Dropped: Darwin’s Game…Over

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 02 – The Esperlympics Commence

A Steering Committee member had a bad feeling about the Level 5s they chose to deliver the Athlete’s Pledge, and with good reason: Gunha Sogiita is a classic loose cannon, not only forgetting have the pledge and replacing it with various platitudes about GUTS, but upstages Misaki Shokuhou (who hilariously customizes her gym uniform with gloves and stockings) by unleashing an unplanned multicolored smoke explosion.

It’s probably for the best that Misaka wasn’t the one to stand with Sogiita, especially as she’s entered into one of the first events of the Daihesai: a three-legged race where her primary electrical powers are prohibited. Depsite the handicap, she and the always wonderfully haughty Kongo Mitsuko manage to counter all of the rival schools’ espers’ tricks and win.

Misaka’s friends watch it all on one of the city’s many large public TV screens; Kuroko in particular is very proud of her Sissy. Afterwards she heads off for Judgment patrol, and Ruiko comes across a woman in a tracksuit fumbling with her smartphone. This turns out to be the Aztecan Xochitl, member of MEMBER, one of the groups we saw in Index III who is clearly up to no good.

After winning her first race and encountering her Mama (whom her friends insist is only 20 years old), Misaka heads home to change out of her dirty uniform, but in the process both Awatsuki and Wannai mistake MISAKA 10032 for the real deal, and prep her for the next competition.

MISAKA had been milling around talking to her cat and lamenting her inability to participate, but fate has smiled on her today, because the real Misaka keeps out of sight. This also means MEMBER will be attacking the wrong Misaka when they inevitably make their move. This festival is off to an interesting start!

ID: INVADED – 03 – A Gawker Just Enjoys the Scene

I don’t believe we’ve been told who precisly Sakaido killed or how to land him in prison, but regardless of his crime it’s awfully hard not to sympathize with the guy. For one thing, he’s always dreaming of his wife and daughter, the good times always turning to bad before he wakes up. They weren’t just murdered, they also suffered terribly.

The pain and regret of not being there to protect them probably broke a sizable chunk of the Sakaido That Was. His investigative work within the Mizuhanome, psychologically invasive as it is, would seem to be not just a welcome respite, but a necessity for keeping what’s left of him intact and carrying on.

The things he did to end up with such a job are also the reason Matsuoka discourages Hondomachi from considering a similar line of work in no uncertain terms. When visiting her in the hospital. She’s missing frontal lobe matter but is already bouncing off the walls, desperate to get back to work, and romanticizes “The Great Detective” a pilot like Sakaido plays within Id Wells. But Matsuoka warns her: it’s a sacrifice tantamount to suicide.

As I said, one Sakaido went into this line of work, and another came out. Hondomachi doesn’t feel she’s loved or even valued by her family, while Sakaido’s family was murdered. Both detectives seek solace and purpose through work, creating their own value. Hell, Hondomachi could be a mirror to Sakaido’s past, when his work kept him away from the family he loved until one day they were gone.

This week’s Id Well is nothing like the previous two, demonstrating that we’re in for a new trippy psychological ride every week or so. This time he and roughly 70-80 random people standing on a giant turret surrounded by infinite waterfalls on all sides…very Myst Uru. This is the Id Well of “The Pyrotechnician”, who is responsible for very public, very meticulous bombings.

Kaeru is there too, already dead, while the others start falling one-by-one to rounds fired by a sniper hiding in the waterfalls. Like the stylized “Brilliant Detective” role Sakaido plays, Kaeru is a stylized version of his daughter, helping him remember himself, grounding him in whatever crazy dreamworld in which he ends up.

Sakaido is good, but not so good he doesn’t get killed a couple of times, requiring his handlers to quickly extract and re-inject him, resetting the scenario but allowing him to learn from the previous dives. But trial and error is only the start of his investigation. He eventually determines that there is only one sniper, but the turret on which his victims stand is turning, allowing the sniper to make quick successions of kills.

Sakaido eventually successfully hides from the shooter until there is only one man remaining other than himself—and it’s always the same man. He also happens to have a handsome but somehow artificial-looking face, which means the Pyrotechnician altered his face with plastic surgery. That is enough for the cops to track him down and for Mitsuoka to apprehend him.

In what seems like going a bit too far with the ironic punishment, the people Sakaido helps to apprehend end up his prison mates, occupying adjacent cells and enabling them to have a dialogue. The Pyro explains that his acts, which netted photos like the ones he took of people gawking and holding up their phones at the destruction and carnage, “exposed the emptiness of humanity” by showing that neither life or death matter.

Sakaido turns it around on Pyro. Just as he was in the Id Well, and in the bombing four years ago when he was a war photographer, Pyro always desired to be the Last Man Standing. He was the ultimate gawker, producing scenes of hell and watching the masses take it in, knowing humans can’t resist.

Then Sakaido tells Pyro his days are over, and that he’ll never see hell again, except in his memories, always a pale shadow of reality. The Pyro can’t really dispute anything Sakaido is saying, because the guy was in his unconscious, where truths are plain to see.

It’s enough to drive Pyro to suicide in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if Sakaido intended that, but he’s doubtless a man who abhors killers, and was none too happy about Pyro mentioning his daughter. ID:INVADED is proving to be a dense, nervy, and captivating depiction of crime-fighting from within the minds of the criminal.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 13 – Don’t Get it Twisted

Putting on a tough front, Ereshkigal pummels Mash and Ritsuka with stone projectiles, but Gilgamesh, despite being dead, can still launch attacks from his Divine Treasury under his Royal Authority. His assist enables Ritsuka to start a dialogue of reconciliation; of asking Ereshkigal straight-up if she’ll leave the Alliance and join their fight to protect Uruk.

Ereshkigal is initially stubborn and won’t put her duties aside. Ishtar provides some griping for psychological effect. All Ereshkigal claims to want is “commendation” for all of the hard work she’s done in the Underworld while her other half flew freely through the heavens.

Ritsuka tells her he can’t praise her for work she clearly hates doing but does anyway out of divine obligation. Instead, he spends a Command Seal so Mash can activate Camelot, tearing down Ereshkigal’s hostile front (expressed through Gulganna) while protecting her pride and dignity as a goddess.

The scary skeleton monster disappears, leaving only a chastened, yet also relieved Ereshkigal in human form. She exhibits far more dere than tsun in this state, as Ritsuka takes her hand with both of his and welcomes her to their side if she’s willing. Ereshkigal is surprised he knew it was her coming to visit him during those chats, which is why he knew deep down she wasn’t an evil goddess like Gorgon.

The old cloaked dude severs Ereshkigal’s connection to the Alliance, but she holds back on becoming an official servant of Ritsuka. Before that, she wants to be of help to Ritsuka of her own free will rather than by contract, when he and the others are in a bind.

Until then, as Gilgamesh ascends back to the living world, his soul freed and returned to him by Ereshkigal, Ritsuka, Mash, and Ishtar trudge back to the surface to meet him back at his ziggurat in Uruk. Siduri is over the moon to have her king back, but Gilgamesh reports that while in the Underworld he failed to find Enkidu’s body, which means while his soul was destroyed, Kingu may be the present occupant of that body.

Before dying, the real Enkidu assured Gilgamesh that he’d “encounter more valuable treasures than me” in time. Perhaps those treasures have revealed themselves as Ritsuka and his growing alliance of servants and goddesses, all dedicated to saving Uruk and the human world, even if it ultimately means the end of the age of gods.

Darwin’s Game – 02 – Infodate

As I suspected, Shuka doesn’t want to have Kaname’s baby. She’s only naked because she was too tired to change into PJs after carrying him home and dressing his wounds. Fair enough…

As for the “family” she seeks, after a long time playing (and winning) solo, she now wants to create a guild of sorts within the game. Kaname is eager for allies (not to mention the saying about keeping your enemies closer) so he’s all for joining forces, much to Shuka’s delight.

Shuka believes the first step to being good partners is to become good friends, so she suggests a date in Shibuya the next day, when she wears the same red dress (she either really likes the dress or the show lacks the budget to put her in too many other outfits for too long).

In between doing date-y things, Shuka feeds Kaname more exposition about Darwin’s Game, or “D-Game” as it’s called in public (spreading info to non-players is a heinous breach of the rules). The episode kinda drags throughout the date…it’s just so talky and bland.

Even as a countdown begins for a special D-Game Treasure Hunt Event, Kaname is challenged to a fight by Inukai, a high school student a grade below him who is interested in fighting the noob who defeated the Undefeated Queen.

Kaname uses a stun gun and Inukai’s own warning about taking care of one’s phone, not to mention intervention from Shuka, to force Inukai to surrender. Then the Treasure Hunt begins, and since there are more players (300) than treasures to find, not everyone is going to survive.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 01 (First Impressions) – Back in the Game

Ever since erroneously watching the first season of Railgun before Index, I’ve always preferred Railgun and its focus on the quartet of Misaka Mikoto, Shirai Kuroko, Saten Ruiko, and Uiharu Kazari. After seven years, it finally gets a third season, and its first episode eases us back into the semi-Utopian Academy City, which is presently preparing for the Daihesai inter-school sports festival.

We check in with all seven Level 5 Espers dwelling in Academy City as the Daihesai steering committee seeks at least two of them to take the “Athlete’s Pledge.” The Top Four we know: Accelerator, Kakine Teitoku, Biribiri, and Mugino Shizuri. Newly brought to the foreground is fifth-ranked Misaki Shokuhou, a preening socialite who appropriately uses a remote to control others.

Sixth-ranked Etsu Aihana goes unseen, but seventh-ranked Gunha Sogiita goes very much seen. The fiery, shounen protagonist-type loves people with “Guts” like Uiharu, who uses her authority as Judgment member to try to break up two arguing cheer squads. Gunha dispenses with talking and simply punches the squads into submission.

That’s a lot of names, but Misaka still thankfully has the most screen time. She loosely bookends the episode with demonstrations of her power, first by helping three little kids get their robo-bear working to cutting away steel supports that were coming down on Ruiko and Uiharu after Gunha’s hijinx.

Gunha and Shokuhou are chosen from the Level 5s as the pledge-takers. We learn Misaka’s self-appointed rival Shokuhou is clandestinely looking into the Sisters, so there’s sure to be some of that trademark Raildex intrigue adding depth to what looks to be a sports festival-style arc. I stand (well, sit) ready to watch every minute.

ID: INVADED – 01/02 (First Impressions) – Some Assembly Required

When we meet the self-described “brilliant detective” Sakaido, he’s literally gone to pieces, as has the entire world around him. He soon calms down from the initial horror of such a status and puts himself back together, save a few gaps in his arm. He learns those are a boon, which allow him to fit the various pieces of his environment back together.

We’re in the same boat as Sakaido: a pile of pieces are spread out before us instead of a “whole” world. But it’s not really a world; it’s the unconscious of a serial killer Sakaido is investigating, and all of his victims (plus one little girl) dwell within that unconscious.

As we pull out to the real world, we see a team cops hard at work on the outside of the “Id Well” created by the Mizuhanome system led by Momoki, while Sakaido works within it. There are clues within the well for those clever enough to see them, and Sakaido is the man for the job. We also learn that only someone who has killed can enter such wells.

Once Sakaido finds enough clues as to the murderer’s whereabouts (literally piecing the world back together), field analysts Matsuoka and Hondomachi (a grizzled veteran and green rookie, respectively) head out to track him down. But their quarry, known as the “Perforator” due to his M.O. of drilling holes in his victims’ heads, uses his latest victim as a decoy to misdirect Matsuoka, then kidnaps Hondomachi.

When the Perforator threatens to drill a hole in her head, a defiant Hondomachi realizes the only way she’ll be located by her colleagues is to drill the hole herself, so she drives her head into the spinning bit, creating an Id Well of her own into which Sakaido is quickly transferred. It’s a reckless risk, to be sure, but it shows us that Hondomachi is willing to take those risks for the sake of Justice.

Unlike the puzzle world of the killer, Hondomachi’s well is a wasteland filled with mammoth drills, one of which kills Sakaido (or rather his avatar within the well) within 69 seconds. But that’s enough for HQ to determine Hondomachi’s whereabouts, and Matsuoka manages to rescue her and arrest the Perferator, who is so impressed by Hondomachi’s initiative he surrenders willingly.

But the Perferator is only a symptom. The disease this weird futuristic police force is pursuing is known as “John Walker”, who resembles the guy on the whisky bottle. His avatar appeared in the Perforator’s Id Well, and is believed to be the one turning people into serial killers.

Sakaido is extracted from the Id Well and escorted back to his spartan prison cell, decorated only by dozens of photos of his wife and daughter Muku—a very effective way to wordlessly humanize him. Every Id Well he’s dove into has featured a murdered girl in Kaeru, who may not look like Muku but still reminds him of her, and why he’s in this strange business in the first place (I’m sure we’ll learn the details of that later).

While there’s a bit of a learning curve with all of the jargon, and there are more than a few similarities to PSYCHO-PASS, the third season of which I didn’t bother with, ID:INVADED nevertheless scratches a future crime unit itch I wasn’t aware of until now.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

Darwin’s Game – 01 (First Impressions) – Quick Study

After a quick look at someone standing on an I-beam high above the city, we begin with a chase that isn’t quite as thrilling as the music would want us to believe. But the chase kinetically, succinctly presents and answers questions about the nature of the titular game.

Will you be relentlessly pursued by a baseball panda with a cloaking device and a cleaver? Yes you will! Can you call for help? Sure, but it will cost you, with no assurance anyone will respond. What if you lose? You die. So far so good. All we need is a protagonist more likable than the guy who just died.

Enter Sudou Kaname, friend of the deceased, who was one of the people the guy texted before he died. That text is an invite to a free-to-play mobile game. Before his other friend Kyouda can stop him, Kaname accepts, and a goddamn snake pops out of his phone’s screen and bites him.

Now that he’s an official player in the game, he almost immediately ends up in his first battle, not knowing the rules or that the stakes are all too real. The baseball panda Banda-kun is his first opponent, and the bear apparently notorious for beating up on rookies like Kaname.

Fortunately for Kaname, his “Luck” stat in the game must be pretty high. After a frightful chase during which Banda kills a cop, Kyouda intervenes but is injured, and Kaname gets a basic grasp of some of the game’s rules, Banda is hit by a car and Kaname gets the win.

The catch? Both Banda and Kyouda are killed in the most unnatural way: being blinked out of existence one cube at a time. Kaname has lost two friends and narrowly escaped with his life. When he checks the loot from his win, a handgun appears at his door. He doesn’t like this game. You can’t really blame him.

Still, as far as inescapable Battle Royale scenarios go, it could be far worse for Kaname. His first battle is a fluke win, while an experienced player in Karino Shuka reaches out with an offer to teach him more about the game, and she’s gorgeous. Shuka’s also not very trusting, so when Kaname reveals he brought weapons to their meeting, she initiates a battle between them.

Despite having air superiority and knowing the warehouse location back to front, Shuka’s mistake is not achieving her objective of eliminating a potential threat without dilly-dallying. Their battle only stokes Kaname up, awakening his inner sense of self-survival at any cost—even shooting a gun at a woman, something he’d never do. That gun is conjured by his previously-unknown “sigil”, or special skill.

Yet as exhibited when he cared for Kyouda, Kaname is a nice, well-adjusted guy. He doesn’t end up having to kill Shuka, as she surrenders instead, and promises to obey Kaname henceforth. That’s a surprising wrinkle in what had been presented as a “win-or-die” scenario, but not an unwelcome one, as Darwin’s Game had already killed off a fair number of characters and Ueda Reina is too good a seiyu to only bring in for one episode.

This show is full of battle royale and shounen cliches, one of them being the hero suddenly collapsing from exhaustion moments after victory. Another is his one-time-opponent seemingly falling for him on the spot. It yet another spot of luck (or possibly horror), he wakes up Shuka’s bed, with a naked-as-a-jaybird Shuka dozing beside him.

In addition to T&A, Shuka offers an abrupt proposal for Kaname: she wants to “make a family” with him. Huh. BIT random, but not altogether out of the blue. It’s clear Shuka, nicknamed the “Undefeated Queen”, has been doing this for a while. It’s likely been lonely game, and she likely hasn’t met someone quite like Kaname before: someone who risked himself to trust and spare her.

At this point I’d like it more if this was some long game to exploit his kindness to use and dispose of him, or perhaps it’s the start of an earnest romance in the making. Either way, this was a diverting and intriguing enough opening double episode to warrant further viewing.

Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 12 (Fin) – A Matter of Choice

When the hordes of red soldiers arrive, they don’t distinguish between Human Empire or Dark Territory, they just start killing everyone. It’s because of this that the Pugilists’ general, Champion, rips his eye out in order to defy his original programming and do what needs to be done to save his people from being wiped out: join forces with Asuna.

While Asuna briefly loses an arm in combat and is strongly fatigued by using her godlike powers to rend the earth, she has enough both to heal herself and build bridges across the chasm she made so that the Pugilists can reach their isolated comrades and take the fight to the red soldiers.

Asuna, the Pugilists, and the Integrity Knights fight well, but in the chaos, Vecta swoops in on his dark dragon and captures Alice, knocking her out with a sleep spell. Needless to say, this is a big, big disaster, since the world will end once she’s placed on the World’s End Altar (hence the name, presumably).

Bercouli is the first to give chase on his dragon, and once she’s healed, Asuna mounts her horse and follows, but Vecta has a hell of a head start. They can only hope his dragon tires before he reaches the altar far to the south, and that they’ll catch up to him while the dragon is resting.

Back at Rath, Critter is about to send a second wave of American players to overwhelm what’s left of the Human Empire’s army. Vassago wakes up after being out for eight hours. The JSDF will attack in twelve hours, so he wants to dive right back in to fight Lightning Flash Asuna and Kirito, whom he assumes is there fighting and not in a semi-vegetative state. He also tells Critter he has a “very special” account to use this time.

The second wave arrives and surrounds Asuna’s forces, but they are decimated by aerial bombardment from a single archer in the sky: Shino has finally taken the stage, much to Asuna’s tearful relief. With Critter re-instituting the 1000:1 time difference, they’ll have a whole other cour in which to catch up to and defeat Vecta, but it’s not going to be easy. Unfortunately, we won’t return to Underworld until April 2020. It will be a long wait; hopefully there will be some decent Winter shows to keep us distracted until then.

No Guns Life – 12 – Believing a Man with a Gun for a Head

This episode oddly re-introduces who Inui Juuzou is and what does, as if we hadn’t watched the previous eleven episodes. That’s even stranger considering this case was introduced at the tail end of last week’s offering, even though there wasn’t really any reason to do so other than to pad out that episode. Thankfully, what we get here is a self-contained, efficient and clever little mystery that underscores the dangers not of Extended, but prejudice towards them.

It starts in one direction, with Juuzou being hired by Danny Yoe to protect Rosa McMahon, the daughter of his DoD colleague. Both her parents were recently killed in a car accident. Rosa lost a leg and believes not only that an Extended was responsible for their deaths, but that the Extended reponsible is still haunting her. As such, she is terrified of Juuzou, not even considering him a human.

As it turns out, the creepy Extended “hands” that are floating through the mansion aren’t the enemy—they’re protecting her—but Danny very well could be. Because it’s Juuzou telling her this, Rosa doesn’t believe him until it’s too late and Danny has abducted her. He eventually reveals what he’s after: a mysterious metal locket Rosa’s father gave her.

Rosa is shrewd enough to take Danny’s sidearm, but he gets it back when he swerves the car. All he wanted was the locket, so he prepares to put a bullet in her head (it takes him a long time to load the gun), only one of the “Phantom Hands” arrives in time to take the bullet, saving Rosa.

Meanwhile Mary and Juuzou catch up thanks to a ridiculously overpowered motorcycle that belonged to Rosa’s dad. Juuzou takes Danny down while Mary tends to Rosa, and suddenly Rosa has a lot to reconsider about her feelings towards Extendeds. Mary offers to help her out should she ever need a new leg.

As for the locket, Mary determines it’s a kind of puzzle, that opens when solved. Inside is an antique memory medium that Juuzou makes a big deal about taking as payment for the job, but he really just wanted to get it away from Rosa so Berühren wouldn’t harass her anymore.

All in all this was a fun standalone episode that gave Mary a larger role in the field, introduced Rosa and the weird Hand Extended we see in the OP and ED, and was a cautionary tale about keeping your prejudices in check.

Vinland Saga – 23 – Adrift At Sea

Following the thorough and decisive physical and emotional ownage cast upon him by Askeladd, Thorfinn is quite literally lost. Limping through the mud, his arm searing with pain and the blood still on his face, he can’t be bothered to do much of anything, aside from engage in a bit of street brawling and get arrested and thrown in jail.

Canute, meanwhile, begins the intricate dance of death with his father Sweyn at the council of elders. The king embraces his son and thanks the gods for returning him and Thorkell, then appoints Canute to rule the fertile and prosperous lands of Mercia, hard won by his leal service. To Askeladd’s eyes, everything is going as he had foreseen…right up until it doesn’t.

While the king is playing nice, he adds a caveat that, intentionally or not, changes the game completely: announcing his intention to open up a new front against Wales in the Spring. This leaves Askeladd scrambling to think of a counter-move that will still net Canute the crown without setting his beloved homeland ablaze. He doesn’t come up with one here, indicating he underestimated the king’s wits. And Floki definitely notices Askeladd going pale (as Ash!) upon hearing Wales.


As for Thorfinn, he’s probably where he should be considering how he’s basically squandered the last eleven years of his life on a meaningless, self-defeating, futile quest for revenge. Leif Erikson hears he’s been locked up, and visits the jail to try to snap him out of this profound slump, first by considering it a matter of personal honor to return Thorfinn to Iceland.

That doesn’t go over so well, so Leif offers him something else: The New World: Vinland. Perhaps there, Thorfinn can gain a new, more fulfilling purpose. To his credit, Thorfinn sits up and doesn’t immediately dismiss the offer. Here’s hoping he takes it, especially if things with Askeladd turn sideways.