Sword Art Online: Alicization – 10 – Heinous Crimes Lead to a Shocking Reunion

When Tiese and Ronie are late for their cleaning duties (why do they clean every day? How messy are Eugeo and Kirito?) Kirito leaps out the window to go find them. Then Eugeo receives Frenica at the door, telling him the other two have already gone to Raios and Humbert on her behalf.

Eugeo rushes to their pad, where they already have Tiese and Ronie tied up on the bed and are preparing to rape them as punishment for insulting and defaming them under their judicial authority as high-ranking nobles, which supersedes any academy laws. So, as I predicted, the villains of the moment have escalated to rape and must thus be dispatched as brutally and righteously as possible by the good guys.

But their escalating awfulness makes me wonder: if high-ranking nobles can get away with such heinous crimes, why isn’t this practice more clearly widespread? Why hasn’t such a glaring loophole, which places the most authority in the least moral individuals, not led to chaos and the destruction of the utopia?

Are the fluctlights of Raios and Humbert unique in their horribleness, so that combined with their high stations in the “game” they and they alone will abuse their power to such an extent?

Never mind; for now Tiese and Ronie are in an intolerable situation, and Eugeo has to help them…but initially, he can’t: a lawful command from Raios all but paralyzes him. He has to remember what Kirito said about some laws having to be broken sometimes, because to not break them would allow worse crimes to be committed.

So Eugeo struggles until a System Alert appears in his right eye, an eye that eventually explodes when he finally lunges at Raios and Humbert, snipping some of the former’s golden locks but relieving Humbert of his left arm. Fittingly, when he begs Raios for some of his life in order to heal, Raios demurs.

What Raios takes great pleasure in, however, is having witnessed such a heinous crime be committed in his presence. He prepares to behead Eugeo for that crime, as is his right as a noble, but Kirito jumps in at the last second, with his new sword. The two duel on the spot, with Raios becoming more and more demonic as he assures himself he’ll win…and then both his hands and forearms are sliced clean off by Kirito’s coup-de-grace.

The tables thus turn: Raios begs Humbert to help him at the cost of his own life, and Humbert cites the Taboo Index as the reason he can’t help, sorry. As he bleeds profusely from the floor, he whips himself into a frenzy, and his body starts to distort like a malfunctioning hologram, before all of the life is drained out of him. Good riddance Mr. Rapist.

As Kirito and Eugeo comfort their thoroughly traumatized pages, the Mr. Clean head pops out of the ceiling and says all the same stuff he said when Alice had crossed the boundary. They’re thrown in Jail, but the next day released by Ms. Azurica, though she’s just handing them over to their Axiom Church escorts. But not before praising them for what they did.

They broke rules that had to be broken, something she couldn’t do—which again calls to mind how widespread sexual abuse is between the higher and lower classes. But because they did something she couldn’t, it also means they’ll be able to go places she can’t. In this case, they’re brought before an Integrity Knight in the Central Cathedral. And that knight turns out to be Alice.

Does she recognize her old friends? Has she been totally reconditioned and drained and sentiment? Were they brought there to be killed…or to take the place in the chuch they earned through their valiant actions, despite them being against the Taboo Index?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 09 – Stay Cool

When it comes to baddies, SAO isn’t exactly subtle. Lord Raios and his toadie Sir Humbert are both extremely hoity-toity noblemen, and it would seem they draw their power from their conceitedness and by comparing themselves to others. They seem acutely aware that Kirito and Eugeo are Good Guys and thus it’s basically in their nature to want to fuck with them at every turn.

After experiencing the power of Humbert’s conceit in a duel that Raios cuts short in a draw, the two noblemen warn Eugeo that “battle is more than swinging a sword,” suggesting they’ll seek other ways to mess with him. Humbert seems to find a way in Frenica, the dorm-mate of Eugeo’s page Tiese. Specifically, he’s sexually abusing her by, likely among other things, ordering her to massage him in nothing but her underwear.

Until now the duo seemed almost pathetically petty in their bullying (Stomping some flowers? Seriously?). But with his casual cruelty toward Frenica—while staying within academy regs—Humbert, and by extention Raios, have crossed the line into Despicable SAO Baddie territory. Rooting for Eugeo in putting a stop to the abuse is almost too easy.

But the fact that regs aren’t being explicitly broken (the page is merely following orders of her mentor, as is the order of things) and the extreme deference Eugeo must show to his social betters make things tricky for Eugeo. Last week he was holding Kirito back, but now it’s he who must be held back by Kirito. The baddies are counting on him making an unforced error and getting into trouble, or worse.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Eugeo from doing everything he can. He asks Raios and Humbert to knock if off the nicest way he can, though I doubt they’ll heed him, which means stronger measures will be needed that still fall within the strict rules of the academy and the world at large.

Then there’s the relationship between Eugeo and his page Tiese, which escalades very rapidly due to the Frenica incident. Tiese is of a lower-level aristocrat family, and once she becomes the head of the family a husband will be chosen from an equal or higher level. Tiese is terribly afraid of ending up with a man like Humbert.

So after making her formal report, she appeals to Eugeo, whom she knows to be kind, gentle, and honorable, to fight and win the Four Empires Tournament, which will allow him to become an aristocrat and thus an acceptable match for her*. It’s a big ask, but Eugeo will need to do a bit of social climbing anyway to have any shot at reuniting with Alice, so he agrees.

But in the meantime, Raios and Humbert won’t leave Eugeo or Frenica alone easily. I’m worried about what kind of trap they might have planned for him. It might be safer or easier for Eugeo to keep his head down and take everything they throw at him in stride. But that’s not who Eugeo is, any more than it’s who Kirito is. If there’s a wrong being done that they can stop, even the laws can’t get in the way of justice and honor.

*Since Tiese doesn’t explicitly ask for Eugeo to marry her, it could be she’s asking, and he’s agreeing, to simply be there for her when she marries someone else, which would also require him to rise to a higher station. Though marrying her makes the most sense to me. LN readers, set me straight!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 08 – Blooming in Foreign Soil

After a quick pep talk from Liena telling him not to remember that Volo’s power comes from his vaunted family line as well as the power of his imagination, and to keep his promise to her to show her everything he’s got, Kirito engages in his real-swords duel with the First Seat.

Volo also gives it everything he has, but Kirito remembers he has a family too; not just in Eugeo and Liena but in all his friends IRL. He also draws from the power of the Gigas Cedar his sword is made with, and successfully blocks Volo’s strike.

The faculty member ends the fight in a draw, but Volo is satisfied Kirito has been sufficiently chastened for staining his uniform. It’s good to see Volo has a good head on his shoulders and wasn’t going to take things too far. Liena is elated at Kirito’s feat, as are the rest of the assembled students.

After celebrating at Liena’s quarters, Kirito meets the two highborn bullies who didn’t like the result of Kirito’s fight with Volo, and come to deliver a message in the form of the snipped-off bud of the flowers Kirito had been growing in the garden. As I thought, the jerks just couldn’t lay off the garden…

Kirito had come to feel he had a lot in common with the flowers that don’t usually bloom in such a climate; he too is a stranger in a strange land, far from the family that knew, loved, and supported him. Sure, there’s Eugeo and Liena, but it’s not the same.

Then, suddenly, a voice comes out of the air, urging him to ask for the other flowers in the garden to aid him in restoring his plant. They answer the call and send some of their life energy to the ruined planter, resurrecting the buds.

Liena, having both learned from and been inspired by Kirito’s previous fight with Volo, manages to dig deep and defeat him to graduate as First Seat, and thanks to Kirito learning something new about the world he’s in, he has a bouquet of flowers from her homeland waiting for her.

Liena, Volo, and the other elites graduate, and Kirito and Eugeo become Elite Deciples themselves, complete with cute Novice Trainee pages in Tiese and Ronie. Eugeo may tell the latter that Kirito will be nothing but trouble, but the other side of the deal is she gets to be the first artificial fluctlight trained in his unique Aincrad Style.

Meanwhile, Kirito and Eugeo, after going at it like an old married couple, keep their eyes on the prize: Alice’s most likely whereabouts, the grand white tower in the center of the city. Swordcraft Academy may be fun, but it’s only a stepping stone.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 07 – Trouble, as Usual, Finds Kirito

As Asuna has arrived at Rath and taken a seat at the table when one wasn’t offered, Kirito continues to play, or rather live, in the Underworld. Two whole years have passed since we last saw him, and his goals remain the same: to learn this new virtual game’s rules, abide by them as he and Eugeo seek Alice, and most importantly, get good enough to face any opponent that might crop up.

To that end, after winning a swordsmanship tournament, they enrolled at Swordcraft Academy in the capital Centoria, to serve as pages to their mentors. Kirito’s mentor is the Second Seat Sortilienta Serlut, or “Tiena-senpai” for short (SSSS could also work ;), ably voiced by Han Megumi. In the time he’s trained under Tiena, Kirito has learned that attaining strength in this world is, unlike SAO or ALO, as much about confidence and willpower as the hard numbers.

Since they’re now in the Big City, Kirito and Eugeo’s statuses as commoners makes them the target of pompous high class elites who are always trying to press their buttons. When Kirito showed Eugeo the progress on his garden, I thought for sure that garden was going to be destroyed by the two punks who tried to provoke Kirito in the dining hall.

Tiena can tell there’s something of Kirito’s “Aincrad Style” he’s been holding back, and she believes the key to her improving (and finally defeating First-Seat Volo Levantain…what a name) is for him to reveal to her what that is. Since training on a day of rest is forbidden (and rules aren’t broken in this world, only bent a little), he labels his last sparring session with Tiena a “graduation gift.”

But before the session, Kirito picks up a newly completed sword from the metalsmith’s which was forged from a branch of the Gigas Cedar. The resulting black/blue blade is definitely Kirito’s style, and when he successfully swings it, he even gets it free of charge.

Kirito can’t help try out sword skills he was unable to break out with a simple wooden training sword, but in his enthusiasm to do so, he gets mud on one Volo Levantain’s crisp white uniform. Volo lets him off for practicing on a day of rest (he himself finds it hard to keep back from doing that, and understands as a fellow swordsman)…but he won’t let the mud stain slide.

So he challenges Kirito to a public duel to first point (not stop short) with real swords, perhaps eager to see what he can do with his new black blade. Kirito has never defeated Liena in a training session, and she’s never defeated Volo, so his mentor is understandably nervous about what he’s getting into. As for Eugeo, he’s just surprised his friend didn’t get into trouble much earlier.

Of course, Kirito has only fought with wooden swords at Swordcraft Academy; more training tools than actual weapons. We’ll see if he gets embarrassed before his mentor, friend, and assembled fellow students (not to mention punished for breaking the sabbath), or if he’ll be able to call his new blade Volo Levanbane…should he choose to.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 09

The “Desperate Fight in the Macro Zone” concludes in epic, massively satisfying, and surprisingly moving fashion, proving that splitting it into two parts was a smart move. Hellsalem’s Lot gathers on rooftops to watch the pandemonium unfold, confident the world’s largest individual, Gigagigafutmassif will put the Rielmonster in its place.

Of course, using force against Riel only makes him bigger and stronger, leading Giga to beat a hasty retreat and leaving the crowd without a champion to save them from certain ruin. Chain and the Werewolf Bureau are in the midst of a week wine cellar-emptying girls’ “night” out, and miss the whole thing.

Riel has long since had his fill of his situation, but Gemnemo is unsympathetic; he wants his latest experiment to play itself out to its devastating conclusion, with him pulling the strings the whole way. Riel now knows how solitary it is “at the top” of the city’s food chain.

For such an action-packed episode, the first act is mostly Riel fondly remembering one fine day in Central Park (or whatever it’s called in HSL) with Leo. When a batted baseball breaks Riel’s arm, Leo goes to bat for him, not only standing up to the bully that hit the ball and laughed at Riel’s arm, but headbutting him.

Leo didn’t back down on that lovely, pastoral day (it really is a gorgeous memory accompanied by an appropriately wistful musical score), despite being small and relatively puny; Riel, on the other hand, is disgusted with himself for running away in a similar situation.

Now that he’s more lucid, he can see Libra members not back down even though their opponent is orders of magnitude bigger and stronger. And with infiltration expert Chain indisposed, it falls to lil’ Leo and Sonic to deposit Li Gado’s weapon into Riel’s giant body. Leo has to take his God’s Eyes to their absolute limit, but he’s not giving up on his friend.

Gado makes it clear that Riel is probably not even in control of his body any more, as Gemnemo is a control freak who responds to Riel’s second thoughts by starting an operation that will eliminate his free will—but not his senses, making him watch and hear all the millions he’ll kill.

Gemnemo, in the end, is just another bully who has exploited Riel’s need to be stronger for his own scientific gain. Thankfuly, Sonic gets to Gemnemo in time to stop him, and Riel’s giant body gradually shrinks, until he stumbles and falls into the Eternal Hollow.

In the aftermath, Zapp tries to excoriate a contrite (and likely hungover) Chain for being AWOL during the battle, but Leo steps in to remind Zapp that he was indisposed as well due to his attempt to swindle Riel when he was more human-sized.

Five days later, Leo has a walk in the park, still picturesque and tranquil, but seems lonelier without Mr. Riel by his side. All of a sudden, he notices something under his shoe: Gado’s weapon shrunk Riel to the size of a mouse!

But Riel is actually just fine being this size; for one thing, the view’s not bad (Leo now appears monumental to him, matching his bravery and loyalty to his friends); for another, he wouldn’t feel right being all the way back to normal after the fuss he caused.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 08

Leonardo Watch, and his even skinnier, more skittish friend Mr. Riel, are weaklings in the macro world, constantly falling victim to shakedowns from bigger, stronger bullies. Leo acknowledges and accepts his low strength and fighting ability as simply the way things are.

Then he’s hit in the head by the baseball-sized vehicles of microbial hyperdoctor Li Gado, who lives in a suit the size of a flea. Gado is after his scientific counterpart Gemnemo (also a microbe) whose super-dangerous experimentation on “hyperaugmented accelerated cell division” will affect both micro and macro worlds. He’s counting on Leo to help him.

Riel, who is upset with himself for running when his friend was in trouble, is approached by Gemnemo, who offers to perform the hyperaugmentation procedure to make Riel stronger; someone to take seriously, even fear, rather than be taken advantage of.

It just so happens that Zapp is the first person to (politely) try to extract some pocket cash from post-procedure Riel, who reacts quite extremely, throwing Zapp out of the diner with such force he ricochets off several cars in the street.

Riel isn’t seeking the bullies who mugged him and Leo before, but they find him, and immediately wish they hadn’t; he beats the pulp out of them all, even the guy with fractal fists. When the police arrive, they find that any offensive action only makes Riel bigger, stronger…and harder to reason with.

Klaus, on a low-key mission escorting the SS-level symbiotic prisoner Dog Hummer/Deldro Brody to the art museum, gets wind of the police battle, but learn of Riel’s special ability to absorb all force used against him a bit too late, after Klaus tries to contain him with a blood grid barricade and Dog/Deldro perform the “Hundred Crack Fist of Me”.

The force of both Klaus’ defense and Dog/Deldro’s offense causes Riel to grow to kaiju scale. All of these big, huge hulking entities stalking around, smashing into each other, ruining the city around them…and it all started with a microscopic conflict between a microbial mad scientist and the valiant hyperdoctor working tirelessly to stop him.

The usual ways of dealing with threats won’t work here; they’ll only make things worse. The fate of both worlds may depend on weak ol’ Leo, Li Gado’s hastily constructed super-weapon (that looks like an elaborate plastic toy), and perhaps Sonic the monkey.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of and semi-sequel to Naruto starts at the end, and in a pretty dark place with Naruto’s grown-up son Boruto fighting some baddie among the ruins of Konohagakure. Looks pretty serious and hardcore, but it is only a small taste of what will supposedly come to pass many years hence.

Rewind to when Boruto is just a little punk kid, on the eve of the Academy entrance ceremony. He spots a boy being bullied and later learns his name is Denki and he’ll also be attending the academy, but only because his father is making him as part of his duty as heir to the family business empire. Boruto can probably relate to dad’s casting long shadows, as his own is none other than the Seventh Hokage.

Back home we check in on Boruto’s little sister Himawari and his mom and Naruto’s wife Hinata. Seems like a nice enough house but if I recall correctly Hyuuga Hinata was and is a pretty large badass kunoichi, and frankly looks rather bored looking after the ol’ homestead while Naruto is buried under paperwork at Hokage HQ. But this show ain’t about the parents; they had their time in the limelight…fifteen years and 720 episodes’ worth, to be precise.

Naturally Boruto and Denki don’t simply arrive at the opening ceremony on time and get on with classes, because that wouldn’t be that exciting. Instead, Denki’s bitterness at being rejected by his dad causes him to be possessed by an evil aura, which Boruto is able to see with his trick right eye.

Denki sets it up so the bullies will get killed in a head-on collision of two trains (built and run by his dad’s company). Boruto gets him to snap out of it and cast off the evil aura, and with Boruto uses his clones’ combined reach to pull the switch that avoids the collision. Everybody’s safe and sound, and both Denki and the bullies learn a lesson and bond a little through their shared ordeal.

With that, all that’s left is to get to the ceremony on time, and Boruto and Denki just make it, by making one hell of a ridiculous entrance, aboard the derailed train car, which crashes into the side of Naruto’s face. Not his real face, but the colossal stone face carved into the mountain with the other Hokage. Symbolism, much?

This week is the Boruto & Denki show, sprinkled with a bit of Nara Shikadai, with naught but a cameo by Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter Sarada. The episode gets the job done: introducing the title character, demonstrating his considerable but still very-raw abilities and very familiar personality, and giving him a mission-of-the-week to carry out with Denki.

I’ll admit to dropping Naruto: Shippuden about two years in after completing Naruto, but there’s a nice fresh-start feel about Boruto, a newly-revamped take on an old, familiar world. The production values are higher than I remember (granted, back when Naruto started there was no widescreen or HD). It’s nothing fancy, and is by definition unoriginal, but there’s a inscrutable easy watchability to it nonetheless. Whether you’re a big fan of the franchise, a complete noob, or somewhere in between like me seeking ‘shounen comfort food’, it’s worth a quick glance.

Kiznaiver – 05

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Humans, particularly while young and coming into their own, need bonds, if for no other reason than to define their place in the world, and make them aware they’re not the only person who matters. Adolescence by and large, makes kids extremely arrogant, and that arrogance is manifested seven different ways among the Kiznaivers.

Let’s go ahead and add Sonozaki to the mix as an eighth teenager who internalizes the universe. The latest trial the actual adults have for the adults-in-training (which include Sonozaki) throws her for a loop. She isn’t at the mountain inn retreat out of duty, she’s there because Kacchon invited her.

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With another test looming in the background, the retreat still begins with a pleasant casualness and subtle excitement of the eight kids simulating a household for the first time. Divi-ing up the chores, getting to know  more about each other bit by bit; Tenga’s scheme to help the “emotionally heavy” Chidori; Maki and Yuta’s intriguing dance; Nico’s sidelong glances…the bonds are being enriched without the aid of shared mortal danger. It’s all very absorbing.

In fact, the first shared zap of physical pain doesn’t come until Sonozaki smacks Kacchon in the cheek while the two are keeping each other company alone in the dark. She’s not reubking him, just killing a mosquito, but Chidori sees what she wants to see (already suspecting Sonozaki is an interloper) and races off into the night in tears.

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I knew informal assigning of individual original deadly sins to the Kiznaivers was a risky (and not entirely necessary move), but it’s interesting to see the very complex emotions on display between Maki (AKA “firewood”) and Yuta as they share a scene in the kitchen.

Yuta is surprised Maki makes good omelette rice for him, as if feeling sorry that he’s hungry (his dietary restrictions kept him from having dinner with the others). He sparks a conversation about how he got fat, then invites her to share something about herself.

Maki, who I labeled as “pride”, seems reluctant, committed, even, to avoiding showing her true self to anyone. Yuta has seen reason to doubt her stuck-up facade (like the fact she made him dinner), and takes the bait when she asks him if he likes her chest.

“Chest”, though, is only her metaphor for the thing no one normally sees, and if it was seen, could change one’s feelings about the person completely. Maki is haunted and tormented by a ghost from the past in her private moments. That’s what she’s still trying to hide, but now that she’s a Kiznaiver, that may no longer be feasible.

It’s not the first think Maki and Yuta say to each other that means more than one thing. Maki takes things in a more explicitly amorous direction, saying things like “not caring if she breaks”, using the term from the ghost’s voice. Yuta thinks she’s only talking about masochism and sex, but after she jumps him (and inadvertently makes him admit he’s still a virgin), their liaison is interrupted by Yamada, their teacher.

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Yamada and Urushibara arrive (not informing the Kiznaivers that they brought Kacchon’s Kizuna’d bullies with them) and another high-stress test begins: a purported Test of Bravery so common to these kinds of inn/camping retreat episodes. One bully bashes in the room with a chainsaw, the other weild an axe and corners Chidori in a cabin.

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Fueled by fear and adrenaline, the six Kizzys other than Chidori rush out into the night and find their own graves, but when Nico hits a Gomorin and it goes down easily, they calm down a little, confident they can do this.

I loved Hisomu’s contrasting  looks throughout this ordeal; delighted rather than terrified by the sight of the graves and wielding a bucket and ladle instead of weapons. Maki’s outrage at Yuta talking big while cowering behind her was also a nice touch. This couple’s been through a lot tonight.

But the central figures of this test, not surprisingly, are Chidori and Kacchon. When Bully #1 is zapped by Nico’s blow, Bully #2 (#1’s childhood friend) is unmasked as well before Chidori, and collapses in a pile of woe-is-me, why-must-I-be-the-only-one-suffering tirade that hits very close to home for Chidori.

Hearing her own problems expressed almost verbatim from another has an immensely powerful effect. Chidori takes after the bully and lays it all bare: if the bully wants to die, he’d better give Kacchon his money back first.

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For the first time, Kacchon realizes the emotional pain of the all the bullying he endured expanded to Chidori. He only now knows the pain he endured and pretended didn’t exist at all was also hurting her because now their emotional pain is being shared as well. Not just between these two, but all seven Kizzys.

Now that he knows the error of his selfish ways, when Kacchon finds Chidori (in the middle of her tirade when she brings up how Sonozaki is also adding to her pain with her interloping), he demands the money back. He takes the stand Chidori always wanted him to take on his own. Now Kacchon gets her a little more.

What’s interesting is how connected Chidori and Kacchon truly have been for so long, not to mention Maki and Yuta (through their secrets); the Kizuna System is merely a catalyst to help them break through their inner shells and come to terms with the fact that everyone has their problems, everyone suffers, and knowing of each others’ pain and sharing in it, and being able to move past it (or make use of it) is a crucial element of life.

Those worried about a Tenga-Chidori thing can probably breathe easy for now, if Kacchon and Chidori’s closing scene together is any indication. And now it’s clear getting through the summer is another metaphor; for getting through adolescence.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 01 (First Impressions)

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Franklin has had a ridiculous schedule these days, so while he had first dibs on Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, he passed it to me. Lucky me! Yamada-kun is a fast-paced, nice-looking, tightly-constructed supernatural comedy backed by some truly inspired voice performances, and a helpful dose of always-welcome heart.

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Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches’ first episode interestingly has no witches in it, at least not any who identify themselves. But I didn’t miss them. Instead we have your typical unmotivated n’er-do-well Yamada Ryou who falls down some steps with perfect honor student Shiraishi Urara…and they switch bodies.

While Yamada does the obligatory pat-down of his new female body, resulting in the classic bloody nose, he also learns that Shiraishi is the unresistant victim of persistent bullying, as well as the victim of hassling by a trio of smitten geeks.

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Yamada may be a delinquent, he still has a sense of honor and justice, but when he offers to help Shiraishi with her problems, she outright refuses, even coming between a punch from Yamada (in her body) which was meant to stop just short of hitting the bully, but hits Shiraishi (in Yamada’s body) instead.

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The two try to return to their own bodies by falling down the stairs again—several times (don’t try this at home…or at school, kids!) to no avail—Shiraishi suggests they kiss, since they inadvertantly kissed on the first fall. Lo and behold, it works. I liked how straightforward Shiraishi was about kissing Yamada…after all, they’ve already shared each other’s bodies; and from her POV she’s essentially kissing herself. Tough-guy Yamada’s a lot more bashful.

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I can’t go on in this review without first giving serious props to Osaka Ryota and Hayami Saori, who have to pull double duty and absolutely nail it. When Shiraishi is in Yamada’s body, and Yamada in Shiraishi’s, Osaka and Hayami do a superb job inhabiting the other’s unique vocal patterns.

Kudos to the animation team as well, which gives Yamada a much more serene look when Shiraishi’s in him, while Shiraishi’s facial expressions and limbs are all over the place when Yamada’s in her.

On the flip side, both the seiyus and animators also understand that two people who suddenly switched bodies still wouldn’t be able to impersonate one another that well, thus the actual person within the body shines through loud and clear, even when they’re trying to hide it.

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This means anyone looking for something fishy about the couple is going to catch on pretty quickly, and that’s just what happens with StuCo VP Miyamura Toranosuke (Masuda Toshiki), who sets up a nifty trap that confirms his suspicions, getting beaten up by the geeks (a hilarious bit of classic comic turnabout) so “Shiraishi” has to defend herself, using an unmistakably Yamada roundhouse kick (Yamada also isn’t used to fighting in a skirt, hence the pantyshot).

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Some interesting comedic touches: Miyamura and Shiraishi checking out Yamada’s junk, and Yamada suddenly sitting down on a chair covered with cobwebs.

Their secret is out, but while Miyamura has intentions, they’re more opportunistic than sinister: he wants Yamada and Shiraishi to join the dormant Supernatural Club so he can start it back up. He also wants to see how far the body-swapping-by-kiss goes, and quickly determines Yamada can swap with anyone by kissing them.

Thus the two-person body-swapping act is expanded to three, and then four when an eavesdropping classmate (Uchida Maaya) enters the club with the intention to join. I really like where this first episode went, even before we’ve even seen any titular witches. I just hope where it’s going is as good, and with a lot more seiyu star power behind it, I doesn’t seem likely to disappoint.

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Sword Art Online II – 14

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I was initially a little disappointed that yet again a Damsel in Distress would be rescued by the valiant Kirito, and then Kyouji proceeds to pin him down and inject him. In that moment, he’s the damsel now, and it’s Shino who saves him by knocking Kyouji out with her boombox. Sure, the lethal injection didn’t enter his body (Kyouji just happened to shoot into an electrode on Kirito’s chest which is lucky to say the least), but Shino still saved him, and herself, from the psychotic Kyouji.

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In the next act, Shino shows how much she’s grown since meeting Kirito and winning the BoB: when three bullies ask her for money, she politely refuses; when they pull a gun on her, she freaks out a little at the sight of it, but recollects herself. When the girl can’t pull the trigger, Shino disarms her, turns off the safety, and hits a can dead on from pretty far away, revealing it’s a BB gun. Then she puts the safety back on and hands it back to her terrified would-be tormentor.

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It’s an immensely satisfying exchange, escpecially when Shino’s out of sight and nearly collapses from anxiety afterwards. She didn’t suddenly become Rambo in the real world, but she’s taken the crucial first small step, and she’s going to keep taking more. It’s also pretty funny that Kirito picks her up from school in his motorcycle, which creates a small sensation from Shino’s classmates and likely raises her stature in the school a couple of ticks, simply because they don’t know that Kirito’s actually a bit of a dweeb.

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What follows is unapologetic exposition about the three people who together were Death Gun in and out of GGO, and how they planned to take out powerful players. Both Kyouji and his older brother were fueled by envy of those more powerful, while Kyouji himself dealt with the additional stress of being the heir to the family hospital after their dad gave up on his older brother. As their plan to kill elite players got more realistic, the virtual world became his reality.

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Here, Shino shows a different kind of strength when she insists on talking to Kyouji as soon as it’s possible. Even though he did terrible things to her, he was a broken person, and she doesn’t want him to keep on being broken. She herself once sought power in GGO, and risked having that world become more real than her own. Her apparent willingness to forgive Kyouji may be more than he deserves, but its her right to bestow that forgiveness if that’s what she wants.

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The final and most powerful act of the episode that redeems the somewhat boring Death Gun infodump is the sort of intervention-light that follows. At first it seems like Kirito is just going to introduce her to Asuna and Rika, but then he reveals (and apologizes for) his true intent: for her to meet the post office worker whose life she saved by killing that gunman. The worker comes with her adorable four-year-old daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident, so Shino saved two lives in one.

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One can weigh the pros and cons of one’s actions all they want in one’s head, but having grateful beneficiaries of your actions staring right at you, thanking you profusely and giving you a drawing is another thing entirely. Because she saved lives, she has the right to forgive herself for taking one, as much she has a right to keep blaming herself. While certainly a delicate and highly personal situation, Kirito went through a very similar thing, and because he and Shino became friends, he did all he could to help her, as did Asuna and Rika; before they even met her.

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