Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 04 – Snowing In April

Boogiepop switches gears completely to a new mysterious, twisting tale with a new batch of players; only Boogiepop herself is the constant from previous episodes. We seemingly begin at the end, as she confronts her new enemy and enemy of the world, “Imaginator.” But Imaginator (Hanazawa Kana) tells her endings are just beginnings. Jumping off the ledge, she says there’s “plenty of time” before she hits the ground for Boogiepop to find her.

From there, the POV switches to starving artist and guidance counselor Asukai Jin, who has a very unique ability to detect what is missing in the heart of virtually everyone he meets. The heart is depicted as a rose plant, either lacking root, stem, leaves, or buds. Everyone lacks something, and that lack can never be resolved, and Asukai can’t see his own heart, so he doesn’t know what he himself lacks. He does what he can with this ability, but he feels powerless to truly help people.

That’s when Imaginator finds him. Like him, she can see things no one else can; in her case, their deaths, or rather the possibility of their deaths. Living creatures generate a certain kind of energy before their lives burn out, and she can detect that. This makes her a valuable tool for anyone who would choose to manipulate death. She exists to “recreate the world” with that ability, but she could use some help, so she asks Asukai to assist her.

As Asukai has some dinner his cute neighbor prepared, suddenly the young woman is possessed by Imaginator and speaks with her voice. She reiterates her desire to join forces, indicating that the one thing Asukai definitely lacks is a “calling”; which she can provide.

Imaginator kisses him to show him that calling, in which he uses his right hand to “prune” the roses from people’s hearts like some kind of dark angel of death. The prospect frightens him, and he believes himself incapable of such brutality, but Imaginator tells him his calling is his calling, and he is capable of it, period. It’s ultimately up to him whether to utilize that capability.

As he wrestles with what Imaginator has said and shown him, Asukai is distracted from his work, even sketching her to perhaps make her feel more real and tangible, all the while considering what he could do with her “assistance.”

Fast forward to Asukai being questioned by police after an incident in which Imazaki Shizuko, a former student he counseled and drug addict and dealer, tried to rob him at knifepoint before committing suicide. We shift between the questioning, during which the police don’t suspect him at all, and the incident itself, when Imaginator possesses Imazaki’s body to further illustrate how their partnership will work.

She shows Asukai that Imazaki was at the end of her tether and would be dead anyway in a matter of months, likely alone and after more suffering. But she tells Asukai there’s something he can do for her, before plunging the knife into Imazaki’s neck. As she dies, he can see her rose, which he cradles in his hands.

Before heading home, one of the detectives asks if Asukai said anything to Imazaki before she died, since she seemed so peaceful, as if all the thorns had been pulled from her heart. Asukai tells the cop he said nothing, and he seems to be telling the truth. It’s not something he said, but something he did, along with simply being there.

In another incident in which three delinquents are harrassing a fourth boy who is protecting a girl they want to “have some fun with”, Asukai decides to experiment with his new “alliance” with Imaginator. He has the boy run off to safety with the girl, freezes two of the delinquents, then has the ringleader turn his knife on himself.

Back on the rooftop of Touka’s school, a girl named Komiya who was good friends with the late Minahoshi Suiko (the girl whose body Imaginator inhabits) prepares to leap off to “follow” her, but is stopped by Boogiepop, who tells her she be able to join her that way, then admits to killing Suiko, since she was an “enemy of the world.”

But hearkening back to the episode’s beginning, Suiko hasn’t “hit the ground” yet; she hasn’t reached the next world. Indeed, she’s working with Asukai to recreate this one. Will Boogiepop need help from a human (other than Touka that is) to defeat Imaginator?

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 04 – Calling Fulfilled

It took three episodes and the absence of a designated Goblin Slayer, but Sword Art Online: Alicization finally got around to showing some decent Sword Arts when Kirito goes up against the head goblin holding Selka captive.

The fight is as fast and brutal as the animation is smooth, silky, and stylish. But when he’s nicked by his opponent’s blade, the pain is unlike anything he’s experienced in any VRMMO, and it slows him down.

Eugeo freezes a lot early in the fight, but when it’s clear that he and Kirito and Selka aren’t going to get out of there alive unless he joins the fray, he summons enough courage to draw his sword and cross blades with the boss.

He only buys Kirito a bit of time before he is near-mortally wounded across the midsection, but it’s enough for Kirito to recover, take over, and use another one of his latent Sword Skills to behead the goblin, threatening the others away unless they wants some.

Selka is none the worse for wear, but she and Kirito must put their lives on the line with a high level Sacred Art in order to save Eugeo, who recalls a memory of Kirito being with him and Alice six years ago. As Kirito can feel his vitality draining into Eugeo, he has a vision of Alice behind him, telling him she’s still waiting for them atop the cathedral in Central City.

The healing is a success, and the three return home. The next day, while hacking at the tree, Eugeo asks Kirito to train him in swordsmanship; Kirito tells him he is a master of the “Aincrad style”, in reference to his time in SAO, and a brief training montage ensues.

At the end, Eugeo can summon a Sword Skill in the Blue Rose Sword, and the vitality of the Gigas Cedar has dropped to the point it only needs one more good strike to fell it, a strike that Eugeo executes, bringing the massive tree down.

As someone who adores huge trees, it was a little upsetting to see it not only fall but its demise be celebrated, but considering how much of a scourge it is on the village, I suppose I can make an exception.

At the post-felling celebration, Kirito encounters Selka and assures her she need not try to catch up with, surpass, or be a replacement for Alice; there are things only she as Selka can do, and she should focus on being the best Selka she can be instead. Selka knows. Eugeo sees her off, apologizing for what she and her family went though and promising to return with both Kirito and Alice.

The reward for fulfilling the calling of felling the Cedar is that Eugeo gets to pick his next calling. Thus, he is playing by the rules in choosing to become a swordsman like Kirito. The two set out for Central City, where the plan is to locate and bring back Alice. We’ll see what trials await them on the way to the city, and when they arrive, we’ll see if she’s anything like the Alice who was taken away by that Integrity Knight six years ago.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 03 – Don’t Freeze

Kirito settles into a pleasant routine, waking up in the church, going to work with Eugeo, eating stale bread. He wants to get to the Central City, but knows the only way is through the Gigas Cedar. When he asks Eugeo if there’s anything stronger than his ax, Eugeo produces the Blue Rose Sword, which he retrieved from the End Mountains where he lost Alice.

Kirito uses his latent sword skill to make an immediate mark, albeit in the wrong place, while Eugeo can’t make a scratch. A dead end, or a simple matter of persistence? Eugeo brought the sword home in hopes of learning to wield it, but laments that when the Integrity Knight came for Alice, he wanted to do something, but just couldn’t move.

That night Kirito has a chat with Selka, whom he learned is Alice’s younger sister. Selka doesn’t like how Eugeo’s mood darkened after Alice was taken, especially when it came to her. It wasn’t her fault her sister was taken, so why can’t he be friendly with her? Kirito doesn’t have the answers, but does tell Selka that it’s fine to cry whenever one feels like it.

Unfortunately, he also tells her something she never knew: why Alice was arrested by the Axiom Church. That new information sends her to the End Mountains, all alone, perhaps in hopes of committing the same crime and reuniting with Alice, as farfetched as that seems.

As she left before dawn, she gets a good head start on Kirito and Eugeo, who rush off after her. Apparently they mount this rescue at a time when Eugeo doesn’t have to chop at the Gigas Cedar, otherwise he’d be shirking his calling and risking justice. When Eugeo uses System Call to illuminate a cattail, it surprises Kirito; characters are using RPG-style interfaces in a virtual world.

 

When they reach the main chamber where the bones of the dragon lie following Selka’s scream, Kirito and Eugeo discover that she’s been captured by—you guessed it—a band of goblins. Figures. Unlike those of Goblin Slayer, they seem content to sell Selka rather than use her as their plaything, but are only interested in selling the meat of males like Kirito and Eugeo.

Eugeo gives away their position, but as the goblins advance, he suffers another acute case of fear paralysis, which means an unarmed Kirito will likely have to deal with the horde all by his lonesome.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 02 – Familiarization


One minute Kirito is pushing Asuna away from the injector in a lunging Johnny Black’s hand, the next, he’s waking up in what he soon surmises to be the Underworld, neither the real world or a game, but a virtual world. After the dense, somewhat whiplash-inducing first episode, it’s nice to have a simpler, more elemental outing, in which the protagonist is just as much in the dark as we are.

Kirito soon meets Eugeo, and learn that six years have passed since Alice was arrested and taken away by the Axiom Church for her transgression. Since then Eugeo has kept hacking at the Gigas Cedar. Clearly Kirito doesn’t remember being friends with Eugeo, but he gets vague, nostalgic glimpses of Alice, and he and Eugeo hit it off in short order when he offers to do some of the axe work.

Eugeo explains the Stacia Window interface everyone has, along with the concept of callings, the extent of his in particular (over 300 years and seven generations), and the Taboo Index that keeps him from searching for Alice but also prevents theft.

In the village, a kid named Zink who mocks Eugeo’s job as “useless” is put in his place when Kirito “thinks he remembers” his calling was that of a swordsman. To Kirito’s surprise, going through his usual SAO/ALO/GGO motions results in unleashing a powerful sword skill.

Kirito spends the night in a church, where his schedule is dictated by the head sister, and uses the time before falling asleep to think things over. He posits that all of the “characters” he’s encountered could be copies of the souls of newborns raised entirely within the Underworld, making them “Artificial Fluctlights.”

With at least 300 years having passed in this world (and possibly many more than that), Kirito worries what the ramifications would be of living for months, years, or decades in the Underworld while in the real world mere hours or days are passing.

His ultimate goal is to contact Kikuoka, which he believes might be achievable in a larger city like the Central City Eugeo mentions as the place where Alice could still be alive. Before heading there (where a powerful-looking woman lounges atop an ornate tower), he resolves to learn more about this world (you clearly do not want to break any laws here) and properly preparing for such a journey.

Ushio to Tora – 16

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As expected, Satoru is saved from falling to his death by Ushio’s spear, but despite Jun temporarily getting through to him, his body and mind remain possessed by the Hiyou. Watching Jun shed more tears for her all-but-doomed brother, Ushio can’t sit back or get on with his own business. Not while a girl is crying. He’s going in!

To aid Ushio on his foolhardy, extremely dangerous and possibly soul-rending mission into Satoru’s body, the Elder of Ungaikyou lends the services of a youkai used to such trips, the fuzzy green Izuna. He may be tiny, but he makes an immediate impact, as new characters on UtT tend to do.

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This then becomes a Very Special Magic School Busstyle journey into the body, with Ushio, Tora, and Izuna being shrunk down to the size of microbes, travelling between bones, muscles, and organs to battle Satoru’s Hiyou infestation as Jun, Nagare and the others hold him down.

The concept’s more than a little silly, but I appreciate the audacity nonetheless, as well as the dual perspectives on the battle. Also, the more Ushio battles, the more of his soul the Beast Spear takes, and that spear is probably playing for keeps.

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When the trio nears Satoru’s brain, they meet the Hiyou boss, Chibakama, who then gives Ushio a glimpse of what his boss Hakumen no Mono looks like in order to frazzle the kid further.

Ushio initially says he has nothing against Hakumen personally, but that’s only because he knows so little about him. In reality, Hakumen is all but pure evil; the manifestation of the world’s hatred. He’s not just Ushio’s enemy, but the enemy of all living things and monsters alike.

Izuna sacrifices his body to stop Chibakama from killing Ushio, in doing so taking a selfless page from the Beast Spear wielder himself. Meanwhile, Tora sets up a plan to rid Satoru of Chibakama once and for all; a plan that requires Jun to disrobe and summon her anti-youkai power in the nearby river. Alright then!

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Using Satoru’s eyes as a conduit between the world within and without him, Satoru shoots all her power at Chibakama, being held in front of the eye by Izuna, who fully intends to die with him.

Ushio doesn’t let that happen. Instead, he tells the spear it can take the rest of his soul if it means he can stop others from dying for his sake. The combined power of Jun and Ushio petrify and destroy Chibakama, and Satoru wakes up himself.

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When he hears the person he admits he was jealous of (thus allowing the Hiyou into his body), he cries tears both of guilt and gratitude for his still-absent saviour, and wouldn’t you know it, inside one of those tears is Ushio, Tora, and Izuna! Again, very goofy, but the show sells the shit out of everything it lays out.

Jun then finally gets to thank her bro, only to learn he knew she was grateful anyway, and had been thanking him by accepting him, loving him, and staying by his side, even when he falls. As for Ushio, he’s glad he stopped another girl from crying tears of despair…but he should probably revise his goals to allow tears of relief, gratitude, and happiness.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the Beast Spear transforming him into a grotesque, inhuman beast with demonic crystal eyes. No good deed goes unpunished!

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Ushio to Tora – 15

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This week’s UtT starts out in deliciously absurd fashion as Ushio is once again a passenger on a runaway vehicle—this time a bus being controlled by Hakumen’s lesser youkai minions, the hiyou. One or two of them are no problem, but as this arc has proven, get enough of them together and they’re a menace.

When they learn of Ushio’s latest dilemma, Nagare and Tora both race to the speeding bus, and the three then use a neat bit of teamwork to rescue the 40+ passengers. It involves Nagare slicing off the ends of the bus, Tora blowing out the people, and Nagare catching them with a magic barrier. Then Ushio stops the bus by stabbing the Hiyou with the spear.

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The passengers are safe, with no serious injuries, but Ushio is racked by guilt over what happened to them and how much worse things could have potentially gotten. But it’s a burden the wielder of the beast spear must bear, and Nagare doesn’t want to see his pathetic face, so he  starts asking him about the girls in his life, and Ushio’s scowl turns into a blush.

Nagare, Ushio, and Tora then encounter what looks like a group of Stigs, but are actually former potential spear wielders who didn’t make the cut. They include the long golden-haired biker girl Moritsuna Jun, whose big brother Satoru is an onmyou master and one of the four chosen along with Nagare and Hinowa.

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Jun can’t find Satoru, but then he turns up with a fearsome shikigami called a hiruko, targeting Ushio. Nagare and Jun can’t do anything against it, but Tora tears through it, and the deranged Satoru has to retreat for the time being. Tora opines that Satoru’s body has been taken over by the Hiyou, like the bus, and has become their latest instrument for disposing of Ushio.

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Unsure of how to proceed, Ushio remembers he can contact the Elder of Ungaikyou through any mirror, even a rest stops! The elder puts him in touch with the tengu Osa, who informs Ushio that the only way to remove the Hiyou from Satoru’s brain is to become an apparition or monster, which Ushio does whenever he wields the spear, enter Satoru’s body, and destroy the infestation. But it’s a risky proposition: the spear could very well consume Ushio’s entire soul in the process. So Ushio is faced with a choice: risk his own humanity to save another, or put him out of his misery.

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Of course, Ushio doesn’t really see that it’s much of a choice, especially when he sees how distraught Jun is and why: her brother once had trouble controlling his spiritual powers, and when he saved her from a low-level youkai, he ended up scaring her.  Ever since, she’s wanted to properly thank him.

To see Ushio’s reaction to her story, you just know he’ll put even excising the regrets of others before his own life; to do so would only add to his guilt and make it even harder to live with himself. At the same time, he has responsibilities as the true chosen wielder of the spear. At some point he must put his selflessness and emotions aside and think about the bigger picture.

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Satoru returns as promised, he has a few tricks out of the gate, and combined with Ushio’s uncertainty about how to handle this situation, the good guys are quickly on their heels. But it’s Jun who grabs hold of her brother and won’t let go that eventually draw the real Satoru out and make him come to his senses.

But once he does, and realizes what he’s done, he too is overcome by guilt and regret, harking back to how his sister recoiled when he last lost it. He’s so overcome, in fact, that he doesn’t believe he should live anymore, and leaps backwards off a cliff, giving us…a cliffhanger. Of course, considering Tora—who can fly—is around, and Satoru features prominently in the OP and ED, I’m not willing to write Jun’s bro off just yet. Catch’im, Tora!

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