A hearty omedetou gozaimasu to Hideki Matsuyama, the first Japanese and Asian-born man to win the Masters!—RABUJOI STAFF
When the hordes of red soldiers arrive, they don’t distinguish between Human Empire or Dark Territory, they just start killing everyone. It’s because of this that the Pugilists’ general, Champion, rips his eye out in order to defy his original programming and do what needs to be done to save his people from being wiped out: join forces with Asuna.
While Asuna briefly loses an arm in combat and is strongly fatigued by using her godlike powers to rend the earth, she has enough both to heal herself and build bridges across the chasm she made so that the Pugilists can reach their isolated comrades and take the fight to the red soldiers.
Asuna, the Pugilists, and the Integrity Knights fight well, but in the chaos, Vecta swoops in on his dark dragon and captures Alice, knocking her out with a sleep spell. Needless to say, this is a big, big disaster, since the world will end once she’s placed on the World’s End Altar (hence the name, presumably).
Bercouli is the first to give chase on his dragon, and once she’s healed, Asuna mounts her horse and follows, but Vecta has a hell of a head start. They can only hope his dragon tires before he reaches the altar far to the south, and that they’ll catch up to him while the dragon is resting.
Back at Rath, Critter is about to send a second wave of American players to overwhelm what’s left of the Human Empire’s army. Vassago wakes up after being out for eight hours. The JSDF will attack in twelve hours, so he wants to dive right back in to fight Lightning Flash Asuna and Kirito, whom he assumes is there fighting and not in a semi-vegetative state. He also tells Critter he has a “very special” account to use this time.
The second wave arrives and surrounds Asuna’s forces, but they are decimated by aerial bombardment from a single archer in the sky: Shino has finally taken the stage, much to Asuna’s tearful relief. With Critter re-instituting the 1000:1 time difference, they’ll have a whole other cour in which to catch up to and defeat Vecta, but it’s not going to be easy. Unfortunately, we won’t return to Underworld until April 2020. It will be a long wait; hopefully there will be some decent Winter shows to keep us distracted until then.
Getting impatient, Vecta orders his main force of Pugilists and Dark Mages to advance with orders to capture Alice unscathed at all costs. Now that his prey/soul-snack is in sight, it won’t be long before he takes a more active role in the battle.
Another new Integrity Knight in Sheyta Synthesis Twelve volunteers to meet the Pugs and slow them down. Her specialty is impossibly fast slashes from an elegant and flexible épée-like sword skinnier than she is (the Pugs mock her lack of muscle tone on several occasions).
Sheyta has no problem carving up the Pug leader Champion’s forces with brutal efficiency, but Champion himself is literally made of harder stuff, which intrigues her. She draws the battle out longer for two reasons—she’s buying time for Bercouli, Alice, and the others, but once all of her armor has been sheared away and Champ is at full power, she’s actually having fun.
She’s about to finish things when Champ’s lieutenants snatches him away. The match ends in a draw, but put a rare smile on Sheyta’s face. She and Champion gained a mutual warrior respect, the kind of two-sided badass brawl I prefer to simply obliterating the masses of boring evil monsters.
Vecta sends Vassago to harass the Humans’ supply corps, and ends up crossing swords with Ronie (never any luck, that girl). However, she’s able to sound the alarm, and Alice and Bercouli are also there, having anticipated their supplies would be targeted. Even so, Ronie is in big trouble against the far stronger Vassago…until a miracle occurs.
At least, Ronie considers it a miracle, because the God of Creation Stacia appears above her and rends great fissures in the earth that swallow up Vassago and his minions. Stacia, of course, is merely an Underworld avatar being inhabited by our good friend Yuuki Asuna, who makes one hell of a divine entrance that simply gave me goosebumps.
On his way down his own personal size abyss, Vassago recognizes “Lightning Flash” from Knights of the Blood in SAO. The hero(ine) is finally, finally on the scene, in a powerful avatar poised to rescue the damsel-in-distress—in this case Kirito in a welcome inversion of SAO II. I can’t wait to see her fighting beside Alice.
Movie buff Hibiki wants a new home theater system. The only problem is, due in part to her gym fees, she lacks the funds to buy one. Enter the Silverman Gym Arm Wrestling Tournament, which has both men’s and women’s divisions and a grand prize of 100,000 yen for each.
Machio explains the proper setup and form for official arm wrestling, then matches Hibiki up with Ayaka to give it a go. As with boxing, Hibiki reveals she’s a superhuman beast, dispatching Ayaka with ease (and turning the proceedings into a battle manga, with requisite intense faces). Even Machio has to get a bit serious to beat Hibiki.
With Akemi sick and neither Ayaka or Satomi interested in participating, the women’s division’s first round is also the final round, because there are only two combatants! Hibiki, and the short silver-haired foreign lass who up until now we’d only seen the OP and ED: the Russian Nina Void (voiced by Touyama Nao).
Nina is a seasoned veteran in the arm wrestling world, and Russia is a power in that particular sport. She’s also never been beaten by someone her own age, so it’s a huge shock when Hibiki defeats her almost as quickly as she beat Ayaka. It also changes Nina’s plans dramatically: instead of heading back home (which she needed the prize money to do), she decides to enroll at Hibiki’s school as a transfer student.
After going over the three main stereotypes of Russian anime characters (Intellectual with Icy Smile, Emotionless/Cold-Blooded, and Zealous Patriot Type), voicing her desire not to stray too far from any of them, and declaring her love for her dear shirtless bear-wrestling leader Putin, Nina explains how she’s never done that much weight training with equipment.
Instead, she’s a strong proponent of “kipping”, i.e. rhythmic pull-ups and chin-ups that use your momentum. Proper form and consistency mean that the more you kip, the more your nerves know what to do and when in martial arts like sambo.
Hibiki demonstrates that she’s terrible at kipping, but Nina (wrongly) assumes her rival is simply holding her cards close. Speaking of close, it isn’t until after Hibiki returns home from the gym that she learns that Nina is going to be living with her for the foreseeable future. There will be no escape from the rivalry that has been thrust upon her.
Shinji’s attempt to destroy Hakuno and Saber fails when Toosaka Rin shows up, hacks Shinji’s systems, and lends Hakuno and Saber a ride out of the tower on her flying motorcycle—all good stuff. We don’t learn anything more about Hakuno’s “Dead Face”, only that it drew Rin to their location.
Rin takes them to a run-down but still very stylish safe house, and explains why she interceded on their behalf: while she is only a former Master, she is the only one in the city (other than Hakuno) to have not fully surrendered to the stagnation of Mayor Matou’s grand plan.
She’s a resistance of one, and now that Hakuno, a fully-active Master, and his Servant Saber have appeared, that resistance grows to three. The only means of reaching the upper level is to defeat the “king” of the one they’re on: Shinji—who also happens to be an active Master. Hakuno and Saber met his Servant in the bar.
The morning of their assault on Central Tower, Hakuno glimpses Saber resplendent on the rooftop’s morning light, surrounded by birds. This show is nothing if not pretty and sometimes drop-dead gorgeous in its staging of people and places.
Rin assists in Hakuno and Saber’s infiltration of the tower, which necessitates her remaining behind to fight Shinji’s Berserkers, leaving the other two free to ride the elevators to the non-projection Shinji’s location.
Once they reach that location—which appears in the form of a standard Japanese school rooftop, Shinji recalls the victory that got him to where he is today. In light of that victory, he is game for a duel against Hakuno and Saber.
With that, massive walls begin to rise above the cityscape, great hatches open, and the entire level is quickly flooded with water, turning the city into an ocean. I love how intricately rendered this city has been the last two episodes, only for the show to completely destroy it here.
The reason for the transformation is that Shinji’s Servant Rider has a naval theme: she is Francis(ca?) Drake, and leads an armada of flying sailing ships to face Saber and her…saber.
Rider’s Noble Phantasm is the “Golden Wild Hunt” / Temesoro el Draque, and Saber is seemingly overwhelmed and sinks into the deluge, too low on mana to mount a counterattack.
That is, until Hakuno dives to her location on the “sea floor” and transfer his plentiful stores of mana through a kiss, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before in a Fate series.
It works a treat, and Saber rises out of the water and rams Rider’s flagship with a ship of her own, revealing
her Noble Phantasm one of her skills is “Imperial Privilege”, which enables her to copy her opponent’s ability. Rider and Saber face off in a decisive dual, but Rider’s flintlocks appear to jam at a crucial moment, while Saber’s sword does not miss Rider.
Shinji gets to have an uncharacteristically noble end when he decides to ascend with his Servant rather than break his contract at the last moment to continue living.
And that’s pretty much Mission Accomplished for Hakuno and Saber. With Shinji gone, the level is restored to its true state: that of a vast, eerie, deserted ruin. That majestic city was only ever an illusion in which cowards could stagnate for all time. While that state wasn’t ideal, there is still a measure of sadness in what was lost…even if I won’t miss Shinji, as usual.
With that, a lift descends for Hakuno and Saber, which will bear them to the next level up. Rin, who obviously did not drown in the deluge, trails right behind them on her flying motorcycle. What visual wonders, challenges, Masters and Servants await them on the second level? I can’t wait to find out.
In the Class A final, as Taichi and Chihaya enter to watch, Arata has built a good lead against Shinobu using his combination of a nearly flawless game plan and calm demeanor that even throws Shinobu off her game. She breaks a sweat and swipes more aggressively, starting a comeback. But in the end, Arata defeats her by two cards, then finds out Shinobu was playing with a fever from being drenched in the rain. For her part, she’s happy someone finally put up a fight against her, even if she did lose for the first time in years.
This was built up to be quite a match, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Shinobu is the Queen, and Arata is Heir Apparent to the Master’s throne. Even the karuta boffins are in awe of what they are watching. The atmosphere is so thick you can slice it with a knife and chew it. After watching Shinobu so easily dispatch all below her, Arata puts the screws to her, and we see her growing more emotional and desperate. Both Porky and the Fujisaki dude, other victims of Arata, know that it isn’t just his skills and sadism that intimidate; it’s the easy smile and serene calm he exerts while doing so. But that wasn’t always the case.
Shinobu was born great, but Arata was merely born into greatness, and had to work his ass off to get there. Also, his greatness didn’t fit his younger body; it wasn’t until he became fully grown that the karuta he visualized matched his body. Now that he’s in synch, there may be no stopping him, though Master Suo is a pretty mythic figure in his own right, and if there’s ever a third season, we can easily see Arata losing to him. But for now, he’s the individual champion. He proved Shinobu wrong: she may be more connected to the cards, but her strength wasn’t quite enough against chihayafuru – the perfectly spinning top – the impassionate one.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
- Hey, Midori sneaks Chihaya and Taichi into the match. She’s not so bad!
- The poem Kana refers to Hanano is pretty spot-on!
- Cute Chihaya moments: when she suddenly realizes she and Taichi are now officially rivals; and when she starts practice swinging during the match and Taichi has to stop her.
- You know you have a badass reputation when people are shocked when you start sweating after five matches.
- For perhaps the first time, some of the queen’s swings don’t make that bell-through-water sound, indicating she’s off her game and taking risks to stave off defeat. Nice touch there.
- Arata’s grandfather was very firm and direct, but not cold or strict. He could probably see that Arata wouldn’t rise to greatness until he’d risen a bit in height.