The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 02 – Coasting Along in Easy Mode

Noir was accepted to Hero Academy, but the 300,000-rel tuition is too-steep for his baronet father, so he has to come up with the cash by himself. At no point did I doubt he’d be able to do so by the end of the episode. Olivia suggests he becomes an adventurer, so he registers with Odin, which just happens to be Olivia’s guild.

The receptionist Lola is skeptical of Noir’s claims, even going so far as to say she’ll lift her skirt up if he’s proven right by the Discerning Tome. Of course he’s proven right, and Lola is a woman of her word…but what a weird wager! It’s almost as if she knows she’s in an ecchi harem show.

Someone who’s known all along what kind of show this is is Emma, who soon joins Noir out in the field. He successfully catches a bunch of rainbow caterpillars to the tune of 250,000 rel, and his success seems to turn Lola on, resulting in a standoff between her and Emma. Are there, like, no other men?

Noir and Emma head back out into the field to defeat a giant evil rabbit to earn the remaining 50,000 rel he needs for tuition. Since this battle takes up the most time and seems the most hazardous, you’d think the rabbit quest would be worth 250,000 and the grasshopper quest 50,000. I guess it’s best just not to think…at all.

When Emma’s attacks prove ineffective, Noir decides to the skills Olivia gave him to increase her attributes, but Noir doesn’t feel like coughing up 700 LP, so he buffs her weapon adeptness instead to the tune of 500 LP. He gets more than enough LP to cover the magic with a slobbery ear-nibbling session with Emma. Her moans end up luring the rabbit to them, and she defeats it as easily as everything has fallen into Noir’s lap so far.

He gets the 300,000 rel he needs, he gets another hug from Lola and Emma (who make up after a rough start) and thanks to a skill he created that lets him store the dead rabbit in a trans-dimensional space, he ingratiates himself with the entire guild by offering it for a feast. When pressed for a speech, he thinks of how none of this would be possible without Olivia…only to not so much as mention her to the guild of which she was a member.

Looks like the easy times and make-out sessions are only going to continue from here. As I said last week, those looking for serious conflict, adversity, or any kind of surprises are barking up the wrong tree. This week I can add “receptionists unwilling to arbitrarily debase themselves” and “thrilling battle animation” to the growing list of stuff not in this anime.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 01 (First Impressions) – Born on Third

As a “mere” baronet, Noir Starga may be at the bottom of the noble caste pyramid of his nation. His family isn’t fuck-you rich, all the higher classes look down on them, and he has to get an actual job to support himself. But while his librarian job is stolen by a higher-ranking baron the day he’s supposed to start, life seems awfully sweet for Noir!

For one thing, he has two living parents, despite being a character in a fantasy anime! He also has a cute brocon imouto in Alice and a smokin’ hot childhood friend in Emma Brightness (excellent name), whom I’m just going to pretend is the non-masochistic sister of KonoSuba’s Darkness. Noir and Emma were going to be co-workers, but she still has a solution for the migraines he suffers: swappin’ spit!

So far we’ve got a kid with a loving fam, a future wife, and oh yeah, that Great Sage skill tells him everything about the world, including the unexplained. Again, pretty sweet life. When making out with Emma cures his headaches, Noir’s free to use it to locate a hidden dungeon just 10 klicks from town. There, he hears Horie Yui’s voice and follows it to the buxom adventurer Olivia Servant.

Olivia has been chained up for two centuries, and is just happy to talk to another person. Rather than let her considerable skills go to waste, she copies and bestows them upon Noir. They are Get Creative (conjure any skill), Bestow (give any skill to anyone) and Editor (modify any skill). The only catch: the skills use a ton of Life Points (LP), gained by, well, living: essentially enjoying money, food, and sex.

Noir tries out his new OP skills in the dungeon, but the LP expenditure tires him out. He learns lying in Alice’s lap restores a bit of LP, while embracing a more daringly-dressed Emma the next day restores a lot. When she complains of shoulder pain from her rather prodigious bust, he uses Editor to temporarily shrink it; she has him undo the change immediately.

Armed with so many useful skills and numerous ready sources of LP, Noir changes course and decides to take the Hero Academy entrance exam. The exam begins with the admitees splitting off into parties of three, and members of the higher castes mock Noir for even speaking to them, but thankfully Emma joins him, as she only got a job at the library to be with him. The haughty vicountess Lenore completes the triad.

They split up looking for valuable monster loot, and Noir heads to the hidden dungeon where he encounters a Level 99 Grim Reaper. Despite only being Level 23, Noir has enough LP to Create the Heavy skill and Bestow it on the Reaper to slow it down, then creates a giant stone bullet and shoots it at the Reaper, defeating it.

The Reaper skull ends up giving Team Lenore the edge, and then some: they scored 128,000 points when the next two teams only managed 11,550 and 5,890. Noir was misled by the fact Olivia is a master of the OP skills she gave him, to the point even a Level 99 Boss is a mere scrub.

If you’re looking for complex characters, conflicts, or drama, you will find none in The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter. If you’re looking for a competently-rendered non-isekai renaissance-y setting packed with cute characters, JRPG rules, understated ecchi, and basically a lot of the hero getting his way without much effort at all (as befits his noble station), you’ve come to the right place!

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 12 (Fin) – Traipsing in Place

Iska can’t protect Sisbell from Masked Lord and the Empire’s Object, but thankfully he gets an assist from his fellow members of Unit N07. He buys time by hacking at Object until Nene can launch a rocket barrage that disables the mecha dragon, all while Sisbell wonders why these supposed enemies are protecting her from their own superweapon.

Meanwhile, Jihn is able to keep up with Masked Lord, despite the fact the guy has backup mages and the ability to teleport weapons and himself. After a brief knife fight, Masked Lord decides to limit his attacks to fire-based, which are nullified when Mismis activates her Astral Crest. Jhin blasts Mask’s Mask off, and he withdraws for now, having not looked particularly powerful.

Since Object is a final boss of sorts, it stands to reason it has multiple stages; in its second, it has a quick-recharging mega-cannon that causes a great deal of collateral destruction. Sisbell finally contributes to the battle by using her time magic to conjure a sandstorm from the past, which Iska uses as cover to shatter Object’s core. However, that just unlocks it’s third and final form, in which it sucks Sisbell into its core and starts babbling in the ancient Astral language.

This third stage proves too much even for Iska, which provides the perfect opportunity for Alice to show up. They once again put aside their individual rivalry to fight side-by-side, and with a bunch of acrobatics and ice magic they manage to destroy the final form and free Sisbell.

It’s all pretty by-the-numbers, really. Masked Lord is basically nerfed in his fight with Jhin, while Iska and Alice don’t do anything that different from their previous team-ups. Also, the fact their main opponent was a mostly mindless giant monster meant their victory doesn’t really move the needle where their peace process is concerned.

All it does is take one of the Empire’s weapons off the board…and the Eight Great Apostles aren’t even that miffed about it! Alice and Sisbell have their obligatory fight over Iska, with Alice in the uncomfortable position of pretending she doesn’t know Iska while protesting Sisbell’s familiarity with him. Iska rejoins his unit, who helped make sure the civilians were safe off-camera.

Then there are a whole lot of scenes of things the show didn’t have time to cover in depth: Mask’s plans for Kissing to enter the election, the Queen bringing Elletear before her and asking if she’s the real Elletear (?), Risya and Nameless tipping their hats to Iska’s skill. Perhaps most relevant to Iska and Alice’s hopes for peace is the meeting of Salinger and the Emperor, but neither character was that well developed, so who knows what that fruit if any that team-up will bear.

Actually, we do know: no fruit at all, because this is the end of the season! It ends with one more scene of our two heroes sharing a bench in the neutral city, promising each other not to let anyone else know they know each other and looking forward to their next meeting, where they’re tentatively planning to finally have their decisive fight, but probably won’t.

The show ends with an ellipsis and a bunch of question marks rather than any full stops, leaving me similarly noncommittal to engaging with a second season. Better shows have done more with just twelve episodes, and looked much better doing so. If I could use Sisbell’s ability and go back in time, I’d probably just skip this.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 11 – When It Rains Princesses, It Pours

Sisbell comes offering some kind of magical bracelet to Iska, as well as the promise of restoring his status, honor, and more. All he has to do is go back with her to the Sovereignty. Familiar request, right? Iska is flattered but loath to accept, and at this point has no idea who Sisbell is other than the “royal servant” he broke out of prison.

When Alice and Rin find an article about Iska in Sisbell’s room, Alice is eager to find out what she’s up to, especially if it involves treason. Thanks to Rin, the Queen agrees to let Alice go on a low-profile long-distance trip to track Sisbell down. Back in Alsamira, Iska has a lot on his mind and can’t quite fully participate in the BBQ fun.

In what seems like an extraneous repeat of their scene last week, Elletear comes out and tells Masked Lord that she suspects her two younger sisters of treason, but is worried her love for them will keep her from “doing what is necessary”, so she bypasses the enmity between the Lou and Zoa houses and asks Masks to take care of her sisters for her.

This does not make Elletear look particularly smart or good! Naturally, Alice is in the desert on her way to Alsamira when her tour bus comes to a screeching halt: there are giant footprints and machine oil stains in the sand…suggesting the Empire has deployed the Witch-hunting “Object” teased at the very end of last week.

Iska changes up the unit’s hotel accommodations, hoping to distance his comrades from getting tangled up with Sisbell. Jhin also recommends as they’re in a neutral city to procure for Mismis the same crest-concealing special bandages Shanorotte used while posing as an Imperial.

Despite his cautiousness, Iska is approached once more by Sisbell, and they continue their discussions at a secluded industrial zone. She reveals her time-manipulating astral power that has enabled her to keep tabs on him, as well as her true identity as Princess Sisbell, Alice’s sister.

Unlike Alice, she isn’t asking Iska to out-and-out defect from the Empire; she merely needs someone she can trust to help her out the Sovereignty’s traitor, who is tyring to destroy both nations by fanning the fires of total war.

Iska respectfully declines the offer, as he believes it doesn’t go far enough towards peace between their peoples. Sisbell deems that unrealistic, but that doesn’t faze Iska. Just then, Masked Lord appears behind Sisbell. He have some kind of teleporting ability, because he sure got there quick after meeting with Elletear!

Accusing her of being a traitor, Mask and his mage guards have come to arrest Sisbell, who quickly flees as Iska stands between them. She’s stopped in her tracks by the Object, whose presence is either a happy coincidence for Mask, or a sign that he is the traitor Sisbell feared.

I’m sure Iska can handle Mask’s troops with one hand tied behind his back—which isn’t the case this time!—but that mecha dragon seems like a tougher customer. Still, even if Iska and Sisbell can’t handle it, both Alice and Unit N07 aren’t far away.

While there are more new developments, this was the second straight table-setting episode where nothing is resolved and a lot is left up in the air. If next week is the final episode, I can’t see how it won’t be thoroughly overstuffed! That suggests a second cour is in the cards, though I’m not sure one is deserved…

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 10 – My Dream Knight

Risya and Nameless meet with the Emperor…and they seem to be an androgynous cat-person. Not only that, the Emperor seems all too aware that a “Witch Princess” (i.e. Alice) has fallen for an Imperial Swordsman (i.e. Iska), and seems pleased with that development.

Meanwhile, Third Princess Sisbell is having troubling nightmares about the demise of her mother the queen that she believes to be visions of the future. Needless to say she’s uneasy and is desperate to find a way to alter that future.

Back in the Empire, Iska, Nene and Jhin are worried about Mismis’ crest being exposed, but they’re bailed out by an imperial administrator who castigates Risya for grossly overworking the unit. They are awarded sixty days of vacation, and they decide to spend them in Alsamira, a desert resort nation that while not officially neutral like Ein is considering an alliance with the Empire.

Alsamira also just happens to be the destination of Sisbell, as her mother sends her there to attempt to convince their leaders to side with the Sovereignty. As a pawn in the continuing political game that is the election of the next queen, Sisbell only trusts her personal butler Schwarz to accompany her.

Then we finally meet the First and eldest of princesses in the green-haired Elletear. She meets with Zoa’s Tuxedo Mask to report something most troubling: apparently someone high up in the Sovereignty is working with the Empire. My first thoughts went to Alice, of course, but we learn she’s not the only suspect.

Alsamira closely resembles Dubai or Abu Dhabi IRL, a wealthy emirate currently thriving on tourism and hospitality, which Unit N07, particularly its female members, are all too happy to exploit. Mismis and Nene show off their swimsuits to the boys, and a day of fun and not fighting the Sovereignty ensues.

As the sun sets and the unit heads back to the hotel for dinner, Nene and Iska split off to buy food and Nene goes off to use the restroom. Whenever Iska is left alone in a city he tends to bump into a princess, and this week is no different…but the princess is. He recognizes her as the astral mage he broke out of prison, but when Nene returns to him, Sisbell vanishes without a trace. Still, Sis is convinced she’s found the “knight of her dreams.”

That night, Rin and Alice, stuck in the palace with mountains of paperwork and other official duties, assist the queen in snooping through Sisbell’s chambers. As Sisbell’s mother, the queen is concerned with what she’s been up to cooped up in her room. Alice and Rin find a clue: a newspaper reporting the arrest and life imprisonment of Iska, the Imperial who saved her. Alice is shocked her sister might know her Imperial buddy.

Back in Alsamira, Sisbell decides to make her move…by breaking into Iska’s hotel room. By acting so suspiciously, she should have known she’d be welcomed as an assassin and not a guest, but she doesn’t seem to care. All that matters is that she’s found Iska, her Knight. I’m inclined to believe she considers Iska the key to preventing the bad future she’s been dreaming of. She believes this because Iska helped her, his “enemy”, when he had no other reason to other than kindness and mercy.

That Sisbell is meeting secretly with Iska will no doubt be a red flag for her sisters and mother, and their already flaky retainers may even consider her a traitor for doing so—and that’s assuming they’re not yet aware of Alice’s many meetings with an Imperial swordsman. While laying the groundwork for some interesting developments, this episode was a classic table-setter: necessary, but a bit ho-hum.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 09 – Officially Rivals

The battle between Iska and Salinger commences, and Kimisen goes full Shounen Battle Mode, complete with the arrogant opponent’s high-and-mighty speeches. It basically boils down to Ichigo—er, Iska fighting a shinigami captain—er, Salinger and weathering his attacks, with some light but welcome support from Rin.

Down on ground level, Alice is attacked by Nameless, but only very briefly, as if he was once again merely testing her defenses. It isn’t long before she spots Iska and realizes he did what she’d hoped he’d do: help her out rather than simply running when free of the cuffs.

Honestly, while Salinger was amusingly smug at times, he’s also pretty much a cookie-cutter haughty boss, and thus not that interesting. Adding to the lack of suspense is the fact Iska already defeated the Nebulis Founder, whom Salinger considers an equal. Salinger also expresses surprise at Iska’s abilities a bit too much to be a credible big bad.

I had expected Alice to join Iska in the fighting, as they’d also joined forces to beat back the Founder, but Iska has this well in hand, and manages to force Salinger to retreat. All Alice has to do is comfort the wounded Rin and serve as a reminder to Salinger that even if he defeated Iska, he’d have to deal with her.

The fires are extinguished, the prisoners recovered, and the dust cleared in Alcatroz. Alice urges a suddenly adorable Rin to be honest about her various cuts and bruises she suffered, while Alice snaps herself out of swooning over Iska by telling herself he only did what he was supposed to do as part of their temporary alliance.

The Nameless who was at Alcatroz returns to the Empire, then removes his helmet to reveal she was Risya all along; the real Nameless was off ensuring their special forces infiltrated the Central Province. It’s almost as if Risya and N07 were merely an elaborate distraction. We also catch a glimpse of some kind of giant mecha thingy that just might be the next boss against which Iska and/or Alice must face off.

As for Iska, he joins N07 on the car ride home. As she’d been worried about Iska for virtually the entire mission, Mismis reveals she hasn’t yet fully processed the fact she’s an astral mage, nor what to do about it, but since she helped save Iska, it’s his pleasure to help her out in devising a plan to keep her out of Imperial prison or worse. Who better than a former inmate like him?

Back on the royal palace grounds, Alice gazes up at the stars and utters the name “Iska”, irking Rin, who warns her master that she’ll tell the Queen if Alice keeps this up. Little to they know they’re being watched by Alice’s little sister Sisbell. We’ve already met her, as she was the mage Iska broke out of prison. Sis doesn’t want to believe it, but we know it to be true. It’s looking like she’ll be calling on him to help her out again soon.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 08 – Demon Ascending

Alice is always referring to Iska as her “enemy”, but with Risya releasing another agent of chaos in Salinger the Demon/Transcendant, she doesn’t have the luxury of rejecting the aid of an enemy like Iska whom she’s come to trust, and who shares her dream of peace.

When the prison tower housing Salinger starts to burn, Alice and Rin must hurry to put out those fires. Before leaving, Alice quietly asks if Iska will help her, but he doesn’t quite hear. She drops the matter, but not before leaving a fresh new handkerchief to replace the one he gave her.

Unit N07 finally hears from their CO Risya, who tells them that the Princess Iska is in Another Castle, leading them to wonder if they were merely bait for Risya to attain a different, secret goal (they were). But the fact remains they have to get the hell out of the tower, so Mismis bears her genuine crest and serves as bait once more, this time so Nene and Jhin can take out their pursuers.

Iska, handcuffed in his hotel room, hears ringing in Alice’s room and discovers she had his Imperial phone. He makes contact with Unit N07 and arranges to meet them at the very prison tower where Alice and Rin went. When he considers how to remove his cuffs, he suddenly remembers the handkerchief Alice left, and sure enough, it contains the key. This is what she meant by requesting his help—she couldn’t do it overtly, so left the key in hope he would agree.

Alice and Rin’s car is bombed before they reach the prison, but that’s of no consequence; the site is a mess of Imperial forces and various sovereignty forces from within the prison, so Alice takes command as Second Princess. Iska meets with Unit N07, but before anything else he asks for his two swords back, urges them to take the civilian onlookers to safety of the hotel, and he’ll meet them there in fifteen minutes or so.

Alice leaves Rin to deal with Salinger, and while Rin talks a big game and impresses him for a brief time, once Salinger gets serious Rin is no more than a “cat or dog” he has no further interest in torturing. Much of the astral magic he’s “collected” came from purebred sources far superior to Rin’s, after all.

Rin is overmatched; she knows it, and Salinger knows it, but it doesn’t matter: her only goal is to fight him and buy time until she can’t fight anymore. That turns out to not be very long, but it’s long enough that by the time Salinger is bored and ready to finish her, Iska arrives just in time to block his killing blow and save Rin.

Rin’s long-standing suspicion of and enmity towards Iska didn’t matter; Rin is Alice’s cherished friend, while Salinger is Alice’s enemy, so he’ll save Rin and defeat Salinger. If Risya gets wind of either Iska messing up her plan or of Mismis being a real astral mage, things will get far more complicated, but for now, it’s as simple as this: The enemy (Salinger) of his “enemy” (Alice) is his enemy. After all that lounging around in the hotel, it’s time to get to work!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 07 – Stuck On You

Rin and Alice are in full improv mode, as neither expected to have Iska in their custody at the end of the day at Neutral City. But they do, so they have to deal with it. Even Alice may not be able to protect him from his doom in the Sovereignty’s capital, so they head for Nebulis Province 13, Alcatroz, also known as the Prison Sector.

Risya orders Unit N07 to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska as part of the larger plan to capture the Queen. They’ll pass through the border with fake Astral Crests prepared by the research unit. Jhin deftly pantomimes placing a fake crest on Mismis’ hidden real one, hopefully allying suspicion that she’s a real witch…for now.

Once Alice and Rin arrive at Alcatroz’ designated hotel for royals, Rin recommends she stay with the handcuffed prisoner at all times while Alice stays in an adjacent suite. When Iska woke up in the car, he voiced his “disappointment” in Alice, who is clearly hurt by the breach of trust caused by Rin’s meddling.

Rin breaches that trust again, twisting her master’s orders to “take good care” of Iska by cutting her own hand with a fruit knife to serve as an excuse for self-defense when she kills him. It’s clear at this point Rin has gone rogue, believing Alice no longer capable of objectivity. Unfortunately, even a cuffed Iska is able to defend himself from her attacks, and Alice re-enters the room to find the two grappling on the couch and puts an immediate stop to it.

Mismis, Jhin, and Nene successfully pass the border and enter the Prison Sector, where Risya briefly meets up to indicate their next destination, the offshore Ollelugan Prison Tower. But she’s hiding the true nature of her mission when she splits back off from N07. Jhin eventually catches on that their unit may not be here for the explicit reasons Risya stated.

Alice decides to chain herself to Iska (unlike with Rin he’ll be hard-pressed to stop her attacks without his swords), but also turns into a complete airhead when Iska brings up the blatantly glaring question of how the two of them will use the toilet, bathe, and sleep while so connected.

Alice has Rin temporarily disconnect them so she can take a bath, only for that bath to kill even more of her brain cells, such that she comes out of the bathroom butt naked but for a loosely hanging towel. As such, Iska sees the positively massive astral crest on her back, and Alice forgets her modesty altogether, as she’s suddenly primarily concerned with what Iska thinks of both her crest—and her in general.

Iska tells Alice about Mismis (without using her name): his captain and an Imperial soldier who is now a “witch” due to gaining a crest, and how he still respects her regardless of whether she’s a witch or has a crest. He doesn’t place the blame for a century of war on the crests, but due to the ideas and positions that divide them due to their opposite nations of origin.

He’s basically saying he doesn’t consider the crest to be the mark of a witch or devil, and doesn’t fight because of them. As for how he regards Alice, he considers her a “rival on the battlefield”, which is precisely what she wanted to hear: that the two of them are equals in his eyes. Now all she needs to do is strip him down so she can see him naked, and they’ll be even for the night!

As N07 continues their separate infiltration, Risya reaches her destination as laid out by the council: the special cell of Salinger, AKA “The Transcendent Demon”—a ripped but bored-looking bishounen who may just be itching for some action, any action. And since it’s Risya releasing him, he just might fight on her side…for a time. As for me, I’m designating both him and Risya wild cards for now.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 06 – Apples and Lemons

Ever since the vortex incident that thrust her and Iska apart, Alice has been sighing heavily a lot while looking out the window of her bedchamber. She’s clearly pining for him, purportedly to fight and defeat him once and for all, but both we and Rin can see there’s more to it than that. Absent any other leads, Alice decides to return to the Neutral City Ein, hoping they’ll bump into him once more.

Meanwhile, in the empire, Mismis’ left arm has felt funny ever since falling into the vortex. But it doesn’t hurt, so she chalks it up to nothing serious. Their next mission, however, is no joke: Led by Misya, Unit N07 is to infiltrate the Sovereignty and capture Queen Nebulis! We learn how difficult it is for any non-astral mage to enter the Sovereignty.

The crests all mages bear are used as passports, which is a fuck-you to the empire for using those same crests as evidence for their witch trials (and subsequent genocide). Iska, Mismis, Nene, Jihn seem like nice people, but Jesus Christ is the empire they serve fucked up!

Alice and Rin arrive in Ein, and stand by the fountain where she encountered Iska before. However, in this case where she’s actively trying to encounter him, Rin doubts they’ll find him easily. Rin even suggests Iska might’ve died in the vortex, but Alice won’t hear of it: he’s alive, and she’s going to date—er—fight him. Even so, three days pass, with no sign of Iska.

Rin is concerned about Alice’s sudden intensified fixation on Iska. Other families are watching the Lou family for weaknesses, ready to take the throne, while Alice’s sisters are diligently preparing for the forthcoming eleciton. Meanwhile Alice is committed only to fruitless stakeouts in Ein. Rin knows she’s the only person who can get Alice “back on track”.

Meanwhile, Mismis’ arm won’t stop feeling strange, so she removes her jacket for Nene to inspect it, and that’s when she discovers…an astral crest. In one lift of the sleeve, Mismis’ life has changed forever. If the research institute found out she was hiding the crest, she’ll be summarily executed! Even if she comes forward of her own free will, she’ll be imprisoned, likely for life!

All Iska and the others can do is try to comfort Mismis (who is understandably freaking out), and Iska lays out the options: turn herself in, or keep hiding it. As their captain, they’ll follow whichever path she chooses.

In the meantime, Iska decides to take Mismis to Ein, where she’ll be safe for the time being. Ein is so incredibly peaceful and idyllic, one wonders how it’s even able to exist between two warring nations, one of which is brazen enough to attempt the kidnapping of the other’s sovereign. Does Ein have its own force to deter either side from starting shit?

That aside, the minute Mismis leaves Iska to buy some drinks, Alice appears, and there’s a neat little scene where neither Alice nor Iska recognize one another at first due to the glare of the sun. That said, once they do recognize each other, it’s not long before they’re sitting on the bench together, exchanging blushing looks.

Alice even declares she’s glad to see her purported “enemy” is safe after the vortex incident. Indeed, she’s positively giddy to see him, and when she senses something is troubling Iska, she asks him to tell her, as she’s good at keeping secrets (though she undermines that claim rather totally by saying she only tells Rin, who is clearly more than a maid).

Before Iska can say anything, Rin appears with drinks, and to the surprise of both Alice and Iska, she offers one to Iska. It’s an apple-lemon blend, which calls to mind “apples and oranges”—a nice metaphor for the Empire and Sovereignty. But it’s not the strange blend that knocks Iska out: it’s a sleeping drug that Rin slipped into the can. When Iska passes out on the bench, Rin reveals her plan: she assumed he’d reject the offer of a drink due to his distrust.

He’d then take it as a sign he should stay away from her. But Iska did trust Rin, and not just because they were in neutral territory. Alice’s behavior totally disarmed him, because like him, she had no ill intent that day, having declared a “temporary truce”. Rin regrets not using a fatal potion, but the fact remains they can’t just leave him there, so she takes him into custody.

When Mismis returns, even Alice knows there’s no easy way to explain what’s happening, so she slides back into official mode, telling her they’re taking in an enemy of the Sovereignty. That’s when Mismis insists they let him go…and her astral crest activates, albeit without any kind of control. Again, Alice doesn’t have any time to consider why an Imperial soldier has a crest; she freezes Mismis’s foot to the ground and takes off with Rin and Iska.

We don’t learn if any witnesses saw Mismis’ astral power awaken, just Misya meeting with the Emperor himself to report Iska’s kidnapping and requesting instructions. In a way, having the Queen’s own daughter bring Iska into the Sovereignty means the infiltration plan has gone off without a hitch; there will be a lemon in the land of apples. All Iska needs to do is free himself, capture the Queen, and return to the Empire, and it’s mission accomplished!

Of course there are a variety of questions in play: will he be able to free himself? If he does—or Alice is the one to do it—will he still go forward with his unit’s mission, or will he and Alice be able to make a sliver of progress with peace talks? Will Misya learn Mismis has a crest, and if so, will she punish her, or use her to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska? Tons to consider…I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 05 – Hindrances to Her Chosen Fate Arise

Much to the surprise of the mages on guard, Alice and Rin show up at the new vortex site unannounced, and are soon joined by TuxedoLord Mask and his younger Zoa relation, Kissing, whom he considers to be on a power level close if not equal to Alice’s. He assures the princess they’ll be enough to protect the vortex from the Empire’s forces. Alice is troubled that the Zoa family seeks all-out war—and if she hadn’t come, they’d have exploited the vortex to towards that goal.

Meanwhile, Mismis locates the vortex—which wasn’t hard, as its a giant pillar of light on the horizon!—but they’re not the first on the scene. Their unit is confronted by Shanorotte’s, but when Mismis runs over to hug her, Noro-chan reveals her true colors: she and her unit are and always were loyal mages of the Sovereignty. She shocks Mismis with magic and prepares to take her away as a POW.

That’s when Nameless, who was nearby all along, de-cloaks and wounds Noro’s fellow mages. Nameless prepares to send a sword at Noro which will go through Mismis, but Iska deflects the blade. Nameless threatens to bring Iska up on charges for insubordination, but he doesn’t have time for him. He must return to the Imperial Base so he can bomb the vortex, which is a lost cause now that it’s firmly in enemy hands.

Back at the vortex, Noro presents her captive Mismis to Mask and Alice, who fears Mismis will recognize her from the Neutral City. Thankfully, Rin knocks Mismis out before she can say anything that could incriminate Alice. Mask and the Zoas are hawks, after all; the crown princess meeting with the enemy could be all the excuse they need to move against the Lous.

As it is, Alice simply asks Noro where the enemy base is, as she’s eager to meet back up with Iska as the fortune teller foretold. Only Iska has Nene and Jhin hang back while he infiltrates the enemy base, headed to the place Alice was just as she’s leaving.

Iska is able to easily wrest Mismis back from Noro’s sadistic clutches, but Noro is bailed out by Kissing, who attacks with summoned thorns that take on a variety of forms. Iska, who recognizes Kissing as a strong purebred, is able to hold out until Noro uses the thorns to destroy, then reconstruct an incoming Imperial missile.

That explosion is seen by Alice after she returns to the Imperial base. Nameless is waiting for her there, and manages to cut both Rin and Alice, but then Alice goes all out with Ice Calamity, forcing Nameless to flee. The blast in the distance convinces Alice she should never have left the vortex zone; she must’ve just missed Iska.

Iska is able to slip past Kissing’s thorny offense-defense and knock her unconscious with a non-lethal blow, but then Mask shows up to carry her away, shoving Mismis into the vortex to buy time for their escape. Iska jumps in after her and eventually grabs hold of Mismis. Alice returns just in time to watch him leap in, and she leaps in after him.

The ensuing scene is highly amusing for its informality considering the situation. Despite descending through a column of surging astral energy that apparently has no bottom, Alice blushes at the sight of Iska and treats him as if he stood her up at the base. Still, she agrees to help him and Mismis out of there if he agrees to fight her as soon as they’re back on the ground.

Iska agrees, and the two join hands just as the astral energy surges further. Suddenly they hear a fell voice in the din—an astral spirit’s chant—and the column detonates and dissipates, separating Alice and Iska and dispelling them to different remote areas of the surface. Rin meets back up with Alice, who is annoyed her next battle with Iska has again been postponed by outside forces. Nene and Jhin pull up to find Iska and Mismis, none the worse for wear all things considered.

With the vortex gone, there may be nothing left for either side to do, but more vortices are sure to crop up. We’re left wondering if it was Alice and Iska’s holding hands that caused the vortex to close, which could portend an interesting possible destiny for the pair. If astral vortices are akin to nuclear weapons, or at least sources of atomic-esque energy that can bring about great death and destruction, it falls upon these two to ensure those sources never fall into the hands of either side’s warmongering factions.

I may be off-base with that theory, but it fits with both Alice and Iska’s reluctance to escalate the conflict and desire to bring about a lasting peace. This week’s events underscored the difficulty of that goal, with players like Noro, Kissing, Mask, and Nameless all unwittingly conspiring to hinder Alice and Iska’s continued interaction. The more they fight, the more they’ll understand and trust one another, and the better positioned they’ll be to save the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 23 (Fin) – A Hug and a Sword

She may have put up a brave front for most of last week’s episode, Alice’s cracks show at a cocktail party and culminate in an escape from Rath altogether. Kirito just gets off the phone with Rinko when he receives a large package.

Sure enough, it’s Alice, who shipped herself to his house! It strikes just the right balance of hilariously ridiculous and tremendously sweet, especially when you consider Alice isn’t just any heartsick maiden, but an artificial life form.

Alice has been unfathomably lonely since awakening in the real world, and who can blame her? She’s literally the only being of her kind in that world. She’s lost and adrift, but the sight of Kirito—or rather the physical presence Kirigaya Kazuto—soon soothes her, especially when wrapped in a big hug. He also tells her she is his hope, and the hope of all decent people in the world.

But Kirito can discern that she needs more than a tour of his humdrum family home. He takes her to the nearby dojo puts a practice sword in her hand, and the two spar. After defeating him with a cheekily improvised move called “Iron Headbutt”, Alice’s confidence and sense of self is restored. All a knight needs is a sword and a cause, after all!

Alice stays the night, and gets to witness a rare sight for SAO: the entire Kirigaya family seated around the dinner table. After his dad asks him to once again apologize for stressing them out during his latest mission, Alice herself defends Kirito as a hero in her world.

To her surprise, her father responds with pride that he’s aware of Kazuto’s accomplishments, and that he’s already a hero in the real world as well, making his son blush. Kazuto also informs his parents of his new course in life: to earn a degree in electronic engineering and join the Oceanic Resource Exploration & Research Institution, AKA Rath.

That night, Alice sneaks into a sleeping Kirito’s room, but not for that. She received a strange message through the network, and with Yui’s help Kirito determines the message is code for a specific IP address in which to re-access the Underworld.

Kirito, Alice, and Asuna meet at the Roppongi facility where Rinko helps them log back into the Underworld, two hundred years after leaving it. The three are shocked to find they’ve spawned not on the Underworld, but in orbit of it, out in space!

There has clearly been some possibly Macross-inspired technological advances in those two centuries, because Tiese and Ronie (or two people very much like those two) are “integrity pilots” locked in a desperate space battle with an eldritch abomination called “The Abyssal Horror”, all eyes, mouths, and tentacles.

Since the pilots are in trouble, Kirito, Asuna, and Alice all pool their considerable offensive powers in order to freeze, impale, and utterly destroy the spacebeast, all while the pilots gaze in awe and recall that the trio are historical figures back in the Underworld. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the planet surface and how things have advanced.

Granted, that would probably have been digging too deeply than what was required of this episode: a worthy send-off for Kirito, Asuna, and Alice, and a tantalizing sneak-peak at their next adventure, called the “Inter-Intellegence War.”

Whenever that new anime is released, I’ll certainly be there to follow our old friends as they hopefully manage to avoid falling into comas or being held hostage by perverts! Until then, I bid sayonara to the now-completed War of Underworld and ja ne to Sword Art Online. It was quite a fun ride.

Season Average: 8.55

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 22 – The Work Goes On

Last Week, Alice’s lightcube was successfully ejected. This week we find her walking and talking in the real world, in an artificial body. She and new Rath chief Koujirou Rinko hold a press conference to announce her arrival. Kikuoka is publically declared KOA, but remains alive in hopes of keeping Ocean Turtle and the Underworld safe.

As one would expect, most reporters ask tough, pointed questions about Alice. She hilariously agrees to open her skull and show one of them her brain—provided he does it first! She also declares her love for a real-worlder we know to be Kirito. Rinko declares that Artificial Fluctlights are human beings, not a resource that either can or should be mass produced for what would amount to slavery.

Rinko also makes clear that there is only one condition under which the AFs might rise up and destroy their creators: if those creators tried attacked them first. There are monumentally huge questions posed by the mere existence of Alice and the tech that created her, which challenge organic human exceptionalism itself.

The road ahead will not be straight or smooth, but ass with the humans and machines in The Matrix, only way forward is together. Pandora’s Box is open, and without peaceful coexistence there is only mutual destruction.

That unity and coexistence has already been tested and proven by Kirito, Asuna and their friends who fought in the War to protect Alice and the Underworld. Alice abruptly leaves the press conference when she senses that Kirito is about to wake up, and is the first person he sees when he opens his eyes for the first time in a month (in the real world) and far longer in hers.

Both that powerful moment and the quieter, lived-in, love-filled moments between Kirito and Asuna in the hospital brought tears to my eyes, just as Asuna’s reconciliation with her mom did back in SAO II. Turns out Asuna ruled as Queen of the Underworld for all two hundred years, with Kirito either co-ruling as King or serving as her knight and consort.

After waking up and informing Alice her sister Selka is in deep freeze ready to be revived, he quickly urges Kikuoka and Higa to delete those two hundred years of memories. His voice is noticeably lower and more gravelly, which at first I thought was because his real body was so parched. However, in order to return to being the Kirito he was before the rapid acceleration, those memories, and the evolution of his self that resulted, had to go.

The not-dead Kikuoka tells Kirito and Asuna the current situation. Ocean Turtle, Rath, and even Alice are all in danger of being seized by the government and then poked and prodded into oblivion or perverted into military weaponry. Their only weapon is P.R., and Alice and Rinko’s press conference was the first shot fired.

From here, they must bring public opinion to their side that Artificial Fluctlight tech is not a commodoty, but the next stage of human evolution, and as such subject to the same rights. But then we learn that Higa didn’t delete the 200-year-old Kirito after all, but copied him when Kikuoka and Rinko weren’t looking.

After briefly deliberating over whether to open this newest can of worms, he activates the Kirito copy, who being 200 years old naturally predicted “something like this” might happen. Indeed, he and Queen Asuna assumed one of three scenarios involving one or both of them being copied. In the case only Kirito were copied, he vowed to devote all his energies to the protection of the Underworld.

While the satellite linking them to Ocean Turtle and Underworld has been seized by the government, Kirito believes the copy of Heathcliff AKA Kayaba Akihiko still lives. He’s the key to regaining access and beginning the important work that must be done. I for one am glad Higa didn’t delete the old, grizzled Kirito, and looking back at his and Queen Asuna’s two centuries of rule could surely fill another two seasons, if not more.

Meanwhile, Kirigaya Kazuto returns to his home and lies down in his own bed, after a month at Rath and a week of rehab that was, to him, a hell of a lot longer. As soon as his eyes open, he hears the voice of his dear Eugeo as clearly as if he were in the room. Kirito begins to sob, wishing all of his Underworld memories could have been wiped to spare him all this grief.

However, Suguha comes into his room, sits on the bed, and gently pats Kirito’s head, asking him to tell her everything about his time in the Underworld, starting from the beginning. And so he tells her about Eugeo, Rulid Village, and the three-centuries-long quest to chop down a single cedar tree.

Finally, at one of what is surely an interminable string of tedious public events nevertheless vital to Rath and the Underworld’s survival (not to mention her own freedom), Alice gloomily gazes out the window at the cityscape beyond, reaching out to Kirito, telling him she feels like she might “wither away”.

Being the first true artificial human adjusting to the physical world is hard enough…doing it while knowing the man you love is already spoken for…that’s just not fair!