Sword Art Online: Alicization – 01 (First Impressions) – The Cutting Edge

“Prime” SAO is back after a brief detour into GGO with LLENN, and drops us into yet another new VRMMO world in which Kirito is the only familiar face. He’s friends with a lad named Eugeo and the village elder’s daughter Alice.

Tired of food quickly spoiling in the summer heat, they go forth into the mountains to harvest some ice. But they get turned around and end up in the forbidden Dark Territory, where Alice accidentally slips and momentarily crosses the threshold between realms.

For that seemingly mild transgression, she is charged with committing a grave taboo, and sentenced to death by an Integrity Knight of the Axiom church, who carries her off on his white dragon. Kirito and Eugeo can do nothing; the knight is far too powerful.

As the dragon disappears into the sky, Kirigaya Kazuto awakens in a lab: he’s a test subject for a new full-dive VR experience unlike any other. The lack of context with which the first half of this double length episode is fitting, as Kirito’s experience felt far “realer” than any VRMMO he’d played before—and thus more disorienting.

Back into a game he knows far better: GGO. Sinon has recruited him, Asuna, and their other friends to try to take out a veteran PK team that has a 100% success rate. They fail to kill the PKs, but do force their retreat. Still, Shino wants Kirito’s help in the next BoB to defeat the one player she couldn’t: Subtilizer.

While not altogether necessary, the brief “cameo” stint within GGO brings us back to familiar territory and reminds us of the bonds that have been forged between these players. Kirito and Shino are friends IRL, and just as comfortable conversing there as they are fighting in-game.

Asuna joins them as Kirito tells the two women more about his “part-time job” as alpha tester for the new full-dive system from a company called Rath. The tech is called Soul Translator, or STL, and while it’s unlike any other VR dive before, Kirito retains no memories of what actually goes on there. As such, while the mention of Alice causes a reaction, he’s not precisely sure why it does.

Kirito’s talk of stints within STL that feel much longer than the real dive time (which sounds like a time-bending DMT trip), as well as his slighter figure, worry Asuna and Shino alike, but he assures them he’s fine. In fact, he’s prepared to head to America to check out the very latest full dive tech, but expresses his wish for Asuna to accompany him, as he “can’t live without her.”

She agrees, but their romantic bliss doesn’t last long, as a character from their past appears IRL: the last surviving member of Laughing Coffin, Johnny Black. The slightly unhinged dude whips out a poison injector and nicks Kirito just as he stabs him in the leg with his umbrella. Now obviously Kirito doesn’t die here, in the first episode, but there are sure to be ill effects.

The question is what Asuna will do in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when Kirito recovers, and whether there are any lingering effects of the injection. Will the America trip have to be called off? Will Kirito get to help Shino out in GGO? Who is Alice and why is she Alicizing? These are some of the many questions I intend to get to the bottom of by continuing to watch SSO:A.

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Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 06 (Fin)

After much cathartic yelling and crying last week, it’s all gravy as Miou, Haruki, and their friends graduate from high school on a positive, if bittersweet, note.

Miou and Haruki get the time they need alone together and write all their dreams on the chalkboard, emulating the promo art with one important difference: a tiny “I love you” Miou rights just out of Haruki’s sight.

The two also avoid closing that 10cm gap they’ve always had, knowing that if they did, they’d likely never let go. That is, they’d never give each other the time and space to realize their individual dreams. A very mature move by both, and one that pays dividends later on.

Much, much, much later on, as in SEVEN GODDAMN YEARS LATER. Sheesh, what is it with these Fall romances and their huge time jumps? And here I thought Just Because!’s month was a long time!

At any rate, Miou is a mostly content art teacher at her old school, Yuu proposes to Natsuki in one the most adorable scenes of the episode, and even Souta and Akari remain a strong item. Miou’s friends worry about Miou, but Miou said she’d wait for Haruki, and wait she does.

Fortunately, all her waiting doesn’t come to naught, as the moment Haruki wins a rookie director’s award in L.A., he’s on the first plane back to Japan to tell Miou first (though Miou already finds out through Natsuki).

Despite the well-known amount of, er, temptation in the Hollywood scene, Haruki kept his head down the whole time, and was there to work and realize one of his dreams. And he missed Miou as much as she missed him.

At the top of the steps where they always sat 10cm apart as kids, they confess their love as grownups, and finally, mercifully, close that infernal gap with a hand-hold and a smooch. Medetashi medetashi!

And that’s a wrap for Fall 2017! I should hope so; it’s literally Winter now, and frikkin’ freezing to boot. Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in action soon checking out the new shows Winter 2018 has to offer.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 04

This ain’t ten centimeters!

Miou’s in a funk and a half, and really just wants to curl up and die, or at least switch places with Serizawa’s dearly departed brother, since she doesn’t deserve to live while he’s dead, and it’s all her fault for drowning. This is of course patently ridiculous…yet here we are.

Of course, Miou doesn’t tell any of this to Akari or Natsuki right away, but they don’t like her in this troubled state and do all they can to support and cheer her up. Such nice friends!

“My finger camera…broken?!”

Miou’s sudden disappearance from his life, compounded with the notice that he’s won the chance to study abroad in America, is also weighing on Haruki. Frankly, both protagonists are real mopey pains in the ass this week, and it was most unpleasant to watch.

I’d like to think I’d have the patience of Miou and Haruki’s friends, but some one can only snap at you, or tell you they’re no good, so many times before one has no choice but to throw their hands up and say “You know what, fine! You’re right! Now go suck someplace else!”

“There you go, quit being a whiny little brat and paint something!”

While Haruki sinks deeper into the muck, even questioning whether he really wants to be a filmmaker or if he’s just carrying on his brother’s dream, Miou thankfully comes to a sort of epiphany when Natsuki begs her and Akari to help her out at a community art class.

Echoing the cold open where a Lil’ Miou wowed her preschool-mates with her drawing, Miou interacts with an ornery little boy and gets him to cooperate and even have fun, then moves from person to person giving tips and encouragement. She clearly has a knack for talking about and teaching art.

“Let’s do this, canvas.”

She also later realizes she can’t keep the secret about Haruki’s brother inside forever or it will eat away at her like a sickness. So she comes clean, only it’s nothing to “come clean” or even blame oneself for; Natsuki can’t stress it to Miou enough: It’s not her fault, and staying away from Haruki out of fear he’ll hate her will only make him hate her.

Natsuki and Akari agree both Miou and Haruki are at their best when they’re on good terms, talking and hanging out together. So even though Haruki can’t see any future with Haruki in it (especially now that he’s headed for America), that isn’t going to stop her from imagining that future anyway—starting on the canvas, which she returns to with newfound desire to fill it with her vision of “love.”

Besides, Haruki may not end up going to America anyway. He just needs a reason to stay.

Steins Gate – 25 (OVA)

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As anyone who’s read my nearly five-year-late reviews of Steins;Gate, you’ll know it’s my favorite show, and I really enjoyed the ending, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see more. A fun and serious peril-free epilogue was indicated, and sure enough, its what we got with this extra episode, which takes place two months after Okabe changes the power structure of the world and runs into a grateful and very knowing Kurisu in Akiba.

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It also takes place in America; L.A. specifically, though on this the episode falters a bit with Okabe getting into some somewhat forced trouble with the TSA and later with some random cops. Granted, he’s acting pretty weird for someone not in his home country. And I must convey serious props to Kurisu’s choice of American wheels: a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Like those stitches she applied to Okabe’s coat, it’s pink and memorable.

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She drives her fellow Lab Members to her personal hotel suite and they proceed to treat it pretty much exactly like the lab in Akiba, even taking the same positions and engaging in the same activities. Routine daily habits are hard to break, even abroad!

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Kurisu deposits them at the best lodging they can afford, and the members let their imaginations run wild. Combined with the fact they can’t quite figure who will sleep in which room, Kurisu decides she’ll stay there with them.

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There, at night when everyone else is asleep we get a better idea of what exactly happened with Kurisu (over a DIET Dr. Pepper. AMERICA). She has dreams about things that happened, which happen to be some of her more memorable moments with Okabe, like cheering him up, or stitching that coat. They’re only dreams to her, but Okabe tells her they’re real, which makes it harder for her to bring up the fact she’s also dreamed of them confessing to one another and kissing.

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Prior to that scene in the (surprisingly not too shabby) motel room, Kurisu had been her usual tsundere self, having even told Mayushii Okabe didn’t have to come to America, as if testing to see whether he’d listen to such nonsense. At the Rai-Net tournament Feyris invited them too (at Staples Center; nice) we finally see Kurisu wearing something other than her hot pants-and-cardigan combo; the same maid outfit as Feyris and Mayushii. It’s blatant fanservice, and somewhat random, but who cares? The whole episode is a thank you to the fans for watching.

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And it only gets better. Kurisu lets on that she intends to forget all of the weird memory-dreams she’s been having, since they’re not pertinent to the current world line. Okabe tells her it’s fine, but he’s clearly miffed. Then he spots Suzuha getting into a Mustang and has a cab followe her. Turns out it’s Suzuha’s mom, who in another world line met Daru at the Rai-Net tournament, fell in love, and had a daughter in seven years. Another neat little thread.

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But his desperate chase cost him all but 67 cents of his cash, and his phone battery is dead, so Okabe must return to civilization on foot. He does seem like a dude who can’t be left alone lest he get himself into trouble, doesn’t he? Especially abroad.

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Lucky for him, he’s rarely alone, and Kurisu arrives on her proud, pink steel steed to rescue him, just as he once rescued her in another time.

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S;G has always been pretty stingy with color, other than its cobalt sky. But for this final, wonderful scene, the sun sets and fills the frame with gorgeous hues; the perfect backdrop for some straight talk between the lovebirds. When pressed, Okabe admits, he told her he loved her in another world line, and she him. More than that, he still loves her, and always will, no matter which world line he’s in. Just to be clear, he repeats himself, and asks her how she feels.

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And in what’s pretty much a perfect end to an imperfect but still immensely fun epilogue, Kurisu proceeds to respond the exact same way she did the first time Okabe confessed: by telling him to close his eyes. They’re in the desert at sundown with a car with no gas, but I suspect these two crazy kids are going to be just fine.

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Next Week, I review Steins;Gate the Movie: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu.

Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 07

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Kudos for this episode for choosing to send its cast to Boston, out of all of the places to visit in America. It’s a very odd choice, but for all we know, the majority of Japanese are aware of the city’s existence. It had us wondering if it was some kind of shout-out to ABC’s departed dramady Boston Legal (one of the last network TV shows we watched with any regularity). We even got a look at Boston’s “T” subway (actually one of the better systems on the Eastern seaboard) but it looked a bit dingy and shabby. Moreover, the highly-stylized Butterfly delegation sticks out like a sore Pocky.

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But ultimately it seems Boston was chosen due to its relative proximity to the Canadian border. Seseri gives Cecil leave to visit her dad there, which means we’re in for a road trip. We’ve been waiting for the show to put its two most at-odds characters—Cecil and Hotaru Natsuna—in a situation where they must deal with each other for an extended period of time. Thanks to Natsuna’s international driver’s license (which she mentions on the flight to Boston, not knowing it would doom her), that happens this week. The results are delightful.

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In another odd but inspired choice, rather than drive a reliable but dull rental car (like a Chrysler 200), Natsuna and Cecil are lent/saddled with an aqua 1966 Ford Thunderbird by the Boston law firm (they also pick them up from the airport in a VW Microbus, so we assume the partners are car buffs). As a kind of modest protest to her lot, Natsuna initially bans conversation, lest she get distracted. But it’s going to be a long, long drive, and we know they’ll talk eventually. After all, if not on this trip, then when?

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We’ve come to like and appreciate Natsuna more and more as the show has progressed, and have been eager to find out more about her as a person, not just as the only character consistently disapproving of Cecil. We learn she’s traveled around Europe. When the old car breaks down, we learn she knows her way around an engine (even a vintage foreign one!). And after they pick up a hitchhiker (also a Japanese girl who wants to be a wizard barrister) we also learn about her one-sided love of her former professor. All of this really rounds out her character, both for us and for Cecil. But this isn’t a one-way thing: Natsuna’s hostility towards Cecil was always based on her outward impression of her. This week she learns why Cecil is in such a hurry.

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When Natsuna hears about the injustice Cecil’s mom received, and how Cecil gave up tv, movies, music, and friends to study for the bar, her stance softens considerably, as it should, as Natsuna is a reasonable person with a bigger heart than she lets on. Unlike last week, this was an episode that didn’t feel like it was lacking anything. If anything, it had too much: we could have done without the hasty Boston montage, or the scene at the end where the Shark lawyers just happen to show up in the diner (what the hell?). But all the Cecil-Natsuna bonding, facilitated by a run-down Thunderbird, a hitchhiker, and the long road to Canada, was very good stuff indeed.

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 07

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With Makie, Haruna, and Kirishima aboard, I-401 docks at her secret home base on Iwoto. The fast battleship Hyuuga, a former fog flagship, is there to welcome them, and she has the wayward Takao in custody. In a virtual meeting with Kongou, Haruna refuses to return to the fleet, vowing to stay by Makie’s side, while Kirishima wishes to continue observing Haruna. Chihaya gives Takao the choice to return to the Fog or stay with what Hyuuga calls the “Blue Fleet.” As repairs on Iona near completion, Kongou orders Maya to rendezvous at Iwoto. Gunzou intends to abandon the base and get the vibration warhead to America.

“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those are the words that precede the end credits, the visuals of which this week went from being the Fog ships’ mental models to their true ship forms, which we thought was an interestingly-timed switch. Those same three questions are recited by Hyuuga, discussing with Takao why she’s abandoned her the original mission. From the first time she spots and gropes Iona, Hyuuga’s hots for her are played for laughs that never occur, but she’s genuinely interested in Iona; at this point, more interested than she ever was in subjugating humans, because that route was never going to help her answer those nagging questions. Hyuuga isn’t the only one with those questions rattling around in her head.

At this point, Iona’s crew has basically been supplanted in show precedence by all the Fog ships, now wrestling with emotions. Chihaya & Co. were merely the catalyst that started what could be a major Fog revolution, or evolution, as Hyuuga supposes it could be. Iona was a mutation: a Fog ship that rather than destroy humans, sought one out and was genetically predisposed to following every order. Iona’s always been comfortable in this role, but when the competitive Takao asks her if she has feelings for her, she can’t answer, and it troubles her. Meanwhile, Kongou is clearly getting annoyed by losing so many Fog ships. But all the events since Iona and Chihaya joined forces suggests she could be on the wrong side of history. Iona is most likely the harbinger (intentional or not) of a future in which Fog and human coexist in harmony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Chihaya is delivering the warhead to America in hopes that its mass-production will even the playing field and force Kongou to enter negotiations. But that’s pretty naive of him. Who’s to say the humans won’t use their new superweapon to simply annihilate the Fleet of Fog?
  • This show is no stranger to superfluous fanservice, and this week it drives that point home with Hyuuga’s attempted undressing of Iona as well as Takao, Haruna, and Iona relaxing on the beach in swimsuits, just ’cause…
  • That said, we hope Kirishima gets her regular body back at some point.
  • We really enjoyed the dinner scene: humans and Fog putting aside their past conflicts and simply sitting down for a meal. This could be a glimpse of the future.

Oreimo 15 (Fin)

With this final web extra, Oreimo finally comes to a close on a happy note. Disturbed by a cryptic text from Kirino, Kyou totally brushes off a confession from Kuroneko (bastard) and dashes off to L.A. It’s a bit of a shame they don’t spend any time in America at all; he just takes a cab to her dorm, they play an eroge (her first since she arrived) and with a tearful confession of his own, convinces her to come back to Japan.

Kyou must’ve sensed the same thing his father did from those texts: she wasn’t doing to hot, and was going to proceed to keep working hard, perhaps too hard, to reach her goal of becoming a track star. Basically, it wasn’t working out. She swore she wouldn’t contact anyone back home until she beat another runner: three months later and no texts, save the ones instructing Kyou and her dad to toss her collection and trophies, respectively.

While Kyou kinda had to go and snap her out of her stubbornness, it’s still a bit disconcerting he so casually shot down Ruri, especially after her unprecedented spilling of her honest feelings. He made her happy caring for her. But this is a show where the imouto is the star, unfortunately for Ruri. So rather than be happy with an Ayase or Saori or Tamura or Ruri as his girlfriend, Kyou continues to live his life in service of others. He derives his happiness from making others happy. Pfft…what a weirdo! Rating: 3.5

Sket Dance 7

This week Sket Dance crosses over with The World God Only Knows to fill the holes in a couple’s hearts! J/k, but the gang is on a mission to, well, if not reunite two soul mates, at least get them to catch a look at each other in passing. A large, burly man named Tetsu comes to the Sket-dan with a skeptical attitude, but after telling a tear-jerking story of his lost love and the guilt he lives with, Bossun, Himeko, and Switch take the job.

Some words about Tetsu: he looks at least thirty-five years old. I understand that some kids look older than their age, but this is ridiculous. If the animators were trying to be funny by casting an adult-looking high school character, they failed; it isn’t funny; it’s stupid. Same with the Samurai guy, he’s not a kid; he’s an adult; I call ’em like I see ’em. It calls into question the animators’ ability to actually draw a diverse array of high schoolers correctly. In short, Tetsu is too big and old-looking, and that definitely made it hard to take him seriously.

With that out of the way, I did like Tetsu’s reluctance to confront his frail true love, Misaki, after what happened in the past (he was careless, she went in a river and almost died) I really enjoyed Bossun cleaning up a bit and going undercover to meet her. But it was clear pretty early that Misaki knew Tetsu, not, Bossun was really her pen pal. The farewell of Tetsu running along the riverbank chasing the train in a cloud of paper sakura petals was definitely cheesy, but Sket-dan accomplished their mission: I believe Tetsu got the catharsis he wanted, and he was able to shout encouraging words at Misaki as she left for an operation in America. Rating: 3