Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 06 – Spitting in the Wind

After a comprehensive layout of the order of battle on both sides, the flatland goblins, giants, and mountain goblins advance on the three sides of the first unit, led by Deusolbert, Fanatio, and Eldrie, respectively. Eldrie falls victim to his inexperience and lets the goblins get too close, and their smoke bombs turn his flank into confusing chaos.

But Sir Deusolbert has a big ol’ quiver of giant arrows, each one of which is capable of blasting away dozens of foes in an instant. It’s impressive firepower…but there’s a limit to it, and when he runs out of arrows, he’s badly exposed and must rely on his men to protect him by essentially throwing their lives away—lives the Human forces cannot afford to lose.

Fanatio also looks poised to make quick work of the charging giants, until their chief starts to glitch and enters a kind of savage berserk mode that catches Fanatio off balance. Fortunately, her loyal lieutenant Dakira steps in and blocks the giant’s attack. Unfortunately, Dakira dies of her injuries, and Fanatio uses up a lot of time and energy eliminating the chief.

The episode ends with the front lines just barely holding together after just the first wave of Dark Territory forces, with Eldrie’s unit in particularly bad way. And that wave is nothing but cannon fodder; it felt like the knights were throwing their best weapons at this enemy without much thought to preserving some of that power for the tougher waves.

Then again, they don’t have a choice. Their regular soldiers are under-trained and untested, and even one of the younger Integrity Knights demonstrates he has no integrity by fleeing the battle to hide in a storage shed. The battle has barely begun, and the forces of the Human Empire have already taken a serious hit in manpower, energy, and morale.

Alice glides over all of this, holding her powder for the next waves to come, and summons a massive ball of…something. Destructive energy, I guess? Hopefully she can slow the enemy’s advance at least somewhat to allow the units to regroup, but it still feels like the Humans are going to need a lot more help, either from Kirito finally waking up (or at least instinctively contributing somehow) or the timely arrival of Asuna.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 05 – The Eve of Reckoning

With a title like “The Night Before Battle”, it was clear there would be one more calm-before-the-storm episode before that battle took place, but in this case, it was not only earned, but welcome. After all, there a lot of reunions that need to happen before battle is joined. That starts with Alice’s protege Eldrie and her “uncle” Bercouli.

Eldrie is concerned about the dead weight that is Kirito, but Bercouli demonstrates that he’s still capable of defending himself through sheer willpower. That means he may yet come back to them, hopefully in their hour of greatest need. That’s coming soon, by the way—their forces are outnumbered more than 16-to-1.

Alice considers that perhaps Kirito can’t hear or react to her voice because she’s still suppressing her feelings, and that maybe a gesture of those feelings may finally wake him up. She comes close, but is interrupted by Tiese and Ronie, who heard Kirito was at the camp. I suppose kissing him wouldn’t have mattered; the conditions haven’t been met for him to come back yet.

The pages are beside themselves upon learning of Kirito and Eugeo’s fates, and Alice can’t help but notice they act as if they loved the boys. They rebut that assertion by saying they don’t deserve the right to say they love him, citing their traumatic experience that led the boys to break Axiom law to save them. Alice rejects their position, transforming to “peacetime” Alice Zuberg that would have been had she not been kidnapped.

Her lesson to the two is that bodies are unimportant compared to the hearts and their souls. If they feel they love someone, or that they can and should do something, they need not be ashamed to carry those feelings with pride. It’s something she learned from Kirito and Eugeo and is happy to pass on.

Alice is less enthused by Lady Fanatio carrying such feelings with pride, especially when she asks to see Kirito so she can “try various things” in an attempt to revive him. Alice betrays her own personal feelings for Kirito by barring Fanatio from seeing him. But such bickering has to wait; it’s time for the war council.

Administrator truly screwed the Human Empire in her management of their military forces. The remaining Integrity Knights must make do with what little they have and pursue a strategy of bottle-necking the enemy’s superior numbers in a narrow, barren ravine, hoping that location will also prove challenging to dark mages, who require material in order to cast their arts.

After saying what could be her final goodbyes to Kirito (leaving him in the pages’ care) and Eldrie, Alice mounts her dragon and the forces move into the ravine. The gate resolves, heralding the “Final Load Test.” The good guys are at a huge disadvantage against Miller’s massive forces.

I don’t doubt they’ll need to rely on a last-minute intervention from…someone; maybe Kirito answering the call in their greatest need, maybe Asuna, finally arrived in Underworld and ready to fight to save her fiancee. As for Alice…we just saw a lot of death flags… :(

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 02 – He’s Not That Bad?

With the placid Enkidu as their guide, Ritsuka and Mash would seem to be on easy street, but even after several previous excursions to singularities across time, the duo isn’t above someone getting one over on them. Fortunately for them, you can’t kid a kidder—in this case, Grand Caster Merlin, whom they meet in a forest.

Merlin tells Ritsuka and Mash that King Gilgamesh just returned from a quest to attain the herb of immortality—a quest he didn’t begin until after Enkidu died. Exposed as an impostor working against Chaldea, “Enkidu” attacks Ritsuka and Mash, but Merlin’s companion Ana protects them while Merlin creates an illusion to force him to withdraw for the time being.

Like last week’s tilt with the demonic beasts, Ana and Mash’s fight with Enkidu provides the action highlight of an otherwise talky episode, with the dense forest providing a new venue for the lightning-fast kinetic combat.

While back at Chaldea Romani is perplexed to find Merlin in Mesopotamia considering he’s supposed to still be alive in Avalon, the fact that the current time period precedes his birth meant he could be summoned there.

Merlin also sports almost zero offensive power, so even Fou—who apparently hates his guts—can fight him on even footing. Merlin claims to have a Master, while Ana is a rogue Servant. They’re there to assist Chaldea in saving humanity.

Merlin and Ana escort Ritsuka and Mash to Uruk without further incident. Ana has a cute human moment with one of the sentries, and they pass through the gates with ease and head to the massive central ziggurat. The size and grandeur of the city surprise the pair from Chaldea, which is saying something considering all the places they’ve seen.

Once in Gilgamesh’s throne room, Ritsuka is equally impressed by how level-headed, detail-oriented, and downright on top of things the king seems to be; far cry from the arrogant tyrant of legend. However, when Merlin interrupts normal business to introduce Ritsuka and Mash, Gilgamesh is done talking, and immediately challenges them to a duel.

It’s just as well. If the two are going to easily fall to the king right then and there, they weren’t going to be of any use to him in the first place—nor could they ever be the true saviors of humanity.

DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!

DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 25 (Fin) – Beginning Anew?

With the arrival of a Glass, a bad-ass virtual force of nature during the previous wave, one could have expected the battle to intensify exponentially. Well, one would be wrong; all Naofumi needed to do was level up thirty-three times to not only survive Glass’s attacks (and her combo with Therese) but deliver considerable damage with his Soul Eater Shield (with no Maka Albarn in sight).

In rough shape but refusing to surrender, Glass activates a Tunnel of Moving Pictures® that we see way too often in anime as a cheap way to remind us of Everything That’s Happened™. It also offers Naofumi a glimpse of Glass’s (and L’Arc and Therese’s) devastated world. He ponders whether he wants to save this world as much as Glass wants to save hers, and if he’s willing to kill her for that cause.

Ultimately Naofumi decides to fight on for this world, if for no other reason than it contains Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty. They have been loyal and true friends and servants. But L’Arc tosses Glass a potion that restores the SP the Soul Eater took away, and seems ready for another round…that is, until she suddenly gets sloshed.

Throughout this battle, the meek green-haired mage who is a member of the Bow Hero’s party and mostly says “HOEEE!” like Cardcaptor Sakura, is quietly distinguishing herself as a key contributor.

First, she rowed Melty over to the dead shark thingy so she could join the party. Then, acting on a light bulb from the queen, she uses her wind magic to shoot some great casks of that weird wine that seems to get everyone drunk immediately (but has no effect on Naofumi).

I can’t help but applaud this audacious, completely-out-of-left field way to conclude the battle, as time runs out, the waves recede, and L’Arc, Therese, and Glass bid goodbye until the next one.

With the Wave gone, Naofumi’s party, done with leveling up for now, still has to wait for a storm to pass for them to sail back to Melromarc. They spend the time on various leisure activities, during which Raphtalia blushes and beams at Naofumi roughly 96% of the time, to no avail…

More intriguingly, the green-haired mage, who finally gets a name—Lecia—joins Naofumi’s party after she’s thrown out of Itsuki’s for the same reason Jar Jar was banished: shesa bein’ clumsy.

But Lecia whines a lot and has a very low opinion of herself, she’s the victim of a false accusation, just as Naofumi was (in her case, destruction of an accessory, though that was probably just an excuse to get rid of her). That automatically makes her a spiritual ally of Naofumi, so he goes a bit further and makes her a literal one.

For the remainder of the episode, Naofumi strings Raphtalia along across land and sea to surprise her with the reward bestowed upon him by Queen Mirelia for his leal service to her kingdom: lordship over the lands of Seyaette, including her rebuilding home village, which is to become the Shield Hero’s official headquarters and training facility.

All the other decent sorts with whom Naofumi has crossed paths made it a point to move there and help his cause. He tasks Raphtalia with revitalizing the fishing industry. Raphtalia is obviously very happy and grateful for all this, but none of that matters compared to having Naofumi by her side. He makes her promise never to leave her or Filo, even when the last Wave is beaten back. She doesn’t like how all this looks like him prepping for the time when he’ll be gone—an eventuality she can’t accept.

While Naofumi doesn’t 100% promise her he’ll never leave or die—I mean, he can’t really do that; it’s out of his control for the moment—he gets a flash back to his own world, as he walks past his old, useless self, and reassures her that he won’t leave her side. There’s still so much to do:  get the village up and running, recruit and train new party members like Lecia, continue to level up for the coming threats, even trying to uncover the mystery of why the heroes of different worlds are competing.

Basically, Iwatani Naofumi isn’t going to dwell on the the what-ifs of after the Waves end, because he’s just getting started. In other words, there’s more than enough to fill another season, which is likely forthcoming but not yet officially confirmed. In this viewer’s opinion, I hope it’s confirmed soon, and in a year or so we get to watch more of Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Melty, Lecia, heck, even Bitch and Trash—and just as importantly, get to hear more excellent Kevin Penkinage.

Attack on Titan – 52 – Hoover Hardens his Heart

On the eve of the present battle, Bertholdt and Reiner recall the Battle of Trost when Marco Bott overheard them talking about Titans and their mission, simply by chance. They tell him they were just joking, but know Marco is sharper than that.

Annie soon joins them as they restrain him, and Reiner decides to remove his ODM gear. Shortly afterward he’s found and eaten by a Titan as the three watch in horror and remorse. Their secret was safe for a little longer, in exchange for their friend and comrade dying horribly.

Back in the present, while having coffee with War Chief Zeke (the Beast Titan) and discussing Annie’s capture, Zeke questions their commitment, but they resolve to end this with him tomorrow. At dawn, Bert and Reiner go to their separate positions, with the latter chiding the former for being so timid when he’s perhaps the most powerful Titan of them all.

Reiner encourages Bert to think for himself and not just wait for others to give him a signal to act. That’s all well and good if you’re the Armored Titan, but it’s a little different when your Titan is so big his transformation is basically a nuclear bomb.

Back to the latest point of the battle up to now, with half of Reiner’s head blown off, his Titan still manages to call out, which is the signal Bertholdt, hiding in a barrel, was waiting for. The Beast Titan tosses the barrel into the town. Irwin, Hange, Levi, Armin, and everyone else watch as it sails over them, and Armin realizes it’s Bertholdt is in there and they’ve got to get away.

But just when he seems ready to transform, which would be game over for everyone in the town, Bert spots the KO’d Reiner and hesitates. He fires up his ODM instead and rushes to Reiner’s side, where he learns Reiner transferred his consciousness to his nervous system as a last resort. Bert asks Reiner to flip himself over to protect his exposed nape when Bert transforms.

While Armin wasn’t able to negotiate with Reiner, he wants to at least try with Bertholdt, probably assuming the more timid of the two will be more willing to listen. But while Eren’s been mastering physical Titan hardening, Bert has been busy becoming mentally tougher, and meeting with Armin is the last bit of proof he needs to confirm that he’s finally ready to take the next step.

Bertholdt has no ill will towards Armin or his other former comrades; indeed, he regards them as “precious”. But they also have to die, because that’s what needs to happen. That’s the plan of all Titans, and those they serve. That it’s unfortunate doesn’t change the fact it’s inevitable truth that not even Bertholdt can avoid any longer.

Mikasa tries to take him out of the equation all together with a sneak attack, while Armin mentions Annie to try to throw him off emotionally, but Bertholdt shows he can and will deal with all psychological comers, and that he can live with whatever the result of this battle.

With that, Bert transforms, unleashing the nuclear-esque explosion virtually right on top of Hange Squad, while Levi and Armin’s squads just barely get to a safe distance. But no distance is safe once the transformed Colossal Titan starts scooping up flaming bits of town and launching them into the air, creating a kind of meteor shower for all surviving scouts to contend with.

Armin freezes up a bit, as the original plan to retreat back to Irwin and fight the Colossal in a battle of attrition will no longer work; not when Bert can put a wall of flame between Irwin’s forces and the Beast Titan. Armin’s only choice is to fight and defeat the Colossal Titan there and then, with only the forces he has. Needless to say, it will be a colossal undertaking, and they’re colossal underdogs.

Attack on Titan – 51 – Homefield Advantage

With Shiganshina’s outer gate sealed, his troops atop Wall Maria, the Armored Titan on one side and the Beast Titan and his forces on the other, Irwin determines that the enemy is willing to wait out his forces in a siege. They’ll kill all the horses and starve the humans until even Eren can no longer resist capture, and it will be over. The two objectives this week are: keep Eren from getting captured, and prevent the horses, and any chance at resupply, from being killed.

Unfortunately, and paradoxically, the person you’d want kept away from the fighting, Eren himself, is their trump card against Braun, so he must serve as bait to get Braun to change his prime objective from the horses to Eren. Irwin doesn’t give him time to mull over the decision, so he descends the wall he just climbed and goes after Eren, who packs a much more devastating (and armor-shattering) punch now that he’s focusing all of his hardening power on his fist.

Meanwhile, the newbies are having a hard time even with the small-fry Titans. Irwin observes that the Scout Regiment is far weaker than it once was, but the thousands of sacrifices of the men and women under his command were what made this final stand possible. He visualizes himself standing atop a pile of scout corpses, but  if he can get to Grisha’s Basement before he dies, it may all be worth it.

As Eren grapples with Braun, the more experienced Levi and Hange squads advance, with Hange and Mikasa scoring direct hits on both the Armored Titan’s eyes with Lightning Spears, a weapon Braun didn’t know about until it was used on him.

The Scouts keep up the fight, even as they think they’ve “got him”, launching a dozen or more Lightning Spears into his nape, blowing it open so another volley can take out the vulnerable Braun within. The likes of Sasha and Connie momentarily hesitate at the prospect of killing their former friend and comrade, but Jean snaps them out of it, and the…apparently? fatal blows to Braun are delivered.

Mind you, I’m pretty damn skeptical Braun is 100% dead yet…more likely he’s just hurt and has another ace or two of his sleeve. And the absence of Bertholdt is very suspicious. Irwin and the Scouts can’t afford to revel in small victories. This battle’s for all the marbles.

Attack on Titan – 50 – Keep Hope Alive

Part Two of Titan’s third season picks up where Part One left off: Eren, Mikasa, Armin are part of a force of 100 scouts led by Erwin, Hange, and Levi, tasked with nothing less than retaking Wall Maria, starting with Shiganshina.

On the way they encounter a motionless Titan that is apparently asleep, but they have no way of knowing for sure, do they? It’s only the latest instance of them having to do the best they can with the information they have…which still isn’t much, and may never be anywhere near as much as they know about humans.

Eren, Mikasa and Armin note the reutrn to their hometown for the first time since they were forced to flee and eventually joined the Scout Regiment that brought them back. But there’s no time for reminiscing (or checking out basements yet); they now stand in enemy territory, and the mission takes precedence. Besides, they’re responsible for preserving humanity’s hope it can survive and be free.

It’s a simple matter of plugging both the inner and outer gates of Shiganshina, then mopping up the Titans within. Throughout the trip there Eren remained dubious of his abilities and usefulness, but his two best mates help get him through that apprehension, and he successfully seals the outer gate with his Titan hardening ability.

Mikasa has steady praise for Eren as they move on to the next gate, but something isn’t right; Armin found signs that people were camping, but they had more than enough time to prepare for an attack…so where are they?

To answer that question, Erwin puts Armin in charge of a whole squad of scouts, confident that Armin has proven himself capable of leading men and women in the field. While initially nervous and hesitant (and far too polite to subbordinates), Armin grows more and more confident in himself as he runs through all the possible ways the Titans could be messing with them this time.

Remembering the Titan-in-the-wall, Armin orders everyone to inspect the wall for hollows. Once scout strikes paydirt, only to be killed by Reiner emerging with sword drawn. Levi in turn swoops down and delivers what would have been a couple of fatal blows to anyone but Reiner, who transforms into the Armored Titan upon hitting the ground.

Thanks to Armin, the enemy has revealed itself sooner than it had planned, but that’s not exactly a good thing for the scouts, as Reiner’s reveal spurs the teleportation of the Beast Titan and a host of other Titans who had been hiding nearby.

With that, the battle for Wall Maria—and indeed for the survival of humanity itself—begins in earnest. With just Eren the only one on the good guys’ side able to transform, and the need to plug that second gate, this is not going to be an easy fight. And there are sure to be more curveballs in store for the scouts courtesy of the kooky Titans.

One Punch Man 2 – 02 – This Isn’t Normal

When the ruffians get predictably rowdy, Sitch sics his heroes on a couple of them, leading the werewolf-like Garo to step to and waste everyone; only Sitch is spared as a witness; Garo promises to be back “in six months.” Hey, even human monsters have to manage expectations!

Meanwhile, both Hellish Blizzard and Sound-o’-Speed Sonic are headed to Saitama’s house. The former is flanked by two goons, while the latter is first detected by Geno’s cybor-sense. Saitama, meanwhile, is just having fun playing with King’s PSP, which he stole and accidentally erased King’s data.

Saitama would much rather spend his afternoon playing games than dealing with anyone, but as usual he doesn’t get his way. Blizzard arrives first, asking Saitama to join her faction, and threatening reprisal if he declines. Naturally, Saitama refuses, and flings her so-called goons off the damn balcony.

Even though he’s just met her, Saitama can tell that Blizzard isn’t hero material as long as she uses weaker people to prop herself up while bullying others into joining her. Saitama doesn’t care about rankings (nor should he, considering how under-ranked he is), and proves Blizzard can’t make him do anything by easily weathering her esper attacks.

In the middle of their spat, Genos and Sonic show up, and Saitama and Blizzard are witnesses to their street brawl. Blizzard is astonished that someone like Genos is calling Saitama his “master”, while she considers Sonic to be another S-Class monster far beyond her abilities.

Genos and Sonic proceed to show her just how powerful they are, with increasingly fast and devastating attacks, but it leads to nothing but a big ol’ stalemate. When Genos loses his temper and prepares to blast the whole damn area to smite Sonic, Saitama intervenes…because he doesn’t want his area blasted.

Sonic thus gets what he wants: another one-on-one round with his “rival.” But again, Sonic is put in his place all too quickly and easily, thanks to a “side-stepping” attack by Saitama that multiplies Sonic’s ten afterimages exponentially. Defeated, Sonic retreats, but promises this isn’t over, because of course he does.

Back at Saitama’s place, Blizzard explains why she’s so obsessed with keeping the top B spot and gathering followers: she’s never been anything but second-best in a family that also contains Terrible Tornado, her older sister. She’s then overwhelmed again when King arrives…only to ask Saitama for his game back.

It’s clear to Blizzard that not only is Saitama no normal Class B hero, but has a preternatural ability to draw the strongest monsters into his orbit, where he can then demonstrate how much stronger he is than those comers. And that’s his appeal: overwhelming power, minimal ego and ambition. He’s a hero for fun. Why do people have to keep making it not fun?

Speaking of which, Garo comes across a Class A hero by chance and ends him without breaking a sweat. No doubt Garo will soon find himself another one of Saitama’s satellites…perhaps they can make each other break a sweat for once.

One Punch Man 2 – 01 – How Did it Come to This?

“The first sequel in three and a half years…I’M FEELING THE HYPE!”

—King, breaking the fourth wall

I too am feeling the hype for the first OPM sequel in three and a half years…it’s a lot of years! That seems like several RABUJOI rating tag designs (not to mention presidential administrations) ago. But here we are, and perhaps wisely, OPM takes things nice and easy, offering a mostly quiet and laid back return in which Saitama’s only action in the episode happens so fast we miss it.

He and Genos are crossing off items on the errand list on a beautiful day, inspecting figurines for heroes like “King” (while Saitama goes unhonored) when a reptilian pervert appears. At the same time, the real Class S, Rank 7 Hero King shows up in the flesh. The crowd immediately recognizes their imminent savior, while the low-level baddie is so scared of his mere reputation, he surrenders without a fight.

That’s just as well, because King privately would rather be anywhere else…specifically, playing the newest sequel to Heartthrob Sister. So King’s a reluctant hero who’d rather laze around, right?

Well, there’s more to it than boredom or will to fight. When a giant, advanced robot called G4 appears and challenges King to mortal combat, King asks if he can use the bathroom (so he can go full strength and make sure the robot gets the best data from the fight). That leaves Genos to deal with G4 while King…cowers in the bathroom.

Turns out King isn’t a real hero at all; he simply keeps ending up near giant monsters who are dealt with by someone else, leaving him to suck up all the credit. And that someone else turns out to be Saitama. Genos assures his master he’ll be fine on his own, so Saitama leaps up to King’s 22nd-floor apartment to play some games.

Of course, Saitama is there for more than games—he wants answers, like why King ran away from a fight. When a giant bird monster appears and Saitama stops it with one hand, King wets himself and confirms that his entire reputation is a lie. And King can’t very well claim to be the victim of mass public misunderstanding, since he’s always had the agency to correct the record.

He’s just lacked the courage to do so, and at this point, when he’s been credited with so many victories he’s regarded as The Strongest Man Alive, who can blame him? To come clean is to face unimaginable backlash from the public, who may in turn come to distrust all heroes, worried there may be other frauds.

Genos incinerates G4’s outer body, leaving the feistier, laser-ridden inner body to contend with, which he does thanks to the cloud of an exploded fire extinguisher and the fact Genos is simply the stronger party. Meanwhile, King realizes it’s this Saitama guy who keeps saving him again and again then rushing off, leaving people to credit King with the wins.

Saitama is very magnanimous about this whole ordeal, though part of that is simple realism: no matter what the truth is, the public thinks he’s the Ultimate Hero. So rather than let them down, Saitama suggests King start to live up to the title he never wanted, by becoming stronger.

He also invites himself to future video game sessions, no doubt to check and see if King can follow through or will continue to cower in the corner. After all, just because he was found out by Saitama doesn’t mean the “coincidences” that caused all this will end.

Genos presents Dr. Kuseno with the remains of G4, asking him if any of them can be integrated into his systems to become stronger. The cyborg that destroyed his home is still out there, and while Genos is more focused on his hero duties and living up to his Class, his hatred of his nemesis has not dissipated, but continues to fuel his drive.

From there we’re invited to an “Explanation Meeting” by the “The Earth is in Danger Prophecy Emergency Countermeasures Team”, led by Sitch. He has gathered dozens of criminals and n’er-do-wells (and protected himself with Class A heroes) because the disaster the prophecy fortells will surely require everyone’s fighting abilities, not just good folk. Among the “ruffians” is our old friend Sound-o’-Speed Sonic, who still thinks he can take Saitama on.

Also suspicious of Saitama’s quick C-to-B rise is Class B’s Rank 1, Hellish Blizzard. Both of them have Saitama in their crosshairs, but Saitama is content to wait for all comers while gaming with his new buddy King. There’s also one more lad at the very end who I’m probably supposed to remember, who seems excited about the prophecy of the End of the World.

It’s a strong return from one of my favorite action/comedy shows of recent years. There was a lot of exposition and people talking about fighting Saitama without actually doing so, but proper table-setting must precede a good feast. I’ve also heard this doesn’t look as good as the first season (the studio shifted from Madhouse to J.C. Staff), and perhaps that’s true, though it’s been so long I didn’t notice. I’m just a man of simple tastes, and I’m glad it’s back.

TenSura – 24 (Extra) – Conqueror Of Flames

This being an extra episode and all, I had no idea what to expect, so it was a nice surprise to get a story about one of Shizu’s exploits, which takes place before Rimuru even appears in this world. As she arrives at Filtwood Castle to join a host of other adventurers in an effort to defeat a recently summoned demon, it’s made clear Shizue Izawa is already a legend among her peers and in Filtwood’s court.

But she’s weary that even the formidable Silver Wings have recently fallen to the demon, suggesting it at least has a name that lends it more power (as we’ll witness later with Rimuru’s namings). It’s also odd that the less bold adventurers aren’t allowed to leave when they hear of the strength of their foe.

After one of them is killed and a lesser demon extracted, it’s revealed they’ve all been gathered there because more of them are suspected of being possessed by demons, so they’ll all be rooted out for the good of the kingdom.

Their execution of this plan is interrupted by a cloaked mage, whose immense power Shizu only then detects (suggesting it’s an extremely powerful mage who can mask such power). The mage is himself a demon calling himself “Kuro”, and is willing to kill everyone in the hall to find the demon he’s after.

Needless to say, Shizu isn’t about to let that happen, and so…they fight.

And what a splendid fight it is! At least as good as anything TenSura has served up. Shizu is a tough customer, but even she seems to be aware that Kuro is merely toying with her, and actually holding back quite a bit. Even her special finishing move only causes as slight amount of discomfort, yet even that is the most pain Kuro’s had the pleasure of feeling in some time.

What ultimately forces Kuro to withdraw, at least for the moment, is when he gets serious and attempts to behead Shizu. Her mask protects her and relieves Kuro of his arm, making him exclaim that the mask “surpasses time.” The assembled adventurers cheer for Shizu when Kuro departs in a black cloud…but this is only the beginning of the already exhausted Shizu’s busy day.

A knight comes to her quarters to escort her to an audience with the king, and while en route, this knight expresses both his gratitude for her heroism and awe at said heroism’s form…only the ever-observant Shizu doesn’t recognize him as someone who was present for her fight. Turns out she’s right.

The “knight” is actually the real king of Filtwood, and a demon at that. Not just any run-of-the-mill demon, either: a “legendary-class Greater Demon General,” which I assume is a real thing and not something he made up in a sudden chuuni fit. His name is Orthos, and he is revered by the people as a demon-defeating hero, giving him more strength.

Orthos thanks Shizu for being a “sacrifice”, something she has no intention of doing (and also obviously won’t die as Rimuru meets her much later). That said, Orthos is a tough customer, and Shizu has had no time to replenish her strength, magic, or stamina, which is of course Orthos’ plan all along.

Unfortunately for him, Kuro reappears in the nick of time to save Shizu. Before she was summoned into this situation, she recalled what Leon told her about demon “Progenitors” who are named after colors. Kuro is one of them, an identifies Orthos as an underling of another Progenitor, Red. That means Orthos is absolutely no match for Kuro, who utterly ends him.

In the end, Kuro is credited with killing the public king and minister of Filtwood (who were really Orthos’ puppet) while official records credit Shizu with defeating Kuro. In reality, the two agree to go their separate ways and forget they ever saw each other, and in exchange, Kuro won’t end Shizu like he ended Orthos. Still, Shizu predicts “someone will do something about that demon someday”…and that someone turns out to be Shizu, summoning him as “Diablo.”

This extra episode took a while to get going what with the need to set up an entirely new setting and scenario, but once Shizu drew her sword, good things started happening. It was a fun, exciting outing that added texture to the vast world of TenSura, not to mention demonstrated that it can do just fine without Rimuru or any of his entourage.