Deca-Dence – 12 (Fin) – A New Grand Process

When Jill tells Natsume that Kaburagi has connected with Deca-Dence to become Kabu-Dence, Natsume is momentarily bewildered by her Boss’ constant changing forms. But change is at the heart of this episode, and ultimately the salvation of free cyborgs and humans both.

Everyone rallies behind Kabu and Minato, with the Gears logging in en masse to participate in the game’s climactic “Final Mission” while Donatello fills in Kurenai and the Tankers.

Minato and Jill are concerned that despite a successful connection, Deca-Dence isn’t doing anything. That’s because Kaburagi first has to deal with something very similar to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded when he meets The Architect. In this case, it’s The System itself, telling him that even bugs are a part of the system, meaning anything he does will be within the System’s calculations.

But if that were the case, why try to stop him? Kabu doesn’t buy that cog-in-the-machine crap anymore; he’s living his life by the precepts gained through Natsume: push yourself to the limits in order to help create a better, freer world. With that declaration, and Natsume simultaneously smashing her arm to pieces “waking” Boss up, Kabu-Dence finally stirs to life.

With glowing tendrils it reaches out at all the hunks of debris throughout its surroundings, which were brought back to life thanks to the Gears and Tankers topping them off with oxyone. To Kabu’s distress, one of the people helping is Natsume, initially trying to push a huge part all by herself before being joined by Kurenai and her Tanker comrades.

With less than ninety seconds until total spacial displacement, Minato orders the now charged and upgraded Kabu-Dence cannon to fire upon Gadoll omega, the beam of which Donatello deflects by sacrificing his Gear avatar. It fires, and there’s a big boom but…it doesn’t work. The beam wasn’t strong enough to break through omega’s adamantoise-esque shell.

With under forty seconds on the clock, Kabu seems resigned to oblivion…until stored memories of Natsume’s best and most formative moments flash before his visual interface. Natsume herself was drawn within Kabu-Dence’s machinery, and her presence seems to snap Kabu out of giving up.

Kabu-Dence’s limiter is suddenly removed, enabling a far more powerful attack even with the oxyone stores depleted. The blast is enough to destroy Gadoll omega, but completes the destruction of Deca-Dence as a mobile fortress in the process.

Whether due to the strain of the limit break attack or damage to his body caused by falling debris, Kaburagi concedes that his time has finally come. The System was right about one thing—that he was going to die either way. Left out of that statement is the fact he wouldn’t die until after he successfully broke that system, with the help of his friends.

When Natsume finally finds Kabu’s cyborg body, his face is broken and the one light remaining behind is about to go out. Natsume lets some tears fall, but she doesn’t lose it; she merely expresses gratitude to her boss and assures him she’ll be okay on her own from now on. He gave her and every human and free cyborg a chance.

Three Years Later, and Deca-Dence is now a bustling city surrounded by verdant farmland, where humans and cyborgs peacefully coexist. Under “Supreme Administrator” Minato’s leadership and Jill’s scientific prowess, the game has changed: no longer a brutal battle in which Tankers were cannon fodder and servants, now cyborgs share in the labor and betterment of the new civilization beside their human friends.

Natsume has started a business taking cyborg tourists out on exploration and adventure trips. Her new arm can become a helicopter rotor, which is pretty awesome and also makes her a kind of unique conduit between the human and cyborg experience. As she promised, she made a life for herself and thrived without boss around. But that doesn’t mean when Jill eventually manages to bring Kaburagi back, using his backup data and a new avatar body, she isn’t glad to see him again!

It’s a fast, focused ending and the epilogue-over-end-credits is perhaps a bit rushed (I’d have loved to spend more time in this lush, just new world). But seeing Natsume’s face light up once more as she recognizes him emerging from the glaring sunset is as fitting image as any on which to close the book on the tremendously entertaining and unflinchingly relevant Deca-Dence.

Season Average: 9.17

Deca-Dence – 11 – Being a Mistake is What Makes It Right

Spoilers: Natsume does not meet her maker by Hugin’s hand this week. Instead she’s saved by two things: Hugin’s momentary distraction with the new Gadoll bug, and Kabu managing to log back in as the orange Gear and shoot Hugin through the chest, thus logging him out of Deca-Dence. It’s a bit convenient and plot-armory, but fine, it’s not like I wanted Natsume’s story to end in that trailer.

After that, Natsume must quickly wrap her head around the fact that the Boss she knows who is lying dead on the ground is just an empty avatar, and the Boss himself is in the orange Gear body. Minato’s crew determines the massive Gadoll to be a bug that survived the GGS. The System designates it Gadoll Omega, and orders Deca-Dence to take it out.

But while this Gadoll bug isn’t that much larger than the largest Gadoll they’ve fought and defeated in the past, it’s much tougher, not only absorbing Deca-Dence’s fist blow in its crab-like claws, but shoving Deca-Dence back, doing critical damage to its movement apparatus. When Solid Quake’s orbital HQ uses its Solid Cannon from orbit, the Gadoll meets that beam with its own red one…and wins.

It’s the first time we’ve seen the pristine Solid Quake HQ ship damaged, and it’s enough to spook The System into pure Self-Preservation Mode. To that end, the entire Deca-Dence program is being shut down. Hugin is replaced by Munin, who politely announces to Minato that all Deca-Dence facilties are to be reverted along with Omega via the spacial decompression device—a fail-safe in case the game ever threatened the System.

Suddenly, there’s six hours until the end of everything on the planet surface, including what remains of humanity. But Jill, reestablishing contact with Kabu, says there’s still a way for a user to log in with Deca-Dence itself as their avatar. She knows this because prior to being designated a bug, she helped build Deca-Dence’s core.

Kabu and Natsume go their separate ways, but Natsume assumes they’ll meet up again at some point, while Kabu is ready to not return, as he’s volunteered to take the reins of Deca-Dence. His jeep passes Natsume, marking the first time she’s seen his cyborg form. Of course, she only gets a brief glimpse and has no idea it’s him.

At the epically huge and cool-looking core, Minato confronts Kabu, telling him there’s still time to run, to which Kabu asks where to? When Minato admits he has no idea what he should believe or do anymore, Kabu tells him he was once the same way, and simply waiting to be scrapper, until he met Natsume the Tanker Bug, who taught him he can make his own choices.

Then the best thing ever happens: Natsume meets Kabu’s cyborg comrades…and after a few moments of profound confusion, accepts it, finds them adorable, laughs, and introduces herself. Now Jill sees why Kabu has gone so far for a human bug’s sake. Jill herself has a bug still within Deca-Dence she’s hoping will make a difference.

Minato decides to help Kabu log in as Deca-Dence after all. While it’s true Deca-Dence is an absolute wreck, perhaps being under Kabu’s direct control (rather than the System’s) combined with Jill’s surprise bug, could conspire to unlock heretofore unseen abilities.

They’ll need everything they can get in the forthcoming finale, as the twin existential crises of the still-evolving Gadoll (and its brood) and the countdown to self-destruct will both have to be dealt with if anyone is to survive.

Deca-Dence – 10 – Not All Right At All

When Kaburagi tries to tell Natsume the truth in a masterfully-directed scene in which we feel her disorientation, Natsume passes out, much like Neo when Morpheus first tells him he’s in the real world (though she doesn’t vomit). Could it be her status as a bug depended on her believing the lie? Did Kabu break her with the truth?

We’re left in suspense after she faints, as the episode cuts to the three techs evacuate the Gadoll Factory. The director tells his subordinate to simply leave the tiny cute Gadoll, as it’s already dying, and the Gadoll sticks two little tendrils into him. By the time he notices they left red welts on his green belly, the elevator goes out of control.

As Kaburagi drives Natsume back to Deca-Dence, she wakes up yelling and he puts the brakes on. Once he calmly explains to her what’s going on, she takes hold of the part about him deceiving her. She’s not shocked anymore so much as betrayed and disappointed. She also wishes Kaburagi never told her the truth—saying this through broken glass is a nice touch, as her world is now thoroughly shattered.

After what is no doubt a wordless trip home, Kabu returns to find Pipe has disintegrated along with the other Gadoll as he expected (it’s an absolutely gutting scene, and perfectly staged and lit). Natsume hangs around the elated Tankers celebrating the apparent end of the war, but when she’s approached by Kurenai, she runs off.

In a way the truth as told to her by Kabu did break her. Wallowing in a dark alley, she no longer knows what to do, who to trust, or if any of her efforts ever mattered in the first place. Having pushed herself to her limits, she finds herself in the same position as Mei when Natsume became a soldier: why couldn’t things stay the way they were?

It’s only when Kaburagi is about to log out when he notices the note Natsume wrote him still lying unread on his desk. It’s a simple message, with the part about letting her know when he’s back crossed out, but still readable. Kabu decides the best way to apologize is to hand-write a letter of his own to her.

The Tankers may be celebrating, but the revolution is not over, and they’re far from free. The cyborg admins basically put Deca-Dence on pause for all Gears, and Hugin stalks around the Tank searching for Natsume. This is especially chilling since Kabu logs out after writing his letter, leaving Natsume alone and exposed.

As for the little Gadoll that could, it is reborn within the dead green factory director’s belly (he and his team don’t survive the elevator drop) It bursts out, Alien-style, then proceeds to devour the three bodies, and begins to…grow.

With the prison overrun by police when Kabu logs out, he, Jill, Donatello and the surviving inmates flee in a jeep, which I believe is the first time we see cyborgs interacting directly with “human” machinery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to say the least! When Kabu learns Hugin is in Deca-Dence he races to get to Jill’s hideout so he can log back in.

Hugin hasn’t quite found Natsume, but Kurenai does, and allowing Natsume to talk about how she feels (or doesn’t feel) without judgment. Asking questions about what she should think or feel or do, Kurenai tells her simply that she’s glad she’s back and unharmed, and everything else is up to her; the opinions of others are ultimately only supplementary to her choices. It’s a lovely, elegant scene between the two women in which Kaburagi doesn’t even come up.

That said, when Natsume returns to her home and finds and read’s Kabu’s heartfelt letter, she learns a lot more about him, how he was about to off himself when he met her, and how she changed him for the better. The words of his letter are beautifully accompanied by a montage of the moments in his and Natsume’s lives that he mentions.

With this, Natsume rushes to Kabu’s trailer, and just happens to whack him in the head when she throws open his door; he had just logged back in; great timing! Natsume gets everything he’s said now, but doesn’t like the connotations in the letter that suggest that he’s leaving again. If he is resolved to breaking all the rules, as she says with certitude: “he’ll have her help”.

It’s an absolutely heartwarming reunion and reconciliation of our co-protagonists, and Deca-Dence knows it…which is why it chooses the very moment Kaburagi agrees to let her keep helping him that he’s impaled through the chest by Hugin, who expected him to return to his trailer.

In his haste to reconcile he completely forgot the danger he and Natsume were in. His life’s blood splatters across a shocked Natsume’s face, and back at the hideout Jill tells the logged-out Kabu he can’t return to the Kaburagi avatar. Natsume is all alone with his lifeless avatar, and a sinister, smirking Hugin tells her she won’t escape, for The World Must Be Rid Of Bugs.

If that weren’t enough, our little Gadoll friend has grown quite a bit…into something that looks bigger than all of Deca-Dence; perhaps the largest Gadoll ever. Kabu and Jill watch as it rises over the horizon, no doubt still hungry and ready to devour everything and anyone it can get its hands on.

This giant Gadoll, sole survivor of the GGS, may even be out of the control of Hugin and the system, unless that ship in orbit has some serious space-to-ground firepower. If that’s the case, perhaps the Gadoll can be somehow used to help break the system, instead of just everyone.

Stay with me here…but what if the Gadoll, with their potential for collective intelligence, know that Kaburagi and Natsume were kind to Pipe? That’s all I’ve got for now, because as audacious as Deca-Dence continues to be, I can’t see this ending with the heroine being unceremoniously killed off.

Deca-Dence – 09 – Pushed to the Limit

After a cool Kaburagi warns Kurenai not die before he returns, calling her the “strongest, finest woman alive”,  he and Natsume take advantage of the chaos of the latest Gadoll battle to slip through and on to the factory’s barrier unnoticed.

On top of wondering if all the parts of their intricately constructed plan to break the system move how and when they’re supposed to, Kabu is dealing with a crucial unknown: how Natsume will actually react when she learns the truth about the Gadoll, the world, and him.

But when they reach the barrier, before Kabu can tell her anything she urges him to keep up, walking straight through the barrier without any problems. Both impressed with her resolve and realizing he shouldn’t be clouding her focus, he remains silent, and the operation proceeds.

And what an operation! Deca-Dence has been carefully preparing both the practicalities of the plan, the geography of the prison and factory, while also fleshing out all of the players involved. It’s an absolute treat to watch this episode wind up the sum product and let ‘er rip.

Turk initially performs his part of the plan, leading the inmates in a full-on riot in which they toss explosives into the piles of Gadoll shit and create a massive cloud of pollution that not only infects the lake’s clear water the Gadoll need to maturate, but causes to activate their natural defense systems, i.e. Zones.

The pollution of the lake and the berserk Gadoll and their Zones conspire to create utter havoc within the factory, allowing Kaburagi and Natsume to slip in without any of the preoccupied staff noticing. But upon entering a compartment that leads to the “Gadoll Genocide System” they must activate, they’re stopped dead in their tracks…by Hugin, tipped off by Turkey.

A desperate battle between Kaburagi and Hugin ensues, with Jill using her hacking prowess to make it appear that not only are their several dozen Kaburagis to target, but the “Natsume” whom Hugin impales with his hand (causing my heart to skip a beat or two in horror) is really just a hologram, and the real Natsume is safe behind a bulkhead.

Turk sits back and watches his betrayal bear rotten fruit as enhanced security forces start mowing down inmates. When Sarkozy asks Why? Turk simply laughs and tells him that’s how the cookie crumbles, and if he doesn’t like it, tough. Sark understandably feels betrayed by Turk, but still lacks the willpower to do anything about it.

When Jill discovers they’ve been betrayed and Turk and Sark are the culprits, she yanks Donatello (fighting one last Gadoll battle as a Gear) out of Deca-Dence and has him hunt Turk down, ultimately tossing him in the giant churning vat to drown in rotting Gadoll shit—a fitting end for someone “fine with the way things are.”

Turk’s comeuppance comes just after he left a wounded Sarkozy for dead, ultimately only interested in getting a pardon and rejoining the outside world. But as he suffers a lethal oxyone leak, he remember’s Kabu’s words about taking himself to his very limits.

Rather than lie around and die, Sark decides to take himself to his limits as well, and in doing so becomes the hero he was so intent on becoming. By injesting a tube of super-concentrated oxyone liquor (the titular “super charger”) he essentially becomes a walking bomb whose body is the fuse. Leaping into the vat after Turk, he detonates the Gadoll shit within.

The resulting explosion takes out the factory’s reactor, meaning Jill and Kabu’s plan is still viable. The fouled water starts bursting through vents and walls, including in Hugin’s face at a crucial moment that gives Kabu and Natsume time to escape.

They reach the room containing GGS controls, Kabu hits a couple buttons, and he and Natsume pull two levers in tandem. The GGS works instantly, as Gadoll everywhere spontaneously burst into clouds of black ash, much like victims of Thanos’ Snap.

This confuses Natsume, as the control screens glow within her puzzled eyes: there was no main nest to destroy, just levers to pull…what’s that all about? Injured, possibly seriously, by his scrap with Hugin, Kabu decides to simply come out and say it: the world, the Gadoll, and even his body are manufactured.

Just like that, Natsume’s world is changed forever, and with it the status quo of Deca-Dence. And it was all perfectly set up and executed. Now we await her reaction—and learn whether these revelations end up pushing her sanity past its limits.

Deca-Dence – 08 – Demolishing the Crap Factory

When Kaburagi announces his plan to destroy the Gadoll Factory to his fellow inmates, they think he’s touched. Their cyborg forms are trapped in the underground poop prison; their avatar forms in Deca-Dence have chips that instantly log them out if they touch the shield surrounding the factory.

Well, not every avatar has a chip: Kaburagi’s original avatar doesn’t, so all they have to do is log in and steal it from the avatar deep storage. That means a heist, though if we’re honest the most useful member of his team by far is the sardonic super-hacker Jill.

And what a heist it is! Watching our robot inmate friends in slick human forms with Skittle colors dart around the storage facility just as Hugin responds to a tip that Minato is illegally hoarding the very Kaburagi avatar they’re after.

The speed and complexity of the storage module tracks, their precise timing, and Hugin’s agile menace, combined with how loud and clumsy Sarkozy is being (Turkey has to snap his neck, causing him to log out)—it all conspires to kick the tension up to 11.

Thankfully, Kaburagi and Donatello manage to secure the avatar before it reaches its destination, replacing it with a sex toy that Hugin will let slide as long as Minato “enjoys it alone and in private.”

While Donatello gets the other inmates on board with destroying the poop factory (aided by Jill telling them the poop they clean up is recycled, refined and injected right back into them—a literal toxic cycle) Kaburagi decides to reunite with Natsume and Kurenai in the creepiest way possible: by sidling up to them from behind and reaching out to touch her shoulder.

While the ladies hit him, when they realize who he is they’re both elated. Natsume doesn’t even bring up the fact he left without saying anything, as she knew it had to be something important…and it was: finding the source of the Gadoll.

Just as all avatars with chips cannot cross the factory shield, it will also terminate all Tankers. But since Natsume is a Tanker Bug who is already considered dead, Kabu is confident she’ll be able to pass through with him, which is important, since he can’t bring the factory down alone.

When Kabu brings up the fact it may well be a one-way mission with no guarantee either of them will survive, Natsume urges him to dispense with such talk. She’s not quite the same kid Kaburagi left behind. She’s stronger, wiser, and braver…and she’s coming with him, no matter what. It isn’t even a question.

During their chat, Kabu gets a call from Minato asking to meet him in the prison immediately. Minato has been a good and loyal friend to Kabu, but like Fei with Natsume, had placed limits on how far that friendship can go. Like Fei wanted things to stay the same, Minato wanted Kabu to keep his head down. Threatening to blow up the Gadoll Factory and bringing down the entire system…ain’t that.

He’ll admit he wasn’t following a command of the system when he saved and helped Kabu, but that’s one thing; destroying the system is another. Whether due to the privilege of his position, emotional distance from the human beings in the Tank, or effective conditioning from the system (or all three), Minato believes there must be a system for there to be order.

Where did freedom for all get humanity? Bought out and treated as livestock by their own creations. Having never met someone like Natsume to transform his way of thinking, or instill a sense of envy for humans’ innate ability to think for themselves and choose their own path, Minato can’t see what Kabu sees. He may not immediately report Kabu, but Minato isn’t a bug.

I’m not sure that’s that—Minato may well change his mind—but Donatello’s sidekick Turkey is already forging his own path, believing Kabu’s plan to be folly and the only option is to make a deal with the authorities and save Kabu and Don “from themselves” as he sees it.

Sarkozy seemingly falls for Turk’s plan, so now Kabu and Natsume will face threats from all directions. No matter; obeying the system is no longer an option, and can no longer be called true living. They’re going to break it or die trying.

Deca-Dence – 07 – Doing What You Can Do

Before Kaburagi dives back into Deca-Dence on a rogue account, Jill tells him there aren’t any battles going on, but he returns to the tank to find there’s an absolutely gigantic hole through which Gadoll are attacking, taxing the Tanker fighters. It’s hard for Kabu to move and fight in his new novice Gear avatar, but he quietly does what he can to defeat the invading monsters.

The interior of the Tank is not usually a battlefield, which means this is the first time Natsume’s former classmates Fei and Linmei have seen her in action; they’re about as slack-jawed as you’d expect after she singlehandedly brings down a big Gadoll and gets thanked by an admiring little kid.

Kabu also witnesses Natsume’s heroics, but considering he looks like a completely different person, actually approaching her as Kaburagi is a tricky proposition, so he keeps his distance. Instead he makes contact with Commander Minato, who doesn’t want Kabu to risk getting into any further trouble…but also wants to help him.

We also learn from Minato that the hole was “stagecraft”—a means of “tactfully culling” the growing human population. With the Gadoll threat over for the time being, Kurenai and the Tankers ponder how they’ll be able to patch such a massive hole in the armor. Natsume proposes they try to enlist the help of the rest of the people in the Tank, and gather their house repair kits.

At first, Natsume’s mission seems hopeless. Even if she gets everyone’s kits and they all agree to help, the hole may not be patched before the Gadoll return. But rather than anyone agreeing to help, everyone turns her down, declaring they’re already doing all they can and can’t do any more. She tries to convince Fei, but Fei resents the fact Natsume ever wanted to change; Fei liked things the way they were.

Discouraged and exhausted after canvassing the entire town, Natsume returns to find some people changed their minds and decided that they actually could do a bit more: even the gruff butcher, Fei, and Linmei. Honestly, it’s pretty silly for them to go about their jobs when the Gadoll could come back through the open hole at any time.

Instead, in such a time of crisis, everyone steps outside their normal duties and routines and come together for a single cause. After Natsume gives Fei a grateful hug, repairs commence and the Tankers make enough progress to gain the attention of the command center. Minato orders his crew to let the Tankers be; there’s no way they’ll be able to fully repair the wall. But Minato isn’t human, so he’s probably underestimating them.

That night, a tired Natsume returns home to play with Pipe, and is approached by a strange and somewhat handsome orange-skinned Gear who offers her a skin of her favorite milk. At first Natsume is freaked out—especially at the prospect of a Gear seeing Pipe—but when she sees how the guy interacts with Pipe, she momentarily sees Kaburagi. Alas, he doesn’t open the can of worms that he actually is Kabu here; he just says he’s a good friend.

Drinking the milk outside as the sun sets, Natsume laments that Kaburagi isn’t around, but knows that someone as amazing as him is surely needed elsewhere. Kaburagi mentions how he saw her running around all day, never giving up, and wonders if that part of her isn’t what ultimately saved Kaburagi.

Natsume starts to cry as she states how weak she still is and how much more “useful” she has to be, but the tears fall even harder when she wonders if Kabu was right and the fighting will never end; that peace will never come no matter how strong everyone is. I honestly thought Kaburagi was going to pull Natsume into a comforting hug and reveal who he really is and how. Instead, he simply stews.

When he logs out and returns to the prison, he announces to Donatello and his crew his intention to eliminate all the Gadoll by destroying the factory that produces them. He doesn’t tell them his ultimate reason, but it needn’t be anything other than so Natsume can live, and won’t have to fight or cry anymore.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 04 – The Game is the Game

Back to the “present” of Squad Jam (though not far enough into the present where Karen is entertaining her diminutive friends IRL). I tell ya, this show can give one temporal whiplash like nobody’s business.

Having defeated the pros and after another scan, LLENN and M determine they’re one of only three squads remaining. One of them ambushes them from hovercraft in the lake, forcing the huge M to set up his “space battleship armor” shielding, while the tiny LLENN remains just plain hard to hit.

Safe behind his shield, M is able to pick off the hovercraft gunners one by one and takes out the last one with a well-placed grenade that detonates underwater, sending the craft and its occupant flying and vulnerable to LLENN’s killshot.

M was able to kill all of those enemies without creating bullet lines, because he learned to aim without his finger on the trigger or using Bullet Circle assist. But when the next scan comes, the last team is not only right on top of them, but in position to take a shot at LLENN, not missing a fatal spot by much.

M grabs LLENN and races out of there with one of the hovercraft, getting shot in the process, but LLENN heals the two and they prepare for a counterattack. But first, LLENN lets M read a letter he was going to read before they were ambushed.

Immediately after reading the letter, he pulls a gun…on LLENN, saying he’s “sorry” before pulling the trigger. His shot misses; LLENN’s agility wins out again, and moments later his safety is on and she has her gun trained on him, demanding to know why he betrayed her.

M merely responds with streams of tears, begging the Pink Devil not to kill him, because he doesn’t want to die. It’s a 180 in M’s character, though he did mention he prefers fighting from a distance and from the safest possible position.

In this instance, with LLENN’s P90 at his throat, he’s suddenly way out of his comfort zone, so it’s understandable we’d see a new side of him. But it doesn’t explain why he suddenly pulled his gun on her. I suspect there’s a real-world reason for it. All I know is, LLENN’s reaction to his sudden change in character was priceless.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.

Net-juu no Susume – 11 (Bonus!)

I was surprised to discover this unaired episode included with the BD box set release available so soon after the tenth and last episode aired last week, but here we are. Episode 10 brought everything to a nice close (or at least ellipsis, in which we can imagine Morimori and Sakura-chan getting along for many years to come); this is not necessarily a continuation of the story, just a couple of side stories involving the two.

First, Sakurai has agreed to build a new PC for Morika after her motherboard fries. That means coming to her house to set it up. The opening moments almost seem to tease Sakurai moving in with Moriko, but considering he has like five times the space, that seemed counterproductive. Before he arrives, Moriko does a comprehensive clean of her apartment, also trying and failing not to make her out-in-the-open bed look welcoming.

After meeting up with Sakurai to acquire all the kit he’ll need, he gets to work assembling and installing while Moriko makes tea. Just having Sakurai in her house and at her desk causes her to space out, spilling a little hot tea on herself. In Sakurai’s haste to ensure she’s okay, he trips and the two end up in a very compromising position against her bed.

With all that fun out of the way, Sakurai breaks out his laptop and the two play Fruits together in the same room, which is an entirely new and highly enjoyable experience, considering they can just talk to one another in person rather than use the chat. However, Sakurai gets a little overexcited and ends up asking Moriko if she’s join him on a hot springs trip; he later qualifies it by saying Koiwai will join them as a third wheel.

We don’t get the story of that hot springs trip, however; the second half of this extra episode seems completely independent of the first, as eagle-eyed viewers will notice Moriko’s playing on her old PC. She nods off in the middle of play, and wakes up in the MMO world, as herself, Morika Moriko, in a premise that echos Re:Zero and KonoSuba.

It’s fun, as Moriko is totally unequipped to fight off the giant mouse, let alone have any hope of defeating the “Demon King Koiwai” who is holding “Princess Sakura” hostage. That is, until she’s saved by her own avatar Hayashi and healed by Lily.

The two know Moriko as the “famous hero Morimori”, and join her quest, as does Fujimoto, working in the game’s version of Lawson Market under his avatar Kanbe. The only way to defeat Koiwai is to don some very revealing bikini armor, but Moriko can’t do it (though she does imagine herself in it, so we get the visual).

But because Koiwai didn’t stipulate who had to wear the armor, Sakurai dons it instead (a sight we’re spared), only to find he isn’t able to remove it. That’s when he wakes up in his apartment, having nodded off just like Moriko. A cute little side-story, if ultimately unnecessary.

Net-juu no Susume – 10 (Fin)

Sometimes ten is a really good number for a series—it works fine for KonoSuba. Net-juu no Susume also ends at ten eps, and it wraps up very nicely and neatly indeed…I just wish I could spend another episode or two with the surpassingly adorable new couple of Morioka and Sakurai.

Finales are always, in part, a “thank you” to those who have watched the whole time, and NjS’s fulfills that role with aplomb. There’s no more misunderstandings or missed opportunities with these two, just a general (and understandable) nervousness and excitement.

It’s a thoroughly fun and joyful episode, which takes place mostly in Sakurai’s apartment. Morioka’s soaked clothes quickly led to a far more intimate situation than either party expected, to the point Morioka has to snap out of it lest Sakurai see her underwear in the changing room.

Each and every little domestic situation you’d expect of, say, a live-in couple, is experienced for the very first time by both Sakurai and Morioka. Take Sakurai’s computer terminal, which like Moriokas was a place of deep physical solitude for so many hundreds of hours, but sharing his computer and the experience of playing Lily, if only briefly, is as enjoyable for Sakurai as it is for Morioka.

These are also two very well-matched people, with Sakurai being very polite and even “old-fashioned” for his age, which isn’t even that much younger than Morioka to begin with. When they accidentally touch, they’re both embarrassed, but neither fins they really dislike such accidents.

Then Morioka’s stomach grumbles, and she defiantly accepts that this is “just who she is”; she also helps Sakurai cook and wash the dishes, and the two are already looking like an old married couple. They’re both having such a lovely time despite being so flustered.

Inevitably, the konbini incident comes up, and Morioka’s putrid sense of self-worth rears its ugly head. Sakurai, thankfully calling her out, gently tells her that while she often puts herself down, both he and likely everyone else values her a lot more than she thinks they do. He continues that both as Harth, Lily, and Sakurai Yuta, he’s very glad to have met her.

When Morioka cries tears of joy, he dries them with his sleeve, and the two almost seem ready for a kiss when the frikkin’ talking dryer startles them. With her clothes dry, Morioka takes her leave, thanking Sakurai for his hospitality.

Naturally, Sakurai reconsiders simply staying behind and walks Morioka home. Before they part, he lets her know he’d very much like “another day like today”, whether in Fruits de Mer or real life. Morioka agrees.

In a nice little moment while in the game, Lily notes the full moon, but Hayashi looks up and sees a crescent. But it’s really Sakurai talking about the moon IRL. And it’s IRL where they finally have their first (really second) date; with a very pleased Koiwai’s full blessing.

The two can’t help but notice the other couples are acting around them, and it makes them both a little embarrassed…but both want to power through that embarrassment. Gaining strength from their avatars and alter-egos, the triumphant Fruits de Mer music starts to play as Morioka takes a step forward, trips, and is caught by Sakurai.

That means they’re holding hands, but they don’t let go and continue on with their date, drawing strength and courage from one another. The episode ends rather abruptly (and with no “thanks for watching” card), but that’s alright; I’m not going to complain after such an enjoyable, heartwarming finale!

Net-juu no Susume – 09

The penultimate NjS‘ cold open has a hell of a hook: Morioka taking a shower in Sakurai’s apartment! It’s safe to assume the episode to follow would tell the story of how such a seismic development in their relationship (“level up” in MMO terms) occurred. It’s also safe to assume that there’s nothing untoward going on; the two were caught in the rain and his place was closer seems about right.

But first, we go back to the aftermath of Sakurai’s confession that he’s both Lily and Harth, knows Morioka is Hayashi, and has been her beloved confidant and partner under her nose. At first, the news seems to break Morioka—it’s a lot to process, and her “CPU” overloads. She comes out of it to ask him when he first knew; he suspected when they started talking more in-game, but their “first date” was the confirmation.

In her head, Morioka is happy Sakurai rushed to her, lamenting how she might not have done the same, as she’s be so worried about upsetting the apple cart. The two have taken their next step, but neither has any idea how to proceed, nor are they remotely on the same page.

To whit: when Morioka tells Sakurai she wants them to “keep being good online friends”, she says it believing that’s all Sakurai will ever want, while Sakurai considers it a rejection—that she only wants to be good online friends and nothing else. Both are misunderstanding a great many things.

Sakurai’s belief he’s struck out is a weight that replaces the weight he just got off his shoulders with his confession, and he makes matters worse by not going online, leaving Morioka feeling lonely and unfocused in the MMO, as well as free to incorrectly interpret his motives.

Koiwai can totally deduce why Sakurai gets so uncharacteristically drunk on night, can reasonably conclude he’s misinterpreting things, and texts Morioka, asking if they can meet and talk something over.

That something is Sakurai, but Morioka never meets Koiwai in the park. Koiwai summons Sakurai into the park so he and Morioka meet. And that’s all he really has to do (though I wish he’d delete that photo of Morioka sleeping…that’s not cool, man!).

I’ve been up and down with Koiwai, but I never should have had any doubt that he’s a true and loyal friend to Sakurai and that Morioka’s a much better match for his blonde-haired friend…if only they could get together and relax…which he makes happen.

They relax, that is, until they go to the convenience store together and Morioka, already worried she looks like shit, gets even more self-conscious when the shopkeeper asks Sakurai if she’s his girlfriend, to the point of running off as the clouds gather. She believes, of course, that the shopkeeper meant “there’s no way she’s your girlfriend, right?” She was teasing, not condemning!

Sakurai chases her down, and after hearing her lay into herself and apologize for being seen with him, Sakurai sets the record straight: he doesn’t think like that at all. Then those clouds open up, he uses his coat to keep her dry(ish) and suggests they go to his place, which is just nearby, dry off, and he’ll cook some lunch.

Sakurai didn’t think, he just suggested this…and Morioka doesn’t think, she just agrees and comes up with him. As soon as they start thinking, she realizes she’s taking a shower, and he’s leaving out some of his clothes for her to change into. In other words, pretty boyfriend-girlfriend kinda stuff! I’m all for it. Hang in there, you crazy kids. Just one episode left!