Sword Art Online: Alicization – 15 – Books and Covers

This is an episode of jumping to conclusions with regard to one’s opponents…or is it? Eugeo and Kirito are seemingly caught off guard when the two young Axiom nuns plunge their paralyzing poison daggers into their chest and back, respectively. Linel and Fizel are not merely nuns, but Integrity Knights in their own right. And they both revel in having been seen as nuns just long enough to draw in close enough to attack their prey.

The girls drag the paralyzed guys up to the fiftieth floor Hall of Ghostly Light, where the Four Whirling Blades and Vice Commander Fanatio Synthesis Two are waiting. The nun knights, the last two sheltered survivors of one of the Ponfex’s resurrection experiments, don’t want the other knights stealing their thunder, but still need witnesses when they behead the criminals.

Unfortunately for them, Kirito only mistook them for harmless kids for an instant; far less time than they thought. When he noticed apprentices were disobeying orders (an impossibility in the cathedral) and wearing ruby oak sheaths (for poison daggers), he quietly recited a poison-dissolving art, which completed in time for him to stop them and give them a taste of their own medicine.

He cures Eugeo, then tells him to quietly recite a perfect weapon control art when he can and wait for his signal. Then he drives past the Four Whirling Blades and crosses swords with Fanatio one-on-one. Perhaps impressed by his cheek, Fanatio orders the subordinates to stand back as they duel.

Fanatio learns that despite a sword that contains the reflective power of the sun itself, Kirito and his black sword are no slouch. He chips off a piece of Fanatio’s helmet, endures the heavenly sword’s beam-like strikes (to non-vital areas) and eventually knocks her helmet off. That’s right: Fanatio is a woman. The look of momentary shock in Kirito and Eugeo’s faces pisses her off to no end; they’re faces she’s seen all her life.

But the one who seems most upset that Fanatio is a woman is…Fanatio herself. It is Fanatio reading her own book by its cover, and reading Kirito’s cover as Just Another Guy who won’t fight her with everything he has. As with Zel and Nel, Kirito quickly moves beyond his instinctive surprise and fights her on equal terms; as he says and we know, he’s no stranger to being beaten by swordswomen.

A splendid duel ensues; one that Fanatio almost seems grateful for, as for once she isn’t being underestimated or not taken seriously, despite her “detestable” face. Kirito asks her if she thinks she’s so detestable, why does she doll herself up so; it’s strongly implied she loved/loves Commander Bercouli Synthesis One.

But there’s no room for love, or anything else, for Integrity Knights. Only “glory” through obedience to the Pontifex. And so even when Eugeo unleashes his Blue Rose Sword upon her, he can’t quite finish the job. Part of that is that he trying to beat her with his hatred, and as Kirito calls for his own weapon enhancement, he corrects Eugeo’s thinking.

They’re not there to kill the enemies they hate, but to save the people they love—as well as those enemies themselves—and end the tyranny of Axiom so humans can live normal lives. And he’s going to do it or die trying.

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Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 04 – Snowing In April

Boogiepop switches gears completely to a new mysterious, twisting tale with a new batch of players; only Boogiepop herself is the constant from previous episodes. We seemingly begin at the end, as she confronts her new enemy and enemy of the world, “Imaginator.” But Imaginator (Hanazawa Kana) tells her endings are just beginnings. Jumping off the ledge, she says there’s “plenty of time” before she hits the ground for Boogiepop to find her.

From there, the POV switches to starving artist and guidance counselor Asukai Jin, who has a very unique ability to detect what is missing in the heart of virtually everyone he meets. The heart is depicted as a rose plant, either lacking root, stem, leaves, or buds. Everyone lacks something, and that lack can never be resolved, and Asukai can’t see his own heart, so he doesn’t know what he himself lacks. He does what he can with this ability, but he feels powerless to truly help people.

That’s when Imaginator finds him. Like him, she can see things no one else can; in her case, their deaths, or rather the possibility of their deaths. Living creatures generate a certain kind of energy before their lives burn out, and she can detect that. This makes her a valuable tool for anyone who would choose to manipulate death. She exists to “recreate the world” with that ability, but she could use some help, so she asks Asukai to assist her.

As Asukai has some dinner his cute neighbor prepared, suddenly the young woman is possessed by Imaginator and speaks with her voice. She reiterates her desire to join forces, indicating that the one thing Asukai definitely lacks is a “calling”; which she can provide.

Imaginator kisses him to show him that calling, in which he uses his right hand to “prune” the roses from people’s hearts like some kind of dark angel of death. The prospect frightens him, and he believes himself incapable of such brutality, but Imaginator tells him his calling is his calling, and he is capable of it, period. It’s ultimately up to him whether to utilize that capability.

As he wrestles with what Imaginator has said and shown him, Asukai is distracted from his work, even sketching her to perhaps make her feel more real and tangible, all the while considering what he could do with her “assistance.”

Fast forward to Asukai being questioned by police after an incident in which Imazaki Shizuko, a former student he counseled and drug addict and dealer, tried to rob him at knifepoint before committing suicide. We shift between the questioning, during which the police don’t suspect him at all, and the incident itself, when Imaginator possesses Imazaki’s body to further illustrate how their partnership will work.

She shows Asukai that Imazaki was at the end of her tether and would be dead anyway in a matter of months, likely alone and after more suffering. But she tells Asukai there’s something he can do for her, before plunging the knife into Imazaki’s neck. As she dies, he can see her rose, which he cradles in his hands.

Before heading home, one of the detectives asks if Asukai said anything to Imazaki before she died, since she seemed so peaceful, as if all the thorns had been pulled from her heart. Asukai tells the cop he said nothing, and he seems to be telling the truth. It’s not something he said, but something he did, along with simply being there.

In another incident in which three delinquents are harrassing a fourth boy who is protecting a girl they want to “have some fun with”, Asukai decides to experiment with his new “alliance” with Imaginator. He has the boy run off to safety with the girl, freezes two of the delinquents, then has the ringleader turn his knife on himself.

Back on the rooftop of Touka’s school, a girl named Komiya who was good friends with the late Minahoshi Suiko (the girl whose body Imaginator inhabits) prepares to leap off to “follow” her, but is stopped by Boogiepop, who tells her she be able to join her that way, then admits to killing Suiko, since she was an “enemy of the world.”

But hearkening back to the episode’s beginning, Suiko hasn’t “hit the ground” yet; she hasn’t reached the next world. Indeed, she’s working with Asukai to recreate this one. Will Boogiepop need help from a human (other than Touka that is) to defeat Imaginator?

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 02 – Surviving Together

Shunned by virtually every human in this new world, Naofumi turns to a demi-human slave in Raphtalia, sold to him by the slave merchant for 30 silvers; a bargain. The little raccoon girl is terrified with good reason: she’s been through a lot in her short life and she has no reason to believe Naofumi won’t be cruel and awful to her.

But despite his scary face and bad attitude, Naofumi isn’t awful to Raphtalia. I mean, he wouldn’t be much of a rootable MC if he did. Sure, she’s bound by her contract not to defy him and gets shocked if she does, but he makes sure she has proper clothes and a dagger. She’ll provide the offense he needs to become powerful enough for the next Wave of Catastrophe.

Raphtalia soon learns that she not only need fear Naofumi, but that it’s okay to have things she wants. He’ll take care of her, but she has to fight for him. Of nights Naofumi learns the “mental illness” her buyer warned him about: she has PTSD and nightmares from having witnessed her parents sacrifice themselves to a Cerberus so that she could live during the First Wave.

In a montage made all the more satisfying and significant (like the show itself) by the wonderful score by Kevin Pankin (Made in Abyss), Raphtalia learns to trust and even become fond of her master, who treats her more like a ward than a slave. The more monsters she defeats, the more the two of them level up, and the more money they make.

Raphtalia butts up against adversity when a rabbit attacks Naofumi and she has to draw blood, which she’s quite justifiably afraid of considering her traumatic past. But when Naofumi lays out the stakes vis-a-vis the impending Waves, Raphtalia’s resistance (which causes the shocks) fades away, and she resolves to fight and kill for Naofumi, for both their sakes.

Naofumi discovers he has a knack for medicine-making, and he and Naphtalia travel to a smaller town to sell their wares—popular due to the trying times. In a nice bit of good luck for a change, merchant he deals with apparently doesn’t know he’s the Shield Hero, and thus isn’t automatically against him like everyone in the city. He even points the pair to a mine where they’ll be able to make a lot of quick money harvesting ore.

The catch is that since the First Wave the mines are crawling with monsters, and a two-headed dog very similar to the one that killed Naphtalia’s parents attacks them, she freezes in terror. Naofumi grabs her and escape the beast, but they have to kill it if they’re going to have any chance against future foes. When things seem to be going south and he offers to buy time so she can escape, she recalls her folks doing the same thing and getting killed for it.

So rather than let Naofumi repeat their sacrifice and leave her all alone once again, she draws her sword and plunges it into the beast. When it lunges at her in response Naofumi is ready with a shield to protect her, and she’s able to finish it off. When the fight is over they’ve gained a buttload of EXP, and she collapses crying into his arms, calling him “Naofumi-sama” for the first time.

I’m glad that after a double episode’s worth of Naofumi getting beaten down, he’s found something pure and good to protect, as well as the means of progressing in this game-like world while appreciating that it isn’t really a game, it’s a matter of life and death. It doesn’t hurt that Naphtalia is adorable as all get out, but also tough and capable when she needs to be. No doubt when and if he encounters the other heroes they’ll get the wrong idea, but this looks like the beginning of a lovely partnership.

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 01 (First Impressions) – The Kingdom’s Most Hated Man

After a string of isekai anime in which the MC is ridiculously, along comes a show that flips the script, and it’s pretty refreshing. When Iwatani Naofumi thrust into a different world due to a summoning on the other side, absolutely nothing goes right. 

Of the four young men summoned, he’s by far the weakest, and isn’t even given a real weapon, only a shield. But he’s still optimistic he’ll be able to fight once supplied with a party of elite warriors.

…Only none of those warriors join his party. Eventually, one of them finally does, and she just happens to be the one he considers most attractive. This adventurer, Myne Suphia, seems to embody a stark reversal of fortune for Naofumi.

He’s given more cash than the others due to his smaller party, and Myne shows him a good shop to buy armor for the two of them. They fight a few low-level balloons out in the field, return to town, and make a modest profit.

It’s a confidence-building first day for Naofumi, to say the least. But that night, after refusing to drink any wine with Myne, he goes to bed and wakes up seemingly in, well, yet another world.

Not literally, mind you, but he’s been robbed of all possessions, summoned to the palace by knights, and then Myne, hiding behind one of the other summoned heroes, accuses him of attempting to rape her. When no one’s watching, she indicates screwing him over was her goal all along.

And boy, did it ever succeed: Naofumi now disgusts both his fellow heroes, the king, and everyone in the kingdom (news and rumors travel at lightning speed, despite the renaissance-esque tech-level). There’s no disputing the accusations against him, so Naofumi decides to take all the hate and loathing in stride.

If this world and its people are going to hate him despite the fact he didn’t do anything, so be it. The merchant he dealt with before seems to see the injustice in his eyes and sells him a cloak at a steep discount, which he wears when leveling up all by his lonesome…a slow and laborious process.

When some goons in the tavern mockingly offer to join his party, Naofumi won’t get fooled again; he’s been thoroughly jaded by this new world, and scares them off with some of the monsters he kept alive as a haggling tactic. A strange, squat little fellow in top hat and tails notices him and takes him to view his wares; he deals in demi-human and beastman slaves, revealing another distasteful part of this world.

Naofumi spots one sick demi-human— a girl with bear ears—and looks poised to buy her. But likely not to use as a slave, but as a companion on his quest to save a world that hates him, because no full-on humans want anything to do with him. Weak in power, scant in equipment, and victim of false intrigue and injustice…looks like we have ourselves a good old-fashioned underdog.

Dororo – 02 – The Telltale Bell

Try as Dororo might to communicate as he travels with his new companion, it’s pretty clear Hyakkimaru can neither see nor hear, at least not in the conventional sense. Rather, he depends on a different kind of “sight” in which he can see the souls of objects, and lets Dororo stay close because his soul’s color denotes him as non-threatening.

Dororo, in turn, starts a fire for him so he doesn’t have to eat the fish he catches raw. Between his adept fishing skills and ability to slice up demons, Dororo is sticking with this guy because he knows there’s both people to be saved and money made slaying monsters. One such apparent monster lurks in the forest, ringing a bell.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru end up in a village, where Dororo does the talking, claiming they’ll root out the monster that’s harassing them. But something isn’t quite right: the village has too much money to throw around for guests considering they don’t seem to have rice paddies or any other source of such income.

In the night, the bell-ringing monster appears, but Hyakkimaru won’t budge, which can only mean one thing: whatever that big-headed thing is, it ain’t a threat. The next morning the interim chief introduces them to Bandai, the bedridden chief. Dororo, being a little boy with eyes, is immediately smitten by the woman’s otherworldly beauty.

Hyakkimaru…isn’t. He draws his arm-sword, and Dororo has to hold him back from attacking Bandai. Clearly, she’s the monster, but the villagers are protecting her.

They toss Hyakkimaru and Dororo in a storeroom, where they meet an old blind priest, who explains to Dororo how both he and probably Hyakkimaru “see.” When the lights suddenly go out, Dororo becomes the blind one, while Hyakkimaru goes after a demonic limb that peeks out of a hatch.

The hatch leads outside Bandai’s house, and Hyakkimaru busts in and recommences his attack. Bandai reveals her true form as a giant green demon, whose soul the priest senses as a blood-red; the most dangerous kind.

Hyakkimaru chases Bandai into the bamboo forest, and eventually slices it to pieces and stabs it through the “woman’s” head. The interim chief confesses to having fed Bandai travelers who came to the village so it wouldn’t attack them. The big-headed bell guy turns out to be some kind of youkai that leads Dororo to the gold the village took from their eaten guests. Dororo reprimands them for being worse than monsters for letting one prey on others for profit.

Moving on to their next destination, Hyakkimaru finally introduces himself to Dororo by writing his name in the dirt. Dororo can’t read the characters, but the blind priest can. The priest also recognizes Hyakkimaru as the poor cursed babe he encountered in the river.

With the demise of Bandai, another statue in the Hall of Hell is cleaved in two, and Hyakkimaru gains another part of him that was taken by the demons: his nerves and thus his ability to feel pain. Considering the wounds he sustained in the fight with the demon, he ends up with a lot of pain. But at least he’s not alone; his new friend Dororo will help him in any way he can.

It’s fun watching Dororo learn more about his new friend as we learn beside him, and as he gradually collects more parts of himself. The spunky kid is never not fun to watch. The show aptly balances the friendship-building with quick, brutal action once Hyakkimaru is in Go Mode. It’s also starting to look like with each part he regains, Daigo may lose a bit of the good fortune the demons bestowed upon him. Ah well…that’s why you don’t make deals with demons.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 14 – Opponents Without Pasts

SAO: Alicization commences its second half with an end to the Cardinal infodump, a return to the action, and a new OP that still, unfortunately, prominently features Kirito and Eugeo’s painfully lame secret handshake, which I believe they have yet to actually use in the show itself.

Ah well—no sooner do the two break into the cathedral armory to retrieve their weapons (and some new threads) than they’re attacked by the bow-wielding Crimson Integrity Knight Deusolbert Synthesis Seven. He sends a hail of arrows their way, but the lads are barely able to dodge them all without injury.

Deusolbert then takes off the kid gloves, using his Perfect Weapon Control art to unveil his Conflagration Bow. Kirito manages to slow his first shot with a series of ice shields as well as the sword skill Spinning Shield, allowing Eugeo to get close and unleash the full power of the Blue Rose Sword.

In this ice-vs-fire matchup, the Blue Rose wins, and Eugeo’s Veritcal Arc delivers decisive freezing blows to the knight. It’s perhaps the most jacked up we’ve ever seen Eugeo, no doubt taking a page from Kirito, as it’s absolutely essential in this world to believe you can do what you’re setting out to do, and trust in the source of your weapon to boot.

Defeated, Deusolbert asks Eugeo to finish him off, before he is stripped of his armor and knighthood and essentially frozen indefinitely by Administrator. Eugeo, recognizing his name as that of the knight who arrested young Alice, bound her, and took her away from Rulid, is almost enraged enough to oblige him, but Kirito asks him to stay his sword against one who will no longer fight back.

He also deduces that Deusolbert doesn’t remember capturing Alice, because Administrator erased his memories of doing so, then reassigned him to guarding the cathedral. They leave him on the staircase landing to choose whether to go back to his boss to accept punishment, heal his wounds and come after them again, or…perhaps try to remember more of the dream he always has of a young woman’s ringed hand on his arm. Integrity Knights may not have pasts, but Deusolbert definitely did.

Kirito and Eugeo continue their climb to the fiftieth floor, where a host of Knights await them who have orders to take them dead or alive. But before they can get far, they encounter two mysterious girls. Are they a form of Integrity Knight we’ve yet to see, some other kind of foe…or perhaps not a foe at all?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 03 – A Little Bit More Good than Evil

All of the various knots Boogiepop tied the first two eps are laid bare this week and then gradually unraveled, bringing the three-part arc to a satisfying conclusion. It starts with Tanaka Shirou searching for his girlfriend Kamikishiro, unaware she’s already dead. Class Rep Niitoki Kei joins him in the search, as does Saotome Masami.

Of course, we know Saotome is up to no good, and his true goal is to draw out both Echoes and Kirima Nagi. And his plan works…kinda: when they send a PA message summoning Nagi to the broadcast room, she shoes up, but not before cutting the lights, taking all three of them down, and tying them up before presenting them to Echoes to determine if any of them are Manticore.

When Nagi frees the three, Kei wants to know what’s going on, but Nagi doesn’t want to involve them, as they’re “too normal” for what they’re up against. This rankles Saotome, still sore over Nagi rejecting him for the same reason. He reveals his treachery by stabbing Echoes with a pen loaded with poison that will keep him from regenerating, just when Manticore arrives.

He also slits Nagi’s throat, an event that was a horrifying to behold in the moment, even if I knew there were supernatural means of bringing her back. Echoes escapes to the roof with Nagi, and Manticore follows, while Tanaka runs away screaming, leaving Kei alone with Saotome, who liked how it felt killing Nagi and wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Echoes and Manticore engage in a kind of aerial parkour duel, the animation for which is crude, but effective. Manticore eventually bests Echoes, slamming him to the ground where Saotome and Kei are. This is where Manticore explains all the horrible things she’s going to do, including taking Nagi’s form and turning Kei into a soulless slave.

But as Kei holds him upright, Echoes has other ideas. He transforms himself into data and shoots himself into space. Saotome pushes Manticore out of the way, but gets vaporized himself. Denied her prey Manticore starts to go a bit loopy, and prepares to kill Kei in her rage, but her hand is stayed—nay, her whole left arm cleaved off—by none other than Boogiepop, who has come to the rescue.

After suspending Manticore with magical threads, Tanaka makes a triumphant return, shooting an arrow through Manticore’s head, killing her and ending the threat. Turns out his act of cowardice was just that—an act; Boogiepop told him earlier that the opportunity to “shoot through the truth” would come if he wished to…and he decided to do so. In this case, to avenge his beloved and defeat the demon that claimed her.

Turns out in his brief time with the bloodied Nagi, Echoes gave her a little of his life force, allowing her to heal with no ill effects (which is why Manticore thought he was a bit too weak, even with the poison). Tanaka thanks Nagi and Kei for their help on Kamikishiro’s behalf. Boogiepop further explains that Echoes was sent to judge whether humanity was worth living; thanks to Kamikishiro, with assists by Tanaka, Nagi, and Kei, the verdict was favorable.

Kei also wants to thank Boogiepop, but with the threat lifted, Boogiepop is gone. Still, Nagi suggests she thank the next best thing: Miyashita Touka, despite Touka having no idea what happened. This brings us full circle to the end of the first episode, when Nagi and Kei encounter Touka and Kensuke walking home. All in all, I really enjoyed this intricate little mechanism, and I’m looking forward to the next crisis that will necessitate Boogiepop’s return.

Weekend OP: “Kaen (Flame)”

This opening, so far the best of the Winter and an immediate personal favorite, just gets so many things right. It achieves a perfect synergy of music and visuals, utilizing a eclectic mix of layers, textures, and scale, calling to other classic OPs such as House of Five Leaves, Un-Go and Samurai Champloo.

Ziyoou-vachi’s fusion of traditional Japanese orchestration/vocals and modern hip-hop really brings the OP alive, and features the non-annoying use of English lyrics (even Iwasaki and Sawano sometimes have issues with this point).

It’s an opening that proudly and confidently announces that Dororo has finally arrived in the 21st century after a five-decade hiatus, and it has my full attention. It’s a minute and thirty seconds of which I highly doubt I’ll ever tire, not matter how many times I watch it.

Happy Friday!
—Braverade

(Note: As always, since this YT video is not from an official channel, it may not last long.)

Dororo – 01 (First Impressions) – Oldie but Goldie

If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me…so said NBC back in 1998. Indeed, through the eyes of new generations, the old can become new again, and draw strength from its venerability.

That certainly seems to be what we have with Winter 2019’s Dororo, a re-imagining of an anime from Spring 1969, based on a Tezuka Osamu manga began in Summer of 1967. That makes the anime a cool fifty years old—golden—and ripe for a good dusting-off by Tezuka Productions and MAPPA.

Impatient and distraught by the withering of his lands and his people, a samurai lord named Kagemitsu Daigo forsakes Buddha and makes a deal with the demons of the Hall of Hell: he’ll get victory, prosperity, and power, and the demons get…whatever they want.

When his first son is born without limbs, facial features, or even skin, Daigo rejoices, for he knows the demons have accepted the deal. A midwife takes pity on the cursed child, placing it in a boat rather than drowning it in the river, but as its father rises in significance, the babe slips into obsurity.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and the young, Aladdin-like boy thief Dororo has swindled a man of burlier frame but punier intellect. Dororo takes his beatings but won’t let anyone tell him what to do. His mark is on the cusp of drowning him when their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of a strange young man with a doll-like face, seemingly looking beyond them.

He’s actually looking at some kind of sludge demon that emerges from the river and starts eating Dororo’s marks, but Dororo himself is saved by the young man’s rather unorthodox fighting with multiple prostheses. It’s pretty obvious who he is by the time jump and false limbs: the child survived, and has become strong enough to handle himself.

This young man, whom we learn is named Hyakkimaru, is still mourned by his mother, the wife of Kagemitsu Daigo, though she now has a healthy, fully-limbed son who is no doubt being groomed to succeed his father. As for Dororo, he just thinks it’s hella cool that Hyakkimaru can do what he does. He also gets to witness something quite unusual (well, more unusual): upon defeating the sludge demon, Hyakkimaru regains his skin.  

And so the stage is set: a lad lacking many body parts, itching to get them back from the demons who took them, and his plucky sidekick who takes shit from no one. It’s a stylish new interpetation of a literally classic pairing. Dororo’s seiyu is solid, the OP is frikkin’ bad-ass, and the action is swift and satisfying. Very encouraging start.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 13 – Sage of the Infodump, Part II

Cardinal completes her story, in which Quinella, basically running out of soul disk space, copies her memories to a young girl’s fluctlight, overwriting whatever was there. But Cardinal, now possessing a good deal of Quinella’s powers, decided to try to make her move. She fails, but was able to flee to the Great Library to fight another day.

Their duel is brief but exciting, despite all the awkwardly long English incantations the two must make (“System Call: Generate Luminous Object”, etc.) For 200 years since being banished to the library, Cardinal has been observing the Underworld, waiting for the right person with which to collaborate. She used a little spider named Charlotte to help bring Kirito to her.

Cardinal also suspects the god of the outside world (i.e. Rath) aren’t doing anything about Admin because the happiness of the people of the Underworld isn’t their primary goal. Rather, the whole system is a load test to see how much they can tighten the vise on a civilization before it loses cohesion.

Cardinal also tells Kirito that this isn’t just about defeating Asmin and ending her domination over the Underworld. The Forces of Darkness beyond the Realm of Humanity are planning a massive invasion, and Admin’s Integrity Knights are far too few in number to repel them, and she had all four guardian dragons slewn because she couldn’t control them, further hampering her defense.

Cardinal isn’t going to allow the Forces of Darkness to invade the Realm of Humanity; she’s willing to destroy the Underworld and start over to keep that from happening, and this is why she needs Kirito and Eugeo’s help.

If they successfully defeat Admin and Cardinal regains her authority, she’ll let Kirito save “about ten or so” Fluctlights, which if I’m honest, is close to all of the people in the Underworld who mean a lot to him (Cardinal also asks, and is given, a simple human hug, which she considers more than adequate reward for her efforts).

Of course, that’s not ideal, and Kirito will be searching for a way to have their cake and eat it too (I mean, he wouldn’t be Kirito if he didn’t). As for saving Alice, it turns out to be just a simple matter of ejecting the “piety module” from her head that’s blocking her past self, by reminding her of her most treasured memory—stored in Admin’s chambers.

Kirito and Eugeo’s mission has similarly simple steps, though of course they’re all easier said than done: First grab their newly-improved weapons from the third floor. Then, go to the 100th floor to recover Alice’s stored memories.

I have no doubt the 97 floors in between will prove a challenge, but should they run into Alice herself, Eugeo is given a dagger that will connect her to Cardinal, who will put her to sleep. So that’s the plan…all that’s left is to execute.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 02 – A Failed Creation

Well, so much for my hasty theory about Kirima Nagi being a murderer, and so much for the calm pace of the first episode; this thing’s a non-stop parade of new characters, motivations, and lashing waves of plot, presented to us out of order.

I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a mess, and definitely not an improvement on the more minimalist premiere. But at least we have some answers about the “man-eater” Boogiepop mentioned, as well as the other players in this tale.

But first, some names: Kinoshita, the girl who was worried about being killed, is walked home by the glasses-wearing Suema, who is into crime psychology books by the late Kirima Seiichi. Kinoshita is suddenly accosted by Kirima Nagi. But it’s a misunderstanding; Nagi thinks Kinoshita is someone called “Manticore”…but she isn’t.

A guy named Saotome happens upon the man-eater while in the middle of eating a second year girl named Yurihara. Saotome pleads that rather than kill him for seeing what he saw, the monster should take the form of Yurihara, and together they’ll take over the world. He names the monster-in-Yurihara’s-form “Manticore”, which…is apt.

Kinoshita tells Suema about Kusatsu Akiko, a girl who distributed a strange drug to four friends, including her. One by one, they started to disappear, including Akiko, which is why Kinoshita feels like she’s next. Suema takes this info to Nagi—her favorite author’s daughter—who only pretends to be a delinquent in order to have more time to investigate the strange goings-on at school, bad rep be damned.

We’re shown that Saotome and Manticore are behind Akiko, the drugs, and the disappearances. Saotome took Akiko out (she had a crush on him), then drugged her drink and gives her to Manticore “modify” her brain to secrete the blue drug.

Akiko is essentially in thrall to Manticore, putting the drug in pills and distributing them to her friends. This is how Saotome and Manticore, who have become something of an item, intend to take over the world.

That brings us to the white-haired guy Takeda saw Boogiepop talk to in the city: his name is Echoes and he’s an alien. Wait…what?! Oh, there’s more, he came here to gauge human kindness, but ended up captured by some shady company that cloned him. That clone? Manticore. Echoes befriends one Miyashita Touka, who stashes him at school and informs Nagi.

Nagi doesn’t go to visit Echoes until Touka has already disappeared; she’s killed when she barges in on Manticore and Saotome. However, the fact she was kind to Echoes is probably a good thing in the cosmic sense…not to mention by bringing Echoes and Nagi together, they must be the duo who defeat the monster before Boogiepop, making her services no longer required.

As I said, there was a lot going on here, and I’m not sure that shifting between times to really served a purpose other than to confuse me…and yet it all seems to be making a kind of crazy sense…at least enough sense for me to tune back in to see what comes next.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 01 (First Impressions) – Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The first Winter 2019 anime to pop onto my screen promptly impressed with its atmosphere, economy, and a nervy Ushio Kensuke synth score that quite simply OWNS. Those elements working in concert make even the most innocuous scenario—a guy in the city apparently being stood up—feel significant.

And oh yeah, the girl who stood him up? She shows up in a witch-like getup, helps a suffering homeless man, chides the bystanders for ignoring said man, and flipping a cop for good measure.

But while the witch-looking figure may have had Miyashita Touka’s body, it wasn’t Miyashita. As Takeda (the not-stood-up-after-all lad) learns when he encounters her atop a school roof, Miyashita’s body is being used as a vessel for an entity calling itself Boogiepop. If it helps Takeda, she likens it to split personalities, and Miyashita lacks any memories of when she’s “inhabited” by Boogiepop.

Both Miyashita and Boogiepop are voiced by the wonderful Yuuki Aoi, and she voices them very differently. Boogiepop speaks more slowly, at least an octave lower, and in a tone that’s an interesting combo of aloof, playful, menacing, and slightly bored. Miyashita sounds, well, more human.

Boogiepop explains to Takeda that she automatically appears whenever a threat to the school (or humanity) arises; in this case, a monster that may be inhabiting one of his classmates. Takeda reads up on split personalities and seems to enjoy his rooftop chats.

But one day Boogiepop appears before him dressed normally, as Miyashita, and tells him their time together is at an end: the monster has already been defeated by someone other than her. Takeda protests this sudden goodbye, but the next time he sees Miyashita, she’s back to being her usual herself, and Takeda almost seems…disappointed.

Peripheral to Takeda and Boogiepop’s interactions are swirling rumors about Boogiepop (some girls think she spirits them away at the peak of their beauty so they’ll die before becoming ugly) and a delinquent among them named Kirima Nagi whom some believe is murdering the girls officially reported as runaways.

So it’s a little unsettling when Kirima pops up out of nowhere to introduce herself to Miyashita and shake her hand. The timing seems too weird considering Boogiepop just “left”…not to mention one of the creepy quick cuts of carnage that dot the episode might just confirm Kirima is indeed what some of the girls suspect:

I guess we’ll find out. I’m certainly looking forward to watching how things unfurl, and to the inevitable return of Boogiepop once things inevitably go south for Takeda and Miyashita. Until then, this was a wonderfully calm, patient, moody start. Like gradually immersing your foot into the pool rather than raucously cannonballing in, I feel successfully acclimated.

Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files – 00 – A Dead Cat and a Myriad of Facts

When we (or at least I) last saw Waver Velvet, he’d lost the Holy Grail War, but was ordered by Rider to survive. He told his hypnotized “grandparents” that he’d continue living with them and save up enough to travel the world Rider once conquered.

This latest Fate spin-off, which isn’t set to air this Summer, takes place ten years later, when Waver has apparently had his fill of world travel. Not only does he now lead the Modern Magecraft Theories Department at the Clock Tower, but he has taken on the title of Lord El-Malloi II at the request of Kayneth’s sister Reines, until she comes of age.

The presence of “Case Files” in the title seems to imply this show will be a series of magical mysteries which El-Malloi II must solve, with the help of his dutiful apprentice Gray and his students. This first case involves a curse on a cat that his passed to him; they must find and capture the perpetrator before he’s killed.

I have to say, lingering shots of a dying, suffering cat is a curious way of trying to lure people to watch, especially when El-Malloi lacks the magical skill to heal the poor thing. The mystery is also solved and resolved so easily it’s kind of robbed of its urgency and stakes and obviously El-Malloi isn’t going to die in a preview special. But plot aside, Case Files is a gorgeous show.

Suffice it to say, the attack on El-Malloi was ordered by someone who wants him out of the way. It’s painfully obvious his position as Lord is tenuous at best, and there’s a lot of scheming going on behind his back. But at least for now he is obeying Iskander, and surviving. I suspect I’ll be back in July to see how he manages to keep surviving while battling the magical establishment.—Braverade