Kokoro Connect – 17 (Fin)

The three thugs tie up Inaba and take her to a warehouse and summon Setouchi. Inaba is able to use the phenomenon to tell the others where she is. They storm in and Yui takes care of two of the three thugs. The third pulls a knife on Inaba, and Iori makes her move, pretending to betray the others so he’ll let his guard down. They knock him out and escape with Setouchi. Iori forgives, hits, and apologizes to her, then asks if they can be friends. While the five reunited CRC members walk home, the third thug runs at them with a pipe. Taichi shields Inaba and gets knocked out.

While unconscious, Taichi has a conversation with Iori using the phenomenon. They’re both glad the other fell in love, but after all that’s happened, they agree to reset their relationship. When Taichi wakes up, Inaba is by his bed. Her thoughts scream her love for him, and he asks her out right there. She accepts and they start dating. Heartseed tells Iori the phenomenon is over. Their club presentation goes off without a hitch, and Gotou decides to advise both clubs. Life returns to normal, with Inaba and Taichi a couple, Yui and Aoki drawing closer, and Iori becoming popular on her own terms.

Fun Fact: Every high school in Japan has an abandoned warehouse nearby where delinquent students can kidnap classmates and hold them there until they’re rescued by friends. Was this an incredibly silly development? Sure, but it does give the finale some much-appreciated action elements. Yui shows the importance of a young lady being trained in self-defense while Iori gets out of bed and does whatever the hell she wants to do, which is save Inaba from the shitstorm she wrought. Using her powers of deception (and her sex appeal) to lower the thug’s guard was some awesome, heroic shit. Inaba and Taichi told Iori to be her own person, and that’s what she does.

And the real her is amazing. She sees that Setouchi is in the same boat, and befriends her so they can work through it together. Everyone seems to have found themselves and one another. Iori and Taichi work things out…in their heads. The girls do the presentation in cosplay after all…because why not? Yui teaches Inaba a submission hold, because let’s face it, Inaba can get into trouble sometimes. Taichi and Inaba (or rather “Dereban”) end up together, and they work beautifully. The episode is replete with satisfying scenes that are payoff for all the teeth-gnashing and emotional discord. It’s a well-earned happy ending.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

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Kokoro Connect – 16

After getting told off by Iori, Inaba can’t argue with anything she said. Yui keeps her and Taichi and Aoki focused on completing their work for the presentation. When the rumors in class persist, led by Setouchi Kaori, Taichi tells the class he came onto Iori, causing the radical change in her attitude, in an attempt to stop the rumors. Kaori doesn’t buy it. After finals, the club room is ransacked and all their work sabotaged. They vow to start over, but when Iori sees the room, she goes after Kaori and has to be held back by Taichi and Inaba.

They get Iori in a room, where Inaba confesses every embarrassing detail about her love of Taichi. Iori is initially unimpressed, but the emotions transmitted between the three result in her confession that she’s really a very dark and cold person who got into the habit of acting like the opposite, and can’t do it anymore, especially in light of all of Heartseed’s experiments. Finally understanding, Taichi and Inaba tell her she’ll have their friendship no matter what. She asks for time to think. That night, Inaba comes across boys who ransacked the clubroom and confronts them, and they grab her.

Whew, sorry for the long synopsis, but a shitton of stuff got done and said in this episode entitled “Determination and Resolution” that we just happen to be reviewing the day after resolutions are made going forward into a new year. The dramatic heart of this episode is a lengthy confrontation between Iori and Taichi, with Tachi backing up the latter. Inaba’s painfully honest confessions intended to trigger an emotional catharsis end up provoking another diatribe by Iori about how she’s fed the fuck up with maintaining the Iori everyone’s known. That’s not her.

Iori is tired of being the “tragic heroine”, but like it or not, it’s what she is, victim of both the happiness she derived from acting happy and cheerful around everyone, and the torture of Heartseed’s machinations, which have nearly cost Iori her life and sanity on more than one occasion. Heartseed destroyed any chance of the “ideal Iori” surviving, and without that, Iori felt she didn’t deserve the love and support of the others anymore. That shame, and her frustration with nobody understanding the true cause of it, has her at her breaking point.

So, why don’t Inaba and Taichi just say “Fine, nice knowing you…fuck off, bitch?” Because they really do still consider her a friend, even if she deceived them. And it’s not like she didn’t have good reasons to do so. Of course, it isn’t enough that the other four CRC members forgive and accept Real Iori; her words and attitudes toward other classmates has stirred up a storm of hate. The scorned Kaori tells some boys to ransack the CRC clubroom, and when Inaba finds those responsible, she can’t control her temper and confronts the three of them, alone, at night. Bad, bad move.

Other details we want to mention (whew, we’ve written way too much here. That’s what Kokoro Connect does): it’s interesting to see Yui’s relatively quiet transformation to the strong club manager keeping everyone focused on the task at hand. She even prods(shames) Taichi into action, as he attempts to dispel the Iori rumors and repair her reputation by sacrificing his own. That’s the “selfless freak” we know, and it seems to work on everyone except Kaori and her two aides. It’s also hilarious. Inaba and Taichi have been very generous with the embarrassing confessions in these extra episodes. Also, the scene in which Gotou stops by and for once he isn’t Heartseed – very nicely done.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Kokoro Connect – 15

Iori rejects another boy harshly, drawing the ire of another girl who likes him. Rumors of her worsening attitude spread across the school, and she doesn’t help her cause. Taichi meets with Inaba when her thought about disbanding the club reaches him. He decides Iori’s rejection of him was his fault alone, and he’s going to move forward. Nobody knows what to do about Iori, who stops coming to club. Yui’s talk with only makes things worse. Heartseed visits Yui, who stands up to him, boring him. She chastises Taichi for his inaction. Inaba confronts Iori, who calls her selfish and blames her for ruining things with her and Taichi.

Everyone’s an emotional train wreck with this emotion transmission business, but they all seem to be keeping it relatively together, with one exception. Nagase Iori has gone off the deep end. Thanks to the phenomenon, her heart has been exposed like everyone else’s, and she cannot hide behind her cheerful, friendly facade anymore, so she doesn’t bother. Both the writing and the acting by Toyosaki Aki do an excellent job giving Iori this new dark edge without pushing her into emo angst or evil villain territory. Everyone feels betrayed by her, and she is being nasty and short with everyone, but what choice does she have? To her the gig is up: those are her thoughts and she can’t change them. It’s a stark transformation, but not unexpected, considering she’s always had identity problems.

After visiting Aoki last week, Heartseed comes to Yui, but she’s steadfast and defiant like he was, irritating him. He should really just go to Iori, since she’s the one being affected most negatively by his works. Meanwhile, Inaba has been absolutely killing it this week in her adorable interactions with Taichi. But the notion that loving the same guy Iori once loved at the same time was perfectly okay goes straight out the window, and Iori confirm’s Inaba’s suspicions that she’s partly responsible for what Iori’s going through. Iori is merciless in the way she turns Inaba’s argument around on her. While everyone’s worried about what’s gotten into Iori, no one stops to think it was always in her to begin with, and it’s done hiding. So…what’s gotten into them?


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Kokoro Connect – 14

It is Valentine’s Day, three days after Heartseed started a phenomenon that allows the thoughts of one person to be transmitted to a random assortment of the others. The sender will know who hears their thoughts, but the receivers won’t know who else heard them. When Taichi confesses to Iori, she rejects him. Word gets back to Inaba, who is upset. Hearing one another’s thoughts only seens to make things worse, but when Heartseed confronts Aoki, calling him “the most useless”, he hears Yui thinking of him, and vows to keep fighting for her and everyone else’s sake, by being himself.

Three months after the last episode broadcast, Kokoro Connect is back and man, this newest phenom by Heartseed (or is it “Balloon Vine?” we’ll stick with the former…) is a doozie. I mean, having your thoughts, which are supposed to be private, transmitted to others, including the one person you don’t want hearing them? People may not always say what they mean, or say what they’re thinking. They can bail themselves out by saying they misspoke, or were only joking. But isn’t the very definition of thoughts “what people mean,” without any pretense? We have no choice but to “mean what we think,” right?

Things better left unsaid are being said, and it’s wreaking havoc on Iori’s psyche. She believes that she, more than anyone else in the CRC, hides her true self in her thoughts. The Iori she lets the others see – the one Taichi fell in love with – isn’t really her. When Inaba tells her their decision-making process is impaired during this phenom, Iori puts it to her: what’s so different about the phenomena and other external influences? The experiences they’re going through under Heartseed’s spells are no less real than others. On the positive  side, the phenomenon seems to be strengthening the bond between Taichi and Inaba, as well as Aoki and Yui. Go figure.

On top of all that (or rather below, because it doesn’t seem like that big of a dilemma compared with the other stuff), they’ll have to fight the jazz club (which is really good) if they want to keep Gotou, their faculty advisor, and thus their club autonomy. Now they’ll have to justify the club’s existence with a presentation that includes actual cultural research. Their ultimate idea sounds pretty bland; we think if they made a presentation based on the crap Heartseed’s put them through, they’d beat the Jazz club handily…or get referred to psychiatrists.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 25 (Fin)

When Major Christopher activates his TSF’s onboard thingamajig, the Scarlet Twins go berserk, killing him, ripping Lt. Sendak’s TSF’s arms off, and tearing Chobi’s TSF to pieces. Yuuya bails out Yui by facing off against them, trying to talk them down. He eventually drops his weapon and lets them spear his TSF. They come out of their hypnosis. The American Air Force mops up the Beta, ending the crisis. In the aftermath, the XFJ Project is in doubt, and Yui Takamura is recalled to Japan for debriefing and inquiries. She promises to return. She and Yuuya say farewell without words, and Cryska tells Yui that she also loves Yuuya, making them rivals in love.

Well, you’ll have to forgive us for getting the final episode count wrong again. Episode 20 was just a recap, making this the 24th “real” episode, despite being numbered 25. So this is the final episode. And while the end of the world was averted (for now), a lot is left on the table. Who Yuuya picks to be his mate is not resolved. Admittedly, that’s not the biggest deal in the world, as even his most tender moments with Yui never exactly set the world on fire (that’s for the Beta to do.)

We were glad Major Christopher got a quick exit stage right, but his mysterious “Master” is never identified, nor is his specific plan for the world, a map of which is hung in his swanky office upside-down, suggesting he intends to turn the world on its end, though that’s just a guess, and like we said, who the heck knows? Sendak is apparently a bad guy too, with plans for the Scarlet Twins that they probably aren’t privy to. All these hanging threads leave open the possibility for a sequel one day. Would we watch that sequel? Our answer is a firm “maybe.”


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sword Art Online – 25 (Fin)

Kazuto arrives at the hospital and is attacked in the parking lot by Sugou, but Kazuto is able to fight him off, barely stopping himself from killing him. He then reunites with an awake Asuna, meeting her for the first time in the flesh. Sugou is arrested and the VRMMO industry takes a throrough beating. A month after waking up, Asuna is on the mend and visits Kazuto in school. Agil holds an SAO reunion party at his bar. The World Seed Kazuto gave him is spreading across the net rapidly, enabling people to create their own online worlds. ALO is now run by a new company, and the floating castle of Aincrad appears there, where Kazuto, Sugu, and all their fellow players plan to clear all 100 floors anew.

Long ago we’ve learned that if there’s no body, don’t trust a death, and Sugou only died in ALfeim. Sure enough, the real Sugou gets one last chance to remind us just how squidly evil he is, believing he can simply murder Kirito right there in the hospital parking lot and none will be the wiser. Luckily, his painful ordeal caused real-life damage, including to his depth perception, so Kirito is able to “defeat” him again. And then we get the much-anticipated first real-life meeting between Kazuto and Asuna, and it’s everything we could have hoped for. After going through all this rigmarole to save her, we weren’t going to be satisfied with her sudden death, or any other deviation from this happy ending.

We’re particularly glad SAO resolved pretty much everything with an episode to spare, because we got some welcome time with all the former SAO players Kazuto had befriended, including Agil, Klein, Lisbeth and Silica, and it seemed fitting to end their collective ordeal with a party. The only odd-man-out, besides a somewhat irritated Lisbeth, is Sugu, who is still clearly upset that she wasn’t the girl he chose, but we like how he makes it up to her by inviting her to help him replay SAO from start to finish and beat it properly (We wouldn’t be surprised if Asuna wanted an extended break from VRMMOs). Finally, “The Seed”, the Kayaba-penned open source MMO program Kazuto decides to release into the virtual wild gives the genre an optimistic future.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 24 (Not Fin)

As US and Soviet special forces attempt to recapture the Comms Center and HQ, Yui, Yuuya & Co. must execute a feint attack on the RLF’s TSF forces, led by Major Christopher piloting an advanced experimental Soviet model. Sandek intends to activate “Prafka” to sic the Scarlet Twins on the BETA before Red Shift is tripped. Leon and Sharon team up with Yuuya to take on the RLF’s TSFs. Back at HQ, Sharon is ignored by both Christopher and the RLF’s’ “Master”. She intends to send out a surrender order, but is killed by a subordinate. The remaining RLF fighters then kill off the UN command staff before taking their own lives. Only Dogulu and the UN Commander survive. Sandek activates Prafka, but Christopher activates something else that disrupts Cryska and Inia.

There’s a lot going on in what we thought would be the final episode. Now there’s apparently two more to go for a total of 26, not 24. That’s probably for the best, considering all the loose ends that still need tying up. The RLF may contain many fighters who truly care about refugees, but they were all being used by Major Christopher and whomever he answers to. It’s as if their whole raid was just a diversion so that he could get his hands on that badass Soviet TSF. When Zarner realizes their mission has failed and that causing Red Shift would be catastrophic, she puts her partisanship aside and tries to do the right thing…and is killed for it.

That’s a shame, because she was a much more interesting character than the one-dimensional Christopher, who doesn’t seem to care how much the world suffers for his own selfish goals. By attacking Inia and Cryska, he seems intent on allowing the BETA to reach the Red Shift line, which will trigger 2,000 50-megaton nukes and cast a radioactive pall over the last remaining breadbasket on earth. The question is, why? Does he just want to watch the world burn and laugh? Add to that the fact he was introduced to the show so late in the game and we know almost nothing about him, and we have ourselves a fairly dull villain who is sure to have his ass handed to him before the series is over. If and how that happens will determine if this ends well.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Sword Art Online – 24

Kirito and Yui materialize in the same white corridor where Asuna was once in. Yui breaks through the walls and they find themselves in the World Tree’s branch system. Kirito spots the birdcage and they race to it, and reunite with Asuna. They need a console to log her out, but before they can do so Sugou materializes, dispersing Yui and immobilizing both with gravity magic. He strings Asuna up and starts to undress and molest her in front of Kirito, who hears the voice of Heathcliff. Kirito gets up and logs in as Heathcliff, then resets King Oberon to Level 1. After defeating him, he logs Asuna out. Kayaba Akihito’s digital afterimage gives him “The Seed”, a new world of some kind, and then Kirito logs out, thanks Sugu, and bikes to the hospital to see Asuna.

We’ve long since written off Nobuyuki Sugou/King Oberon as an absolutely irredeemable, One-Dimensionally Evil Bastard. The video game database GiantBomb has four criteria that exclude a character from this category: “1.) a traumatic or tragic experience in the past that affected their mental state, 2.) a potentially misplaced sense of justice; seeking revenge from a wrongdoing committed against them or someone they cared about, 3.) a potentially misguided belief that their actions will not only benefit his or her self, but the world around them as well, and 4.) ultimately reform their ways and become good.” Sugou has none of these qualities, so yeah, he’s PURE EVIL. In case you doubted it, this week he chains Asuna up by her wrists, starts tearing her already-skimpy clothes off, and starts lapping up her tears with his tongue. You have to hand it to SAO, they were not going to hold back with this guy.

Anyway, he’s clearly decided he’s going to have his way with her, in front of Kirito no less, so it’s a good thing there’s a hint of Heathcliff still floating around this world to aid Kirito. You have to wonder if his desire to possess Asuna body and soul clouded his judgement, causing him to overlook technical stuff beyond his control that lurked in the bowels of the game he stole. In any case, finally Kirito, Asuna, and Yui reunite (this happens early, and it’s a beautifully cathartic little scene), and then, once Kirito has had enough and heard the voice of Kayaba Akihito, he exacts righteous vengeance upon King Oberon, making sure to maximize the pain he can feel before slicing him to bits. Our only concern now is, can Kazuto get to Asuna before Sugou? The episode doesn’t seem all that worried, but we are. When he was killed in the game, he woke up. He’s still a hella dangerous guy. If we were Kazuto, we wouldn’t rest until the real Asuna is in our arms and Sugou’s behind bars.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 23

With RLF-controlled TSFs on the way with guided rounds, Yui takes Sendak’s advice to split their forces, leaving Yuuya behind alone to cover their retreat. Yuuya is surrounded, but bailed out by Inia in the Terminator. Yui, Cryska and the others return to Yuuya and Inia, and all the enemy TSFs are taken out. The last one, piloted by Mariem’s sister Gisele, self-destructs when Cui reaches for her weapon, but Cui ejects in time to survive. Meanwhile, after failing to sway Dogulu, Mariem broadcasts the RLF’s demands and actions taken, including releasing Laser-class Beta from the research lab to take out American bombers. She also publicly reveals the secret “Red Shift” plan, which would destroy the heart of Alaska to create a new defense line, abandoning the USSR and Eurasia.

This week Yui, Yuuya, and the test pilots prove they’re no slouches in real-deal combat, taking out all 24 TSFs the terrorists deployed. The group also proves that even when the head of an operation is cut off (the UN leadership, HQ, and even Lt. Dogulu are out of action this week), they can still cast aside their individual cultural or national prejudices to work as a cohesive combat team. The only problem is, the RLF are no longer the only threat on the field. They’ve released Beta, and if those Beta reach a certain line, a line of hydrogen bombs will nuke the shit out of Alaska, killing the entire cast of this series! But wait, there’s more! As Mariem Zarner states her intentions and demands to the world, the Major is commandeering a TSF with some modifications made to it.

This will probably ensure this major’s a wild card in the impending finale. It would seem his desire to rule over “supermen” (is he talking about Cryska and Inia?) trumps whatever humanitarian goals the RLF claims to have. And Dogulu said it best: being a trod-upon refugee who’s had a tough life still doesn’t give you the right to kill people. Mariem isn’t hearing it, and when she learns her sister was KIA, she decides to make revenge her leading motivator. Will Cui ever get that date with Yuuya, or will they be annihilated in a massive nuclear fireball? We doubt the ending will be that nihilistic. We wouldn’t even be surprised if next week isn’t actually the end of this story.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sword Art Online – 23

Kazuto asks Suguha to log back in so they can meet up. Sugu challenges him to a duel. In the midst of it, they both give each other a free shot, and Sugu ends up in Kazuto’s arms. He tells her he can’t truly return to the real world until he’s brought Asuna back. Sugu says she’ll help him and wait for him to “come home” for his decision about her. They re-try the grand quest, but are again repelled by the seemingly infinite guardians. Sugu, Recon, the Sylph led by Sakuya and the Cait Sith led by Alicia all help him punch a hole in the defenses, and he reaches the door, which is locked by the SysAdmin. Yui interfaces with the card Asuna dropped for him. The door opens and teleports them away.

Kazuto found out he wasn’t related to his family by blood when he was ten years old. He developed a feeling of not belonging or fitting in, leading to the gradual deterioration of his relationship with Suguha. That situation eventually led to him getting into online gaming, where anyone can be…anyone. Ironically that’s how he met his first love, Asuna, only to wake up to a sister who had finally learned the truth and fallen in love with him. Suguha may have never learned that truth had he never gone into that two-year-coma. Now that he’s back and she has feelings for him, he’s taken. Talk about bad luck. So what do Kazuto and Suguha do?

They have a duel, of course. Both are swordsmen and warriors; allowing the other to win is a gesture of apology, but they both have the same notion. Sugu fights back the tears and agrees to set the matter of who Kazuto loves until they’ve saved Asuna. The one with the worst luck of all is Asuna (though it was pretty lucky the SysAdmin card she dropped fell right where it needed to), who is being held hostage by a psychopath hiding his criminal actions behind her phony coma. Here’s hoping the finale doesn’t pull anything (like some lame ‘wait for the movie!’ cliffhanger), the bastard gets his just desserts, and our Princess is in THIS castle.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 22

Yui and all four Argos pilots are able to make it back to the Argos hangar, along with Cryska and Cui. Yui orders the launch of all TSFs, lending Strike Eagles to Cryska and Yui and retrieving her own TSF. After picking up Sendak, she orders Stella and VG to head to anchorage to try to find help, while everyone else heads to the defensible urban combat training ground. Sendak suspects the Americans may be behind the terrorist attack. Back at the command center, Dahl is cornered by RLF fighters, including Mariem Zarner, a refugee he saved while in the Turkish Army.

The terrorists keep referring to “The Lord” as their one true commander, including the shadowy, red-haired fellow in a suit who’s in charge of the whole thing. Rogofsky mentions the “Christian Allegiance”, but they neither confirm or deny it. Regardless of their religious proclivities, they’re supremely well-organized force that has control of the command center and most of the UN base. Their one miscalculation was not pressing an attack on the test flights. Argos and Idar are able to get their units in the sky. Yui aims to disrupt whatever’s happening here in any way she can. While last week tore to pieces all the comfort and order of the base and left everyone scattered, quick and steady leadership by Yui gets everyone organized.

We like how much everyone has to improvise, using found weapons or in Cryska’s case, brute force to fight the RLF-controlled TSFs. It’s also pretty neat to see Cui and Cryska in Argos flight suits flying borrowed Argos TSFs – their various nations’ tensions will have to be put aside as long as they’re all at RLF’s mercy (the love polygon crap is also put aside, thankfully). Leon and the American Infinities remain a wild card, while RLF’s Mariem Zarner proves it’s a small world by bumping into the man who saved her and her sister Gisele. Will she sway Dahl to come to her side, or vice versa? However this pans out, it’s good to see the series in high gear again.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sword Art Online – 22

Kirito tries to break through the barrier, but can’t. Far above, Asuna can hear Yui calling for her. She responds by throwing down a SysAdmin access card. Kirito heads to the tree’s base, where he must start a grand quest to gain access to the interior. Once within, he meets heavy resistance from hundreds of high-level guardians, and he’s KO’ed before he reaches the top of the chamber. Leafa enters to retrieve his resurrection flame and revives him outside. Kirito starts to head back in, and when Leafa tries to stop him, he says Asuna’s name, and Leafa realizes he’s Kirito. They both log out, and Sugu confesses everything to Kazuto before shutting herself in her room.

Well, be careful what you wish for; you may get it: Leafa and Kirito now know each others’ true identities. When we think back on all the time Leafa’s been spending with Kirito, it’s pretty amazing he’s never spoken Asuna’s name. Instead, Yui’s referred to her as “Mommy”, while Kirito hasn’t refer to her by name at all. Combined with the fact Kirito and Leafa both sound exactly like Kazuto and Suguha, we’ve always had trouble suspending belief about their ignorance. But that’s all over now; the cat’s out of the bag, and in sudden and gloriously harsh fashion. Now Kazuto and Suguha are in a very, very bizarre situation.

Of course, Kazuto’s been in a strange situation ever since he was trapped in SAO for two years, and his virtual wife is now stuck in ALfeim, and direct assaults on the World Tree’s defenses come up well short. But once Suguha tells him the lot – and it’s a very emotionally-affecting scene brought home expertly by Taketatsu Ayana – Kazuto can only…apologize. He still has to rescue Asuna; her life, sanity, and even identity are all at real risk. We feel for Suguha, but it’s pretty clear Kazuto will never feel the same way for her he feels for Asuna, even if he thought it was okay. Whatever happens, few series shake up status quos as aptly as SAO.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 21

Lt. Cui comes to Argos with the offer to practice with them in preparation for their fight with the Infinities, but only if Yuuya goes on a date with him; Tarisa tags along as a chaperone. Pilots at the UN patrol standby hangar are ambushed and killed by members of the Refugee Liberation Front posing as civilians and Coeurl Express deliverypeople, who have infiltrated the entire base. They set to work killing all UN, US, and Soviet officers. Yui narrowly escapes and bumps into Cryska, Lt. Dahl and Lt. Sendak split up to find answers, and the base command is penetrated by the RLF vanguard. Yuuya, Tarisa and Cui’s Humvee is stopped by an RLF group led by Natalie, who loudly proclaims their plans before being shot dead by her compatriot.

The second half of this series has been in a bit of a tailspin of late, with four unremarkable, momentum-killing episodes leading into by far the worst episode of the Fall, followed by a pointless recap. You could say the same of the entire UN/XFJ/Prominence program: teams of spoiled, elite test pilots draining excessive resources sparring with each other after the most potent weapon against the Beta was destroyed. As the rest of the world starved and suffered, the eishis in Alaska have drunk, caroused, and ended up in ridiculous love polygons. Like the series itself, they all needed a splash of cold water; a wake-up call; a reckoning. They got one, in the form of a brutal bloodbath. All hell breaks loose this week, to which we say: finally. However shortsighted or hypocritical the RLF may initially seem, they got our full attention in this, easily the most compelling episode of the series’ second half.

They put a desperate, vengeful face on the human fallout of all this warring, and helpfully reveal secret Beta research. They also highlight how everyone at the base has simply gotten way too comfortable. Even Yui’s instincts are nearly too late, as she just narrowly saves herself through the use of a cloud of paperwork obscuring her baseball slide (a nice touch), and some crack driving skills after her driver’s head is blown off. She, Yuuya, and all the main players survive the initial RLF assault, but they’re all scattered, isolated, and highly vulnerable – everything they haven’t been since Kamchatka. The series succeeds only when its cast is put through the physical and psychological wringers, and this episode heralds a good start to the home stretch, and proves yet again that humanity’s worst enemy is itself, not the damn Beta.


Rating: 8 (Great)

P.S. The new OP and ED are a nice compliment to this much-improved episode. Both are fresh, have decent themes and well thought-out, well-paced visuals.