Overlord II – 10

This week Sebas must deal with the fallout of his individual actions which drew undue attention to him and by extension Nazarick. However, as expected, Lord Ainz is understanding, and also convinced of Sebas’ absolute loyalty when he orders the Butler to kill Tuare and Cocytus has to step in to stop him.

When Ainz asks Sebas how it benefits him to have Tuare come to Nazarick with them, Sebas says she can cook. This leads to bickering between Sebas and Demiurge about what kind of cooking is “worthy” of Nazarick, which reminds Ainz of the bickering his fellow players once engage in; a pleasant memory.

Tuare, for her part, is ready to follow Sebas wherever he leads, and wouldn’t mind even if he had to kill her for real, giving him her first happy kiss; possibly his as well.

Over at the palace, Princess Renner is getting ready to unleash Blue Rose on Eight Fingers, but knows she’ll need more men, so she invites Marquis Raeven to her chambers for a chat.

Her brother, the Second Prince, also tags along, and is a lot less antagonistic, especially when he learns just how much his sister knows about the complex political tapestry draped across the kingdom; not to mention when she shows her “real” side, which Raeven likes, but decidedly not if it means betrothing his five-year-old-son to her.

Renner intends to bear children with Climb, but her official, noble-born husband will make those children legitimate. Or something. It’s all…a little arcane? Bottom line, Renner has the troops she needs to bring Eight Fingers down, and she intends to add Gazef Stronoff to those numbers. It should be quite a raid.

Meanwhile, Lord Ainz ordered everyone from Nazarick back to Nazarick, but first orders Sebas and Solution to take care of a grain purchase for Demiurge’s sheep. Why neither Demiurge nor Sebas on his own could accomplish this errand, or why Tuare is left so exposed and vulnerable, is not explained. All we know is Tuare has been re-kidnapped by Eight Fingers, and Sebas intends to rescue her.

I’m certain such a rescue mission, for which Sebas orders Albedo to arrange assistance, will be entertaining, but it seems rather artificially created crisis borne out of abject stupidity on the part of all involved parties. It makes me wonder if the kidnapping truly was set up, perhaps so Ainz could further observe just how far Sebas’ attachment to one lowly human really goes.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 06

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And here I thought the platoon was going to get to work scoring points for Usagi. That enterprise is totally sidelined when Mephisto makes her move. Turns out the scumbag Tenmyoji Reima’s quick rise was made possible by a deal with the witch, who aims to retrieve her body from Taimadou’s custody and exact some revenge.

Mephisto first possesses President Hoshijiro’s ninja aide, then Ootori, who goes after Tenmyoji, incorrectly guessing he’s Mephisto. It’s not the most stunning twist of fate, but it works, and now two platoon members are in danger. Also, it’s cool to see Ootori wearing an evil smirk.

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What decidedly isn’t cool in any way, shape, or form, like, at all, is what Usagi goes through this week, and what she has gone through ever since she met Reima. When her older brother was playing with a rifle, she struggled with him to stop and he accidentally got shot. To Reima, that means she’s a brother-murderer, and he never lets her forget it, claiming her as his property and marking her with a slap even when the two are just peewees.

Yet this is just a memory; the true horror occurs when Usagi wakes up from her latest fainting spell (the fact Reima gives her devastating panic attacks just sickens me) to find herself in a wedding dress, with “betrothed” on top of her, ready to consummate. He uses the same old spiel about how he’s the only one who’ll have her and not abandon her after what she did.

Usagi goes numb for a moment, but thankfully doesn’t give up and let him have his way with her. She remembers he’s wrong; she has a family who will fight for her, so she has to fight too. So she bares those bunny’s fangs and sinks them into Reima.

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That gets Reima mad, and he activates his armor, but Takeru, tipped off by Hoshijiro, intervenes in time to save Usagi. But with Ootori under Mephisto’s control, he can’t have Usagi rest easy now that she’s been rescued: it’s her turn to step up to the plate, using her grandfather’s rifle to fire special magic bullets that will destroy Mephisto without killing Ootori.

Usagi is up for it, but Ootoriphisto uses her craftiness to stay a step ahead, placing a charm spell on her that makes all the guys in the vicinity amorously flock to her. Thankfully, she’s able to run away and no inappropriate contact occurs.

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Back in the church where Reima was going to defile Usagi, Takeru makes certain the little shitbag will never touch Usagi again by scaring him straight (and making him wet himself). If anything, it’s almost too easy, this bad guy. He’s sooooo evil and soooo wrong, and when he loses Mephisto’s protection, he turns into a puddle of cowardice, because of course he does.

Ootoriphisto tries to trick Usagi again by acting like a concerned Ootori (who Mari earlier saw right through, because the real Ootori wouldn’t give a shit about her, at least openly) and telling her Takeru is Mephisto. Takeru retorts that if she doesn’t know who to shoot, just shoot him, than Ootori. Well, he cracked that little standoff quickly enough, didn’t he?

But really, he didn’t have to: somehow, Ootori manages to wrest some control back from Mephisto, at least stop her from moving. This makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt who the witch is, and Usagi takes her shots and doesn’t miss. Goodbye, Mephisto. We hardly knew ye, but considering how easily you were defeated by a pack of misfits, we probably didn’t need to know ye.

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With that, Usagi is safe, then Ootori is safe, and all’s well that ends well. Super-well, as it turns out, because in the midst of the festival during which the 35th does a cosplay cafe, Usagi informs him—embarrassingly festooned with gift bows by Suginami, herself donning an outrageous sexy succubus outfit)—that the marriage to the shitberg is officially off, without any further efforts to legitimize her admittance to the school.

Good. The less we see of Reima moving forward, the better. As for Usagi, she likes it when Takeru pats her on the head, but if somebody ever tries to touch her without her permission again, she won’t hesitate to break out those fangs.

Next up to have a personal crisis that the platoon must band together to help despite her desire not to get them involved? Suginami. I predict a solid Shiraishi Ryouko performance is in the near future.

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Oregairu 2 – 10

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So this is how it’s all poised to end? With Yukino marrying Hayato to form an alliance between their families? And this is how Haruno decided to break that news to Hikky? Man, that’s harsh! Nagato Yuki getting hit by a car harsh!

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But let me back up: this was another solid and thoroughly enjoyable episode of Oregairu. Irohas’ non-flirtation flirtation, along with her not-so-easily-concealed growing affection for him (paired with yet another quick rejection, even as she herself stings from the same thing), starts things off right. Sakura Ayane is doing a nice job as Kosaki’s sister over on Nisekoi:, but she really shows her stuff here, with a far better script in her hands and a meatier character to chew on.

If my hardly-groundbreaking theory about Yukino and Hayato holds true, it means both Hikky and Iroha are alike in being rejected by the members of that couple. Misery loves company, yes?

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Putting aside romantic entanglements real or envisioned: the cavalry arrives a week earlier than it does in Preston’s DanMachi, as Yukino cuts through the other school’s verbose president like butter. I don’t know what it is about Hayami Saori and rants, but her swift, biting, brutally accurate takedown is her best performance since Hatoko’s Rant, and was a lot longer in the making.

It wasn’t just a takedown of the haughty synergy nut, either. A lot of what she said also, somewhat devastatingly, applies to her present situation.

This is what Hikky had been missing: someone who knew what to say and wasn’t afraid to say it. Better still, Yukinon opens the door for Yui, Hikky, and Iroha to take the reins of the meeting and finally hammer out what they’re going to actually do for the Christmas event.

And lest I forget, Hikky lays his past mistakes bare before Yukino pipes up. After the display, Kaori comes to him, both impressed and admitting she was wrong about him. While dating remains as out of the question as ever, she wouldn’t mind someone like him as a friend, if he’ll have her.

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LOVE how quickly the event flies by, in montage-form. Sometimes, you just need a montage to barrel through something that in a longer form would only take away valuable character time. Suffice it to say, Iroha and the other Prez manage to shine and the event is a smash hit, thanks to the efforts of the Service Club.

Back in the club room, Hikky not only finds Yukino pouring tea again, but the girls got together to get him a special teacup as a Christmas present, which was all kinds of sweet.

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When Yui brings up getting a present for Yukino with Hikky, he asks her when she’s free to go shopping, with phrasing that could be easily construed as asking her out. Later, Komachi ditches Hikky and Yukino, leaving them alone on the train, where she grabs his sleeve as much as she dares when they hit a bump.

But there was something so final about those doors closing on the softly smiling Yukino, as she said she was looking forward to the next year. Could that be because it’s her last year as a single woman?

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I’m with Yui: glasses DO make you look more intelligent. That’s just SCIENCE, man! ; )

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All of Hayato’s seemingly guilty self-deprication and strange comments to Hikky; all of Haruno’s meddling; the presence of Haruno, her and Yukino’s mom, and Hayato at the same mall where Hikky and Yui happen to be shopping for Yukino; Haruno calling Yukino and telling her to join them; it all feels like Yukino and especially Hikky being ambushed. With Yukino being ambushed into participating in the ambush of HIkky.

Is this Haruno’s way of presenting The Truth to Hikky, and by extension us, the audience? If so, it’s Classic Haruno: cruelty with a smile. Hikky has certainly had a lot of other options placed in front of him, but while I’ve at turns shipped for him and Yui or Iroha or even Kaori (Hilarious!), part of  me has always felt like the show was going to somehow get Yukino and him together. After this week, whatever went on here, the chances of that kind of ending seem bleaker than ever…

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Sword Art Online II – 21

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Much to my relief, this doesn’t turn into The Kirito Show just because he showed up at the end of last week’s episode. Heck, he’s not even the only guy who shows up; Klein does too. They’re only there to let Asuna and the Sleeping Knights focus on defeating the twenty people blocking the boss room. And that’s it.

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Kirito estimates he can give them three minutes; the Knights only need two ( I counted). After those two minutes of awesome, blistering battle, punctuated by a powerful charge by the Berserk Healer herself, the way is open for the boss, and Kirito stays behind, giving Asuna the victory sign.

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Facing the montrous two-headed boss for the second time, Asuna notices a special guard stance he takes whenever a gem between his two necks is hit. Asuna focuses on that gem and tells Yuuki to target it, which she does by using one of her male comrades as a step stool. In the heat of the battle, Yuuki slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’. That’s no surprise to me, but Asuna finds it odd.

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She shrugs it off when the boss is defeated and the Knights revel in their victory, rubbing it in the faces of the dastardly rival guild. Kirito is nowhere to be found, I guess he split after those three minutes. But as has been the case with him this entire arc, we’re just fine with him being a cameo.

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Kirito doesn’t even crash the Sleeping Knight’s party, which Asuna hosts, even though it’s held in his house. Classy move on his part, as the party is for the Knights, after all. During the party, Asuna asks if she can join them, but Yuuki seems oddly put off by the request. Sinue seems to want to say something, but never manages to. Changing the subject, Asuna suggests they check out their names on the Soldier’s Memorial.

There, Yuuki again slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’, but this time realizes it, and promptly and tearfully logs out. Throughout the boss battle and celebrations that followed, the idea that Asuna’s mom would pull the plug on her again was always in the corner of my mind, lending an extra layer of tension to the whole episode.

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Yet, in the end, it’s Yuuki, who has been sold as Asuna’s secret sister (or half-sister), who disappears from the game, without so much as an explanation. Why doesn’t she want Asuna learn the truth? How did Asuna play so long without getting yanked? Will they ever meet in the real world? All questions I’m hoping will be further explored in the next episode, forebodingly called “Journey’s End.”

Until then, I continue to revel in this Asuna-centric, and really Women-centric arc, really turning around what had been a lackluster SAO II Fall cour simply by treating its female characters as more than just Kirito’s suitors.

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Sword Art Online II – 20

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Asuna’s takeover of SAO II continues this week, much to my approval. When Zekken Yuuki whisks her off, I was partially expecting something more sinister than a guild of friends wanting to make memories before they have to split ways in the Spring, but it still worked incredibly well, because, Asuna was the anchor.

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Yuuki was dueling people in search of a seventh member to join the six of the Sleeping Knights – the smallest party allowed to fight a boss, and she chose Asuna to be that seventh. It’s while hanging with them that she realizes “Hey, this isn’t Aincrad anymore. My life isn’t literally at risk; I can let my hair down, go all out, and have fun!” It’s a liberating feeling.

I like the idea of this Asuna-for-hire. With her skills, exp, and rep, she can basically get work wherever and whenever she wants in ALOIt’s a similar situation in the real world in that she has the ability to be and be with whoever she wants…only in the real world, others are calling the shots for her.

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That point is made clear with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when, still beaming after meeting her new friends and agreeing to fight with them, her mom literally pulls the plug, because Asuna is hella late for dinner. It’s telling that its hard for Mom to wake her up gently, almost as if Asuna’s subconscious self doesn’t want to leave.

Pulling the plug is the only way to pull her out. Her mom is annoyed, but she’s also concerned about Asuna’s priorities, and her continued reliance on a device that stole two valuable years of her life. Still disoriented from being pulled out so roughly, “This isn’t like the NerveGear,” is all Asuna can muster. That distinction means nothing to Mom, but a multitude to us, knowing what she went through. What Mom can’t grasp is that for two years, Aincrad was her daughter’s reality.

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Depriving her of ALO, especially right now when she’d finding herself again, is to deprive her of the means to heal the psychological wounds of the NerveGear, and transition to the mindset mentioned above, that it is just a game, not life and death. Coming to grips with that and making that her new normal is a large step in re-establishing the real world as her primary reality.

Even if her mom was in the mood to listen, Asuna lacks the means to properly explain why she needs this; their experience gap is just too wide. And if Asuna’s late for dinner again, Mom is taking the machine away, period. Asuna is trapped again, and runs out of the house. Looking at her missed calls, a snowflake settles on Kirito, the boy her mother won’t let her have.

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But Asuna, to her credit, doesn’t call Kirito. The next day, she dives into ALO, meets with Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, and go over the gameplan: they’ll hit the labyrinth and look in on the boss, and if the conditions are right, they’ll have a go at him too. She’d never betray it to her new friends, but Asuna may benefit from a quick mission here, as she’s not sure when that plug will be pulled at any time.

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The strong and balanced Sleeping Knights end up impressing Asuna with how quickly they carve through the labyrinth, but her skills come in handy early when she detects scouts from a rival guild spying on them behind shrouds of invisibility. Interestingly, though the boss makes a badass entrance, we don’t see the fight at all, but they end up losing badly.

That feels like a cheat until Asuna takes the group aside and warns them that their battle was watched by the rival scouts’ lizard familiar, which explains why their last two boss losses resulted in that boss being defeated quickly soon after. The Sleeping Knights are so into the fights, they never noticed they were doing all the heavy lifting revealing the weaknesses to their rivals. Pretty dastardly, isn’t it?

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Asuna, again taking charge, cheers the group by saying it’s not too late to avoid a third theft of their rightful glory: if they hit the dungeon and defeat the boss before the rival guild can mobilize, they’ll their names carved on the memorial wall after all.

When they return to the boss, the partially-amassed rival guild blocks their way and won’t budge. From Yuuki’s perspective, there’s only one thing for it: fighting them. She walks up to the biggest, toughest member of their guild and takes him out in three blinks of an eye. It’s a nice reminder of just how tough this girl is.

In the process, Yuuki tells Asuna “some things can only be understood through fighting”,  and suddenly Asuna thinks of her protracted battle with her mother in the real world. Because words are the only weapon she can use out there, her Mom will never truly understand her.

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That’s not to mean she and her mom need to go have at it in the dojo, of course, but it does explain their impasse. Also, there are other kinds of fighting. I’m also mindful of the fact that Asuna’s mom is out there and doesn’t understand her, but someone who is probably her sister (she’s not called Yuuki for nothing) is in here, and does.

Yuuki’s words galvanize Asuna, such that even when the rival guild’s reinforcements arrive and prepare a pincer attack, and they’re outnumbered dozens to one, Asuna is not fearful. She puts her wand away, draws her sword, and gets ready to rumble. This is where she wants to be, right here and now: fighting beside her new friends. Even if they lose this battle — and they’re probably going to lose this battle — they’ll dust themselves off, come back, and win next time.

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Really the only thing that would make this better for her is if she were having this battle with people closer to her, like, say…this guy. Oh, hey, there he is, right on cue, hiding among the ranks of the charging rival guild members, Yui perched on his shoulder.

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Don’t be mistaken: Kirito isn’t here to rescue the Damsel in Distress and fight so she doesn’t have to…not this time. This time he’s here simply to even the very uneven odds in her present battle. He’ll take on one part of the rival host, while she and the Sleeping Knights can push through the other and fight the boss.

Because of the distinction in how he’s he’s utilized here, I’m not miffed in the least by his presence. It’s a good use for Kirito at a good time. Just being there reminds Asuna that she isn’t alone, those she loves have her back, and her own battles aren’t over and lost yet, either in here or out in the world.

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Sword Art Online II – 19

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It took until just five episodes left in the damn show, but SAO II finally delivered something I’ve been yearning for since the second season was announced: an episode with Asuna as the focus, doing things. While part of me is content we got an episode like this at all, I’m pleased to report that it was a damned fine episode in its own right.

By now we’re well aware of the inner turmoil Kirito, Asuna, and the others carry with them, even though only Kirito has gotten that much screen time to explore it (as well as Sinon, whose turmoil came from the real world, not the game). What we haven’t seen is much of Asuna’s struggles with that turmoil, and just how cold and uncaring her family is to her situation.

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Asuna leaves her very cold bedroom to the huge, stodgy dining room where her mother scolds her for not being five minutes early for dinner. The dinner starts off relatively innocuous until Asuna realizes her mother is using this opportunity to tell her she plans to marry her to a countryside banker and move her to a better school so she can start college early.

This dynamic works because while Asuna’s mom is basically the villain here, she’s decidedly not evil, only cold and pragmatic: she didn’t come from money, but married into it, and she’s determined to make sure Asuna avails herself of the opportunities she’s been given in life.

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And that’s all well and good…if ignoring the fact that Asuna “one of those children who spent two years killing each other.” Her mom’s phrasing seems to be designed to underplay just how traumatizing the experience is, and shrug it off as an unfortunate inconvenience, but she can’t just wave away the emotional scars, nor the bond she formed with Kirito. Her mom’s checked into him as well (again, devaluing him by calling him a child), and forbids her to choose him as her mate.

When Asuna questions her judgment after subjecting her to the criminal Sugou as her first betrothed, her mom dismisses that as her father’s choice, not hers. Asuna is forced to retreat, but not before tossing that dig about her mom being ashamed of being from poorer parents.

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Asuna doesn’t want the path that’s been laid out for her; it’s a path laid out by parents who may on some level care about her happiness, but are forcing their own definition of happiness upon her, “for her own good.” It’s pretty tough love, and unlike Kirito, whose family situation is just peachy (aside from his sister briefly being in love with him), it’s made diving into ALO a kind of emergency release for Asuna. With the weight of the world and her parents’ expectations bearing down on her, ALO is where she has strength and agency.

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Yet even in the virtual world, Asuna admits she hasn’t done much and is worried the Lightning Flash Asuna of yore is gone, along with her innocence. Fighting Zekken — whom she’s surprised to find is a girl — is a way of validating whether she’s still “got it”, which in turn could give her more strength to face her problems in the real world.

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Zekken is a perfectly nice, polite young lady, but the surprise of her gender throws Asuna off at first – as does her ridiculous speed.

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Taking a step back and another deep breath, Asuna realigns her resolve, remembering why she’s there: not just to prove she’s still a power in ALO, but to blow off some steam. The difference in the two halves of the fight are like night and day; in the latter half, Asuna goes all out and is able to keep up…

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…Right up until Zekken turns it up and breaks out her overpowered, almost-cheating special skill. At this point, while Asuna’s resigned to losing, she’s not upset by her performance; it was a duel she can look back upon with satisfaction. Then, at the last second, Zekken holds back her blade and ends the fight. It turns out she wasn’t necessarily looking to win the duel either…only test her opponent. And Asuna passed.

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Before the duel, Kirito confided in Asuna that he thought something was fishy about Zekken, as if she were a “product of the full-dive environment.” I don’t understand that term any more than Asuna, but it is an unsubtle hint that there’s more to Zekken than just a duel-loving heavy user. The fact her player name is “Yuuki”, Asuna’s last name, is also telling.

Kirito’s suspicions are confirmed when Yuuki flies Asuna up into the sky to formally ask her to “please help [them],” meaning whatever Yuuki is, there’s more than one of her, and as powerful as she is, their duel impressed her enough to believe Asuna could be of help. And I’m sure that notion alone raised Asuna’s spirits considerably. This episode sure raised mine!

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Nobunaga the Fool – 04

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Between gaining command the war giant The Fool, befriending da Vinci, fighting a seasoned foe to a draw, and becoming betrothed to the Queen Himiko of Yamatai, Nobunaga certainly seems to be amassing the means with which to make his own destiny, something he imparts to his brother is crucial to living life.

As his father and other clan leaders consider the benefits of their new alliance with Yamatai with regard to shoring up their defenses, and plans for a betrothal (not wedding) ceremony are underway, all Nobu wants to do is take his new regalia and stove in the heads of his enemies as soon as possible. “The woman is extra”, he says coldly. Nobu: Male chauvanist.

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Himiko remember being lovingly tossed about by Nobu as a child, and so sought him out for marriage as soon as she was able. Beyond the puppy love, we sense some ambition in her: she’s forming a bond with someone she knows will be going places in the near future, while at the same time she’s a big part of why he’s going places, by giving him the regalia. Their ceremony itself is a mad marvel of excess and theatricality, blending both Eastern (kabuki stage) and Western (wedding gown) tradition and ending with the traditional cutting of the (ten-story) cake with a regalia-boosted katana strike.

Part of why everyone calls Nobu a ‘fool’ is the way he jumps headlong into things; his character also fits much of the symbolism of the tarot card of the same name, a card that inspired the modern Joker, which is often “wild.”  We’ll see whether these nuptials are win-win for all or have unforeseen ill-effects. We’re also curious to see if Jeanne, now believed by most (but interestingly, not Himiko) to be a dude, will continue to be sidelined. We’d like to see her pull a knife (figuratively speaking) on Nobu more often.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)