SSSS.Gridman – 07 – City in the Sky

While the Gridman Alliance is still in force, neither Rikka nor Shou believe much of what Yuuta tells them about his encounter with the little kaiju girl and Shinjou Akane’s role in creating kaiju and destroying/rebuilding the city. They even break out kimochi warui, a famous line in Evangelion.

Yuuta knows he can only find out what’s up from Akane from Akane herself, but for a number of reasons he just can’t come out and ask her about such things. Anti also invades the school unbidden, accosts Yuuta and tries to make him “bring Gridman” so he can fight him.

Still, when the team meats up at the Junk Shop, Max admits he too saw the girl. Yuuta remains the most logical person to ask Akane, he just has to suck it up and do it. Akane makes it easy for him by being in his bedroom when he gets home, having clearly sensed that he wanted to talk at school.

Akane proposes they join forces, telling him “it will be fun with a god” while rolling around in his bed and cuddling his pillow. Ueda Reina’s lazy yet sensual delivery really pays dividends here, but Yuuta won’t be seduced; he won’t betray his friends.

Trigger then demonstrates Wes Anderson (or perhaps more appropriately, Akiyki Shinbo) levels of precision in an intricately-detailed top-down composition of Rikka reclining in her room, her various belongings strewn about or just off right angles.

I wouldn’t mind having that shot framed and put up in my living room, and it’s just an incidental scene where she gets a call from Namiko and Hass.

Akane and Yuuta go out to eat on Akane’s “friend’s” dime, and somewhat cruelly picks the restaurant of their now-dead classmate. Her friend is Alexis in the flesh (or whatever he’s made of), and he’s nothing but cordial to both Yuuta and the proprietors.

Before any pertinent discussions can take place, Yuuta’s wrist alert thingy goes off. Akane assures him there’s no kaiju out there or she’d know, but there is something out there…a weird alien-like floating ball of red energy with pointy chrome appendages.

Rikka ditches Namiko and Hass (who are taking advantage of her generosity with her notes), while Akane goes out to see what’s up, and for once, the god doesn’t know what’s going on or why.

Yuuta joins Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis, Yuuta merges with Gridman, and they blow up the…whatever. But then it rebuilds itself, gets angry, and starts darting around like a Snitch. Back home, Akane learns that Anti designed the kaiju that’s out there, with Alexis informing her that because Anti hates Gridman more, the kaiju he built is stronger. Akane is not pleased.

Despite not being at all enthusiastic about it, Sky Vitter sorties in order to link up with Gridman and give us one hell of an nighttime aerial battle. There’s a cool contrast in movement between the chunky Sky Gridman and nervously-hyper alien bogey.

Eventually, Sky Gridman soars so high, he hits a ceiling, or rather something that looks like a city in the sky (shades of Patema Inverted). Since Rikka and Shou are watching Yuuta’s progress on the computer, now they believe what he said about there being boundaries to the city.

Also up there is the kaiju “pulling the strings” of the regenerating “snitches”, along with Anti, who quickly transforms into another kaiju. Gridman and Vitter split off, with Gridman cleaving the “puppeteer” kaiju with his sword and Vitter obliterating Anti with missiles.

So Anti fails, and Alexis goes back to Akane, now convinced he needs a “ral human” to make the best kaiju, not just the person who hates Gridman most. (On a side note, Akane’s trash level is really getting out of hand). But there is now a question of whether Akane really wants to kill Yuuta.

If she did, you’d think he’d be dead by now. Maybe she just hasn’t created the right kaiju yet, but between Gridman and his Neon Genesis buddies, Yuuta will always have a fighting chance against whatever Akane can throw at him. It’s been a straight stalemate, with the only gains Akane’s made being the elimination of things in the city she doesn’t like.

But Yuuta knows he can’t keep letting her get away with that. Can she be redeemed, or will the lure of her godlike powers, augmented by Alexis and his constant egging-on, continue to consume her? On top of all that (literally), there’s the mysterious sky city. Here’s hoping we get a closer look at that soon.

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Goblin Slayer – 07 – These Things Happen

The other adventurers give their excuses for not wanting to accompany the Priestess to the baths, but she’s eventually joined by the Sword Maiden herself. She sees many small scars on her body that suggest she’s had experience dealing with goblins.

The Maiden also warns the Priestess that while Goblin Slayer is dependable, one day he’ll “disappear”, meaning she’ll have to find another strength to lean on. Sure enough, GS mails a letter to the Farm Girl; in this context it’s another death flag.

GS, armed with a canary to detect poison gas, begin mapping some ancient ruins when they find themselves suddenly trapped in a chamber and attacked with…poison gas. GS provides charcoal to filter the gas while everyone prepares for battle, and the “mastermind” of the goblins finally shows himself: a massive Goblin Champion.

The party fights well, dispatching dozens of goblins with arrow, blade, fist, rock, and bare hand. But they keep coming, and the when the Champion delivers a crippling blow to GS that sends him flying and spewing blood, the Priestess loses her concentration, the Protection field falls, and the shit well and truly hits the fan.

GS is in bad, possibly terminal shape. The Priestess pees herself and then has a chunk of her arm bitten off by the Champion. The Lizardman and Dwarf are swarmed, as is the High Elf Archer, who can’t keep the goblins from tearing her clothes off.

Finally, as he hears the screams of the Priestess, GS remembers someone mocking him for cowering and doing nothing as his mother and village were slaughtered. His hatred of those comments leads to his left eye suddenly glowing red and entring a kind of Limit Break.

Back on his feet and with a full head of steam, GS carves his way through goblins as he bull-rushes their leader, then uses the long blonde hair of a corpse to strangle him before ripping one of the Champion’s eyes out of its socket. The others free themselves from the goblins’ grasps and keep fighting; the elf unfazed by having lost her top and most all of her shorts.

They give the Lizardman time to save the Priestess’ life, and the Dwarf and Elf help GS go to her side. The Priestess apologizes for letting the Protection fall, but the GS isn’t in a prosecutory mood, saying “These things happen.” They’re his last words, as he spews one more cloud of blood and then passes out. From the reactions of all around him, and the lingering closeup of the canary’s eye, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting back up.

Did the show really just kill off its title character after just seven episodes? If so, that’s a pretty bold move. Will the Priestess, Elf, Dwarf and Lizardman carry on with their adventures without him? Will someone new take up the mantle of Goblin Slayer? Or will they somehow save the current one from near-death?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 07 – Trouble, as Usual, Finds Kirito

As Asuna has arrived at Rath and taken a seat at the table when one wasn’t offered, Kirito continues to play, or rather live, in the Underworld. Two whole years have passed since we last saw him, and his goals remain the same: to learn this new virtual game’s rules, abide by them as he and Eugeo seek Alice, and most importantly, get good enough to face any opponent that might crop up.

To that end, after winning a swordsmanship tournament, they enrolled at Swordcraft Academy in the capital Centoria, to serve as pages to their mentors. Kirito’s mentor is the Second Seat Sortilienta Serlut, or “Tiena-senpai” for short (SSSS could also work ;), ably voiced by Han Megumi. In the time he’s trained under Tiena, Kirito has learned that attaining strength in this world is, unlike SAO or ALO, as much about confidence and willpower as the hard numbers.

Since they’re now in the Big City, Kirito and Eugeo’s statuses as commoners makes them the target of pompous high class elites who are always trying to press their buttons. When Kirito showed Eugeo the progress on his garden, I thought for sure that garden was going to be destroyed by the two punks who tried to provoke Kirito in the dining hall.

Tiena can tell there’s something of Kirito’s “Aincrad Style” he’s been holding back, and she believes the key to her improving (and finally defeating First-Seat Volo Levantain…what a name) is for him to reveal to her what that is. Since training on a day of rest is forbidden (and rules aren’t broken in this world, only bent a little), he labels his last sparring session with Tiena a “graduation gift.”

But before the session, Kirito picks up a newly completed sword from the metalsmith’s which was forged from a branch of the Gigas Cedar. The resulting black/blue blade is definitely Kirito’s style, and when he successfully swings it, he even gets it free of charge.

Kirito can’t help try out sword skills he was unable to break out with a simple wooden training sword, but in his enthusiasm to do so, he gets mud on one Volo Levantain’s crisp white uniform. Volo lets him off for practicing on a day of rest (he himself finds it hard to keep back from doing that, and understands as a fellow swordsman)…but he won’t let the mud stain slide.

So he challenges Kirito to a public duel to first point (not stop short) with real swords, perhaps eager to see what he can do with his new black blade. Kirito has never defeated Liena in a training session, and she’s never defeated Volo, so his mentor is understandably nervous about what he’s getting into. As for Eugeo, he’s just surprised his friend didn’t get into trouble much earlier.

Of course, Kirito has only fought with wooden swords at Swordcraft Academy; more training tools than actual weapons. We’ll see if he gets embarrassed before his mentor, friend, and assembled fellow students (not to mention punished for breaking the sabbath), or if he’ll be able to call his new blade Volo Levanbane…should he choose to.

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

SSSS.Gridman – 06 – The God who Went to a City School

“They shouldn’t be making episodes without kaiju!” proclaims Akane while at the Starbows having coffee with Shou. It’s a meta comment on the episode they’re in, which has no big kaiju battle. The resulting outing is largely a return to the quiet, normal, naturalistic sights and sounds of city life that distinguished the first episode, before All Hell Broke Loose.

And yet, the city always returns to that state after a kaiju battle. None of Yuuta’s classmates remember anything about the battle during their field trip, and because there’s no kaiju battle this week, he, Rikka and Shou are isolated from each other for the bulk of the episode.

Something sticking in Yuuta’s mind is Akane’s words to him, which suggest she has memories of the battles just as he does. He just needs one more push to learn at least some of the truth about her, and he gets that. But not before Akane puts out a hit on Yuuta, telling Anti that the two are one and the same.

The silences in this episode, or rather areas where there’s nothing but ambient sounds, are well-placed, and as such I really felt Rikka’s boredom of lounging around the house then milling through stores on a hot summer day.

It’s clearly a relief to her when she encounters Anti, who is not only hungry but also in great need of a bath. Rikka’s scenes with Anti further establish her as someone kind and generous with a good heart—someone Yuuta shouldn’t be so reticent about talking to.

When he can’t quite approach Rikka to discuss recent events, he tries the junk store, but she’s out. Then he’s confronted in an alley by a small girl who seems to revel in the creepiness of her own voice. She claims to be a kaiju, and grows to the size of a catbus to prove it. She’s not there to fight, but rather to repay Yuuta for something he doesn’t remember doing.

I just got done saying last week that I really don’t mind not having all the answers about what’s going on and why, beyond the fact that Akane makes the kaiju Yuuta fights. But the little stinky kaiju girl gets on a train with Yuuta and proceeds to provide some answers.

The city in which Yuuta lives is essentially ruled by Akane, whose lonely heart is being used by the outrageous-looking being we know as Alexis. Thus she creates kaiju who then go on rampages, constantly knocking down and remaking the city into something of a kaiju itself, while eliminating people or things she simply doesn’t like.

Beyond the confines of the city is a great fog, and then nothing, the kaiju continues. Thus, Akane is basically the city’s god, deciding what exists, stays, or goes. But because Akane is hurting and killing people, Yuuta knows what he has to do, which I imagine means confronting her soon.

In addition to ordering Anti to kill Yuuta, Akane ends up running into Shou at the bookstore, and then having coffee. He sole reason for interacting with him is to gather more info on Yuuta, just in case Anti didn’t fully understand her orders and fails. The thing is, Shou eventually catches on that Akane has no real interest in him, and stays loyal to Yuuta by saying nothing.

As for Anti, who now has a full belly and is squeaky clean thanks to Rikka’s kindness, he finally locates Yuuta and attacks him, only to be deflected by the members of Neon Genesis, whom we’ve seen lurking on the episode’s periphery the whole time, keeping an eye the Gridman Alliance.

When trouble comes in the form of Anti, they’re ready, not just with weapons, but words: If you kill Yuuta, you will never be able to defeat Gridman. That’s enough to get Anti to retreat. Akane’s words ultimately weren’t convincing enough for him to go against his primary directive, just as her charm wasn’t enough to get any info from Shou.

Those two failures belong to Akane this week, and while they’re not as big or flashy as the defeat of her various kaiju in the past weeks, they are defeats nevertheless that add to her frustration and rage, which Alexis is only too happy to exploit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Akane gets to work on a new kaiju design, which Lex will then embiggen so it can wreak havoc and challenge Gridman anew.

As for Yuuta, after a long, weird day of learning some truths, he ends up back at the junk store to brief Gridman on the computer (which the store bought back). There, to his relief and joy, are Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis.

Akane may be using her godlike powers to change almost everything, but the bonds Yuuta has formed with his friends and allies remain, and they look to be ready for whatever their opponent throws at them next.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Goblin Slayer – 06 – Adventures in Water Town

Goblin Slayer ends his party’s respite by announcing a new client in the bustling city of Water Town: none other than the Archbishop of the Church of the Superior God; the Priestess’ boss’ boss.

Neither the grandiosity of the town nor the Sword Maiden’s digs faze GS in the slightest; if there are goblins to be slain, he’s in. He also learns for the first time, bless him, that if he has songs written and sung about him by bards, he’ll get more goblin slaying jobs, which is exactly what he wants.

The party heads down to the town’s sewers, where they find hordes goblins plying the various sliuceways via boat. Thanks to teamwork they’re able to defeat the first boat-full, but there are more boats—without using water, fire or poison – a handicap the High Elf Archer has imposed upon GS.

When they encounter a giant swamp dragon (alligator), GS remarks that it’s “not a goblin”, but has the Priestess spend her last miracle of the day on illuminating its tail, which lures the goblins right to it, and to the slaughter. It’s almost too easy for them.

The party seems to have things well in hand, but GS is concerned that there are so many goblins down there and that they’re so organized; so much so, in fact, that mobilizing the town guard and military would have been the best idea.

Alas, it’s up to adventurers, so GS’ next step is to find out who or what is responsible for making the goblins in the sewers such an orderly fighting force. Looks like it’s a hobgoblin, or even goblin lord.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

SSSS.Gridman – 05 – Wear Some Damn Clothes!

SSSS.Gridman 05 is a swimsuit episode, but only peripherally. It doesn’t matter how skimpy the outfit or how piercing the male gaze, this was also an excellent episode; the best since the first, because of how it shook up established formula of previous episodes.

It did so with a savvy understanding of the universe it’s built so far and how those who live within it should feel and act. The fanservice, while abundant, never distracted from that.

Shinjou Akane is regarded not just as the idol of the class, but its goddess. So its ironic that we see her resplendently reclining…on a giant pile of bags full garbage she’s too lazy to take out. Her class is going on a rafting field trip, and the only way she sees it not being a complete hassle/waste of time is if she can manage to finally beat her nemesis Gridman.

Just as Akane is looking forward to confirming that Gridman is Yuuta and then mopping the floor with him, Yuuta is looking forward to sharing an activity with Rikka, to whom he has yet to confess his feelings. That hesitation leads to a distance between them; there’s little screen time with just the two of them.

Heck, in the first half of the episode, Akane spends more time with Rikka, even getting her to rub sunblock on her back (and jokingly asking if she’ll do her front too). Shou is embarrassed when  Rikka’s cool friends mock his paunch, but when Akane does it, he turns beet red, only seeing the surface of Akane and not the evil lurking just beneath it.

Akane also ends up spending a good amount of time one-on-one with Yuuta, remarking how they’re alike in “not being used to things like this”, this being the rafting trip and all the physical and social calisthenics involved. But again, Akane is trying to get Yuuta to admit he’s Gridman, and in a way, succeeds when, in the middle of a string of questions, she asks if he’s “transforming” and he answers in the affirmative.

One day, Yuuta, Rikka, or Shou (or heck, maybe even Hass) will confront Akane about who she truly is…but not this week. Akane’s weird question sticks in Yuuta’s head, but he has more pressing issues, like the absolutely humongous Leviathan Akane has Alexis conjure shortly after getting her confirmation.

Akane admits it might not be fair or sporting to scale up her kaiju so dramatically, but considering the losing streak she’s endured I can totally understand her desire to take the proverbial gloves off. Unlike previous conjurings, not only is this one bigger than ever, it’s in a non-urban area, and indeed is created from the lush natural landscape; a mobile mountain with jaws and two beady red eyes. Honestly…it’s kinda cute.

We’re also in uncharted territory with the Gridman Alliance nowhere near the kitbashed computer terminal that enables Yuuta to transform. They can call the shop in hopes Neon Genesis folk are there (and they are; just waiting around), but they left their cell phones in the lockers.

Yuuta and Shou run ahead (leaving Rikka to escape with the others), but while Shou has change when they find a payphone, neither knows the number to the junk store. But Rikka does, and in catching up to provide it, she demonstrates that she won’t easily break the bonds of the alliance by leaving her comrades behind so easily.

The cavalry gets the message, buys the computer from Rikka’s mom, boards the same train as Yuuta and Shou, fall asleep on that train and almost miss their stop, and set up the computer at the station where they plan to rendezvous with Yuuta.

While he takes a tumble down a hill and gets a bit scratched up, he manages to make it, and he and Borr transform into Gridmand and Buster Borr, respectively. At first glance they look comically outmatched against an opponent of such lopsided superiority in mass. The only advantage they seem to have is that the kaiju’s attacks are very slow and inaccurate.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with, Item shows up, determined as always to fight and defeat Gridman, regardless of what Akane wants or doesn’t want. However his time on the stage as an effective combatant is brief, as Borr has a projectile for every need, from forest fire-extinguishing water missiles to super-adhesive projectiles that immobilize Item’s kaiju.

That gives Gridman and Borr time to combine and unleash a vicious barrage of weaponry at the giant kaiju, culminating in a Double Buster Grid Beam that finishes it off. From closeups to extra wide shots of exploding giant monsters, SSSS.Gridman continues to make a strong case for best-looking, most visually-imaginative anime of the season, if not the year.

Akane, once again defeated, nonchalantly slips onto the last train back home, while Yuuta, Rikka and Shou reunite and celebrate the victory. However, Rikka spots Item, and some strangely floating rocks suggest they may be celebrating prematurely.

Still, it’s good to know that whether they’re in skimpy swimsuits or not, the Gridman Alliance is strong…and that Hass doesn’t have some weird perpetual cold, but only wears her mask for show. I love little details like that (or Borr saying the words I reused in this article’s title when she spots Yuuta in nothing but swim trunks). SSSS.G is full of them.

As for Yuuta getting Rikka to notice him, well…perhaps he should see her repeated instances of catching up to be by his side—be it for practical or emotional support—as a positive sign that she might be receptive to his feelings…if only he managed to successfully tell him what they were…

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Goblin Slayer – 05 – When in Doubt, Go Clubbing

In a quieter low-key episode of GS, the Slayer wakes up after three days of rest at the farm and immediately sets back to work checking it for signs of goblins. Cow Girl asks him how he is, and he responds with his usual “fine/no problem.”

They go into town for guild business, and GS meets his eclectic team. He gives the Lizardman more of that sweet sweet cheese and tells the High Elf Archer he’ll “think about” joining them on another adventure soon, which makes her very happy.

Parallel to GS going about his business is a pair of Porcelain-ranked adventurers, one of whom lost his sword in the sewers fighting giant rats and bugs. They’re able to get away, but with no weapons or money, they’re at a loss of how to get the sword back.

The halting-speech mage gives them a candle that will indicate when they find the sword, while GS suggests they try using a club in lieu of a sword. It works, even if it’s a bit messy and requires the club wielder to mercilessly swing the thing at the heads of his foes, grossing out his partner. But he gets his sword back and they both return unharmed, so all’s well that ends well.

Finally, there’s more focus on the Guild Girl than in previous episodes, as she asks GS to serve as a subsitute observer at a promotion hearing. There, she accuses a Rhea of taking the whole contents of a treasure box to himself and selling the contents, resulting in his demotion and banning him from adventuring in the town.

The Rhea is furious, but when he senses what would happen if he attacked the Guild Girl (GS would smash his face in) he simply storms off. Guild Girl is glad to have GS by her side, and even has a bit of a crush on him, as she digs “straight-laced” adventurers, even if he may well be a bit too stoic.

GS surprises her by returning with a special quest that comes from none other than the Sword Maiden of the Church of the Superior God. Looks like GS is going to get his wish to slay goblins again, this time perhaps with another high-caliber partner by his side.

 

Golden Kamuy – 16 – Climbing Out of the Swamp

Shiraishi rather carelessly falling into the custody of the 7th Division is one more detour on the increasingly complex road to meeting Nopperabo. Hijikata cannot act when so outnumbered by armed soldiers, but he can lie in wait at a fragile hanging bridge that causes them to bottleneck.

Hijikata cuts the bridge, sending the soldiers and Shiraishi into the river, and Kiroranke is waiting to pick him up in a boat. But Shiraishi remembers his nightmare of being killed by Sugimoto for his betrayal, and hesitates to grab Kiro’s arm, and ends up right back in his captors’.

After imagining his annoying self in their heads, everyone kind of shrugs at the prospect of losing him, but decide that his know-how is worth traveling to the 7th Division base, infiltrating it, and rescuing him.

Meanwhile, we learn a little more about how Tsurumi intends to carry out his grand plan: Lt. General Arisaka’s top-quality weapons will sell like hotcakes; those weapons will be used to kill and maim in war after war; opium from Tsurumi’s cold-weather poppies will supply the drugs to sooth those who survive the battles. But he needs capital for his venture, hence the need to find the Ainu gold.

Tsurumi also had Arisaka built Nikaidou a new leg, all but assuring one more rematch between him and Sugimoto, who himself finally puts two and two together and realizes that Shiraishi was feeding info to Hijikata. Asirpa urges him not to kill anyone unless necessary, implying Shiraishi isn’t that.

On the contrary, he’s crucial enough to their plan for Hijikata to reach out to a fellow inmate at Abashiri, Suzukawa, who is a master of disguise. They’ll have him impersonate Abashiri’s warden Inudou Shirosuke in order to infiltrate the 7th’s base. Sugimoto accompanies him, also in disguise.

There’s now a lot going on, with the Hijikata/Sugimoto alliance (more like a truce) just barely covering up the fact that there are nearly as many competing motives as there are characters. The crowded field also means Asirpa gets another short shrift, with only one line that I recall. Sidelineing my favorite part of the first season—Sugimoto and Asirpa’s blooming friendship—had better bear some compelling fruit.

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.