-coming dread and loss didn’t really pay out. Yes, the girls are all beaten up by the end of this lengthy battle, but no one is lost. More over, four of the girls unlock their Bleach-style ‘Mankai’ level up ability exactly at the moment any fear of loss crept into the battle.

The results felt predictable by genre standards and cheap “friendship power saves the day.” None of their abilities felt earned.

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The Man-kai’s themselves, which transformed the girl’s skimpy sailor-style uniforms into more priestess like robes, looked cool enough. Each costume looks like an upgrade and sports a flowery “Old School Tenchi Muyo” aesthetic.

My only criticism is that each girl’s abilities are all over the map in usefulness and power. Togo gets a flying spider-like weapons platform that can breach the planet’s atmosphere and Itsuki gets… more finger strings.

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In some ways the aesthetic has an odd Persona vibe going on too. While many of the Vertex are just random 3D rendered shapes, many have that game’s gothic icons plus ‘stuff in a blender’ style going on.

The above character shows this pretty well: it’s a book with hands wearing thigh-highs and a gothic lolita dress and chains. It is also a robot, sorta maybe.

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There’s nothing wrong with aping Persona’s style, nor Bleach’s I’m shouting Man-kai to level up style, nor Old School Tenchi’s Jurai costumes… but it starts to make YYwYdA feel like a sum of parts and less a show of its own.

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The loveliest moment came at the end with Togo and Yuna falling back to earth. Both are drained of energy and unsure if they will survive the fall. Togo wraps them in a flower-remains of her robes/weapon platform with the last of her energy and they say good bye and fall asleep.

It’s a beautiful scene and, for an instant, gave me hope that one of the girls wouldn’t make it out of this fight in a touching and lovely way.

Sadly, that’s not the direction YYwYdA has taken.

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So I’m disappointed no one died. YYwYdA toyed with that idea on several occasions but it was pretty obvious the show was never going to go through with it.

The only reason I will tune in next week is the obvious set up for a twist. We are only five episodes in and all the enemies have been defeated. SOMETHING has to happen for the next 7 episodes.

The question is: what?

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If that something is just a second wave of more powerful Vertex… I’m dropping the show from my review list. If that something twists our expectations for the protecting god or what the Hero Club believes to be truth, then I’ll keep up with it.

Okay YYwYdA, next week is your judgement hours!

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