Cardcaptor Sakura – 58 – Within the Bubble

Whether you consider it testing Sakura or just plain fucking with her, Eriol keeps up his little secret game this week. Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Kerberus and Yue all show up at Penguin Park when Clow’s presence is felt, but they can’t find anything out of the ordinary and it starts to rain, they all go home.

Eriol’s “trial-of-the-week” this time involves blocking either Kerberos or Yue from transforming back into their disguises. While nobody is in any immediate danger, it’s certainly a hassle to have to hide them from those she believes not to be in the know (namely Touya). More distressing to her is the prospect of Yue never being able to become Yukito again, as she considers them two distinct people she cares about in equal measure.

But again, this isn’t a particularly pressing matter except insomuch as it will be tough to keep what is essentially a winged lion and cultish-looking winged dude in her room indefinitely. So she tries to catch some shuteye, hopeful the guardians be able to change back the next morning. Alas, the situation doesn’t change, and on top of it all Sakura has a Sunday full of house chores to perform.

She puts Kerberos to work doing what he can with his beefy paws; he’s ironically far more useful in a house in his plushie form! When he gets fed up with Yue simply standing around not helping (and Sakura not insisting he help, thus spoiling him just like Clow used to), Kerberos prepares to toss a bag of flour at him, only to himself become covered with it. Sakura takes him into the bath and he suggests she convert and use Bubble to wash him, as Clow once did.

Upon returning to the kitchen, Sakura finds that Yue has helped out after all by cleaning up the flour mess. She broaches the topic of Clow and Yue’s particular devotion to him, noting the look in his eyes when he speaks about him is similar to how her dad looks when talking about her mom.

Suddenly it dawns on Sakura to convert and use the Shield card on her guardians. Eriol’s magic is repelled by the shield, enabling them to finally change back to their disguises. And since Yukito is at Sakura’s house, he might as well stay for dinner!

All’s well that ends well, but Kero-chan is thoroughly unnerved about the possibility of someone with Clow’s power out there unchecked. Whether it’s Kero, Yue, Syaoran, or Sakura, I’m certain someone will manage to connect the strange incidents and Eriol…but with twelve episodes left, a few more trials are likely…in the cards.

Tower of God – 13 (Fin) – Just Climb, Baby

“‘Be sure to drink your Ovaltine’. Ovaltine?! A crummy commercial?! Son of a bitch!”—Ralphie, A Christmas Story

I thought of that quote from a movie I watched a ton growing up when I watched this finale, because over and over I’d heard that this adaptation was nothing but a pale shadow of/introduction to the sprawling webtoon, something I’d never seen, and was more of a commercial than a product in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong: both Ralphie and I should have known that at the end of the day anime—like radio—is a business. Unless it’s original content, part of its raison d’etre is to sell its source material, be it a manga/manhwa, novel, or game. Much like Bam, I can’t say Tower of God “tricked” me into watching it only for it to be a glorified prologue. Like Rachel’s attitude towards Bam, its true nature was always apparent.

But I only watch anime for anime’s sake. Any product that tries to steer me towards something that isn’t anime is never going to succeed. I watched Tower of God simply for the characters it introduced, the story that was told, and the setting in the title…which, it turns out, we never really got to see. There was never any actual climbing…that doesn’t begin until the very end.

Up top you see Rachel’s look of relief as she says “Finally,” her long ordeal with Bam is over (at least for now). One mark against this finale is how little new content it contains; much of it is a recap of past events with Rachel’s narration providing fresh context, right up to when she shoves Bam out of the bubble and to his apparent death.

We start with Rachel arriving at the base of the Tower, meeting Headon, and being told she’s too weak to climb it. But she’s eventually able to convince both him and Hansung Yu to let her make the attempt anyway, but only if she completes a special test: She must kill Bam. They even provide her with a Rak-sized bodyguard, as well as guidance from the redhead Hwaryun.

In Rachel’s mind, what she must do is never in dispute, so much of her ordeal throughout the training sessions is convincing her body to respond to her mind’s intentions. Climbing the Tower and becoming a star, not just seeing them, is her primary objective, and Bam is an obstacle.

She watches and stews with envy and resetment as he gains everything she wants with hardly any effort: an amazing weapon, a tight-knit circle of loyal friends who believe in him, the ability to summon and manipulate shinsu at an elite level.

But finally, the incident with Hoh puts her in a position to get rid of Bam, but tying him to her more closely than ever. Bam was never going to abandon her not matter how badly she treated him, so when she loses the ability to walk, he offers to stay by her side and be her legs.

Throughout all of this, Rachel has no illusions about who and what she is. She’s no savior, she’s nothing special; only something “extra”. She’s not a star, but at best a shadow cast by one. But that doesn’t mean the shadow won’t try to take the star’s place. If she climbs the Tower and becomes a star, perhaps the self-loathing within her will go away.

Yu and Hwaryun arrange things so Rachel is found by the others in a puddle of worm slime, and when she comes to she has no idea what happened to Bam. Anything could have happened, but the theory they’re left with is that he was probably eaten by a fish. In any case, he’s gone, Rachel is free of him. Climbing out of bed with very functional legs, she stands by the window and laughs a villainous laugh.


That’s because despite no longer having Bam to lean on, all of his friends (except maybe Parscale, who goes along with the group anyway) believe that helping Rachel in Bam’s place is what he would have wanted. They’re not wrong, either—even though Rachel played them all.

She continues to pretend she’s disabled, and while Khun most definitely has his suspicions about Rachel and what went down in that bubble, what he doesn’t have is proof, so he holds his tongue as Yu transports the surviving examinees up to the Tower to begin their clumb.

As for Bam, he’s not really dead, but was held in a bubble of shinsu until everyone else was gone. Then Hwaryun releases him and offers to continue training him to climb the Tower, if he still seeks answers at the top. Bam responds that he doesn’t think there are any answers up there, but he’ll search for them as he climbs anyway, because…well, what else does he have going on?

That’s honestly a lot of vague cliched “what will you do” platitudes at the end there, which aren’t very enticing considering how relatively little happened in these past thirteen episodes, and how no Tower climbing at all took place. There’s a certain feeling of arrogance that an audience will simply keep letting itself get strung along a la Attack on Titan, season after season, year after year…and as a newcomer to the series ToG just didn’t develop the clout to do that.

That said, I don’t see what will possibly stop me from tuning back in if and when the anime adaptation of ToG continues. Perhaps this really does mark the end of the beginning, and that an end—teased at the very end with what I assume to be an older, longer-haired Bam standing triumphantly near the corpse of a monster with a color palette similar to Rachel’s—may someday come.

I just won’t hold my bread that we’ll see that end in that next season. But perhaps we’ll finally see the Tower, a bit of climbing, and learn more about why those things are so important. Also Rak eating more chocolate bars. Till then, I’ll be sure to drink my Ovaltine.

Tower of God – 12 – Sunk Cost

When ordered to kill Anaak, Endorsi refuses, instead inviting her to lunch “when this is all wrapped up.” It’s a pretty badass and heartwarming moment, but unfortunately neither of the two princesses can put a meaningful dent in Ren’s defense, and he’s ready to stomp Anaak to death when their big sister Yuri shows up. Her appearance is very welcome, considering how little she’s had to do since giving Bam the Black March.

Yuri is also able to demonstrate her awesome Ranker Princess power, exhibiting a gap between her power and Ren’s that’s as wide as the gap between his and Shibisu. Yu is very hands-off with Ren’s intrusion, but warns Yuri that helping Bam means his immediate failure of the final test. Her hulking underling ends up crushing Ren, while Yuri claims both the black and green swords until Anaak and Bam are ready for them.

Khun manages to call a pretty good game, using Lauroe to funnel the pigs to the ogres so they spend all their time and energy fighting each other while Rak and the others mop up. But Khun takes an “unprecedented break” when another member of the Khun family appears, offering to bring him to Princess Maria, the sister who betrayed him. Khun declines, as he’s kinda in the middle of something. Hatz interrupts the exchange, and the other Khun withdraws…but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last him him.

The two who had the least to do last week were Bam and Rachel, though their moments of bonding as their bubble rose were rewarding. But since Ren also wants the Irregular dead, he sends the Bull to attack Bam and Rachel. Yuri can’t help, so Bam has to deal with it himself, in this case by letting himself get swallowed up so he can explode the Bull from the inside.

When Bam emerges from the cloud of exploded Bull parts, Rachel is able to catch him. As the Dolphin Queen opens its maw in preparation to receive the bubble and the test-winning pair, Bam holds his hand out for Rachel to take in solidarity and friendship, and to celebrate a job about-to-be-well done.

Instead, Rachel shoves him out of the bubble.

As all his friends prepare to celebrate their victory, Bam sinks deeper and deeper into the water. He doesn’t use shinsu to create a breathing bubble around himself. He doesn’t even breathe. He just keeps sinking as the credits roll. It’s a devastating betrayal, but by no means unexpected—Bam put all his trust in someone he shouldn’t have, and got burned.

Now I understand better why Rachel is largely loathed by the webtoon fans. I have no idea what’s in store for Bam and the others in the final episode of this first arc. I would hope that after such a dark ending to this outing, Bam has nowhere to go but up…but who knows?

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 12 here.

Tower of God – 11 – I’M NOT DELICIOUS!

After a quick and easy meeting with the Admin, who accepts Bam’s request to let Rachel participate, Yu explains the rules of the final test, called the “Underwater Hunt”. They’re a bit…odd, but this time they’re easy as 1-2-3 to follow:

    1. Bam and Rachel go underwater in a shinsu bubble, with the aim of getting caught in the fishing net of the Net Dolphins.
    2. If they are swallowed up by the Dolphin Queen and get spat out on dry land, they pass. If they don’t, they fail.
    3. The other examinees must defeat or otherwise divert all of the Barnacle Goblins, Giant Wetworms, Striped Earthpigs, and the vicious “Bull”, all of whom are looking for a piece of the Dolphins’ catch.

Bam and Rachel have the easiest job: hang out in the bubble until steps one and two unfold. The tranquil, austere underwater surroundings make the perfect setting for the continuation of their reconciliation. If Bam is afraid, he never lets it show.

Bam tells Rachel that when the Admin asked him what he wants at the top of the Tower, he says two things: Rachel’s smiling face, and a cafeteria full of friends sharing a meal. Rachel can’t help but smile now, and muss his hair just like old times.

Things seem well in hand for the other examinees too…at least at first. Hatz keeps an eye on the goblins and wetworms, while Shibisu recognizes his duty to distract the Bull when he encounters it. When it proves too difficult an opponent, Shibisu is seemingly “saved” by Princesses Endorsi and Anaak. Alas, they’re there to compete, and make a bet: If Endorsi can beat the Bull in five minutes, she’ll win the two 13 Month series blades from Anaak. If she doesn’t, she’ll become Anaak’s servant for life.

What had been a lighthearted underground adventure turns sinister when the Bull rushes off, Endorsi gives chase, and in Round 2 it is suddenly much stronger; so strong Endorsi can’t escape its tentacle-like binds. Anaak’s pursuit is interrupted by Lo Po Bia Ren, who tells her this whole test was set up in order to retrieve the Green April and capture and kill her. Since Ren’s a ranker, Anaak is no match for him and gets stabbed through the chest.

The Bull then delivers Endorsi to Ren, who buffed it up and made it obey his commands. Rather than simply kill Anaak himself, he wants Endorsi to use the Green April to do it, thus proving her loyalty to her father King Jahad. This is nothing Endorsi hasn’t done before, and she and Anaak have no lost love, but you can see in her shocked look that she’s not at all looking forward to the task.

That said, how the hell will she be able to refuse, when Ren has both of them in his clutches, and the only one anywhere near them is Shibisu? Then again, Yuri and her crew are attempting to reach the testing area unnoticed. Maybe the only one who can save two princesses is a third…

You can read Crow’s review of Episode 11 here.

Sword Art Online II – 17

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Nearly as quick as a fairy archer’s kick to a frost giant’s nose, the Norse Mythology / Excaliber (not “ur”) quest is wrapped up.  King Thrym turns out to be far less of a threat than I thought, and he’s dealt with in the episode’s A-part.

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That’s accomplished due to more teamwork by the party, and in this case, again I find myself forgiving the sheer size of said party, for no other reason then…well, look at the size of the boss! You need a forward team laying down melee attacks while others stay back and offer ranged attacks and support spells. It’s all pretty by-the-numbers…then Freyja has Kirito find Mjolnir and transforms into a He-Man-garbed Thor!

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OMG ASUNA DOES SOMETHING THIS WEEK!

Not does her sudden gender-swap kill Klein’s brief and only love interest to date (not that it really mattered, since she was virtual), but gives the party the edge they need to bring down Thrym, as Thor proves quite the large and effective decoy, keeping Thrym’s hands full as the rest of the party can attack at will.

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SUUUURRRRRRRRRGE!

Klein wins Mjolnir as a reward (though he sucks at hammer-wielding), and the party moves on to the lowest level of Thrymheim where Excaliber rests. It’s at this point that both Kirito and I remember that he summoned the holy sword once before, after his foe failed to do so…

Yeah, I kinda wish the sword had turned into an creepy, annoyingly haughty cartoon character.

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After it’s removed, Thrymheim crumbles and the party starts falling with it, but Tonkii arrives on cue to bear them to safety. It’s at this point that Kirito holds Excaliber uneasily in his hand, and, deeming it still too heavy, throws the thing into the dry lake.

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This seemed like a stupid thing to do, and Sinon, agreeing with me, quickly retrieves it with an arrow enchanted with a retrieval spell. I thought she did this because she wanted it herself, but she just gives it back to Kirito, making him promise to think of her when he uses it. A little out-of-character this week, aren’t we, Sinon? Also, why are you giving it back to him? He’ll just throw it away again!

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Okay, that helmet is kinda cute…

Then Urd appears along with her sisters Verdandi and Skuld to thank the party and officially end the quest, and Klein instantly falls for Skuld and asks for her contact info even though she’s just a virtual NPC and not a real woman and he just met her. This strange and somewhat pathetic move somehow earns Klein Lisbeth’s respect…though maybe she’s being sarcastic?

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We cut to Kazuto showing Shino and Sugu his new “mechatronics” demo which allows his digi-daughter Yui fly around the bar, and is it just me, or is the episode running out of stuff to do??

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Finally, we end with a big New Year’s feast in the real world, with Kirito taking care of the check with funds he presumably earned in the GGO arc. Overall, this episode was a little disappointing and safe. It wrapped up a fairly inconsequential sidequest, but seemed to have difficulty filling the running time. I’m wondering if one or two more lightweight sidequests are all that’s left in store for the last seven episodes, which would be an even greater disappointment.

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Sword Art Online II – 16

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The stakes of the group’s New Years “Just For Fun” Optional Quest for Excalibur are raised significantly when Yui realizes that because ALO uses the same Cardinal architecture for creating random quests drawn from human mythology, literature, and history, the natural conclusion to their present Norse quest is Ragnarok, a “final battle” that will destroy the world, meaning the entire ALO game map, wiping out everyone’s progress.

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That’s like your Playstation packing up without warning. Yes, this has happened to me, and it sucks. So now that this is no longer playing around, this episode get sback to the basics of SAO: RPG-style battles filled with physical and magical attacks and defenses. We also finally get why the party is so big; even the minotaur-like guards on the “easier” of the four floors are tough customers that require sustained onslaughts to bring them down. The only thing missing from the battle are flying numbers showing how much HP and MP is being lost or spent.

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That tough battle is eventually won thanks to contributions from everyone — yes, even Asuna and Silica fight! — and they move down to the next level, but run into an ice cage where a beautiful damsel is imprisoned and, well, Klein can’t help himself, succumbing to his “Bushido” and freeing her, even though everyone (including him) is pretty dang sure It’s A Trap!

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She turns out to be not just any wench, but Freyja, Norse goddess of love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr (sorcery), war, and death. Not a bad addition to the party, in other words…and Hey, none of the other girls seem to have an interest in Klein, but Klein needs love too!

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With Freyja now part of the fray, Kirito goes over the plan with everyone: Nothing fancy, just observe the upcoming boss’ moves, look for patterns and weaknesses, and take the bastard out before the medallion turns completely black and they lose all the hours of progress they’d amassed in the game thus far. This one’s for all the marbles.

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Freyja immediately exhibits a boon of having her in the party, as she casts a spell similar to “Bubble” that no one else wields, which increases everyone’s Max HP by at least 50%. Combined with Asuna’s party buffs, they’re as prepared as they’ll ever be to face King Thrym. My only nitpick would be that they didn’t get a little more intricate and thorough with the support spells, the way one must do in RPGs prior to a big fight.

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Once in the King’s Chambers, the party is flanked by fantastic wealth, obviously meant as a temptation to draw them off their path or even just delay them until Ragnarok arrives. King Thrym himself, being a frost giant, is suitably imposing, haughty, and mocking, dismissing the intruders as nothing more than flies sent by Urd to annoy him with their buzzing.

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Before the battle begins, Thrym notes that Freyja is with him, and that she was sent to his fortress to wed him, an offer he’s kept open, but imprisoned her because he suspected she was trying to steal from him (likely Excalibur). He also loads up three separate health bars, meaning he’s no Yiazmat (by God that guy was a pain in the ass), but he’s no Goomba, either

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