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!

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

Net-juu no Susume – 01 (First Impressions)

After a super-catchy OP, we meet 30-year-old corporate dropout and “elite NEET” Morioka Moriko. Being a NEET, she has a lot of time on her hands, but her old go-to MMO, Nanter SG, is no longer available. She checks out a new one, Fruits de Mer, which she choses to play with a male avatar, Hayashi. When she fails again and again to defeat a rodent boss in a dungeon, a cute mage Lily comes to Hayashi’s aid, and Moriko is instantly smitten.

Moriko’s inexperience with interpersonal relationships (particularly romantic ones) is exposed in her dealings with Lily, who takes a liking to Hayashi as well, but Moriko starts avoiding her in order to collect a rare item to give her for Christmas—inadvertently making Lily feel alone and like she did something to make Hayashi avoid her.

Lily confides in Hime, a fellow guild member, and the guildmaster manages to discuss the issue with Hayashi, who never meant to hurt Lily. They meet in a tree and arrange a Christmas Eve date. In the real world, Moriko is out of food, and must venture out to the convenience store at the worst possible time: when it’s full of happy couples.

In that very same store, we meet the player who controls the Lily avatar, and like Moriko, he chose to play as the opposite sex. They both ask for the store’s last piece of Christmas chicken, but the guy yields it to Moriko after hearing her stomach’s “jingle bells.”

Aside from seeing from the in-game cash card she’s buying that she’s also a player of Fruits de Mer, neither the guy nor Moriko know they just cross paths with each other in real life, but when they meet as Hayashi and Lily, you couldn’t ask for a lovelier, more mirthful scene as they exchange gifts.

Having come so close to meeting once, I can’t help but hope Hayashi and Lily meet in the real world in earnest. After all, while both seem content spending their free time playing an MMO and meeting virtual friends, there’s an overarching sense of profound loneliness wafting off the two of them.

Moriko claims to have chosen to be a NEET, and was clearly put off by the couples in the store. But couples tend to be most annoying until you actually find yourself in one. I for one am glad to see an MMO-themed anime that actually spends time in both worlds, rather than just the fantasy one.

Ushio to Tora – 23

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Hinowa and Nagare buy Ushio time to advance towards the Beast Spear, but Kuin comes out to meet him. Tora tags along, but totally not because of Ushio; he just wants to fight Kuin. With no spear, Ushio can only hit Kuin with rocks, but even when Kuin seems to get the better of Tora, Ushio doesn’t stop hitting him with rocks.

Tora finally gets fed up and exerts a little more energy into the fight, saving Ushio from getting stabbed, cracking Kuin’s faceplate, and continuing to duel with him, buying Ushio more time to advance. I guess seeing Ushio not acting like a defeated wimp made him want to preserve his future dinner, huh?

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Inside the very carefully-staged chamber where the spear is about to get dunked, Kirio puts Ushio on the ground, then listens as his mom Towako plays a dirge on her cello under a single narrow pillar of sunlight creeping through a hole in the roof. Theatrical much??? Anyway, when she’s done, Ushio can’t stop Towako from cutting the red cloth and sending the spear plunging into the molten metal.

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For a second there, it looks like the show just destroyed its protagonist’s one and only weapon, which would be quite a dire eventuality. But then, out of the shadows, Ushio’s dad tells the sect members, confused by Towako’s presence, that this whole thing was of Hakumen’s making. Towako is another one of his minions, who created and raised Kirio for the express purpose of destroying her master’s anathema—the Beast Spear.

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In hindsight, I should have known from the look of her eyes that Towako was somehow related to the final boss. To see her mother in this new monstrous form, telling him everything she’s ever done wasn’t for him, but for the destruction of the spear, is all a bit much young Kirio, who proceeds to go bye-bye. And for the first time, I actually sympathize with the little bastard. All this time I knew what he was—nothing but a tool—but he never did, while I didn’t know whose tool he was until now.

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Speaking of tools, Ushio is, at the end of the day, the Beast Spear’s tool as much as it is his. He needs the spear to defeat Hakumen, while it—or rather Kiryou within it—needs him to wield him, even if it means his soul getting torn to shreds. When Ushio calls the spear once more, it emerges triumphantly from the solidified metal and into his hands. For the first time, Towako frowns, and her attacks are shattered by a revitalized Ushio in Beast Mode.

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Sensing a stronger resistance to her plans, Towako summons her stone golem, who still has a weakened Hinowa and Nagare in its clutches. Towako tries to give Ushio the choice of giving up his own life to save the others (a false choice, since she’ll kill them anyway for sure) or let them die. The two of them start the incantation for a self-destruct spell, forcing Ushio’s hand. He takes out the golem before they blow themselves up.

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Her golem gone, Towako reverts to her “human” form and beseeches a still-in-shock Kirio to help his “mama” from the bad guys. Now, up to this point, Towako really has been Kirio’s mama, and by far the most important person in his life. So it’s not really a surprise that he’d fall for her treachery once more and turn his scythe on Ushio. But only once more.

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When Kirio sees his “mama” encircling the sect members in the blue flames of a Hakumen minion, even he can’t ignore his eyes, nor his ears as she gloats about everyone writhing in hell. He stabs her, asks her once more if she’s tricked him all along, then hears more of her lies for what they are before she bursts into flames and vanishes.

Now, Kirio is pretty pissed, despairs that it’s all over and blames Ushio and everyone else for killing his mama as he lashes out at them with his scythe. Ushio calms him down by crossing spears and giving him one hell of a slap to the face. Nothing is over. People suffered and died so they can live and complete their mission to destroy Hakumen. Annoying he may be, but Ushio’s going to need Kirio in the coming showdown.

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He’s going to need everyone, as Oyakume said they’ll all have to work together in order to achieve victory. The rift that Towako created in the Kouhamei sect with Kirio shows just how far Hakumen is willing to go to stop his enemies from getting to him, but now they’re united against him like never before. Kirio may need a little time to process all of this, but there’s not much time left.

Meanwhile, Ushio is done with losing and done with letting anyone else die for him. He almost lost himself when he lost the spear, but getting it back made the fire in his belly burn even brighter and stronger…and that’s more than enough to bring Tora back to his side, as that fire will make him that much tastier a meal when the time is right.

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Ushio to Tora – 22

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Sensitive as Ushio is, especially when it comes to mother figures, he remains emotionally drained and doubtful of his own strength in the wake of the loss of Oyakume. Logical arguments like it was her choice, and perhaps she was always meant only to live long enough to protect Ushio there and then against the minion of Hakumen, won’t dissuade him from his spiral of despair.

As for Tora, he gets sick of this attitude real fast, and tries to snap Ushio out of his funk by threatening to kill and eat him in his weakened state. Ushio listlessly fights back, causing Tora to conclude he’s far too weak to be worth eating, so he’s peace-ing out until he is.

Ushio and Tora may have become near-as-makes-no-difference friends, but Tora’s not the hand-holding, comforting kinda friend; he’ll split if things get whiny and boring. After all, Ushio’s weakness uncomfortably reminds Tora of just how strange an tenuous a relationship they have, which makes him question his own strength in terms of being a Big Bad Monster.

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Conveniently, Tora’s absence leaves Ushio open to a confrontation with Kirio and a group of ten Kouhamei monks who steal the Beast Spear, intending to destroy it in favor of Elzaar Scythes, the “superior” holy weapons.

Meanwhile, Kouhamei sect members who haven’t fallen in with Kirio—Nagare and Hinowa—both act to support Ushio. Tora hooks up with Nagare, who at the moment is more interesting than Ushio, while Hinowa’s loyalty to the high priest and late Oyakume won’t allow her to let Ushio or the Beast Spear be destroyed.

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Hinowa and Ushio get an education on the Inasa, a former sect member who raised Kirio. Driven by his fear for Hakumen, he grew so obsessed with developing weapons that he started to believe he could make one better than the Beast Spear, using a forbidden combo of sorcery and science that got him excommunicated. He took up residence in the “House of Whisperers,” which is where Nagare and Tora begin their search for Kirio and the Spear.

What we basically have, then, are two very common genre concepts—mad scientist and his haunted mansion—cloaked in an Ushio to Tora skin. Which is fine; again, we knew he’d have to contend with one more would-be successor (albeit one who wants to destroy, not wield the spear), it’s just that Ushio’s crisis of confidence feels like a rehash, and we’re with Tora when he says a weak Ushio is a boring one.

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Nagare and Hinowa, on the other hand, are their usual delightful selves, with the former offering Tora some interesting insights about his life, (seeking a life of excitement while stopping short of putting his own life on the line for others), while the latter is constantly scolding Ushio for his lack of manners and propriety, but not hesitating to help him, because she believes he’s the true wielder.

Then there’s Towako, a woman who comes out of nowhere to help Inasa advance his research and perfect Elzaar scythes. Another evil crazy-eyed character? Sure, why not?

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Towako seems like some kind of dark muse for Inasa, until she steals an infant and decides they’ll use it to create the “materia”, the ultimate artificial spiritual warrior who will wield the Elzaar Scythe, and along with Kuin take out Hakumen no Mono. They share the desired end with Kouhamei Sect, but it’s the means that are so, so wrong, to the point that even Inasa isn’t really fully on board with creating Kirio, though he’s not strong enough to step in and stop it.

Inasa ended up dying in that house, while Towako is still around somewhere, having raised and twisted Kirio into her instrument. But you know what? Despite learning that Kirio had a rough upbringing and probably suffered much at the hands of people who were, charitably, on the cusp of insanity, the bottom line is I still don’t much like Kirio.

Revealing him as a GMO Monster that can only act as programmed doesn’t make him any more sympathetic or compelling a character. He’s literally a tool, and an obstacle to Ushio, and whether he’s killed or joins the cause, I’d prefer if he was dealt with sooner rather than later.

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Ushio to Tora – 21

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With just six episodes left going into this episode, and many things bound to go down soon, it was nice to see Ushio back to his old life, just enjoying simple things like being back in school, shootin’ the breeze and laughing with his mates, and walking with Asako and Mayuko. In fact, I must admit this first act was my favorite of the episode.

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Then Inasa Kirio had to come along and ruin everything, hijacking the nice Ushio-Asako scene with his creepy ant-predation watching and creepy expression and creepy…Kuin. Now, don’t get me wrong, Megumi Han is very good when not being made to speak English; she was wonderful if a bit squeaky as Rinko in Ore Monogatari!! and can effectively voice both genders.

But Kirio is a thankless role: a arrogant, cocksure little twerp whose introduction came way too late for my taste. He’s an answer to a question no one is asking at this stage in the game: What if there’s another Beast Spear and wielder? Sure, I knew he’d show up eventually as one of the four Kouhamei finalists, but, for one thing, I thought he’d be a she. Kirio is in a lot of this episode, but at no point did it feel like the episode needed him.

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The episode strives to right itself when the Kouhamei Sect’s main temple is attacked by a vicious avatar of Hakumen, and Ushio is summoned to deal with it. Seeing Nagare, Satoru, and Hinowa in action again, but that only serves to remind us that all the “challenging Ushio’s role” stuff has been wrapped up, and amicably so, as these three continue to fight by his side as team players.

I also really enjoyed Ushio brief but powerful encounter with the three hundred-year-old(!) Oyakume, AKA Hizaki Mikado, who had previously stated her last regret in life would be not meeting the true successor to the beast spear. When she finally does, she’s heartened by how kind, warm, and caring he is, while she makes Ushio wonder if his mom is as nice as she is (nicer, according to Oyakume).

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When Ushio gets in trouble fighting the avatar, it’s Oyakume who puts up a barrier and petrifies it, sacrificing herself in the process. As Ushio tends to the collapsed old lady, Kirio leaps into the fray to flashily deal the finishing blow, which he does simply so that he’ll be praised as great and awesome. Honestly I can’t even with this kid…can he be put back in the box and shipped back to wherever he came from? (Probably not, alas.)

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Still, Ushio seems to take Oyakume’s death awfully hard. I mean, he met her like five minutes ago. Then again, he’s always been a sensitive, empathetic guy who above all is always willing to put his own life on the line to protect others. Those were a powerful five minutes for him, and to see her protect him, old and frail as she is, well, that’s just Ushio being human.

As for Kirio, he lies in the lap of his creepy…mother, I guess? Someone with a crooked grin, in a creepily-lit dining room, who praises Kirio and gives him a new annoying baseball cap, telling him if no one will believe he and his scythe and…sigh…Kuin are better and more powerful than Ushio, the Beast Spear, and Tora, well, doggone it, he’s just going to have to force the issue. Which means we’re not done with Kirio by a long shot. Damn.

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