Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 18 – INFINHONEY WAR

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains *major* spoilers for the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War. This serves as a warning not to read on if you have not seen it yet and do not wish to be spoiled. Furthermore, there are a number of references to the MCU herein, so if you don’t know nothing about (or hate) any of that stuff, you have my apologies.

Let me make some comparisons. If Totsuki is the universe, Nakiri Azami is Thanos. Thanos wants to cleave away all of what he deems to be unnecessary excess form the universe, just as Azami wants to do the same with the academy. In both cases their end product will be something harmonious and sustainable only they had the will to make possible, and are convinced that once they’re done the universe (and academy) will be grateful for their efforts.

Polar Star and its allies represent the Avengers. However noble Thanos/Azami believe themselves or their efforts to be, they are, on a human scale, amoral and must be opposed. I won’t get bogged down into which chef is which Avenger, but suffice it to say that Azami has been their greatest foe to date, and this week they take their heaviest losses, which will make an already uphill battle feel…well, even more uphill.

Hayama Akira isn’t trying to save anybody other than Shiomi Jun and the research lab they built together, and decided the best way to do that was to accept and join Azami’s Central regime. But even Jun herself cannot support his decision. In joining Central he creates a rift, and for the first time, she isn’t there to watch him from the sidelines.

At first, it doesn’t seem like that matters. Soue, Cilla and Berta can tell Akira’s chicken-fried bear is superior to Souma’s dish before it even touches their lips, and upon finally digging in, Soue has a full-blown Explosion (the family history of which is hilariously explained by Gin). The sisters try in vain to identify all of the chemical reactions going on, but are overcome by their foodgasms.

Akira’s bear and dipping sauce combine to form a one-two punch to put the metaphorically boxing Souma on the ropes, and creating another metaphor: that of an impenetrable fortress of flavor mastery. The only problem is, Akira locked himself in that fortress alone.

It isn’t over yet, because the judges still have to try Souma’s dipping sauce (in an interesting twist, considering you’d think they’d have finished the first dish before starting Akira’s, and not mixed them in their palates). To everyone’s amazement, Souma’s sauce…is just plain better, do in large part to his use of a very specific kind of honey.

Suoe’s reaction is even stronger, evolving from “The Explosion” to “The Gift”, in which his spontaneous disrobing expands in waves to the sisters (though in the very next scene their clothes are back on…continuity!) With Akira’s superior bear and Souma’s superior sauce, the sisters split their votes, leaving Suoe to break the 1-1 tie.

It’s here where I’ll break out another Avengers metaphor and compare Souma to Tony Stark. Sure, he’s no monetary billionaire, but he has an embarrassment of human riches at his disposal, along with Hokkaido’s vast natural bounty. Like Tony, his ambition to improve his skills and his drive to never stop tinkering is virtually boundless. It has to be; just as Tony has no innate superpowers, Souma lacks a superhuman sense of taste or smell.

Souma ran Kuga’s Chinese RS battalion ragged darting from mountain to valley to stream and back again, collecting every flavor in the bear’s habitat that could be exploited to improve the dish even one tiny amount. He approached his culinary testing with a passion Akira simply didn’t match, because Akira was so focused on protecting Jun that he was relegated to testing without her insights or anyone else’s.

While Souma caught up with him, Akira actually backtracked; as delicious as his bear is, it can’t match the passion that went into his Autumn Elections-winning dish. And he knows it. Moreover, he sought perfection and balance in his dish, but gave no thought to who it was for, while Souma’s was painstakingly crafted specifically for Akira to taste it and say it was delicious.

Jun arrives on cue to give Akira a well-deserved slap across the face (Guardian of the Year Jun, everyone!) and tell him continuing the research lab doesn’t matter to her anymore. All she wants is for Akira to keep having fun cooking with kids his own age…because he is still a kid, after all.

Her sentiments hit Akira hard, and his eyes go glassy as a result. Suoe casts the deciding vote naming Souma the victor, Souma says his “Glad you enjoyed it” catchphrase, and we move on to whatever is next. Erina arrives, short of breath and mussed of hair, to learn to her great relief, that Souma has survived his latest trial.

But Jun’s wish for Akira to cook with his friends hits a snag. As a result of losing to Souma, Azami sends his aide Ebony Maw Sean Aida to inform him he’s been summarily expelled. Not only that, the rebellion has been decimated: Hisako, Ryo, Nikumi, Asami, Shun, Zenji, Daigo, Shiouji, Ryouko, Yuuki, and Alice…are all expelled.

That’s a purge to rival (or exceed) the effects of The Snap on the Avengers, and leaves you in a similar defeated mood, completely overshadowing Souma’s momentous achievement of finally beating Akira.

Megumi and Tekumi weren’t in the montage, nor were lesser potential rebels in Nao, Miyoko, Subaru, etc. But how in the hell are Souma, Erina, and whoever else managed to survive the massacre going to proceed? Something tells me Carol Danvers’ cooking skills aren’t gonna cut it…