BokuBen 2 – 03 – Lifesaving Bangs

Rizu, feeling like her bangs are getting a bit long, aims to trim them…a bit, but thanks to her dad surprising her, she cuts off a bit more than a bit. Fumino and Uruka’s mixed reaction doesn’t help matters, but it’s around Nariyuki whom Rizu feels most self-conscious, and so takes great pains to hide her face so he won’t notice.

When Fumino sees that Nariyuki is taking Rizu’s face-hiding as a sign she hates him, she removes her ridiculous mask, only for Nariyuki not to notice any change whatsoever. Rizu hates the contradiction of being upset that he didn’t, but he’s determined to figure out what the change is, and eventually redeems himself.

In addition to keeping his promise to call her by her given name, he tells her how her facial expressions have changed since they first started studying together. While she once looked sullen and detached, now her face is more bright animated, even joyful. Not even caring about her bangs anymore, Rizu deems him correct…just not in the way she expected.

We stay with Rizu as the episode’s focus, but the POV shifts to her self-appointed rival (and not-so-secret admirer), Sekijo Sawako. Earlier, their soulmate status was confirmed when they changed hairstyles on the same day (even though Rizu’s was an accident), and when Sawako notices Rizu’s pen case getting a little tatty, she offers to take her shopping for a new one.

The next day, after obsessive minute-to-minute preparation and anticipation that kept her up all night, requiring at least nine cans of coffee, the two meet up for their long-awaited date. But after plying Rizu with at least 2,000 calories in snacks, Sawako spots Nariyuki, and determines she needs to put “Rizu’s happiness first” by cutting their date short and letting Rizu go with Nariyuki.

Both Rizu and Nariyuki are confused by this move, and Sawako ends up sulking at a claw machine, remembering her middle school days when her high test scores would annoy her less brainy classmates.

It wasn’t until she took an exam beside her that Sawako met Rizu and became absolutely enthralled and inspired by her “cool beauty” attitude, calmly calling out the dumb boys. From that point on Sawako gained more confidence in herself and started to care less and less about what they thought…all thanks to Rizu.

Sawako explains all this to Nariyuki when he comes looking for her, and that she believes Rizu “saved her life” with her inspirational attitude. Rizu, who was also looking for Sawako, hears the tail end of this, but rather than being insulted, she’s actually glad that something she considered a weakness—not being great at reading people’s feelings—was seen as a strength and inspiration by Sawako.

Sawako’s tsundere antics can be tiresome, and I’m not sure we needed her to fall on Rizu, grabbing her boob and exposing her own underwear in the process, but I was glad to get her backstory and motivations for why she treats Rizu as both a rival and kind of soul mate and lodestar. I also appreciate that like Fumino she’s aware of the potential of a Rizu x Nariyuki, even if those two remain as clueless as ever.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!