Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 09 – Lucky Girl

Pitohui seemed to be talking a bigger game than of that which she would’ve been capable last week, but she holds true to her avatar name, killing everyone she touches (and quite a few she doesn’t) taking out over twenty of the nearly thirty allied opponents all by herself. The episode is called “ten-minute massacre” but her work doesn’t even take that long, and just like that, seven teams and their leaders are taken out, thinning the SJ2 field considerably.

With the number of teams holding Pito and M’s attention dwindling fast, LLENN takes a safe and stealthy route to them through the inside of the Dome, which has a savannah theme of high grass perfect for hiding, especially if you’re tiny like LLENN and Fuka.

When their position is suddenly exposed, they use speed, pink smoke grenades, and a silencer on P-chan to defeat their foes. Fuka gets a bit too cocky and ends up emptying a clip from her handgun without hitting her target, but she draws from her fantasy RPG background to blugeon the guy to death with a rifle.

Throughout SJ2, we’ve gotten color commentary from the peanut gallery, which is a bit tiresome considering how misogynstic many of their comments are. However, I’m willing to tolerate it to a degree because this is, after all, meant to be a Boy’s/Man’s Game with women players seen as upstart outsiders.

In the cases of Pito, LLENN and Fuka, they’re showing they can not only hang with the boys, but dominate. Speaking of women dominating, “Sinon”, AKA Asada Shino, is mentioned as having cleaned up at the last BoB.

We meet a new woman character in Clarence who LLENN and Fuka initially believe to be just another lecherous dude, albeit a more androgynous one. Turns out she’s a pansexual woman IRL and wants to meet them both. LLENN just wants her magazines, since they’re compatable with P-chan.

She agrees to a kiss (a peck on the cheek) in exchange for the ammo and Clarence’s resignation. She gets both, but they’ve been chatting so long a team has manages to sneak right up to them and initiate an ambush. That team is MMTM, one of the contenders for the SJ2 win, which means LLENN will need every one of the bullets she got from Clarence (who promptly dies) as well as the hope she won’t run out of her famous good GGO luck.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 08 – When in Doubt, Add Grenades

In terms of LLENN accomplishing her goal of quickly killing Pitohui, SJ2 is off to a rough start, as Team LF is about as far away from Team PM4 as is geographically possible on the game map. Fukaziroh also commits a rookie (or J.R. Smith-esque) mistake by walking right into a booby trap that takes out her legs.

In the two minutes that it takes for limbs to regenerate, it’s all up to LLENN to eliminate the six-man team attacking them…and she does so with girm efficiency and a variety of moves, from run-and-gunning to a crotch-stab. Fuka kills the sixth man with a short-range grenade, and soon has her feet back.

As for the other favorites to win, MM are holed up in the snowy mountain forests, waiting to see how things unfold, while SHINC is going after the closest enemy teams with no mercy. Also camping is team PM4, and though Pitohui is extremely impatient and bored, even to the point of questioning M’s courage, M has a plan, and since he’s the leader, what he says goes.

As they slowly make their way closer to PM4, LLENN and Fuka find another team at a train station, and Fuka decides to make up for her previous blunder by taking out their opponents without LLENN having to fire a single shot. All she has to do is serve as a spotter as Fuka rains grenades down from a place of safety, and it works like a charm…at least against an anonymously subpar team.

The next scan reveals that seven teams have formed a massive 42-person alliance and is nearing PM4’s position. LLENN is worried, and runs as fast as she can, but even at top speed she won’t make it, and soon trips over herself.

Fuka tells her all they can do is trust in Pito and M’s ability to survive, and the pair head towards the friggin’ gigantic domed stadium. For Pito’s part, she’s not running from this allied group. On the contrary, she intends to massacre each and every one of the 42. After all, she’s got a lot of pent up energy from all that waiting around.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 03

Shinji’s attempt to destroy Hakuno and Saber fails when Toosaka Rin shows up, hacks Shinji’s systems, and lends Hakuno and Saber a ride out of the tower on her flying motorcycle—all good stuff. We don’t learn anything more about Hakuno’s “Dead Face”, only that it drew Rin to their location.

Rin takes them to a run-down but still very stylish safe house, and explains why she interceded on their behalf: while she is only a former Master, she is the only one in the city (other than Hakuno) to have not fully surrendered to the stagnation of Mayor Matou’s grand plan.

She’s a resistance of one, and now that Hakuno, a fully-active Master, and his Servant Saber have appeared, that resistance grows to three. The only means of reaching the upper level is to defeat the “king” of the one they’re on: Shinji—who also happens to be an active Master. Hakuno and Saber met his Servant in the bar.

The morning of their assault on Central Tower, Hakuno glimpses Saber resplendent on the rooftop’s morning light, surrounded by birds. This show is nothing if not pretty and sometimes drop-dead gorgeous in its staging of people and places.

Rin assists in Hakuno and Saber’s infiltration of the tower, which necessitates her remaining behind to fight Shinji’s Berserkers, leaving the other two free to ride the elevators to the non-projection Shinji’s location.

Once they reach that location—which appears in the form of a standard Japanese school rooftop, Shinji recalls the victory that got him to where he is today. In light of that victory, he is game for a duel against Hakuno and Saber.

With that, massive walls begin to rise above the cityscape, great hatches open, and the entire level is quickly flooded with water, turning the city into an ocean. I love how intricately rendered this city has been the last two episodes, only for the show to completely destroy it here.

The reason for the transformation is that Shinji’s Servant Rider has a naval theme: she is Francis(ca?) Drake, and leads an armada of flying sailing ships to face Saber and her…saber.

Rider’s Noble Phantasm is the “Golden Wild Hunt” / Temesoro el Draque, and Saber is seemingly overwhelmed and sinks into the deluge, too low on mana to mount a counterattack.

That is, until Hakuno dives to her location on the “sea floor” and transfer his plentiful stores of mana through a kiss, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before in a Fate series.

It works a treat, and Saber rises out of the water and rams Rider’s flagship with a ship of her own, revealing her Noble Phantasm one of her skills is “Imperial Privilege”, which enables her to copy her opponent’s ability. Rider and Saber face off in a decisive dual, but Rider’s flintlocks appear to jam at a crucial moment, while Saber’s sword does not miss Rider.

Shinji gets to have an uncharacteristically noble end when he decides to ascend with his Servant rather than break his contract at the last moment to continue living.

And that’s pretty much Mission Accomplished for Hakuno and Saber. With Shinji gone, the level is restored to its true state: that of a vast, eerie, deserted ruin. That majestic city was only ever an illusion in which cowards could stagnate for all time. While that state wasn’t ideal, there is still a measure of sadness in what was lost…even if I won’t miss Shinji, as usual.

With that, a lift descends for Hakuno and Saber, which will bear them to the next level up. Rin, who obviously did not drown in the deluge, trails right behind them on her flying motorcycle. What visual wonders, challenges, Masters and Servants await them on the second level? I can’t wait to find out.

Overlord II – 05

Following his thorough intimidation of the Lizardmen, Lord Ains and his guardians travel to his newly-built forest stronghold. He learns it comes with a super-creepy throne made partially from human bones, and decides he’ll finally dole out Shalltear’s punishment by sitting on her.

Shalltear turning the intended pain into naughty pleasure, combined with Albedo’s violently jealous outburst in the next room, are both examples of OverLord silliness at its best. Things get even sillier when Ains uses a spell to see inside one of the village’s huts, only to catch Zaryusu and Crusch doing the nasty.

The Lizardmen elders and warriors, including Zaryusu, make their one last desperate stand against Cocytus, and are (figuratively) disarmed by his polite and respectful demeanor before being disarmed (literally), halved, and riddled with icy projectiles.

The comedy shifts from the silly to black, as Cocytus calmly, quietly explains how not a single one of his opponents’ magical or physical attacks will have the slightest effect on him; they’re simply too low a level to put a dent in his Guardian-class defenses.

That doesn’t stop Zaryusu & Co. from charging forward, even if it’s right into their grisly deaths. Zaryusu is the last to be killed, but Cocytus promises he’ll remember his name and that of his brothers as the names of warriors.

Back at base, Cocytus is praised for his victory by Lord Ains, and suggests the bodies of the dead Lizardmen be used for undead research. Cocytus makes a counter-proposal: raise Zaryusu, who had been such a valiant fighter, from the dead.

Something like that is well within Ains’ mighty means, but he wishes to make it a transaction, and so asks Crusch to spy on the other Lizardmen in exchange for the resurrection of her lover. (Her momentary assumption he wanted her body enrages both Albedo and Shalltear.)

Crusch agrees, and Zaryusu is brought back to life, and yet even here OverLord doesn’t shy away from having a bit of a laugh; Zaryusu’s speech is all high-pitched and messed-up, like he didn’t quite come back 100% right (rest will apparently restore his former gravitas).

But Ains got what he wanted: the allegiance of the Lizardmen tribes, and a mole who will alert him if that allegiance ever wavers, secured by a “spell” (in reality just a lie) that will kill Zaryusu if Crusch ever betrays him. All in all, some shrewd maneuvering by His Skullfaceiness.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

Overlord II – 02

Overlord II takes a deep dive into the tribal Lizardmen (and women) corner of Yggdrasil, this week, and in doing so demonstrates that even with non-human characters, the show excels at straightforward yet immersive world-building.

The Green Claw tribe has been given eight days to prepare a “desperate and futile defense” against certain doom, and considering fourth-tier magic was used to deliver the message, the tribe’s head priestess fears the worst.

Zaryusu Shasha, while a traveler and no longer a member of any tribe, is nevertheless sent by his brother and tribal chief to speak with the other four tribes about forming an alliance against their mutual enemy, believing that enemy is depending on their remaining disunited.

We get a cursory look into the Tomb of Nazarick where the confident penguin Assistant Butler Eclair enthusiastically prepares for the day he’ll rule Nazarick—by keeping it thoroughly and obsessively clean.

Zaryusu rides his trusty giant hydra to the lands of the Red Eye Tribe, where he is shocked to find their acting chief and head priestess, Crusch Lulu, is an albino lizard. He is immediately smitten with her, which catches her off guard, but they are able to find common cause with relative ease.

I feel like we spend a great deal of time in that hut with Zaryusu and Crusch, but it also feels like time well spent, as we’re able to learn a great deal about the conditions that led to her leadership.

In a dire food shortage the former chief resorted to cannibalism, which Crusch and the tribe endured for a time, but eventually there was an insurrection, and she was their leader.

Her description of the trials she and her people have endured are vivid and well-told, and Zaryusu, while initially a bit forward, treats her with the respect she’s due. I was legitimately please to hear she’s all for an alliance.

I also appreciated the very human behavior assigned to these anthropomorphic lizards; I never forgot they weren’t human but I could still easily sympathize and empathize with both of them, and there was a good portion of casual humor mixed in to keep the proceedings from getting too stodgy.

Crusch (wearing a bush to protect her pale skin from the sun) accompanies Zaryusu to the next tribe, the war-loving Dragon Tusk. Their leader, Zenberu, knows why they’re there, but Zaryusu will have to prove he is strong before they ally themselves with Green Claw and Red Eye.

Meanwhile, Cocytus prepares for battle, I’m assuming it will be against the Lizardmen tribes (I may well end up being wrong, of course). If true, the show puts us in an interesting position of rooting for the underdogs and caring about their plight, all while feeling a kind of kinship to Momonga and his cohorts.

The lines of hero and villain are blurred, despite the fact one side is fighting for survival, while Cocytus merely seeks to distinguish himself in glorious battle. I’m eager to see where this is all headed.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Fate / Zero – 14

The Alliance to Destroy Caster’s Monster (ADCM) doesn’t net great results: Neither Saber, Rider or Lancer can cause any damage to Caster’s monster, as it possesses extraordinary regenerative abilities, like a flan that can reassemble itself faster than you can cut it up.

Archer watches the battle imperiously from above in his extremely cool aircraft, and expresses his disgust at the “mongrels” futile flailing below. Tokiomi uses all the fancy submissive language he knows to try to get Archer to intervene and bring the monster down, but after four of his swords do no more than the other attacks (and are contaminated in the process), Archer declines to sacrifice any more.

As the monster nears the shore, more and more innocent bystanders bear witness, making this an unmitigated disaster for the Holy Grail War and its backers. A pair of JASDF F-15s join the battle, but have no idea what they’re in for.

One gets plucked out of the air by the monster’s tentacles, then eaten; the second is “commandeered” by the newly-arrived Berserker, who engages in a fantastically wild yet balletic dogfight with Archer—as if possessing a fighter jet wasn’t cool enough.

Berserker’s movements are extremely chaotic and unpredictable (as are his missiles), but Archer is able to counter every attack and stay a little bit ahead, glad that someone is entertaining him.

With their Servants fighting each other instead of the monster, Tokiomi and Kariya decide to have a duel of their own, which had to happen some time.

Kariya asks how Tokiomi can call himself a father for giving Sakura away to the Matous, but Tokiomi not only carries a clear conscience, he’s delighted, for the sake of his illustrious noble family, that both of his daughters have the opportunity to become great mages who find “The Root”; never mind that only one of them can. 

Kariya is sick and tired of future generations suffering due to the cruelty and brutality of mages, so he’ll kill them all. It’s Toosaka magic vs. Matou…bugs.

Finally we have Uryuu Ryuunosuke. Good-looking, cheerful kid; would make a fine protagonist if he wasn’t also a child serial killer. As he laughs and celebrates what her Servant is serving up for God, he leaves himself wide open for Kiritsugu’s sniper round.

But wouldn’t you know it, he’s not upset about being shot in the stomach, he’s delighted as well, lamenting that “what he was always looking for” was right under his nose this whole time, in his own guts. Alas, he had to die to find “it”, and only got to enjoy the realization for a few moments before Kiritsugu takes the headshot.

For all of the flash and impressiveness of the Servants’ and their Masters’ abilities, all it took to grab control of the situation was some stealth, a rifle, and a couple bullets…if only it were that easy. Caster and the monster don’t vanish immediately following Uryuu’s death; and as they’ll reach shore long before they do, there’s a real possibility they’ll be able to “feed” on the gathering crowds, sustaining physical form from the absorbed mana.

Uryuu may be gone, but to get rid of Caster’s monster, Kiritsugu knows they’ll need something only Saber has—an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm. The only problem is, she can’t use it with the wound Lancer gave her. In order to defeat the monster, it would seem she and Lancer must duel, and Lancer has to lose.

Fate / Zero – 13

Caster and Uryuu finally return to their lair (where did they go?) to find all their “artwork” has been burned by Rider, an proceed to have a long conversation about the ephemeral nature of their work and Uryuu’s belief in a god who is eagerly watching and cheering humans on as they find new depths of depravity in witch to toil.

Of all the dialogue between Servants and Masters, it should come as no surprise I find Caster and Uryuu’s the most tiresome and least compelling. I mean, both are sociopaths and homicidal maniacs with incredibly twisted views of the world, and have never once demonstrated any hope of redemption.

As far as I’m concerned, they can’t be knocked off soon enough, because they are guilty of the worst sin of all: boring me. Rider and Waver are far more interesting to watch, both because neither are crazy monsters and they’re not basically the same person.

But after his demonstration of power in the Reality Marble, Waver’s confidence has hit a new low. Waver doesn’t believe himself worthy of being Rider’s Master, and while it’s hard for Rider’s attempts to console him to not sound patronizing, he perseveres, telling Waver to have more faith in his ability. After all, stolen relic or not, he would not have been chosen by the grail if he wasn’t worthy.

As Caster, encouraged by Uryuu to do something big and flashy for God, strides out into the river to perform some big, flashy spell, Sola-Ui and Lancer, Iri and Saber, and Waver and Rider all sense it, and head to Caster’s location.

Sola-Ui wants to stand by the Servant she’s fallen for, but Lancer urges her to keep her distance in this case, while it remains to be seen if Iri recovered from her weakness sufficiently to participate in the imminent battle.

And what a battle it should turn out to be: Caster ends up summoning a colossal eldritch creature from the deep to ravage Fuyuki. It’s the kind of foe no single Servant will be able to handle, so Rider, Saber, and Lancer agree to a truce and temporary alliance to take out Caster once and for all.

The absence of Kariya/Berserker and Tokiomi/Kirei/Archer at the outset of this battle leads me to believed one or all of them will get involved or otherwise take advantage of the fact three of their opposing pairs are busy fighting Caster and his monster off. It will also be interesting to see if, when, and which Master Kirei will attempt to steal in order to fulfill the Grail’s desire to make him a Servant anew.

Fate / Zero – 05

This episode just wouldn’t quit. It shouldn’t work as well as it does: piling character after character into what was, at least on the battlefield, a one-on-one duel between Saber and Caster, but because of the build-up in the previous episodes, each and every time someone new takes the stage, it adds a new glorious layer to the conflict.

And even if this battle only turns out to be a big tease, now six of the seven Servants have met one another, and have at least a cursory idea of what to expect form each other. We also learn that if there’s one Servant who’s going to keep a kind of noble order and balance in this War, it’s Rider.

When Lancer declines out of obligation to his Master and Saber is insulted by Rider’s offer to make them his retainers, the Master who originally meant to command Rider appears, at least in voice-form; Archibald is tickled that Velvet would actually become a combatant in the Holy Grail War, and intends to teach him a lesson.

\Rider isn’t having that. Whoever this Archie guy is, he won’t let him torment his Master (that’s his job), who is at least by his side. He calls out Archibald for hiding like a coward, and calls out any other Servants who were drawn to Saber and Lancer’s excellent duel (though if he found it so excellent, why not let it unfold rather than interrupt?)

And so two more Servants appear in quick succession: first Gilgamesh / Archer, then Berserker (true identity unknown). Gil, as is his wont, deems all other kings in his presence to be pretenders (and he has a point, he is the first of them, historically speaking). But Matou decides that now is the time to test Berserker—as well as his own tolerance as a Master.

Archer takes Matou’s bait and exposes his Noble Phantasm for all the other Servants and Masters to see, but ends up with nothing to show for it, since Berserker is not only crazy, but an extremely tough customer, turning every blade Gil sends his way into his own NP. Ultimately Tokiomi has to spend a Command Seal to reign Gil in.

I love how powerful, frightening, and unpredictable Berserker is depicted; he’s a very cool design that seems to shudder in and out of solidity, as if he’s just barely being kept together.

But what I loved even more was Gil’s attempt to save face by basically saying “You’re all beneath me; kill each other off until there’s one left and then come at me.” He’s an arrogant prick as always, but he’s surprisingly likable in this version—perhaps because he was thrown off his game so effortlessly by Berserker.

With Archer gone, Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber, whose injured hand quickly puts her at a disadvantage, forcing Lancer to save her from a potentially vicious blow. He doesn’t do it because they’re friends, or allies, but because she’s his opponent. If Berserker wants to fight her, he’ll have to get past Lancer first.

That’s Lancer’s will, but unfortunately for him, Archie has Command Seals, and uses one to override that will, ordering him to team up with Berserker to eliminate Saber.  In the ensuing one-on-one (after Lancer apologizes to Saber), Kiritsugu and Maiya have their weapons trained on Archie and Assassin, respectively.

Their careful work is ruined, however, by Rider (again), jumping between Saber and Lancer and driving Berserker into the ground, forcing him to retreat, then telling Archie to order Lancer’s retreat as well. Rider has decided that no one is going to die tonight, and nobody challenges him.

I have no doubt that Saber would have gladly fought Berserker and Lancer at once, bad hand and all. But she’s clearly grateful to Rider for his intervention this time. The primary reason for that is Irisviel: if Saber falls here, she’ll be on her own, surrounded by enemies. Rider also decides to stay out of Saber and Lancer’s fight from now own; he’ll face whoever prevails.

That’s fine with Saber; she can’t fight anyone else at 100% until she defeats Lancer and lifts the curse on her hand. It’s just as well that Berserker withdrew when he did, as a longer confrontation might have killed Matou, who vomits blood and worms in a dark alley, but remains as committed as ever to protecting Sakura by winning the war.

What of Uryuu and Caster, the only Servant who wasn’t on the field? Bluebeard observed everything from a crystal ball, and has taken a particular—and worrying—interest in Saber.