Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 08

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Whoa…Déjà vu…sorta but not quite! After much foreshadowing and foreboding, we’ve returned (arrived?) at the day before Kaori’s tragic death-by-runaway bus, which is when the first episode started. The most noticable difference between this timeline and that one is, obviously, the presence of Yui. Everything seemingly reset when she showed up in Sou’s arms. Now we’ll see if her actions of the last six episodes paid off and if Kaori was saved this time.

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For the record, I must confess that I loved Suzumiya Haruhi’s infamous “Endless Eight” arc, partially because I love anything that involves time travel. Unlike E8, a lot of time has passed since the first time we saw these events, so while the settings and conversations and general timing of the days are familar, they’re not fresh in our mind, and in any case all the details are different; even little details like what Sou buys for lunch.

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A bigger difference is the influence Yui has had. While her primary mission seems to be protecting Kaori, that’s made more difficult by Kaori considering her competition. As the episodes have progressed, Yui has grown closer and closer to Sou, and Kaori doesn’t like it.

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But she couldn’t do anything about it until the day they see the stars, because that’s when she confessed to Sou in the last go-round. Unfortunately, something Yui can’t control is how the Sou of this time responds to Kaori’s confession, which stays exactly the same: he doesn’t give her a straight answer and Kaori gives him time.

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Even though a weight has been lifted from her shoulders, the fact she doesn’t have an answer from Sou keeps things awkward, and keeps it difficult for either Yui or Sou to stay close and keep an eye on her.

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It hardly helps matters when Kaori spots Yui talking animatedly with a blushing Sou while gazing into his eyes in the hall. Sure, they’re talking about Sou and her, but she can’t hear from that distance, and in any case she knows what she sees in Yui, because she sees it in the mirror everyday: love. Yui can’t hide it, and that plays heavily into the failure of her mission.

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Pissed off at the world, Kaori rebels a little, flaking out on Yui and going off to sing karaoke with classmates. Her conscience makes her eventually turn around and head back, but by then, Yui has gone after her. Then Kaori heads to the site of her previous death, and while again, the details are slightly different, things end the same way: very, very badly.

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When this happened in the first week, it was a bold play that elevated the show. So dark and morose and terrible was that hospital scene, that it’s no surprise it effected us just as much as it did last time, if not moreso. We were hoping, hoping Kaori’s mother wouldn’t collapse to the floor in grief this time. When she did, our hearts sank all over again.

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With that, we cut back to the lab where Yui floats in a glowing blue tube, and hear the voice of Sou call her name before the credits roll, and the questions come rushing up: was this the first time? The last time? Why Yui? How and when did she originally meet Sou? Will things reset again, or will we see more of this timeline? Can the future even be changed, or will the universe keep finding ways for Kaori to die on that day, having never gotten an answer from Sou?

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 07

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Franklin is unavailable to review F/sn today, so I’m filling in for him, which is why I let Zane review Gundam. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Emiya Shirou has been defined so far by many qualities common in shounen heroes: empathy for one’s fellow man; a penchant for rushing into things half-cocked; a propensity for bleeding a lot, and, of course, game-changing luck. I seem to share that last quality with Shirou, as I got an episode containing two battles for the price of one, plus a third that wasn’t a surprise in that it happened, just that it happened so soon after all the other craziness.

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The episode starts fast as Assassin dances with Saber. I particularly like how they’re so different despite bearing the same general weapon, and how each is bemused by what they perceive to be disadvantages. Assassin is impressed the flashy but bulky knight in shining plate has such good moves, and Saber is impressed this man of slight build is so tough. His trickery is also enough to stand against all her higher levels, be they strength, speed, or agility.

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While the battle on the temple steps is turning into one of mutual warrior respect, there’s plenty of mutual contempt distributed among the three fighters gathered in the main courtyard. Archer ostensibly came to rescue Shirou, but he’s not there to defeat Caster, even though she’s a loose cannon who’s killing innocent people. If Shirou had Archer’s power here and now, he’d probably use it to rid the world of Caster once and for all. But he’s just not looking at the big picture.

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Caster’s in a sporting mood, and lets Archer give her his best shot — and he fells her in an instant in a move of stunning quickness and precision. But Caster won’t actually fall that easily. Her ‘corpse’ vanishes and she coalesces up in the sky and starts raining mana beams upon Archer. Test failed, laments Caster; he’s worse than Assassin and of no use to her.

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Shirou’s problem with Archer is that he’s willing to let Caster go and keep killing people because she’ll eventually grow strong enough to defeat Berserker, at which point they’ll deal with Caster then. They’re not disagreeing that Caster needs to go; it’s a matter of timing and details. Even if Archer’s position is logically sound, Shirou won’t accept it; he doesn’t want to sacrifice even a few to save many.

In this latest spot of his, he’s forgotten the words of his father: You cannot save someone without not saving another, and that other can only be yourself once, and then you’re dead and can’t save anyone.

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An an episode full of phenomenally quick, smooth, impressive action, one centerpiece is Archer loosing Caladbolg at Caster, which looks very much like a crippling blow, but unlike a more stylized show with a smaller budget like Kill la Kill, F/sn avoids cartoonishness and can really geek out with the gravity and particle physics of the attack. The attention to detail in mere moments of combat or action do not go unnoticed, or unappreciated.

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It also distinguishes itself with juicy lines like the above, which is precisely how I’d imagine Assassin would say “Well, shit.” Bottom line: his “master” Caster is in a bad way, so he’s through playing with Saber and chooses whip out his hidden ability, “Concealed Sword.”

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I tell ya, you really gotta watch out for those dimensional-refraction phenomena. Saber probably comes closer than usual to losing her life in the stealthy but devastaing blow, which is really three simultaneous blows in one breath (shades of Katanagatari), a seeming impossibility his no-longer-human status affords him. But she survives it, falling back on those superior stats of hers (they’re good for something), impressing Assassin even more.

Meanwhile, Archer’s Caladbolg changed Caster’s mind about him: maybe he can be useful to her, and invites him and Shirou to join her. Both obviously refuse, but for different reasons: Shirou doesn’t want anything to do with an indiscriminate killer like her; Archer is more pragmatic: she’s not powerful enough to justify joining. The overarching irony of this negotiation, of course, is that Archer is the one who aims to use Caster to defeat Berserker, in the unsavory manner Shirou so objects to.

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Still, when Archer lets Caster withdraw, and further explains his plans to end the war, Shirou cannot abide it, and throws a Shounen Punch, which Archer catches easily. But as small an ineffective as that blow may have been, to Archer it was something of a last straw, the end of the extension of Shirou’s truce with Rin he had been honoring to that point, and the beginning of the third battle I mentioned earlier.

To Archer, Shirou is a child and a fool who, if left unchecked, will not only ruin the proper path to victory, but getting more people kill in the process than if he’d done nothing. For that reason, Archer decides to kill him right then and there, an action he takes with the same precision and conviction as everything else he’s done and said.

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Yet, interestingly, he does not cut deep enough to kill Shirou instantly…either that, or Shirou is so Goddamn lucky Archer couldn’t kill him in one blow even though he intended to. Either way, Shirou is able to crawl to the temple stairs, where Saber spots him, breaks off her fight with Assassin, and catches him in her arms.

It’s in that moment that I realize just how damned close these two pairs had been fighting; how close the courtyard was to the stairs. And yet the editing of the episodes made them feel like they were worlds away, because in a way, they were: Saber wasn’t getting past Assassin without his leave, and now she finally has it.

It’s also great how Assassin, who as I said embraced his non-humanity to perfect his Concealed Sword, falls victim to the humanity he still possesses. Watching Saber, whom he already regards as both a worthy and attractive opponent, retreat and rush to Shirou’s aid proves a more effective in momentarily throwing him off his game than any of her sword strikes to that point.

With Caster no longer in danger and the desire to fight her when she’s at full strength, Assassin lets her go. When Archer jumps in to try to kill her and finish Shirou, Assassin comes between them; he said they could go, and he makes sure they do.

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After all that, one would hope Shirou’s mindset would change a bit, and he’d realize even with his impressive stores of luck he’s going to end up dead if he keeps going the way he has.

If, after all, Archer wasn’t 100% serious about killing him, than one could argue his intention was to scare Shirou straight; showing him how useless his ideals are without the strength to back them up. For his part, it looks like Shirou is taking the experience as a lesson. Heck, he doesn’t even consider what Archer did a betrayal, since it was Rin he forged the alliance with.

(By the way, what Shirou was up to this week was far more interesting than Rin, who was just asleep in bed the whole time! That being said, the dreamlike sequence that wakes her up was hauntingly beautiful.)

Shirou needs to become stronger before he can even think about sacrificing himself to save others, or at least minimizing the casualties Caster and Archer don’t care about. To that end, he asks Saber to teach him how to fight properly, making Saber very happy in the process.

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Sword Art Online II – 20

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Asuna’s takeover of SAO II continues this week, much to my approval. When Zekken Yuuki whisks her off, I was partially expecting something more sinister than a guild of friends wanting to make memories before they have to split ways in the Spring, but it still worked incredibly well, because, Asuna was the anchor.

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Yuuki was dueling people in search of a seventh member to join the six of the Sleeping Knights – the smallest party allowed to fight a boss, and she chose Asuna to be that seventh. It’s while hanging with them that she realizes “Hey, this isn’t Aincrad anymore. My life isn’t literally at risk; I can let my hair down, go all out, and have fun!” It’s a liberating feeling.

I like the idea of this Asuna-for-hire. With her skills, exp, and rep, she can basically get work wherever and whenever she wants in ALOIt’s a similar situation in the real world in that she has the ability to be and be with whoever she wants…only in the real world, others are calling the shots for her.

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That point is made clear with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when, still beaming after meeting her new friends and agreeing to fight with them, her mom literally pulls the plug, because Asuna is hella late for dinner. It’s telling that its hard for Mom to wake her up gently, almost as if Asuna’s subconscious self doesn’t want to leave.

Pulling the plug is the only way to pull her out. Her mom is annoyed, but she’s also concerned about Asuna’s priorities, and her continued reliance on a device that stole two valuable years of her life. Still disoriented from being pulled out so roughly, “This isn’t like the NerveGear,” is all Asuna can muster. That distinction means nothing to Mom, but a multitude to us, knowing what she went through. What Mom can’t grasp is that for two years, Aincrad was her daughter’s reality.

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Depriving her of ALO, especially right now when she’d finding herself again, is to deprive her of the means to heal the psychological wounds of the NerveGear, and transition to the mindset mentioned above, that it is just a game, not life and death. Coming to grips with that and making that her new normal is a large step in re-establishing the real world as her primary reality.

Even if her mom was in the mood to listen, Asuna lacks the means to properly explain why she needs this; their experience gap is just too wide. And if Asuna’s late for dinner again, Mom is taking the machine away, period. Asuna is trapped again, and runs out of the house. Looking at her missed calls, a snowflake settles on Kirito, the boy her mother won’t let her have.

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But Asuna, to her credit, doesn’t call Kirito. The next day, she dives into ALO, meets with Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, and go over the gameplan: they’ll hit the labyrinth and look in on the boss, and if the conditions are right, they’ll have a go at him too. She’d never betray it to her new friends, but Asuna may benefit from a quick mission here, as she’s not sure when that plug will be pulled at any time.

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The strong and balanced Sleeping Knights end up impressing Asuna with how quickly they carve through the labyrinth, but her skills come in handy early when she detects scouts from a rival guild spying on them behind shrouds of invisibility. Interestingly, though the boss makes a badass entrance, we don’t see the fight at all, but they end up losing badly.

That feels like a cheat until Asuna takes the group aside and warns them that their battle was watched by the rival scouts’ lizard familiar, which explains why their last two boss losses resulted in that boss being defeated quickly soon after. The Sleeping Knights are so into the fights, they never noticed they were doing all the heavy lifting revealing the weaknesses to their rivals. Pretty dastardly, isn’t it?

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Asuna, again taking charge, cheers the group by saying it’s not too late to avoid a third theft of their rightful glory: if they hit the dungeon and defeat the boss before the rival guild can mobilize, they’ll their names carved on the memorial wall after all.

When they return to the boss, the partially-amassed rival guild blocks their way and won’t budge. From Yuuki’s perspective, there’s only one thing for it: fighting them. She walks up to the biggest, toughest member of their guild and takes him out in three blinks of an eye. It’s a nice reminder of just how tough this girl is.

In the process, Yuuki tells Asuna “some things can only be understood through fighting”,  and suddenly Asuna thinks of her protracted battle with her mother in the real world. Because words are the only weapon she can use out there, her Mom will never truly understand her.

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That’s not to mean she and her mom need to go have at it in the dojo, of course, but it does explain their impasse. Also, there are other kinds of fighting. I’m also mindful of the fact that Asuna’s mom is out there and doesn’t understand her, but someone who is probably her sister (she’s not called Yuuki for nothing) is in here, and does.

Yuuki’s words galvanize Asuna, such that even when the rival guild’s reinforcements arrive and prepare a pincer attack, and they’re outnumbered dozens to one, Asuna is not fearful. She puts her wand away, draws her sword, and gets ready to rumble. This is where she wants to be, right here and now: fighting beside her new friends. Even if they lose this battle — and they’re probably going to lose this battle — they’ll dust themselves off, come back, and win next time.

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Really the only thing that would make this better for her is if she were having this battle with people closer to her, like, say…this guy. Oh, hey, there he is, right on cue, hiding among the ranks of the charging rival guild members, Yui perched on his shoulder.

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Don’t be mistaken: Kirito isn’t here to rescue the Damsel in Distress and fight so she doesn’t have to…not this time. This time he’s here simply to even the very uneven odds in her present battle. He’ll take on one part of the rival host, while she and the Sleeping Knights can push through the other and fight the boss.

Because of the distinction in how he’s he’s utilized here, I’m not miffed in the least by his presence. It’s a good use for Kirito at a good time. Just being there reminds Asuna that she isn’t alone, those she loves have her back, and her own battles aren’t over and lost yet, either in here or out in the world.

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Gundam: G no Reconguista – 09

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Hmm…the Megafauna doesn’t look half-bad from that angle. Not a bad-looking dock carved into the mountain, either.

For reasons that will become clearer later today, Hannah has asked I, Zane, to take over her Gundam review this week. “It’s practically a comedy at this point anyway,” she said to me. Well, then! I haven’t watched nearly as much Gundam as Han or Fran, I’ve been reading her reviews and know that not knowing precisely what’s going on or why is not necessarily a bad thing with this show.

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Don’t make faces! If you don’t like the truth, then change! Actually, this was a far less chaotic episode than the last few, and provided a grand sense of adventure as the Megafauna leaves port and heads south to meet with the Capitals under a flag of truce guaranteed by Bell’s mom. After all, if there’s a threat in space, its better to deal with it from a united front.

That, and America and Capital haven’t really given us any satisfactory answer for why they’re even fighting all the time (other than ‘because’)…so why not quit it?

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*BOP.* “Hee-hee! Whacking people in the back of the skull with a water ball is fun!”

I also kinda like how this huge, menacing pirate ship, the Megafauna, simply flies in under the radar into an enemy port, but only causes mild concern as it buzzes the rural locals (little kids freak out, but little kids freak out about EVERYTHING). Also, the face that they landed so Director Zenam could find a land line to call the Capital Guard to rendezvous with her. Sometimes old ways are the best ways…old phones don’t need electricity, for instance!

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As for barf bags having to be brown paper…that’s just a silly anachronism! Curse this farce of a Gundam with its primative barf bags! But kudos to Aida’s dad, who is if nothing else a gentleman. Maybe these two can get married and then Bellri and Aida will be siblings!

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Well…that would probably be pretty weird, as these two seem to have a sorta kinda thing going. Bell compliments Aida’s piloting prowess…

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…Only for Aida to say she just plain sucks without Bell bailing her out when the Mask squad arrives to harry them. C’mon, girl, you sell yourself short!

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So…you’re saying if you can’t see a person, you’re fine with horribly murdering the unseen pilot inside? Okay, got it.

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I’m inclined to agree! WTF is Mask up to? The answer is, not much. He gets his ass kicked yet again and his squad withdraws yet again. I guess they wanted an aerial combat scene somewhere this week, but didn’t care whether it had anything to do with the other events of the episode. Moving on…

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While the Capital Army harasses the Megafauna during its cruise, the Capital Guard is much nicer and more accomodating, as Instructor Kerbes Yoh makes the rendezvous as Director Zenam instructed and escorts them to a safe landing site. From there, the gang takes the very silly, needlessly bouncy F-Rugs into the city, where something akin to Mari Gras or Carnival is going on!

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Aww, don’t be a stick-in-the-mud, Aida’s dad! I thought you were cool! The Capitals work hard and they party hard. I like the idea that there is no one on duty watching the radar or skies for enemy activity either form the North or from space. It’s Saturday, woot woot!

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Even Colonel Cumpa has ditched his wedding cake-like duty uniform for a puffy frilly party shirt! Though, it seems like he’s so sick of all these drunk shorties at this point in the evening. DON’T FLAUNT YOUR YOUTH BEFORE ME.

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Raraiya is sporting her midriff-bearing outfit this week.

We hear about “SU Cordism” a lot, which is kind of the church of the earth but also the monopolstic provider of photon batteries. The elder Zenam and Surgan beseech His High Cordist Holiness for council on that mysterious threat from space. At least here, through these tow, the rival sides are cordial and civil and working towards a mutually beneficial outcome.

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“KIDS.”

Then Cumpa comes in, having changed into his uniform, along with Yoh and guards who take Bell away. Aida, Noredo and Rara tag along. Did they find out he killed Dellensen, and is he under arrest? Or do they just need him for something real fast. It’s not exactly clear, as so little is on this show. Still, I was pleased with the advancement of the plot, along with the fun journey home.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 28

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There’s a basic sincerity to ATM!. For all the panty shots, unintended compromising positions Tenchi ends up in, and occasionally clunky delivery of plot or exchanges of dialogue, it’s heart is almost always in the right place. It’s not just here to titillate us or make us laugh; it wants us to care about its characters too, because they care about each other. Specifically, Tenchi cares about his students, and won’t sit by while one sits on the roof suffering.

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Kinojou Beni’s story isn’t complicated: she came to this planet charged with protecting Momo and hence possessing immense strength, but she lost her memories and fell in with the sworn enemy of Momo’s Student Council. She knows she’s not a normal human, and she fears truly hurting someone someday with her power. Someone…not Tenchi.

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When Tenchi arrived, it set something into motion for Beni: suddenly, there was someone else with freakish strength, who stands (or tries to stand) alone, above all the warring clubs and school rivalries. Only unlike her, he almost never uses them, except to prevent harm or protect others. She resents his passivity, and wont say anything to him unless he demonstrates his strength, which means swinging her spiked club at him.

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Tenchi won’t rise to her violence, however, and the precise thing she fears occurs when Momo suddenly pops on the roof to see what the ruckus is about. Tenchi manages to block the terrifying blow, and he and the two girls end up on the ground, and appear to be sharing a loving embrace, but we know Tenchi is only holding them to protect them. Such subtleties do not move Kurihara-sensei, who drags Tenchi away.

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That leaves Beni with Momo, who takes her hand, concerned about her cuts. In that moment, Beni gets a flash from the past of a baby clutching her finger in apparent friendship. But Momo backs away from Momo, either unready to remember or unwilling to risk hurting her again. What she hasn’t grasped yet is that maybe it’s okay to be friends with Momo.

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