Jujutsu Kaisen – 13 – What Is a Proper Death?

Yuuji is in the fight of his life, but he’s also in the middle of a lecture. Nanami may not be a teacher, but he’s still going to coach up the young buck so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yuuji, for his part, pays attention. He’s not the kind of hero who’s going to defy his sensei because he thinks he knows better or thinks he’s strong enough.

Nanami’s plan with Mahito is simple: wait for an opening, then rain blows upon him with Yuuji. It takes a little under four minutes, but the two jujutsu sorcerers eventually get the timing right, and then it’s open season. That’s when Mahito plays dirty, unleashing a trio of deformed humans on Yuuji, knowing he doesn’t have the heart to kill them.

Only, to Mahito’ surprise, he does. It happens offscreen, but Yuuji deals with the humans before they kill him. That’s when Mahito decides to push all his chips into the pot with Domain Expansion, engulfing only Nanami while Yuuji is trapped outside. Nanami, all but certain this is the end for him, looks back on how he got back into sorcery in the first place.

We watch him live his life in a pinstripe suit stealing money from wealthy people in order to make other people wealthier. It’s a job he’s good at but gives him no joy, and he believes no one would miss him if he simply ceased to exist. Then, when a cute young woman at the bakery has a low-level curse on her shoulder, he exorcises it, she thanks him profusely, and he decides right then and there to give Gojou a call.

Of course, while more rewarding and a better use of his time and talents, jujutsu sorcery was always going to be a higher-risk proposition. Mahito thanks Nanami for getting him to unleash his domain, but Mahito isn’t interested in the gratitude of a curse. He’s gotten enough thanks from people like the bakery lady that he has no regrets.

Only before Mahito can do Nanami in, Yuuji successfully busts through the domain from the outside, which is far easier than trying to break out. Because Yuuji is the vessel for Sukuna’s soul and Yuuji is now within Mahito’s domain, Mahito touches Sukuna’s soul a second time, and Sukuna punishes him—a flick of his hand puts a gaping gash across Mahito’s chest.

With his cursed energy depleted from summoning the domain, Mahito puts everything he’s got left into making himself as big and fat as possible. Yuuji proceeds to put everything he has into a Divergent Fist, which pops Mahito like a balloon, but crucially does not kill him. He’s able to slip back into the sewers. Nanami has his colleague Ito try to track him down, while Yuuji passes out from exertion and his many wounds.

When Yuuji wakes up he’s back at the school, specifically the morgue, where he reflects on the human life he was forced to take, and how it led to the realization that while he’s been trying to ensure everyone gets a “proper death”, he has no idea what that is. Nanami has news for him: no one does. All he knows is there will be many more people like him who will need him, so he’d better not die improperly himself.

Back at the late Yoshino Junpei’s high school, the lead bully Itou is called out by his peers filling out surveys, and the ineffectual teacher who looked the other way for so long develops a spine. He knows both he and Itou bear the crime of killing Yoshino’s heart, and will have to keep bearing it the rest of their lives. While Junpei died far too early, his death wasn’t without purpose.

Meanwhile, Yuuji is back on his feet and above ground at Jujutsu High, meeting Nanami and Gojou in the hall as a full-fledged jujutsu sorcerer. While Mahito & Co. will surely go after him in hopes of releasing Sukuna (who Mahito believes can singlehandedly usher in the “Age of Curses”), his more immediate concerns are reuniting with Megumi and Nobara (at last!) and participation in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event.

As for this episode, I consider it the best of Jujutsu Kaisen yet, an absolute tour-de-force of combat animation and sakuga, staging, pacing, atmosphere, peril, and sweet, sweet near-victory. Nanami’s backstory was well-timed, efficient, and effective at giving the guy some dimension, while Mahito remained an entertaining adversary to the bitter near-end.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 12 – Shape of the Heart

Last week barreled through a rapidly-created friendship between Yuuji and Yoshino Junpei, yet despite that story being told at breakneck speed, it still worked; i was still emotionally invested, and like Yuuji was dearly hoping Junpei could be saved.

Granted, that wasn’t going to happen without a little bit of tough love in the form of a physical showdown between the two. At first glance Junpei seems as bad a matchup with Yuuji as Mahito vs. Nanami: he can use his jellyfish shikigami to dull Yuuji’s blunt-force blows.

Well…until he can’t, and Yuuji punches the shit out of the jellyfish. Junpei tries to explain while he fights why what he’s doing is right and just, but like myself Yuuji wasn’t really listening, and in any case isn’t buying what Junpei is selling about nobody having hearts, or people being free to kill those who wronged them.

But when Junpei breaks out the jellyfish cutlery, Yuuji fails to dodge on purpose, because he realizes he’s dismissing Junpei’s point of view from a place of ignorant privilege. Especially considering how short a time he’s known Junpei, Yuuji admits he doesn’t know the full story about what’s going on…which is why he stops fighting and asks Junpei to tell him.

Once he does, Yuuji suggests Junpei come to Jujutsu Tech with him, not only to hone his abilities, but to find out who cursed his mom and bring them to justice the right way. Junpei might even have been receptive to such an offer, as he’d no longer have to attend the school where he’s so horribly bullied. Alas, it’s not his call…it’s Mahito’s.

Mahito arrives with all his usual immaturity, vivaciousness and swagger that make him Gojou’s cursed spirit counterpart. Without hesitation, he uses Idle Transformation on Junpei, transforming him into a grotesque monster that called to mind both Made in Abyss Attack on Titan, and of course Parasyte: The Maxim.

It was one thing to see a curse sneak up on Junpei’s mom; her death happened off-camera. But to see Yuuji’s new friend, someone who was just a kid being led down the wrong path by a literal curse, cruelly disfigured beyond repair was f-ing hard to watch. The transformed Junpei attacks Yuuji, who tells Sukuna that he’ll do or give up anything if only he heals him…and Sukuna refuses.

This shocks Mahito, whose entire plan (or rather Getou’s) was to back Yuuji into a corner so he’d have no choice but to form a pact with Sukuna, whereupon Mahito and his friends would introduce themselves to the King of Curses and seek an alliance in the war against humanity. Instead, Yuuji remains Yuuji, and Junpei dies (from the shock of the transformation) while clutching his friend.

From that point on, Yuuji has HAD it with Mahito, explodes with shounen energy and starts whaling on the guy. Of course, physical attacks are of limited efficacy against a curse that can change his physical shape at will, but that first punch makes Mahito’s nose bleed, which is something.

Unfortunately, Mahito has something for Yuuji too; part of being able to change his shape means he can transform into any number of frightening weapons, from a chain of razor-sharp blades to piercing spikes large and small that riddle the reckless Yuuji with holes.

Throughout this fight, in which Mahito hangs in there in a rather bemused state, still feels he can salvage the plan. Yuuji made clear he doesn’t want to exorcise Mahito, he wants to kill him, so if he can’t kill him alone, he’ll have no choice but to switch out with Sukuna.

Mahito is even fully prepared to transform every student in the school until Yuuji is enraged enough to switch out. However, when Mahito gets an opening, he can’t resist trying to use Idle Transformation on someone who is “aware of the outline of their soul”, as Yuuji is.

It doesn’t go well. Rather than touch Yuuji’s soul and transform him, Mahito is shunted to Sukuna’s Innate Domain, where Sukuna sits upon his giant throne of bones, looks down on a frightened Mahito, and gravely warns the “fool” to “know his place.” He’ll let him off with trying to touch his soul once, since they both shared a laugh at Yuuji and Junpei’s expense. But ther won’t be a second time.

Mahito ends up back in the outside world, and his failed technique opens him up to a series of brutal skull-crushing headbutts from a committed Yuuji. Mahito stops playing around and slips out of Yuuji’s hold, and is about to bash him with a giant cudgel arm when Nanami swoops in to absorb the blow.

Next, Nanami asks for a report from Yuuji, and is irritated when Yuuji reports that he couldn’t save two people (Junpei and his mom) before reporting on his own physical status. To Nanami and many other sorcerers, looking after oneself trumps worrying about others. I’m sure he hopes it’s something he can exorcise from Yuuji, but for now, he recognizes that he’s still just a kid. A kid full of holes.

Now that a capital-A Adult has arrive at the scene, we’ve arrived at the beginning of the endgame to the Mahito battle. Nanami has already determined his attacks are ineffective, but he is able to limit his movement. Combined with Yuuji’s ability to make him bleed, hopefully the two of them working together can defeat the patchwork curse…or at least force him to retreat. If not, heck…maybe they’ll get a surprise assist from Gojou.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 05 – Don’t Lose Heart

When Megumi returns to the detention center he senses the Innate Domain has been closed off, indicating the Special-Grade is gone. Only it isn’t Yuuji who meets him outside, but Sukuna. Apparently Yuuji is having trouble switching back, and Sukuna makes it even harder by ripping out Yuuji’s heart, which Yuuji needs to live but he doesn’t.

Even with a gaping chest wound, Sukuna!Yuuji is able to flick away any and all of Megumi’s attacks, and he eventually realizes Megumi is trying to get him to restore Yuuji’s heart. Megumi throws his bird and giant snake, only for Sukuna to beat him mercilessly across the town.

Sukuna ultimately doesn’t take the bait, but Megumi is finally able to get Yuuji to resurface by explaining he saved Yuuji because he couldn’t bear to watch a good person like him die, even if saving him was dangerous.

We also learn about Tsumiki, someone important to Megumi (I’m guessing his sister) who was cursed and died in the hospital as Megumi couldn’t do anything. But as soon as Yuuji snaps out of it, it isn’t long before he dies from having his heart ripped out…and that’s that.

We meet who I presume to be a high-level sorcerer or priest (or both) and three eclectic Curse buddies in Tokyo, then cut to the morgue where Gojou, Ijichi receive Ieiri, who apparently intends to thoroughly dissect Yuuji’s corpse. Finally, we’re back at Jujutsu Tech, where Megumi and Nobara quietly commiserate about the loss of their comrade.

The show is extremely intent on making it known that yes, Yuuji is dead and no he won’t be coming back. To that end, Megumi and Nobara’s second-year upperclassmen Zenin Maki, Inumaki, and Panda meet with them and inform them they’ll be participating in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event, basically a competition between the two Jujutsu schools.

Megumi and Nobara are happy for a distraction from their grief, and then we’re back in Tokyo where the sorcerer/priest guy is at a café talking with Curses bent on eliminating the Jujutsu sorcerers once and for all. He tells them that in order to succeed in that effort, they’ll first have to neutralize Gojou Satoru, then get on Sukuna!Yuuji’s good side.

The Curse is confused…isn’t Itadori Yuuji dead? The sorcerer/priest grins, telling him he’s not so sure. Of course he isn’t! Yuuji’s the damn main character, and this isn’t Gurren Lagann; he can’t just stay dead, especially when we’ve seen him heal bits of his body. He’ll be back; it’s just a matter of when and how. No doubt the “how” will involve coming to some kind of understanding with Sukuna.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 04 – You’ve Really Made the (Special) Grade

After the conclusion of last week’s episode, a log entry details an incident involving a Curse at a juvenile detention center to which three first-year Jujutsu Tech sorcerers respond—and one of them dies. 

This episode chronicles that incident, in which our newly formed trio of first-years are immediately dropped into a seemingly no-win scenario involving the very highest level of Curses: a “Special-Grade.” As the coordinator Ijichi puts it, carpet-bombing one of these with cluster bombs merely evens the playing field a bit.

Suffice it to say the Curse inhabiting the detention center is way out of Yuuji, Megumi, and Nobara’s league. But not only do they have to face this threat on their own (Gojou-sensei is away, possibly dealing with other threats), this is usually the norm: there simply aren’t enough high-grade sorcerers available to deal with all Curses, which means students are pressed into service. Talk about School of Hard Knocks.

Still, Yuuji isn’t about to shirk his duties, however insurmountable the odds may be. That’s because he hears the cries of a guardian of one of the inmates. But they enter a house of horrors with the Curse’s illusory abilities twisting the interior of the facility to have impossible interior heights and vanishing exits.

When Yuuji finds the inmate the woman was crying about already torn to pieces, he wants to get the body outside so the guardian knows for sure he’s dead. Megumi tries to get his head back in the game; this is about verifying the five inmates in the center, not rescuing anyone. Besides, the inmate Yuuji would have saved had killed a girl while driving without a license. Megumi makes Yuuji consider the crimes those he saves might commit.

Kobara tries to break the two up, but falls through the floor. When Megumi wonders why the Curse wasn’t detected by his demon dog, he sees the dog smashed into a wall, and a second later, the immensely creepy and powerful Special-Grade Curse appears before them. When Yuuji tries to use his blade, the Curse lops his hand off. Shit just got real…fast.

Yuuji sents Megumi away to save Nobara, who ends up swarmed by weird doll faces and eyeball Curses from above. She quickly runs out of ammo and is nearly swallowed up, but Megumi arrives in time to save her by having a giant frog he summoned pluck Megumi away from the curse with its tongue. Nobara, by the way, hates frogs.

As for Yuuji, he struggles with whether to unleash Sukuna onto this Curse. As Sukuna is “King of Curses”, he’d have no problem defeating it…but Sukuna threatens to kill Megumi and Nobara if Yuuji lets him out, as punishment for not fully relinqueshing control of his body. Yuuji tries to focus his cursed energy into his fist on his own, but the Curse easily blocks his punch.

Then Yuuji hears the howling of one of Megumi’s demon dogs, indicating that he successfully recovered Nobara, and he lets Sukuna out. He tried his best on his own, but the only way to fight a Special-Grade is with a Special-Grade.

Sukuna proceeds to toy with his fellow Special-Grade, and demonstrates that despite technically having the same ranking, the gap between their power is so great, relatively speaking the other Curse is as ignorant of the true nature of Curses as a whelp like Yuuji.

To see a Curse that so easily had its way with Yuuji be neatly sliced with ease, Damien Hirst-style, really drives the point home: Ryoumen Sukuna is a force to be reckoned with. The entire boss battle is a tour-de-force of combat animation.

From those slices, Sukuna pulls out one of his own fingers, which will be the third of twenty Yuuji consumes. But here’s the thing: Yuuji never awakens, even when Sukuna tells him to do it already, before he displays a truly devilish smirk—the same smirk a fox might have if it just gained access to the hen house.

That’s what makes this merely part one of two. Nobara is off to the hospital, while Megumi will head back to the center to wait for Yuuji. It also remains to be seen exactly how “lost” within himself Yuuji is, what devilry (if any) Nobara gets up to while he has more time, and if Megumi gets his wish of a Grade-1-or-higher sorcerer (ideally Gojou) arriving to save the day.

All I can say is the first-years did remarkably well considering what they were up against…and that I hope, if they all get out of this alive, they can get an easier mission next time.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 12 (Fin) – Traipsing in Place

Iska can’t protect Sisbell from Masked Lord and the Empire’s Object, but thankfully he gets an assist from his fellow members of Unit N07. He buys time by hacking at Object until Nene can launch a rocket barrage that disables the mecha dragon, all while Sisbell wonders why these supposed enemies are protecting her from their own superweapon.

Meanwhile, Jihn is able to keep up with Masked Lord, despite the fact the guy has backup mages and the ability to teleport weapons and himself. After a brief knife fight, Masked Lord decides to limit his attacks to fire-based, which are nullified when Mismis activates her Astral Crest. Jhin blasts Mask’s Mask off, and he withdraws for now, having not looked particularly powerful.

Since Object is a final boss of sorts, it stands to reason it has multiple stages; in its second, it has a quick-recharging mega-cannon that causes a great deal of collateral destruction. Sisbell finally contributes to the battle by using her time magic to conjure a sandstorm from the past, which Iska uses as cover to shatter Object’s core. However, that just unlocks it’s third and final form, in which it sucks Sisbell into its core and starts babbling in the ancient Astral language.

This third stage proves too much even for Iska, which provides the perfect opportunity for Alice to show up. They once again put aside their individual rivalry to fight side-by-side, and with a bunch of acrobatics and ice magic they manage to destroy the final form and free Sisbell.

It’s all pretty by-the-numbers, really. Masked Lord is basically nerfed in his fight with Jhin, while Iska and Alice don’t do anything that different from their previous team-ups. Also, the fact their main opponent was a mostly mindless giant monster meant their victory doesn’t really move the needle where their peace process is concerned.

All it does is take one of the Empire’s weapons off the board…and the Eight Great Apostles aren’t even that miffed about it! Alice and Sisbell have their obligatory fight over Iska, with Alice in the uncomfortable position of pretending she doesn’t know Iska while protesting Sisbell’s familiarity with him. Iska rejoins his unit, who helped make sure the civilians were safe off-camera.

Then there are a whole lot of scenes of things the show didn’t have time to cover in depth: Mask’s plans for Kissing to enter the election, the Queen bringing Elletear before her and asking if she’s the real Elletear (?), Risya and Nameless tipping their hats to Iska’s skill. Perhaps most relevant to Iska and Alice’s hopes for peace is the meeting of Salinger and the Emperor, but neither character was that well developed, so who knows what that fruit if any that team-up will bear.

Actually, we do know: no fruit at all, because this is the end of the season! It ends with one more scene of our two heroes sharing a bench in the neutral city, promising each other not to let anyone else know they know each other and looking forward to their next meeting, where they’re tentatively planning to finally have their decisive fight, but probably won’t.

The show ends with an ellipsis and a bunch of question marks rather than any full stops, leaving me similarly noncommittal to engaging with a second season. Better shows have done more with just twelve episodes, and looked much better doing so. If I could use Sisbell’s ability and go back in time, I’d probably just skip this.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 12 – Rotten Tatami

Keiichi proves he can amass a grand army of protest against the CWS’ dithering on Satoko’s case, but he soon learns that numbers aren’t everything. He’s on the right track with regards to Hinamizawa coming together to protect its own, but he can’t just summon a lot of people, he must convince the right ones to lean on CWS.

Mion invites Keiichi to the next village council meeting, presided over by Mayor Kimiyoshi. After some initial pleasantries are exchanged, Keiichi is called outside by Mion and Chie-sensei. Chie asks Keiichi to stop his protests for now and see what happens.

Chie proved her mettle by risking her job to keep teaching at the Hinamizawa school when it wasn’t government certified, but with Keiichi utilizing all the students in his army, the school is threatened. Shion also feels the pressure from her grandmother.

The bottom line is all the old farts in the village aren’t prepared to openly, publically forgive the Hojou family for siding with the dam builders, even though they’re already in agreement Satoko personally has nothing to do with what her family did. They fear doing so could upset the village’s hard-fought delicate balance.

Silence and inaction has spread “like mold in a tatami floor”, which means the only remedy is to rip it up. That task falls to Keiichi, who violates protocol and tradition and forcefully makes his case to the council. The old men chastise him for being a rude little brat, but Keiichi makes clear he has no time for politeness: he’s on a mission to save a friend in trouble.

In a thrilling scene that amounts nothing but a spirited discussion in a stuffy old room, Keiichi gradually appeals to one old fart after another by appealing to their past brave deeds during the dam war, and points out the hypocrisy of letting one of their own suffer just to preserve their presently cozy relationship with the government (which, among other perks, helps fund the Watanagashi Festival).

Keiichi demands nothing less than the resurrection of the spirit of the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance. His combination of respect and impertinence wins over enough of the council, but they admit that they cannot properly lean on the CWS without the approval of the town’s true boss, Mion and Shion’s gran Sonozaki Oryou.

In the “Boss Fight” segment of the episode, Keiichi meets his match, for Grandma Sonozaki is a predictably formidable battleaxe who swears like a yakuza goon and doesn’t give two shits about the “cursed” Hojou child, and sees no reason to give her approval to the council or Keiichi.

Oryou sees each and every one of the people in her presence to be a bunch of imbeciles, which stands to reason: she’s older and more powerful than any of them. But in his increasingly disrespectful negotiations (he threatens to kill the “old hag” more than once to her face!), Keiichi presents something she hasn’t seen in decades, if not longer: actual stern resistance to her position. Someone being as stubborn to her as she normally is to everyone else.

Once again, Keiichi’s audacity and guts pay dividends, as Oryou decides to give the okay after all. Deep down, she always wanted to see the long-standing Hojou situation resolved before she died, even if she was committed to carrying the grudge to her grave—so it would die with her.

Now Keiichi has more than sheer numbers, but the full force of the three head families of Hinamizawa, the village council, and the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance at his command. In other words, never before has Keiichi been better equipped to create a good ending not just for Satoko, but a new beginning for the entire village. Even so, we never saw Satoko this week…I hope he’s not too late.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 69 – Tsukimine Showdown

This is it: with just one episode left in reserve (presumably for an epilogue), the big clash between Team Eriol and Team Sakura has finally come. After revealing himself, Eriol releases the true forms of Spinel and Ruby, and the trio really play up the Big Bad Villain act.

Eriol shrouds the entire city in darkness, which puts everyone to sleep except for Sakura and Syaoran (though even he’s woozy). If Sakura can’t lift the darkness spell by daybreak, everyone will remain asleep…forever.

The show makes a point to underline the stakes by showing almost every secondary character out cold, including Touya, who has no more magical power, after all. Sakura asks Eriol why he’s doing all this, but Eriol will only tell her if she breaks his spell.

Spinny and Ruby aren’t just arrogant, but also exceedingly powerful, and even when Yue arrives to shield Sakura, both he and Kero have a tough time keeping pace with Eriol’s guardians. The aerial battle between Yue and Ruby in particular is a beautiful action set piece.

Once it’s clear Sakura will have to stop playing defense and do something about the darkness spell, she takes out her cards, notes that eight Clow Cards remain to be converted, and then proceeds to convert six at once. Two “refuse” to change, however: Light and Dark.

Since those cards are most closely tied to her guardians, Kero and Yue tell Sakura to absorb the two of them into her staff. She does so, and her staff becomes longer and grander; Syaoran helps her hold it steady, and relies on his Clow Reed blood help convince the cards to change.

Once both Light and Dark are Sakura Cards, Sakura invokes Light, which proceeds to shatter the darkness and restore the regular sky. Everyone wakes up, safe and sound, and Eriol and his guardians stand down, his mission to help Sakura convert all of his cards now complete. Call it tough love on his part: in order for Sakura to summon the power, he had to create a crisis only she could fix.

When Kero and Yue go chasing after Eriol, Spinny and Ruby, Sakura prepares to follow, but Syaoran holds her up so he can tell her something he’s been wanting to tell her practically all season: he likes her. That’s right; the kid finally got the words out!

Alas, all he gets in response before the credits roll is Sakura’s shocked expression. But as she puts it in the preview for the finale, she once had no idea how she felt about Syaoran…but now she does know.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 15 – Everything Will Go Our Way

The good vibes of the previous episode’s SAO OG reunions were thoroughly, mercilessly washed away this week, starting with Sinon arriving too late to save Bercouli. In a rare-for-SAO demonstration of restraint, there is no music in the opening scene between Sinon and Alice, just the marvelous talent of Sawashiro Miyuki and Kayano Ai, which is all that is needed.

Sinon has to be the bearer of bad news—Vecta may be dead, but the real-world person isn’t, and could be back any moment in a new form. This makes Alice despair that neither her efforts nor her uncle’s sacrifice had any meaning, and this is all a farce. Sinon begs to differ: her and her friends’ love of Kirito is real, and so is his desire to save Alice. Everyone is buying time so she can get to that altar and end the war.

That said, the war is very much still going on, and victory is not yet certain for the good guys. As we see, there isn’t a real-world power-user account helping out Sheyta and Iskahn, so they’re eventually on their own against a legion of American foot soldiers as all of their comrades have fallen around them. Sheyta takes what little time she has left to tell Iskahn she finally realized why she had to slash so much.

It was in order to find what she didn’t want to slash—i.e. whom she wanted to protect. And that’s Iskahn. While showing the impending doom of two characters whose names I know is an effective way to show the battle is growing desperate, the couple’s joint confession doesn’t quite resonate, as I barely know these guys besides the fact they’re both tremendous badasses.

Meanwhile, Seeing Asuna and Klein simply having a breather in between cutting down columns of baddies carried more emotional weight for me, since these two peeps have been fighting side by side since the beginning. I’m reminded why Klein and the others came: not just friendship, but a desire to repay Kirito and Asuna for saving them all back in SAO.

Unfortunately the pleasant moments are quickly blotted out by new dark developments. Vassago is back in the form of Laughing Coffin leader PoH…and he’s brought a ridiculously large number of reinforcements down the digital well. They’re not all from America, either.

In a very neat shift of POV, we’re introduced to the real-world gamer Moonphase and his teammate  Xiang Mei Mei. Both get the same notice from Miller and Vassago’s men as thousands of others throughout Korea and China: Evil Japanese hackers are besieging the Underworld and a coalition is being formed to stop them.

Both Moon and Mei volunteer for the mission, but they immediately feel like something is not quite right about this. Moon’s clearly seen his fair share of fighting, and can tell the Japanese “villains” are fighting far too desperately to be the antagonists in this conflict. Here’s hoping these two can offer the “helping hand from a stranger” roles our heroes are apparently going to need as the odds are further stacked against them.

Miller wasn’t even out of the Underworld for a whole episode before returning in his Subtilizer avatar, just in time to meet Sinon, whom he defeated in GGO. Honestly my memory’s a little fuzzy on the details of their fight but the fact Subby has a creepy focused look in his eyes and seems to be restraining Sinon with some kind of telekinesis doesn’t bode well for her.

That said, I for one am hoping Sinon can break whatever hold he has and make this a good rematch without needing to be rescued. And if she has to be bailed out, I’d like it to be Alice, even though she really should be using the time Sinon is giving her to head to the Altar.

Asuna is really getting worn down by the unyielding masses of enemy troops, so it’s nice to see Klein, Agil, Lisbeth and Silica help plow the road for her a bit; she’ll need to stay fresh and relatively intact for what I imagine to be a duel with PoH.

As for why I’m not in a hurry for Alice to reach the Altar? Because I knew Higa was going to run into trouble once he reached the terminal or whatever where he can interface with the STLs of Kirito and his three friends. That’s because Yanai was and is an obvious mole, and pulls a gun on him in a panic.

Since Yanai doesn’t pull the trigger, maybe Higa can still find a way to have him stand down, or maybe Rinko or someone can intervene. The bad guys made the lion’s share of the moves this week and may have inadvertently brought in a group of wild cards who don’t quite buy what they’re selling. As Asuna says, eventually things should go the good guys’ way…but I wouldn’t bank on that happening just yet.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 14 – Quantum Family

The original Sword Art Online theme plays triumphantly the SAO OGs and additional allies from ALO (including the dearly departed Yuuki’s Sleeping Knights) dive into the game, having converted their accounts to the Underworld. Their arrival allows Asuna crucial time to fall back, heal, and create a better strategy for the battle. It’s also a chance for Renly to see, through Liz and Silica, that not all real worlders besides Asuna are scary.

As Kirito’s friends and family dive in, Higa notices sudden momentary blips of activity in his catatonia. Thinking everything through out loud, he determines that despite having never made a Fluctlight of Kirito and despite the damage that has been done to his self-image, Asuna, Suguha, and all of his friends collectively represent a backup they can use to restore most if not all of what he’s lost.

Things get very technobabbly here, but nothing Higa proposes clashes with the fictional science laid out thus far. But if Gabriel Miller’s force and/or the JSDF escalate the battle, irreparable damage could be caused, so the procedure must be begin immediately, while everything is online and the source of the backup self-image (i.e. those closest to Kirito) are still diving.

Higa volunteers to go on an extremely dangerous mission into the bowels of Ocean Turtle where his scrawny frame will be able to access Kirito’s STL control panel. Kikuoka and Rinko will deploy the experimental Ichiemon robot as a decoy, while Mr. Yanai asks to join Higa, in case someone needs to take a bullet for him. An honorable sentiment, but this guy practically screams “Gabriel Miller mole.”

The rest of the episode is spent resolving the battle between Bercouli and Vecta; losing one arm barely slowed the guy down. And here, the animators decided to go for much thicker lines and bolder colors than the softer scenes with Asuna & Co. and on the Ocean Turtle. The more intense visuals befit a boss-vs-boss battle, in which every strike creates a shower of sparks and tears the earth asunder.

Bercouli isn’t fighting to win on Vecta’s terms, but seeking to kill him using his unique time magic. Once he locates the afterimage of Vecta a bit less than 600 seconds ago, it’s just a matter of waiting for the proper moment to strike. His dragon Hoshigami (the reflection of whom Vecta sees within Bercouli’s eyeball) buys him invaluable time, and he doesn’t waste it. Once he slashes Vecta’s past, Vecta’s present body shatters.

Vecta is defeated and Alice is safe (for now), and without any help from Sinon, who is presumably still en route. Unfortunately, Bercouli doesn’t survive the battle either, and is dead before Alice comes to. As she cries out in anguish, his ghost tells his apprentice and daughter she’s done well and will be okay without him. Then the Administrator of his memories (one who he notes is still warm, kind and can smile) appears and joins him on his dragon ride to the thereafter.

Fanatio can sense when Bercouli has died, and she too has a quiet moment of grief, promising him she’ll raise their daughter, still in her belly, to be a “gallant, proud human” like her father. Back at Ocean Turtle, Gabriel wakes up, gets a quick report on the American MMO forces and Vassago, then has his personal “Subtilizer” account converted. No doubt he’ll return even stronger than Vecta was—and be a prime final boss for Kirito, if Higa is able to revive him.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 13 (Fin) – Lost and Found

Pecorine tells Kokkoro that they’re in Landosol Castle, and that the painting is of her, Eustania von Astrea, Princess of Landosol. When she came of age, her parents sent her off on a solo adventure to see and hear her people firsthand and return a better, wiser leader from the ensuing experiences.

However, upon returning home, Eustania found that an impostor—Karyl’s mistress—assumed her identity, and no one in the castle, not even her parents, know who she is. Barely escaping the cat woman’s magical attacks, Eustania left the castle once more and became friends with Kokkoro, Yuuki, and Karyl, and the rest is history.

Even so, her past trauma made Peco believe that one day she’d lose her new friends just like she lost everyone else before; that the closer she got, the more distance they’d keep from her. Kokkoro immediately puts that assertion to bed with a long nurturing hug and head-pat, assuring Peco that whatever her name or past, their time together has formed an unbreakable bond.

Karyl was listening in to all this through the doorway, and feels the same way, even though she feels wrong for defying her “Majesty”, who it’s clear took advantage of Eustania’s adventures away to steal her throne and alter everyone’s memories.

Karyl doesn’t know what to do about that any more than Peco, but here and now she’s going to help her friend by facing the Shadow Boss. Of course, when Karyl’s about to be killed, Peco swoops in to protect her and selfishly continue to ask that she fight by her side.

The Shadow Boss is more powerful than any one member of the Gourmet Guild—even Peco—but once Yuuki returns from a protective null space created by Labyrista, and gathers a few more memories as well as the powers within him, the four friends create a united front and defeat the monster in a gloriously colorful and chaotic final battle.

When it’s over, the quartet is transported back to the tavern where all of their friends are hugely relieved and ecstatic to see them after fearing the worst had happened. The false Eustania still reigns as Princess, but rather than press her claim, Pecorine is content to let the impostor hold her throne, at least for now.

I too would be loath to give up the life she found outside the castle walls: full of loving friends, a cozy home, exciting adventures, and of course, delicious food. And from the look of Karyl when Peco pulls her into a big hug, the others are just fine with things the way they are too. When the time comes to get back what’s hers, I’m sure the Gourmet Guild won’t hesitate to support her.

Princess Re:Dive was similarly content to tell small, fun cozy stories throughout much of its run, but like our heroes proved that when things start getting more dramatic and perilous, it could deliver the goods, and then some!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 08 – Big Trouble with Little Lyrical

As she enjoys a sumptuous post-rice planting repast courtesy of Pecorine, Karyl remembers “Her Majesty’s” orders to not only observe the always-hungry knight, but Yuuki as well, and introducing her to the Shadows.

Whenever this exchange took place relative to the Targum quest, it’s clear that Karyl continues to struggle with playing both sides, and that struggle only intensifies as the bonds between her and her guild-mates strengthen.

Other than that initial sobering scene, it’s all fun and games this week, as Little Lyrical, Landosol’s Most Adorable Guild, enlist the aid of the Gourmet Guild to help whip them into a fighting force as formidable as they are charming.

I’ll note that Karyl is the least enthusiastic about taking on an unofficial quest like this that won’t net them any cash (so far all their rewards have been food-related), but even she can’t resist the pleas of the pint-sized trio.

Not only that, Karyl puts her all into designing the perfect route for a training quest. She’s definitely the most meticulous and detail-oriented of the guild, and isn’t in the habit of half-assing anything.

Unfortunately, her best-laid plans are sabotaged when Misogi, Mimi, and Kyouka are left in Yuuki’s care for the quest while the other three observe. Yuuki’s sense of direction is no better than that of his charges.

That said, Peco’s monster costume is impressive and she ends up underestimating the trio’s offensive prowess. It’s when they continue to stay from the prescribed path and run into real monsters (all of which want to chew on Yuuki’s head, of course) that Karyl and Kokkoro must act quickly and quietly to vanquish said monsters lest Little Lyrical end up in big trouble.

Ultimately, the off-the-rails practice quest crosses with the quest to defeat a giant bird monster ruining rice paddies, as the bird carries Yuuki to her nest and Little Lyrical are all KO’d after a valiant attempt to rescue him. The peril is upped when Karyl and Kokkoro run out of magic (having defeated monsters all day) and Peco is not only trapped in her costume but too hungry to fight.

That is, until a well-placed strike from the bird frees Peco, she eats the lunch Little Lyrical packed, and Princess Strikes the bird into oblivion.

The quest thus complete, but with Little Lyrical nowhere near the actual designated goal, Pecorine offers a giant egg as their reward, only for it to hatch into a giant, adorable chick that immediately imprints upon the trio, becoming their new mascot and conveyance. With that, the Gourmet Guild returns to the paddies to plant rice, much to Karyl’s chagrin.

PriConne definitely takes the kawaii factor up a couple dozen notches with the focus on Little Lyrical, and your enjoyment of this episode will depend on your tolerance for cuteness. Everything about Misogi, Mimi and Kyouka screams Squeeee, from their play-acting outside the tavern and their initially clumsy tactics, to their instant bond with their new feathered friend.

I for one had a gas watching them, and the Gourmet Guild proved perfect teachers, letting them largely figure things out for themselves and offering aid when needed.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 07 – Beating Back the Shadow

When a battered Elizabeth Park arrives in Targum without Shiorin, her sister Hatsune leads a search party consisting of Yuuki, Kokkoro, Rima and Aoi. When Hatsune uses her flight ability  to get a better look at the forest, she is attacked from the ground by Shiorin, whose body has been taken over by one of the creepy “Shadows”.

Suddenly our fantasy culinary slice-of-life comedy has become a serious action drama…and that turns out not to be a bad thing at all. How crazy is that?!

Back in the village, Karyl wandered off by herself when Yuuki and Kokkoro left with Hatsune. She knows all about the Shadows, since her mistress is behind them. This awakens Karyl’s split loyalties, and her inner conflict is further exacerbated when Pecorine tracks her down.

Peco sensed Karyl was feeling down despite the fact Karyl herself thinks she always looks the same. Peco may be an airhead, but she’s got emotional intelligence in spades, and is now good enough friends to know when Karyl is troubled.

Hatsune’s search party is suddenly attacked by Christina, who is excited for this “new act” and wants to have some fun. Despite outnumbering her 5-to-1, the party isn’t able to put a dent in her, thanks to her ability to phase out of solid form, which is almost cheating!

Then she KO’s Yuuki, who wakes up back at his starting point, where the oracle-like guide reminds him only he has the “Princess Knight” power to save the others. He wakes up, buffs his fellow party members, and together they fight Christina until she’s satisfied enough to withdraw for the time being.

As they’re fighting out in the wild, Peco finds herself the only line of defense against an army of Shadows attacking the village, led by Dark Shiorin. She doesn’t have much trouble with individual Shadows, but there are dozens of them, and she didn’t eat a big enough breakfast, so she starts to become fatigued.

After a period of passively observing (as is her mission), Karyl decides to pick a side and back Peco up with her powerful conjuring magic. Hatsune’s party returns, and Hatsune uses her “mild-meld” ability to enter Shiorin’s unconscious, where her true self is being held captive.

However, Shiorin is being held captive as much by her own fear of being a burden to her sister than she is by the Shadow. Hatsune doesn’t want to hear such nonsense, and snaps her sister out of her pity party, holding her arm steady as she fires an Enchanted Arrow at the Shadow.

Meanwhile, Karyl conjures a vortex to suck up the weakened Shadow, and Pecorine delivers a Princess Strike coup-de-grace to secure a complete victory for the good guys. Shiorin is herself again, no one is the worse for wear, and Yuuki is now aware of the power surging within him.

Still, while Yuuki’s role this week was important, the heart of the episode was the pairs of Hatsune/Shiorin and Pecorine/Karyl. At no point did Pecorine call out for Karyl’s help or wonder where she was when she was wavering. Both that confidence in her comrade and ability to sense when she’s troubled ultimately spurred Karyl to Do the Right Thing.

That said, this is the latest of many times she’s gone far beyond her observation mandate. There may be consequences in store for her should her mistress find out how much she’s helping her target. But perhaps Karyl is finally starting to realize she won’t have to face those consequences alone: those whom she sided with care about her and will have her back come what may.

With a briskly moving, exciting episode that brought darker themes to the forefront, PriConne reached a new high. Sure, it’s arguable whether so many characters were required to tell this story (it’s fun having Rima and Aoi around but they weren’t all that integral), but they’re all fun, likable characters, and splitting the Gourmet Guild paid big dividends.

Bofuri – 08 – Maple Ex Machina

In preparation for NWO’s third event, a cow-hunting expedition, Iz kits out Maple, Sally, and Kasumi in some adorably warm wool outfits. But this is event that values high agility, so Maple doesn’t contribute as much as she could to the final cow count. Rather, she stumbles and falls off a mountain and into a fierce battle with an increasingly gross demon boss. She’s swallowed up, but eats her way free.

For defeating the demon Maple gains some frightening new skills, including the ability to transform into Atrocity, complete with a deep and demonic version of her own voice. At the gate to the Third Level, the rest of the party just stands back with sweat drops and lets their adora-monstrous friend do her work against a tree monster that never had a chance.

The third level turns out to be a distinctly cyberpunk world full of whimsical machinery and flying vehicles (she’s no longer alone in the skies with her giant Syrup). The party splits up to get a sense of the place, and Maple ends up feeding an old man on the street who gives her a rare quest that leads to an encounter with what I believe to be the first generation Machine King.

The former king is malfunctioning and changes its form and demeanor several times, but Maple is quick enough to keep up with those changes, and in one of the king’s lucid moments, he bestows upon her the skill [Machine God], which enables her to transform into a powerful, midriff-bearing cyborg killing machine straight out of Gurren Lagann.

An intense robo-duel ensues until Maple is the last one standing, packed with some really nice smooth and dynamic animation and lighting effects. Once things have died down and Maple gets a look at herself, she not unreasonably wonders what the heck just happened. Will she be able to change back to normal, as with [Atrocity]?

One hopes so; she’s going to have trouble fitting through the guild hall door with all that paraphernalia! Whatever happens, the paradigm of NWO has shifted once more as the scale of its world has expanded and evolved. As she collects more ridiculous skills, her ability to surprise us with fun combinations increases. As Kanade puts it: “Watching Maple never gets old.”