The Rising of the Shield Hero – 11 – This Wasn’t In The Game…Because This Isn’t One

With his wagon bursting with medicines, spare weapons, and other supplies, Naofumi and his suddenly larger party teleport to the site of the second Wave, teleporting us from the safe, familiar capital to another chaotic and brutal magenta-skied war zone.

The rapid transition and immediate dive into the battle is effective, and now that they have more numbers, Naofumi’s team can more quickly and effectively evacuate and defend the village closest to the Wave. Naofumi, Raph and Filo handle the tougher baddies while the others handle the small fry.

Once the village is cleared out, the underlings stay behind with the ex-adventurer Granny who Naofumi once saved, enabling the core trio to join the other three heroes, two of which are already locked in a heated battle aboard a flying pirate ship with a kraken attached to its keel. And immediately, there’s a problem: nobody’s working together.

When Naofumi arrives, Kawasumi is on the ground, while Motoyasu and Amaki are bickering over whether to defeat the Skull Captain or Kraken bosses. Naofumi attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation, and determines that the bosses themselves aren’t the proper targets; their shadows are.

Once Raph and Amaki have stabbed those shadows, numerous soul eaters emerge and combine to form one big nasty one that’s immune to the Shield, Bow and Sword Heroes’ fire-based attacks. Naofumi orders Filo to use wind and speed magic to attack the boss, but between her and Raph, there simply isn’t enough damage being done.

They’ll be there all day and there’s no telling how much destruction will occur in that time, so Naofumi reluctantly whips out his Rage Shield, knowing full well how hard it is to control. Raphtalia offers her moral support, and Naofumi ends up back in that “in-between space,” where this time he’s confronted by the enraged soul of the zombie dragon he defeated.

Once he has his Dragon Zombie Shield, Naofumi begins to press his attack on the soul eater, all while the other heroes and their parties are standing around twiddling their thumbs. Raphtalia reprimands them, basically shaming them into finally finally assisting Naofumi—and in a support role, no less.

With help from Raphtalia, Naofumi doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the dragon’s hatred, and regains his composure, rebuking Malty’s comparison of him to nothing but a wild beast. He summons Iron Maiden, a titanic prison of spikes that closes in on the boss and crushes it.

The other heroes can only look on in awe at Naofumi’s power, as they don’t have anything like what he just demonstrated. Motoyasu backs down from his sore loserdom when Filo transforms into the cute little girl he loves so much, but the Waves are curiously not going away.

Turns out that mega-soul eater wasn’t the final boss for this particular Wave. Instead, it’s another maiden—a raven-haired on with two fans who introduces herself as Glass. She was watching the four heroes and only deems Naofumi to be worthy of going against her.

This was not only a return to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of a Wave (accompanied all the excellent Kevin Penkin music), but some decent development in the relationship betweeen the heroes. For the first time, they’re all fighting in the same place, and it’s clear they’ll need each other to defeat some of the tougher foes the Waves throw their way.

Advertisements

Dororo – 11 – A Family Reunion

The two sons of Daigo may be meeting face to face for the very first time, but of course neither of them knows that, so their interactions don’t go too far beyond Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s usual dealings with people: kill a demon, collect a reward (and a handsome one at that). Hyakkimaru does, however, take an extra-long look at Tahoumaru’s soul: it’s “clean”, with no hints of red people get when they’ve killed another human.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru enter Daigo’s prosperous trading town and, after travelling around the sticks for so long, are positively overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sights, products, and activities. But someone spots them: a very disheveled woman who despite appearing like a lunatic to everyone around her actually has it exactly right: the “demon child” is alive.

While watching a play depicting Lord Daigo’s victory over the demons (ironic considering he actually struck a deal with them) Dororo spots Biwamaru, who sad to hear the news of what happened to Mio and the orphans. He’s there to check out what we know of as the Hall of Hell, where the Demons Daigo is believed to have defeated dwell.

Hyakkimaru overhears (now that he hears and all) rumors about the “curse of Banmon” being to blame for the lack of rain lately (little do the townsfolk know the reason is actually Hyakkimaru). Meanwhile, Hyougou and Mutsu report their encounter with a young lad with prosthetics and a small boy boasting that they’re high-level demon hunters. Needless to say, Daigo is concerned.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru pay a visit to the “Banmon”, the last survivng segment of a wall that was breached and destroyed by Daigo’s armies in his victory over Asakura. A young lad named Sukeroku is trapped on the wrong side of the border between the warring clans, and just wants to get back to his fam. He feeds Dororo and Hyakkimaru, so they agree to help him out.

Daigo informs his wife Nuinokata that their firstborn has most likely returned to their lands. He’s determined not to let anything, including him, spoil his prosperity. When Nuinokata voices her concerns that the two of them are going to properly pay for what they (really he) did to their son, Daigo dismisses her, making a remark about women “not knowing anything about politics.” Tahoumaru overhears everything, only increasing his curiosity.

Once the Asakura sentries call it a night, the site of the Banmon becomes a battlefield between Hyakkimaru and an ever-replenishing number of angry fox spirits, who eventually combine into one massive demon fox, or kyubi. He’s about to be overwhelmed when a volley of arrows hastens its retreat.

Just as Tahoumaru and his aides find the “crazy” woman in town, who is one of the midwives present for Hyakkimaru’s birth and knows what they did to him, Hyakkimaru is confronted by those who fired the arrows: the entourage of no less a person than Lord Kagemitsu Daigo himself.

For the first time since his birth, the firstborn and his father are finally face-to-face. I wonder if Tahoumaru will have something to say about what should be done with Hyakkimaru; considering what we’ve seen of him, it doesn’t seem like he’d hold his brother’s very existence against him considering what was done to him. But if he’s to adopt a sympathetic position regarding Hyakkimaru, he’ll be defying his lord father.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 16 – My Dad’s A Kaiju

Boogiepop is on the job…they just aren’t sure what the job is, at least not yet. Niitoki Kei assumes that because Boogiepop is there, there is a threat that requires elimination, but Boogiepop isn’t detecting a threat worth acting on, only that whatever is at work in the Moon Temple is trying to “draw some kind of reaction out of people.” She then offers Kei the lunch Touka made for Keiji, which Kei doesn’t feel right eating, but eventually starts to eat anyway.

Kei recalls what Suema said to her about dissociative identity disorder of the kind Touka might be suffering; about how it was merely a theory, and that there was no ironclad proof that anyone claiming to have DID isn’t simply acting. Furthermore, those multiple personalities are born out of a person’s desires, and because everyone has desires, everyone can conjure multiple personalities as conditions warrant.

In the Moon Temple, that other personality is manifested as the King of Distortion, be it Kei and Saotome, Sakiko and the Hinako who never was…or Makoto and the giganic kaiju “Zooragi.” That last one is creating a lot of problems.

Even though not everyone can see him, the fact of the matter is no one’s King of Distortion as grown as powerful and separate than Zooragi from Makoto. He apparently once drew him as he imagined his dad was, which is interesting since his mother suspected Teratsuki to be his father.

As for Keiji, he’s just worried about Touka, whose own alternate personality of Boogiepop may be a product of her desire to protect humanity from existential threats. As the ground around the Temple buckles (due to the invisible Zooragi), Keiji runs towards the danger, in order to help his girlfriend.

Boogiepop finally finds something to do when they meet Makoto, who is about to be eaten by his own alternate personality made flesh. They actually relish the opportunity to fight a kaiju for the first time.

Holding Makoto close to protect him, Boogiepop uses her trusty wire and vaunted nimbleness to spin around Zooragi’s neck and garrote its head clean off—a superhero move if ever there was one.

Relieving Zooragi of its head causes Makoto to pass out, then reveals a second head beneath, a Zooragi that’s more Stegosaurus than Tyrannosaurus. But a portion of Zooragi’s power still manages to “cross the boundary”, putting the Moon Temple structure—and everyone still in it, both asleep and awake—in mortal danger. A Boogiepop’s work is never done…

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 10 – Growing The Party

Naofumi has been scarred by the injustices he has suffered throughout his time in this world. And since a large quantity of those injustices were perpetrated by the Melromarc royal family, he’s instinctively distrustful of any Melromarcs, even Melty, who has shown him nothing but kindness.

As a result, he turns Melty away, despite the fact the Queen sent her to him explicitly to reconcile and undo the harm the King and Malty have done to him. It’s in Naofumi’s best interests to actually trust Melty and allow her to help him, but he just can’t, due to his history and stewing resentment.

But as the next Wave approaches, Naofumi still manages to run into a bit of good karma, as three warriors and two mages whose families he saved in Lute Village offer to join his party and fight beside him. He’ll only trust them if they cough up 150 silver pieces; hardly chump change.

He’s not the only one stiffing people: the cathedral charges fifteen gold pieces per person for the “class upgrades” he, Raphtalia and Filo will require in order to continue efficiently leveling up. When he produces enough for just Raph to be upgraded, an elder sister steps in presenting a decree from the king prohibiting them from providing any upgrades at any price.

If only Naofumi had heard Melty out rather than turn her away, he might’ve found an easier way around the king’s decree. Instead, he has to seek an upgrade through the slave dealer, who doesn’t provide that service but does offer to relieve Naofumi of five gold pieces in exchange for wyvern talons for Filo’s feet.

Filo’s new talons, combined with Raphtalia’s sharp new sword, make quick work of a job request to defeat a monster in the capital’s sewers. That night, as Naofumi dresses Raph’s wounds with holy water, Raphtalia worries about Naofumi’s vow that once all of the Waves are dealt with, he’ll return to his world, leaving her and Filo alone. The discussion is sidetracked when Filo wakes up and accuses Raph of getting “lovey-dovey.”

The next day they head out, encountering a village whose scant inhabitants are starving to death thanks in no small part to the actions of the Bow Hero Kawasumi Itsuki. Once again, the supposed heroic actions of a hero who isn’t Naofumi has appalling side effects.

Naofumi gets to finally confront both Kawasumi for what he did to the starving village, and Amaki Ren for the plague he caused by slaying the dragon. For their part, neither of them stuck around those places long enough to witness the consequences of their actions, and while Ren believes Naofumi, Itsuki doesn’t.

Naofumi’s distrust for everybody that isn’t Raph or Filo is matched only by the other heros’ continued animosity towards him. It’s a vicious cycle, and so far only Ren has taken a logical approach resembling reconciliation. The other two seem like lost causes in terms of ever seeing Naofumi as anything other than bad news.

We’ll see if despite that there will be any improved collaboration between the four heroes when the second Wave appears, which it does by episode’s end. By this time, the five Lute villagers scounge together the silver for Naofumi, who gives them the accessory they thought they were buying without taking their silver.

He tells them instead to use the cash to buy better equipment. They’ll need it in the battles to come. Naofumi doesn’t even trust these people, who owe their lives and those of their families to his heroics. But maybe, in time, he can, and that will lead to him trusting others who mean him no harm, like Melty and her mother the Queen.

Dororo – 10 – The Brother Who Didn’t Suffer

This episode is all about Tahoumaru, Hyakkimaru’s younger son, and the one who’s been able to live a normal life of comfort thanks entirely to his father’s sacrifice of his firstborn. Now that Lord Daigo’s good fortune seems to be literally running dry (drought has gripped his lands that threaten to ruin the crops), he pays a visit to the Hall of Hell, where he sees a vision of what has become of that first son.

But again, this is not about Hyakkimaru, but his little brother, who is tired of his father keeping secrets and his mother praying to a headless diety. Daigo gives him no answers, and he runs off to brood in the same place he always has, which is why it’s so easy for his lifelong companions and bodyguards, Mutsu and Hyougou, to find him.

Tahoumaru happens to be the nearest of Daigo’s son to the lake monster, and while other Daigo samurai dismiss the villagers’ pleas for help out of hand, Tahoumaru shows he has a kind heart that inspires loyalty in his people.

He agrees to defeat the beast, which they set out to meet with their boats firmly tied to the shore, and discover to be an enormous crab. They get a few licks in, but when the crab retreats to beneath the surface of the water they have to withdraw.

Tahoumaru is angry they failed in the first go, but is determined to finish the crab off lest it claim more of his people. He rejects the suicidal idea of Mutsu and Hyougou to wear explosives in their clothes so the crab will blow up when it bites them.

Instead, he makes use of the geography of the area, and the extremely fast and efficient engineering and construction skills of the villagers. He manages to have sluice gates built between two lakes. I’m not sure how he managed such a labor-intensive feat (in the middle of a drought no less) but it definitely proves Tahoumaru does not mess around when he sets his mind to something.

They manage to lure the crab monster through one gate, which slams behind it, and then drain the artificially-made lake, trapping it on dry land and evening the odds. Tahoumaru and his friends rush in, further inspiring the people.

The crab proves smarter than it looks when it throws rocks at the gate to re-flood the lakebed. Mutsu very nearly gets eaten up and Tahoumaru’s big (and definitely expensive) plan looks headed for ruin…until Hyakkimaru swoops in to finish off the crab. For the first time, Tahoumaru gets a look at the older brother he never knew—and still doesn’t know—he had, while high up in the hills, Lord Daigo seems to be witnessing the meeting.

While previous episodes had depicted Hyakkimaru as a bit of a spoiled, moody brat, here we see that he’s actually a good lad, if a bit impulsive and liberal with resources both human and natural. He’s also brave and highly skilled with the sword, though he still relies a lot on his two friends while Hyakkimaru has spend most of his life on his own.

The meeting itself is surprisingly anti-climactic, though I wonder if they’ll really part ways so soon without Tahoumaru getting an answer to his question of who the young lad with the prosthetic arms was. Even if Tahoumaru did stick around to chat, Hyakkimaru can barely speak.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 21 – Love Isn’t Control, But Friendship Is Power

One would think a duel as significant and built-up as the one between Kirito and Eugeo would last an entire episode, but that assumption gives Administrator too much credit. Eugeo’s hasty synthesis was willing, not by force, and it happened in a profound moment of weakness for Eugeo.

He and Kirito cross swords and give each other matching cuts, but once Kirito asks Eugeo to recall who gave him his Baltio-style moves, not to mention all of the people waiting for them to return home with Alice, Eugeo’s piety module is quickly exposed.

But while Eugeo wakes up and even says Alice’s name, there’s still something off about him, and I dreaded Kirito dropping his guard, and with good reason: Eugeo uses Enhance Armament to bury both Kirito and Alice in ice before returning to the top level.

There, a skeptical Chudelkin asks if Eugeo eliminated the rebels, to which Eugeo responds the Pontifex only ordered him to stop them, and stop them he did. That’s not sufficient for the Prime Senator, who heads down below to finish them off, thereby playing right into Eugeo’s hands.

Without Chudelkin, Eugeo is all alone with Administrator, who assumes that while his piety module was compromised, he’s still loyal to her. But when she removes it outright in order to recalibrate it, she’s only freeing him to recall more memories, which motivate him to break free of her emotional and magical hold and attack her with the dagger provided by Cardinal.

Administrator is taken aback, but her shielding is close to perfect, and tells Eugeo that no blade, even one fashioned by Cardinal, can pierce her skin. As we know from the OP and flashbacks, Administrator prefers to hang around in the nude, and once her “loving partner” gig is up, she dispenses with the clothes and provokes Eugeo by mocking Alice’s ordeal (her synthesis was forced over many agonizing days).

That’s when Chudelkin returns all beat up to warn his Pontifex that the other two are free, and Kirito and Alice arrive on the top floor. Eugeo intended to make up for his initial betrayal by taking care of Administrator alone, but she’s too strong. In fact, it will be a miracle if the three of them working in perfect harmony can overcome her knowledge of nearly every cheat code in the world.

Still, Administrator isn’t interested in fighting the three directly; not while she has one last subordinate standing in Chudelkin. She fires him up by agreeing to let him have every inch of her body for one night if he can eliminate the rebels, and he uses his fingers, toes, and eyes to summon his trump card: a monstrous fire genie.

Chudelkin has always been a wild card since his first appearance (which is only fitting as he looks like a Joker), so I honestly don’t know how Eugeo’s ice, Kirito’s black sword, and Alice’s scattering blades will hold up against this boss, but the important thing is that the three are finally fighting on the same side.

P.S. We get new OP visuals (same theme) as we’ve completed Alicization “Rising” and begun Alicization “Uniting” – featuring Kirito trying to hold his own against a very capable (and very nude) Administrator.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 15 – Dream Prisons

This week’s Boogiepop is a series of disorienting vignettes in which various visitors to the Moon Temple end up inhabiting old memories, first as their younger selves, then as their present selves. This enables them to do and say things they wanted to at the time, but didn’t.

We begin with a woman who knew Teratsuki Kyouichirou, who offered her money to care for her son Makoto before dying suddenly two years after he predicted. In the present, the King of Distortion takes Teratsuki’s form, but it was the past Teratsuki who spoke of leaving “one last parting gift”—most likely the Moon Temple.

We move on to Sakiko, walking along a train track with her best friend Hinako, who is tall and gorgeous…but Hinako never got to grow up into the woman Sakiko sees. She died in a car accident with her family before Sakiko could apologize for lashing out at her in jealousy. The King of Distortion offers her a chance to turn her bitter regrets into gold.

Next up, a younger Habara Kentarou, friend of Tanaka Shirou and student at Shinyou Academy. He used to hack into companies, but was caught by Kirima Nagi, in whose palm he was dancing all along. Suddenly Nagi, actually the King, turns into Saotome, who like Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi.

The King presents Kentarou with a riddle: if the world is a nightmare, how does one escape? To drive the nightmare point home, the ground starts to shake and windows crack; a giant kaiju appears in the streets. Kentarou finds Makoto, recognizes him from the Moon Temple, and they escape to the one place Kentarou believes he’ll be able to escape the nightmare…the Temple itself.

Upon arriving there, Kentarou finds…himself lying asleep on the ground, gives himself a kick, and wakes up. He wakes up Shirou next to him, and the two are surrounded by sleeping people, every one of them trapped in their dreams by the King of Distortion.

Clearly it was the will of the King, or Teratsuki (or both, if there’s no difference between them) to entice a large number of people to come to the Moon Temple so he could put them to sleep and explore their memories, particularly those containing their regrets. But it remains to be seen where Boogiepop fits into all this. It the King simply another enemy for them to eliminate, or is there more going on here?

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 09 – In Need Of A Good Heart-Melting

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo continue mopping up the beasts and healing all the villagers, they come across a nobleborn-looking girl among a pack of lesser filolials (which Filo thinks look tasty, the cannibalistic little imp). The girl, who introduces herself as “Melty”,  falls in love with the far larger and talking filolial, and the two become fast friends.

That night, she comes to Naofumi’s inn, requesting an escort back to the capital. As she’s nobleborn, Naofumi assumes he’ll get a handsome reward for returning her to safety, and so accepts.

But one of the queen’s spies is watching. While there’s more to Melty than meets the eye, she ends up loving riding in the Filo-drawn carriage, and at night strips down so she can sleep within Filo’s dense, thick, luxuriously soft feathers (great Foley work on those feathers).

When they reach the capital, Filo escorts Melty home, while Naofumi and Raph make a beeline to the cathedral, where they meet a particularly haughty and patronizing Pope.

He (or rather one of his nuns) tries to sell Naofumi a bottle of crude holy water for the exorbitant price of one gold coin, but his HUD detects its cheapness, and he ends up with a bottle of the pure stuff. So mission accomplished: Raphtalia should be good as new in no time.

Unfortunately, since they’re in the capital, Naofumi is naturally uneasy about anyone approaching him. When a young, flustered guard does so, he and Raphtalia run away, eventually splitting up to lose him.

In the process, Motoyasu and Malty find Naofumi, and challenge him to yet another duel, since Motoyasu has fallen in love with the girl with angel wings following Naofumi around. He assumes she’s another slave and demands he free her.

This results in a huge dust-up, in which the many city bystanders not only have to dodge Motoyasu’s deadly attacks (he causes quite a bit of collateral damage, the bastard) but end up fighting each other over whether it’s cool for the two heroes to go at it in such a crowded public space.

Ultimately it’s Melty who breaks up the fight, and in the process reveals she’s not only Malty’s younger sister, but heir to the throne, as Malty is a problem child deemed unworthy to succeed the king.

She seems poised to join Naofumi’s party…right up until Naofumi tells her to get lost. He presumes that anyone related to Malty and the king cannot be trusted, and is trying to lull him into a false sense of security so she can stab in the back later.

There’s absolutely no evidence or indication Melty’s intentions are anything other than earnest and good, but I guess Malty did quite the number on Naofumi. There’s really no one he trusts other than Raph and Filo…which could well end up being detrimental to him.

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 14 – Don’t Get It Twisted

Keiji is lonely. Touka is lonely. So they arrange a date at the grand opening of Moon Temple, AKA The Temple of Babylon, AKA “Teratsuki Kyouichirou’s Folly,” a massive, bizarre, twisted tower in the center of a postmodern park, the final legacy of a once hugely-successful CEO who died suddenly at 56.

The lovebirds aren’t the only ones to attend the unveiling: there’s a massive throng waiting in line hours before the opening, among them a mother and son, who upon leaving the bathroom finds himself face-to-face with a Teratsuki claiming he was “just born.”

Despite assuring Keiji she won’t be late, Touka is made late by the emergence of a fresh threat to humanity, and so Boogiepop takes over her body to intervene. Keiji, waiting for Touka in a cafe, encounters “Boogiepop”, but something’s off; it’s a fake, calling themselves the “King of Distortion.”

A girl named Sakiko on a date with a guy she’s not particularly interested in spots the real Boogiepop rushing past, but she only knows of the legend of the Boogiepop who kills women at the peak of their beauty. Niitoki Kei, who knows better, also spots Boogiepop and chases after them into the tower.

Kei ends up in the schoolyard, the same place and time of day Saotome Masami was killed. Saotome appears before her, calling himself the “King of Distortion.” A guy who was working at the tower but now finds himself in a restaurant with that same King, in the form of a girl he wanted to whom he wanted to say something but never did.

In all these cases, the King of Distortion seeks to turn the world to gold (hence the threat), and apparently seeks to do so by creating elaborate illusions and take the form of people that will help them remember something lingering in their hearts—in other words, distortion in those hearts.

When the King and Boogiepop meet, he warns them that he won’t allow anyone to interfere with his “experiment to turn everything to gold.” What we have, then, is a bizarre but intriguing new adversary who uses peoples’ memories, relationships, and insecurities against them and twists their very reality. In light of all this, Boogiepop wonders for the first time if she’ll actually be able to protect Kei & Co.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 13 – The Bug

Both the wills of individuals and the collective will of humanity can usually be likened to a swarm of bugs around a light; moving chaotically without coordination. But a majority of the bugs that comprise Nagi’s will are aligned towards a a confrontation with the serial killer, for which she is diligently preparing but may still be woefully overmatched.

That certainly seems to be Sasaki’s opinion on the matter, as the bug within him can’t simply let her be, lest she end up hurt or killed simply for following her own will and sense of justice. If anyone is going to protect her, he figures it should be the one who deprived her of her father, the person who would otherwise be responsible.

Sasaki’s supicions are confirmed: Kisugi has set a trap for Nagi, whom she suspected would show up in superhero guise (Nagi’s jumpsuit is indeed totally badass): have her tranquilized via sniper rifle, then proceed to explore her delicious fear.

Sasaki delivers a killing blow before he notices it isn’t Kisugi, but Pigeon, who stabs him right back as revenge for killing Kuroda (her own bug she couldn’t ignore). But Pigeon distracts Sasaki from Kisugi, who puts her arm through his chest.

Just like that, the backup both Sasaski and I believed would be crucial to Nagi’s survival has been taken off the board in gruesome fashion, a sentiment reinforced when Sasaki tosses his corpse out the window, then leaps out herself and lands on her feet far too close to Nagi for comfort.

But true to her name, Nagi keeps calm and carries on. She starts to flee Kisugi, first on foot then on bike, but the Kisugi’s personal flirtation with evolution has made her as fast in heels as Nagi can pedal, and it isn’t long before she’s caught her up.

Yet still, there’s something about the deliberate manner in which Nagi flees—constantly looking back to make sure she’s being followed—that suggests the chase is unfolding precisely how Nagi planned. Even when Kisugi loses her temper and starts dunking Nagi’s head in a pond and kicking the shit out of her, there isn’t a trace of panic on Nagi’s face.

Kisugi finally visualizes Nagi’s weakness—someone she loves dying before her, like her father—while her actions confirm to Nagi that she’s someone who preys on those perceived to be fearless. Kisugi is right that no one is truly fearless, which means there’s no one she can’t feed off of.

But Nagi’s fear in that moment is less that she’s about to be killed or worse, but more worry that the intricate plan she’s set up might fail. That she will fail to become the superhero she thought she could be. But it doesn’t fail, because Kisugi is part of the circuit of the pond, while Nagi in her thick insulated suit isn’t…and has a weapon that shoots electrical arcs.

Thus Nagi does the equivalent of drop a giant plugged-in toaster into the bathtub, zapping Kisugi with thousands of volts and doing significant damage to a body already taxed to the brink by all of her DIY “evolution.” When Nagi puts her in an arm hold, the arm pops off, and Kisugi flees.

It’s then when an ally far more powerful than Sasaki appears, only to voice their surprise Nagi didn’t need them after all. The situation was always under control, though Nagi could rightly say she relied on some luck in everything going perfectly.

Now Kisugi is the hunted, and full of fear. Turns out she’s a fear ghoul, and definitely an enemy of humanity, which means Boogiepop has popped up to finish her off. But they give credit to Nagi for defeating Kisugi and making the kill so easy.

Nagi manages to be with Sasaki before he dies, and his last words are of relief that she’s still alive, and that “the bug” within him isn’t so bad. Boogiepop then determines it would be best if the blame for the serial murders were placed on Sasaki, due to the complications of the culprit being a doctor of Kisugi’s caliber.

More than that, the bug in Sasaki would be fine doing whatever Nagi wanted, including piling the blame on him. Nagi, meanwhile, still feels like she messed everything up in the case. But she learned a lot from it too, and that wisdom gained will serve her as she keeps fighting. Not to mention “Boogiepop”, as they introduce themselves to Nagi, will be there to help when needed.

Back on the ruined world, which we learn isn’t the Earth of Nagi or Touka but some kind of “distorted world”, Boogiepop wrap up their story to Echoes, as the two contemplate the causality starting with Kuroda saving Nagi, all the way to Echoes and Manticore showing up on Earth.

Echoes muses that Nagi continues to fight because she’s “carrying on the feelings of those she encounters.” That’s one way you could describe an investigator, or a superhero, or both, which is what Nagi is. As Echoes takes his leave, Boogiepop commits themselves to leaving the distorted world and returning to Earth.

Because even if Boogiepop doesn’t know precisely how or why they pop up, they understand intrinsically that it is right for them to do so; that it’s beneficial to humanity and thus necessary to continue. Even Boogiepop has a bug.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.