Sword Art Online: Alicization – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

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Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 25 – Out Of Many, One

This episode is one story after another of humans continuing to put aside their differences to unite against the existential threat of Fiamma. After Mugino’s big cathartic blow-out, Takitsubo emerges unharmed. When three Bad Dudes attack them, Hamazura provides the bait, coming at them directly, while Takitsubo holds Mugino up and helps her aim from afar. ITEM is back, baby!

Accel and Worst had already joined forces, and I have to say they make a hilarious team, what with all the scowls, aggression, and love of villainy. Worst extracts the song from the Mikasa Network, and Accel proceeds to use the parchments and all of his amassed knowledge to modify the song in order to heal Last Order, which he then sings! He may have sworn to become “the ultimate villain” to save her, but if there’s no more need for him to be villainous, he’s content with simply being…Accelerator.

Back to the Star of Bethlehem, where Fiamma and a suddenly not outmatched Touma bicker about whether the true nature of humanity is wholly evil, or a heck of a lot more complicated than that. Touma’s obviously pushing the latter theory, and it bears out in many ways around them. WWIII hasn’t drawn out the amount of evil Fiamma expected. On the contrary, the emrgence of giant right arms brings opposing human forces together on the battlefield, where the means of theirfoes’ survival is the same as their own.

Magical and Scientific humans, and even the Roman, Russian, and English churches join forces to bring down Fiamma’s fortress by cancelling the intertwined spells that keep it together. You could say the entire reason for him being able to build the Star was the same reason it was vulnerable to outside destruction: when it was built those three churches were opposed, but now that Fiamma has presented a threat equally disastrous to them all, they’ve put aside their worldly differences.

As the fortress starts to crumble around them, the product of an amassing of human goodwill on a scale he himself summoned, all Fiamma can seem to do is fume over how badly things are going for him. Touma tells him if he really cares about defeating the evil in the world he should be glad that goodwill is winning out. But Fiamma has one more ace of his Venetian pajama sleeve—though it’s not a part of his original plan.

Turns out the evil that was unleashed during the war he started and the subsequent summoning of angel and building of the Star have all resulted in an “unnatural distortion” developing between heaven and earth, which will result in a potentially civilization-ending amount of telesma is about to be released from above. Fiamma tells Touma that he and his meddling human friends are too late. But c’mon, it’s never too late when Biribiri has yet to take the stage.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 18 (Fin) – No Time To Worry About Getting Lonely

Just when Habara is about to open the Moon Temple, he’s stopped—by the real King of Distortion, in the flesh, inhabiting the body of Tanaka Shirou, who was beside him all along. The King “collaborated” with the late Teratsuki for the purposes of a grand experiment in healing the distortion in peoples’ hearts, by first drawing it out and giving it form.

In Kei’s case, the distortion is Saotome Masami, but it’s her unrequited feelings for Takeda Keiji that caused the distortion. To be more precise, it was the embarrassment from having those feelings, then creating a personality that would uphold the fiction that it didn’t matter, when all that did was bottle up her pain and facilitate the distortion.

But Kei isn’t embarrassed by her feelings anymore, and she’s done running and hiding from them. She is able to walk away from the King, who applauds her effort, and she ends up with Shirou—and Boogiepop—in the control room.

There, Boogiepop deduces that the King of Distortion has been imprecise with his abilities (see: Zooragi) because he was only recently “born” when Shirou came to the Moon Temple that morning. He was born from Shirou’s guilt over not knowing what the late Kamikishirou Naoko, whom he used to date (and who died in the Manticore incident).

Kei can attest to Shirou’s guilt and pain, but not just for not knowing what Naoko thought. Boogiepop antagonizes the King into transporting the three of them into a suspended state several hundred feet above the city, warning him that, like other possibilities that took form in the human world, if he becomes a threat she’ll deal with it.

Kei, ever the disciplinary committee president (AKA “Natural Police“) plays peacemaker, and Boogiepop follows her lead. They don’t want to fight him; they still aren’t even sure he is a threat, just a possible one. But Kei manages to “free” Shirou from the King by getting to the root of his guilt: it’s less about knowing Naoko’s heart and more about his own.

The truth is, Shirou didn’t know how he felt about Naoko, even in the end. She then tells him what she thinks Naoko would say if she were there: “Before you start worrying about other people, you need to take care of yourself!” The King suddenly plummets to the ground, and suddenly Kei is back in the control room with the code to unlock the Temple.

People start waking up and exiting the Temple, all of them with some kind of great weight they once bore having been lifted. It could be said that even though it was cut short sooner than originally desired, the King of Distortion’s experiment was a success. Sakiko bids goodbye to Boogiepop, asking what they’d do if she became an “enemy” (Boogie wouldn’t hold back, natch).

While Keiji is scouring the Temple looking for Touka, he runs into Kei, who tells him she followed someone she was worried about, but that person wasn’t Keiji. With her distortion healed, she can smile and shake hands and remain friends with Keiji without any trouble.

Keiji and Touka eventually reunite, and Touka falls asleep on Keiji’s shoulder as they take the train home. In a dream, or something else, back on that ruined earth of the distant future, Keiji climbs up a hill to meet Boogiepop, who asks “how did you know it was me?”, to which he replies that he wouldn’t mistake “a friend’s face.” Like the King with Shirou, Touka is Boogie’s vessel in the human world, and Keiji is dating Touka. That’s never not going to be an interesting experience.

And that’s all for Boogiepop wa Warawanai, a bizarre, ambitious, and intriguing show that asked big questions and wasn’t afraid to philosophize at great length in between spurts of action. It was a pleasantly offbeat show in the same vein as Sakurada Reset, Subete ga F ni Naru,  or ACCA, other shows that are comfortable and confident spinning dense tapestries of their own quirky reality.

Domestic na Kanojo – 12 (Fin) – Turning Pain Into Art

When Hina is caught, she doesn’t hesitate to be the adult and put herself at the mercy of her superiors. Sure, it probably wasn’t a good idea to sleep with a student in front of a window while on a school trip, but she doesn’t want that to affect her stepbrother’s future.

So she leaves the school, accepting a transfer far away, and then moves out of her apartment, all without telling Natsuo—who would have obviously tried to stop her and likely made things worse. That’s the second good move Hina made: not letting him have a say in the equation.

After reading a note in which Hina pours her heart out onto the page, Natsuo goes into a state of deep anguish, holing up in his room and not leaving. When Fumiya reads the note, he castigates Natsuo for basically wasting all of the pain and trouble Hina went through for his sake.

On a bathhouse trip with Kobayashi, the former yakuza and cafe owner tells him from experience that you can’t turn back time, and moving forward and continuing to live while shouldering his pain is the only way. But Natsuo manages to find an outlet for all that pain he’s shouldering: writing.

He stops his weekly short stories and instead starts pouring his heart onto the page, as Hina did with her farewell letter. At first it’s such a compulsive thing he doesn’t eat or sleep, but after his talk with Kobayashi he starts accepting Rui’s kindness in the form of cocoa, late night snacks, and other food to keep his health up.

On New Year’s Day, Natsuo finishes his novel, though he also lost track of the days. Rui takes him out where he meets with his friends from the lit club who were silently supporting him as he worked his shit out. Then they go to Kiriya-sensei’s house to deliver the first draft.

Some time later Natsuo is invited back to Kiriya’s on a Sunday, wondering what’s up. Kiriya has him meet Tsutaya, an editorial staff member with Shinkosha, and they go to a ceemony celebrating Natsuo’s first-place amateur award for his novel, which Kiriya secretly submitted.

Just as Hina had hoped, her quick action secured Natsuo’s future and ability to achieve his dream of becoming a novelist, even if it also broke both their hearts, those wounds heal, while a public school sex scandal…notsomuch!

When he gets home, Natsuo is shocked to find Hina waiting there for him…or at least he thinks it’s Hina. Turns out it’s Rui in a wig. She runs to her room to cry, because now she knows how Natsuo’s loving embrace felt to Hina. After congratulating him for his award, Rui has a proposition.

She’s done pretending to hate Natsuo, and she’s done “holding back” for Hina’s sake. When she and Natsuo made love for the first time, she didn’t think much of it, but she seems reasonably sure a second time will feel different to her, now that she has feelings for him and all.

Natsuo looks a bit overwhelmed, but if Hina truly is gone from his life forever, it’s a good idea to move on. Probably not with Rui…but I like Rui so, ah, well there it is. As Picasso said, “Art is born of your dad marrying the mother of the first girl you slept with and your longtime teacher crush.” Or something like that.

The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 24 (Fin) – Better Late Than Never

The last two weeks of 3D Kanojo: Real Girl have been odd and honestly a little frustrating. First of all, with Iroha facing a potentially life-and/or-memory-threatening medical operation, Iroha and Hikari basically break up, saying their final goodbyes.

The question I had at the end was, why? Why is Iorha cutting Hikari loose now? Certainly not to spare him the pain of losing her! And why is Hikari okay with this, and not insisting on staying by her side so she doesn’t have to face this trial alone? Then, last week, without providing a satisfying answer to that question, the show simply moves on with a HUGE leap in time, after which we learn Iroha survived the operation, but her memories didn’t.

That’s all well and good, but when they broke up, neither Iroha nor Hikari knew with 100% certainty that this would be the case. Iroha could have emerged from the operation with her memories intact, allowing them to remain the loving couple they clearly wanted to be. More troubling is the possibility that even though she lost her memories post-op, she might be more likely to regain them with her lover present (another reason I questioned them breaking up when they did).

Alas, none of that happened. And that was a little strange! But hey, sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I’m sure Hikari is well versed in this concept early in the episode, as he ponders whether it’s time to finally forget about Iroha. Who would have thought that Iroha’s brother Chika of all people would be the one to actually make the right choice at the right time?

If he wanted, Iroha would move back to L.A. and live with him. He obviously adores her. But his love is not the kind that would deprive her of that which she needed most, just for his own benefit. So after six months of being a total dick to Hikari in high school, he pulls a 180 (seven years later, for some reason) and tells Iroha why she feels there’s a big hole in her heart she’s unable to fill: there’s a guy out there who knows and understands her better than he.

So Chika arranges for Hikari and Iroha to meet—something that should have happened ages ago, mind you—and Hikari is his usual self-flagellating self. While he’s happy beyond belief that she’s alive, he stops short of giving his name. He’s prepared to let her go all over again, content that she survived. But then Iroha sees the strap on his bag that matches hers, and she suddenly remembers Tsutsun.

Hikari was ready to let her go because he feels he didn’t deserve to have her remember him (always nailing himself to the cross, Hikari). There’s definitely a case to be made for why he didn’t fight harder to stay by her side…or even suggest it for that matter, but one can chalk that up to Hikari being a romantic naif. But that hopelessly kind side of him is what finally causes Iroha’s memories of him to surface.

Fast-forward to Takanashi and a very pregnant Ishino’s wedding, where we’re introduced to 25-year-old Itou (who’s not that different), but no Ayado (it’s as if she was written off the show!), and during which Hikari of all people accidentally catches the bouquet. That’s right about when Ishino discovers one of her wedding guests is none other than Iroha.

It goes without saying that she, Takanashi, and Itou are beyond elated to see her, and simply by reuniting with them, Iroha is able to remember bits and pieces of her old friends (which, again, if only she’d done this years ago her memories would already be back!)

At the reception, we finally learn that Ayado married someone else, and simply couldn’t make it to the wedding. After the reception, Hikari tells Iroha they should get together again sometime, even if she’s going back to L.A. That’s when Iroha tells him she’s remembered more—a lot more—about the person she was, and how she was once terrible.

At first, dating him was only about curiosity than actually caring about him, but that soon changed when she got to know him, and being with him changed her as well, for the better. She now remembers those six months with him were the happiest of her life. Hikari feels the same way, and if he ever found out she was alive again, he’d always hoped she’d fall in love with him again.

Hikari doesn’t want her to go back to Los Angeles after all, and so does something he should have done seven frikkin’ years ago, and what he needs to to do stay by her side: he tells her not to go back. As Iroha feels the same way, she wholeheartedly agrees.

Fast-forward to another wedding, this time, that of Iroha and Hikari. Ayado is there—with long hair! Everyone’s doing the opposite length of what they had in high school, apparently—and not only that, she’s recently divorced! Itou, in his eternal awkwardness, sees this as an immediate opportunity to ask her out to dinner!

Thankfully poor Ayado is spared having to respond when the bride and groom appear. Hikari’s family is there, and even Kaoru is blushing a bit while their folks are crying tears of joy, and Chika is there too, good sport that he is—heck, Hikari and Iroha owe their joyful reunion entirely to him not being a total dick for once.

I still shrug at the point of the seven-year gap, which in hindsight seemed only to inflate the drama of the lovers’ inevitable reunion, but it happened so fast it didn’t quite land. Also in hindsight, I appreciated the ambition that went into such a development.

Let’s say Hikari and Iroha didn’t break up, and Hikari stayed by her side throughout the operation and immediate recovery. I posit there’d still be plenty of drama to be mined from the period immediately following the surgery when Hikari would have to wait and see not only if Iroha would live, but would return to being the Iroha he knew and loved. That would have been a smaller-scale denouement, but still effective.

Still, had it stayed in their high-school years we wouldn’t have witnessed their wedding, or that of Ishino and Takanashi, or their little one, or see Itou ask the recently-divorced Ayado out on a date at a wedding! So I’m content to say MEDETASHI MEDETASHI.

 

TenSura – 24.5 – Recap

Ifrit finds himself trapped within Rimuru and meets Veldora Tempest, who forces him to play shogi since it’s not as fun playing alone. As they play and chat, the events of the last 24 episodes run by…and that’s about it.

I’ve been made aware that the manga has “Veldora’s Journal” entries at the end that similarly recap what’s happened in the story so far, but there wasn’t really anything I had forgotten or needed to be reminded of, making this episode rather superfluous after the first couple minutes.

Another somewhat puzzling capper to a season that felt like it needed two or three fewer episodes than it got.

Dororo – 12 – The Consequences Of Sacrifice

Father and discarded son finally meet face to face, and all Daigo can say is “Why aren’t you dead?” and call Hyakkimaru a “half-born demon child.” It’s pretty harsh, but not at all surprising considering those words are coming from the man who fed his firstborn to demons.

As long as Hyakkimaru is alive, Daigo cannot have confidence in the future of his domain. The mere fact he is alive is proof that the deal is in the process of being destroyed, as evidenced by all the lord’s misfortune of late. Of course, he deserves all the misfortune coming to him.

Hyakkimaru skitters off when Daigo’s men launch arrows at him, while elsewhere Dororo and Sukeroku are taken prisoner and stashed in a cave. After trying to comfort Sukeroku (who found his village only to find it destroyed and his mom likely dead), Dororo slips out of a Dororo-sized hole, promising to find Hyakkimaru so they can save everyone.

Tahoumaru, having received testimony from the midwife, confronts his mother, who does not dispute the terrible accusations, and indeed has never for one day forgotten what was done. Tahoumaru can’t believe his parents would do something so monstrous, but that just goes to show you how much he idolizes his great lord father.

Daigo tells Tahoumaru of the hellish times before he was born, and how sacrificing his first son was the only way to stave off the utter ruin of his domain. Tahoumaru rightly rejects the notion his dad’s motivation was anything other than the desire for power and prosperity. He notes the appalling amorality of the action.

His protestations fall on deaf ears. Lord Daigo believes he is a lord because he was given choices and made the decisions that he made. The ends justify the means, and in any case, it’s too late to undo what he did because to do so would mean sacrificing the welfare of the domain for one person: Hyakkimaru.

Daigo made a terrible choice, and he knew it was terrible, but to him not sacrificing his son would have been more terrible. Thus, if he had the choice, he’d likely do it again. He tells Tahoumaru if he wishes to cancel the deal with the demons, he can go to the Hall of Hell to do so, but rightly assumes his son won’t do anything (in any case the hall spits him and his aides out with a gust of wind).

Dororo reunites with Hyakkimaru and connects the dots that Daigo and Tahoumaru are Hyakkimaru’s father and brother, something he’s actually cheerful about because he doesn’t know the truth, but also because Dororo’s family was so loving and he longs to have them back.

By the time they find Sukeroku, the kid is already tied to the Banmon with other hostages as an overture to a battle between Daigo’s armies and those of Asakura. Among the combatants is one of the men who burned killed Mio and burned her orphanage; Dororo has to hold him back to stop him from proving to all assembled that he truly is a demon.

Tahoumaru arrives on the battlefield, and while he acknowledges what was done to his brother is wrong, the preservation of the domain and its people takes precedence over one life, even if it is his brother. So, the two fight, as the Banmon ghouls gather, picking off soldiers and eventually combining to form Kyubi.

Hyakkimaru eventually slices Tahoumaru’s eye, but then their mother Oku arrives, to ask forgiveness of Hyakkimaru; not just for herself, but on behalf of her husband, her other son, and all the people of the domain who owe each day of their prosperity to Hyakkimaru’s long suffering. If no one else will take responsibility, she will, and does—by stabbing herself.

It would seem the demons accept her as a sacrifice to their appetites, as their power seems to increase immediately after Oku’s stabbing, to the point the Banmon crumbles to the ground, forcing Daigo and his men to retreat with Tahoumaru and Oku.

Things calm down from there, and there’s even a happy note to an otherwise ominous ending, as Sukeroku reunites with his mother and other villagers who had been hiding. Dororo notes that even Sukeroku and his mom are only alive thanks to Daigo’s cruel, heinous deed.

Dororo then reiterates his intention to stick with Hyakkimaru no matter what, even if his blood relations continue to reject him. In a world full of moral shades of gray, their bond as brothers-from-another-mother (though one is actually a sister) is thankfully absolute. Will they be enough to stand against the relentlessly turning wheels of destiny?

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 24 – Renouncement And Forgiveness

When Accelerator finds Last Order and Worst, banged up but alive, Hyouka stops by before phasing out to tell him the data to save the little one, like the song once used to save Index, is somewhere in the network, waiting to be extracted and reconfigured. Worst can access the network to find the song, but when asked how he’ll change the parameters, Accel produces the parchment he’s been carrying.

Meanwhile, Hamazura has survived the blast, but instead of Takitsubo, he encounters Mugino in disguise. She swallows a whole handful of ability crystals and goes berserk, with Hamazura barely able to dodge her massive green beam attacks until she basically burns out.

At this point, Hamazura could kill her, but instead he gathers her into a hug, asks for the fighting and death feuds to end, and for the remaining members of ITEM to forgive and unite once more. Before that can happen, they need to escape Academy City’s bombers. But if Mugino indeed stops hunting Hamazura, then progress has definitely been made here.

As Stiyl continues to struggle for a way to free Index from her trance and Laura stands by not helping at all, Lessar and Sasha come to an agreement whereby Lessar will help the Russian sorcerers escape the Star of Bethlehem before shit starts going down, in exchange for them and Sasha helping Britain out next time they’re in a spot.

It’s a crucial gesture of peace and cooperation between two warring foes in a world war started by Fiamma. The remaining half of the episode is spent on his one-on-one confrontation with Touma.

With the dual powers of he Right Hand of God and the grimoires within Index, Fiamma starts by simply having a little bit of fun using various overpowered attacks against Touma, seeing if he can dodge or absorb everything with his Imagine Breaker. Fiamma also describes the current world like a mechanism or watch whose parts are hopelessly rusted and bent.

Project Bethlehem will restore the world to the way it was, which of course means brushing aside most if not all human civilization and industry. This is a personal project, as Fiamma now sees himself as beyond any one faith. It’s actually quite a shock to see Fiamma suddenly slice off Touma’s arm, turning Touma into a crumbled mess of a blood fountain as he absorbs the arm into his own giant hand.

It was around this time that I thought the killing blow to Touma would be stopped by Misaka, but she’s still on the ground with her clone looking for a way to get up to the Star. Instead, from his bloody stump, a second giant arm and hand emerges and grapples with Fiamma’s. It wrests Touma’s arm back and reattaches it, utterly renouncing the power Fiamma offered.

This is just another demonstration that Touma’s arm is not meant save the world on its own, or do anything else that big and important. Fiamma wanted to free it from what he saw was a mundane existence attached to Touma, and a waste of its potential, but the arm thought otherwise, as does Touma.

It’s at this point Touma starts to understand that the reason Fiamma has constructed the massive Star of Bethlehem and utilized the power of so many others (by force, not fellowship), is because he’s actually afraid that he never had sufficient power to “save” the world on his own—and he’s right; he doesn’t. Touma, meanwhile, has saved countless “worlds,” the worlds of individuals who have relied on him and on whom he’s relied right back.

Like Mugino with Hamazura, only on a larger scale, Fiamma’s plotting and raging at the status quo is unnecessary and unproductive. Like her, he risks burning himself out, along with all the bridges that were built to get him to this point. Looking out at that mess of stolen churches and artifacts he’s amassed, I’m tempted for him to say “look on my works and despair” in the ironic sense Shelley intended.

I don’t know if Touma, with Misaka’s imminent help, will have to utterly destroy Fiamma or simply deliver a devastating, cathartic right hook, of if they can convince him to stand down and accept his vision for a new world ain’t gonna happen. All I know is, it’s sure to be epic.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 11 – Twitter, Ramen, And Missed Connections

This week’s collection of stories vary wildly in tone from ludicrous to serious to unabashedly earnest and poignant—and that’s all fine, since it depicts the reality of high school life, it’s highs, lows, and MEHs. First, due to their stubborn refusal to make the first move, both Kaguya and Miyuki are letting the sand pour away in the hourglass of summer without meeting up.

When Kaguya learns Hayasaka is following Miyuki on Twitter, she decides to sign up to mitigate her loneliness. Her appalling lack of IT skills (beyond speed typing) mean poor Hayasaka’s much-needed replenishing bath is being constantly interrupted by Kaguya panicked cries for assistance. In the end, Kaguya runs into the same issue as texting or calling: she has to make the first move to follow Miyuki (garnering her mental image of Miyuki saing “how cute” for once).

Alas, she’s unable to do so and risk breaking the stalemate. She and Miyuki might describe the importance of to winning the “war of love” and preserving their pride through inaction, but the “war” is Pyrrhic, and their pride only a thin facade barely concealing their fear. Hayasaka muses at how happy they’d be if they simply acted on their obvious mutual feelings, and is envious of the depth of those feelings.

Part Two is from the POV of a “ramen connoisseur” who treats the acts of ordering, seasoning, and eating ramen as a kind of war all its own. When Chika enters the same shop, he assumes she’s lost, but all of her actions suggest a fellow connoisseur, one of “his people.”

Even when she seemingly makes missteps that detract from his respect for her, she surprises both him and the chef with increasingly choice moves, from choosing super-firm noodles that will withstand the “mini-ramen” method, crushing garlic into the broth, and even draining the bowl like a boss, something that makes the aging dude recall his youth when sodium intake was of no concern.

Chika is adorable and awesome throughout the segment in which she attains an easy victory, living her best summer life while her president and vice-president wallow in their dark rooms. One day it finally becomes too much, and both of them don their uniforms and go to school in hopes of possibly meeting the other there.

They both have the right idea, but the wrong timing, as Kaguya has already departed the office by the time a winded Miyuki gets there by bike. The ennui and melancholy so very palpable in this gorgeous third segment that takes its time, and in which no one wins. The solution to seeing each other (something both want very badly) is to simply shoot a quick text to each other, but because neither can do that, they fail to meet. The pointless war continues.

Post-credits we get a surprise fourth-segment, narrated entirely by Kaguya in monologue. She describes all of the things that have kept her, the privileged daughter of a very wealthy man, from living a normal girl’s life and experiencing the simple things people like Chika take for granted.

The segment makes no attempt to hide Kaguya’s ornate, grandiose lifestyle, but also never fails to make us sympathize with her. The lack of warmth, love, or even the sharing of a damn room with her father, who summoned her to the main house for a two-second exchange, causing her to abandon shopping plans with Chika, her sister, and Kei, is particularly devastating, as is Hayasaka’s holding of her hand for emotional support.

The segment thankfully ends on a triumphant note: no longer will Kaguya have to settle for the view of distant lights from her giant, lonely bedroom window; she’s going to the festival to see them up close, with people she cares about and who care about her in return. Maybe, just maybe, an armistice in the war of love can be reached…