Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Overlord III – 13 (Fin) – Another Easy Triumph

Gazef Stronoff knows there’s no way he can win, but he’ll fight Ains Ooal Gown anyway. As Head Warrior he is the sword of his kingdom; if he doesn’t face their greatest foe, who will? All other considerations are secondary.

While an argument could be made there was far more Brain, Climb, and other warriors of the kingdom could have learned from Gazef, staying alive to teach them would have meant some kind of surrender against Gown, which his code simply would not allow.

Gown defeats him easily by stopping time and casting True Death upon him. It’s pretty anticlimactic, but it’s also efficient, and Gown had no real reason to do further bodily harm to such an impressively stalwart opponent.

Emperor El-Nix is driven half-mad by the results of his new “ally’s” overwhelming victory over the royal armies. Climb surmises that Gazef may have given his life as a message to him, Brain, and others not to bother fighting the likes of Gown and instead building a future. Brain ain’t hearin’ it; after drinking with Climb, he’s jumping right back into the fight.

As for King Ramposa, with his eldest son gone too long and his second son already jockeying, he agrees to cede E-Rantel to Lord Ains. Princess Renner has a simple task for Climb: to deliver her handpicked roses to the memorial of the fallen armies, flashing her trademark evil smirk once his back is turned to her.

Ains’ dark forces march into E-Rantel without resistance, save a pebble thrown from an angry little boy whose father died in the recent battle. Albedo, who hates humans, prepares to execute the whelp for his disrespect, but she’s blocked by Momon.

Even weirder, however, is that Lord Ains appears behind Albedo to offer Momon a job as their law enforcer in the city. No harm will come to the innocent, as long as Momon makes sure to deal with the guilty. I imagine either Ains simply used a cloning spell or Demiurge disguised himself as Momon or Ains.

Whatever the deal was with two alter-egos of Momonga being in the same place at the same time, the effect is the same: the townsfolk see Momon as their protector, sacrificing his honor for their sake. I’m sure they’d much rather have an adventurer like him enforcing laws than the myriad undead beasts under Ains’ command.

With that, Sorcerer King Ains Ooal Gown takes a seat in the throne room of E-Rantel’s royal palace, all the Floor Guardians and Battle Maids assembled and offering him congratulations on his triumph. But as usual, he didn’t have to actually do much, and a lot of the plan that was just executed wasn’t even his, but Demiuge’s.

Still, as far as Demiurge, Albedo, or anyone else in that room is concerned, everything that happened happened because their lord and sorcerer king made it happen. E-Rantel is now the capital of his new “Sorcerer Kingdom”, Ains Ooal Gown.

No doubt OverLord IV will deal with the political transition and administration of the city, dealing with any resistance that crops up, and perhaps further expansion of the new kingdom. I’ll be here to watch, as always.

Overlord III – 12 – No Chance

In giving Lord Gown the task of giving the signal to start the battle against the Kingdom with one of his magic spells, Emperor El Nix plans to observe how Gown fights in hope of determining a strategy for fighting him, a fight he knows is on the horizon. But as we know, no NPCs, or humans for that matter, have a snowball’s chance in hell against the undead Gown and his minions.

To demonstrate just how hopeless it is to resist his might, Gown takes the ball El Nix gives him and runs with it. The “signal” spell, Tribute to Dark Fertility, Ia, Shub-Niggurath, is actually an offering to one of the game’s dark deities. The Empire is outnumbered 240,000 to 60,000, but the tribute ends up massacring seventy thousand of the kingdom’s forces in one fell swoop.

Both sides of the battle tremble in fear at what they witness, and anyone with a head screwed on right starts running like hell, including Marquis Raeven. But the tribute was only the beginning of the spell; a great black sphere floats over the masses of corpses and absorbs them in black goo.

Five gigantic, many-mouthed beasts Gown calls “adorable baby goats” are summoned, which he believes to be a new game record. As they’re “goats”, the beasts do what goats do: devour everything in sight. Only they’re twenty-story-high goats with more legs and mouths, so they make quick work of the remaining kingdom forces that haven’t fled.

Among those who don’t run are whom I imagine to be three of the four individuals Gown has ordered his dark forces not to kill: Climb, Brain, and Gazef. Climb and Brain are prepared to lead a decoy force in order to facilitate the king’s safe return to E-Rantel.

When King Ramposa asks Brain what he would ask in return, he wants Climb to be able to marry Renner, which the king approves, though it will mean giving Climb a worthy title. Meanwhile, Gazef tries to take on one of the “goats”, and gives one of them his best shot, but even his badass blue sword can’t make a dent, and he’s sent flying—though not fatally.

Climb and Brain end up with Gazef as the goat being ridden by Lord Gown arrives. Gown and Gazef exchange pleasantries, and Gown cuts to the chase: he wants Gazef as a subordinate. If he agrees, Gown will spare the rest of the army. But to agree would mean betraying his king, and as we know Gazed would never do that. Instead, he challenges Gown to a duel.

Gazef would rather go out in a blaze of glory than forsake his monarch, but honestly I don’t think it will go well for him…after all, he’s mortal.

Overlord III – 06 – Incapable Nobles and Dirty Jobs

Far from Nazarick and Carne lies the vast, mighty, and vibrant Baharuth Empire, led by the dashing young “Bloody Emperor” El Nix, and backed up by his Court Wizard Lord Fluder and his Four Imperial Knights, whose titles represent the four elements.

El Nix orders both parties to investigate Jaldabaoth, whose recent attack on the Re-Estize has led the empire to delay their annual war with the clearly militarily inferior kingdom, as well as Momon, who defeated him. Of course, we know “Jaldabaoth” was merely Demiurge, and Momon is Ains.

Demi’s plan to make Nazarick a great country and make Ains’ name known throughout the known world is grand and intricate, and involves Ains going to the imperial capital Arwintar as Momon of Darkness, with Gamma AKA Nabe in tow, the Adamantite adventurers on the prowl once more.

Meanwhile in the kingdom, the eldest son Prince Barbro attempts to insert himself in a position of power above his younger brother and his sister Princess Renner, neither of whom seem too concerned. Barbro takes offense to a commoner like Gazef having his father’s noble ear.

Gazef endures Barbro’s barbs and later spars with Brain Unglaus as a delighted Climb observes. Gazef is by the king’s side, while Brain and Climb are by the princess’. Big or small, they’ll doubtless all have roles to play in this new arc.

The episode than shifts to yet more new faces: the four members of Fortnight, one of the many teams of “Workers”—mercenary adventurers unsanctioned by the guild. Workers do the jobs official guild adventurers either can’t or won’t do. In this case, the “dirty” job is to investigate a certain tomb. I wouldn’t be surprised if the name of this tomb rhymes with “Jazamick”; then again, maybe not. We shall see.

Fortnight (note the different spelling from the popular video game) is composed of the fighters Hekkeran and Imina, the crusader Rober, and the mage Arche, daughter of one of the “incapable” (i.e. incompetent) noble families that Emperor El Nix has stripped of their nobility. Arche is a third-tier magic user who can also detect the levels of other users.

She uses these talents to make money to pay off her family’s debt, but when she returns home to find her father still spending money he doesn’t have on trinkets, she decides to officially freeze her folks out (her mom doesn’t get to speak), and vows to take her little sisters and make her own way—which would mean no more dangerous adventuring.

The other members of Fortnight declare other reasons, but you can tell they care about Arche and want to help her and her sisters stay above water, though if she leaves them they’ll definitely miss her magical prowess.

The next day, Fortnight joins a bunch of other Worker teams of various dispositions on the grounds of their client, Count Femel. They are also introduced to Momon and Nabe, who’ll be joining them on their quest.

Their presence makes me less sure that the tomb they’ll explore is Nazarick, but whatever tomb it is and whatever’s waiting for them, with Momon and Nabe around, the Workers are going to get a good show.

Overlord II – 13 (Fin) – Nazarick Cleans Up, but Many Stories Left to Tell

When Jaldabaoth unleashes a hail of demons at the force of adventurers, Momon swoops in with Nabe and Evileye to plow the road. Brain ends up encountering Shalltear on a rooftop, and manages to chip one of her nails, which he considers a great leap forward, weirding everyone out while boasting about it.

When Gazef arrives with the king himself he and a healed Gagarin and Tia join Lakyus and Tina in the rearward fight. Up front, Momon takes on “Jaldabaoth” (almost slipping up and calling him Demiurge again) while Nabe and Evileye split up the five other battle maids. It’s a vicious fight, as Alpha breaks Evileye’s magical shield and even chips her mask, revealing a small but still tantalizing portion of her face.

When Evileye is occupied with Alpha and Delta, Momon meets Demiurge in a secret meaning, where Demiurge explains the full scope of his plan, in which Nazarick claims a goodly amount of materials and hostages, while “Momon” gets to pump up his stature among the humans by defeating the evil Jaldabaoth.

Demi is basically taking a fall for his lord, while also gaining the opportunity to show that same lord how far he’s come power-wise. Manwhile, Nabe shoots the breeze with Beta, Epsilon and Zeta, a pleaqsantly casual, candid scene among the maids.

The gears of the plan creak and groan near the end, when Demi and Momon duel for a bit but Demi rather suddenly gives up, takes his maids and goes home. But hey, the humans, Evileye included, buy it hook, line, and sinker.

So it’s a big win for Nazarick, as the Eight Fingers are eliminated without Nazarick’s fingers being anywhere near their demise, Renner gets her Climb back safe and sound (and must find sombe other way to incapacitate him so she can take care of him), Sebas brings Tuare into the staff fold…and an old mage-like wizard fellow and a gold-plated warrior-prince-looking dude both ponder a meeting with one Ainz Ooal Gown in the near future.

And so OverLord II ends as it began: seemingly right in the middle of things. While its tendency to bounce around from one scenario to the next and often under-emphasize the ostensible main cast, that unpredictability kept things fresh, and the delayed explanation of scenarios led to some very satisfying payoffs, whether it was the Lizardmen battle, Sebas’ badassery, or some very cool battles between fellow Nazarickians, with some surprisingly strong human adventurers mixed in. I wouldn’t mind jumping back into these stories sometime down the road.

Overlord II – 12 – The Truth Can Be Surprising

Momon, embracing his role as protector of his adventurer brethren and fights off Demiurge, who also takes on the alias Jaldabaoth for the purposes of this pageant.

Witnessing Momon fight to protect her, Evileye is impressed to the point of fascination, becoming smitten with one of the few warriors she’s met who is actually stronger than her. However, she comes to be disappointed in how Momon ultimately decides to hold her: less like a princess, more like baggage.

The “Tuare” Climb & Co. rescue turns out to be Succulent in disguise, a trick that the warriors didn’t fall for. Zero, last of the Six Arms, shows up to occupy Brain, so Climb and the other guy fight Sucky, with the other guy showing Climb that in situations like this it’s okay to fight dirty. Climb takes the advice to heart by delivering a vicious kick to Succulent’s succulents.

Just when Brain and Zero are ready to get serious, Sebas arrives with the real Tuare, lets Zero (highly skeptical the old guy took out all of his comrades without taking a scratch)  take his shot (utterly ineffective) and ends him with one kick. The only mark against the fight is that he got blood on his attire.

With Sebas’ part of the mission a success, we return to Momon, Evileye and Demiurge, the latter of which retreats so he can set up a wall of fire in the capital, presumably to show the city who’s boss—though if he’s doing it with an alias and not in Nazarick’s name I fail to see how it serves the Tomb; I thought the point was to teach Eight Fingers a lesson?

Reagrdless, once that wall of fire is up, Momon decides to join Evileye, the Blue Rose, Brain, Climb, and a mess of other adventurers, all under command of Princess Renner, who sets up a battle plan, briefs her troops, and sends them out to fight the demons within the otherwise harmless wall set up by “Jaldabaoth.”

Renner stays behind in the palace, revealing to her brother and the Marquis her true plan, while showing her true, demented face: she’s counting on Climb dying so Lakyus can ressurect him, a process that will make him as weak as a newborn kitten, necessitating constant attention and care. And Renner intends to take good care of him.

Overlord II – 11

(Rubs hands together vigorously) Oh man, do I love a good Overlord battle extravaganza. In order to answer the slight against Nazarick, Demiurge arrives with Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta, along with Mare and Shalltear (though Shally sits out the battle, lest she do much damage) to supplement Sebas and Epsilon.

Nazarick’s…let’s call it a punitive assault, happens to coincide with the Renner Raid, and Climb, Brain, and one of the Orichalcum-ranked warriors provided by the Marquis end up at the same place as Sebas: the Eight Fingers hideout where not only Tuare is being held, but where four of the Six Arms are ready to fight.

Sebas tells them they’ll last up to ten seconds if they all attack him at once, but when he hears one of them dares call himself the “Undead King”, he pops, he gets mad and does it in about eight. No wasted movements, just pop-pop-pop-pop, off come the elite warriors’ heads.

Climb & Co manage to find Tuare’s cell…or do they? The camera cuts away before we see the woman’s whole face (or it’s just assumed to be Tuare and I’m just overthinking things).

Meanwhile, at another Eight Fingers base, Mare figuratively disarms the mistress of the house before literally de-legging her and dragging her away, leaving Zeta to take care of things from there.

The Amazonian Gagaran arrives just around this time, and assumes Zeta works for Eight Fingers, and judges her a foe she can take based on her slight size and cutesy voice, and picks a fight.

Wellsir, Gagaran judged very, very wrong…but she’s not alone, so the fight is extended when Tia arrives and manages to hold out against Zeta’s very novel high-level entomancy, which includes bugs that block blows as well as Cap’s shield, bug bullets that take down adamantium barriers, and bugs that have sword-sized mandibles.

Eventually the gap in level is too much for Gagaran and Tia, but their ally Evileye arrives in the nick of time. Unlike them, when she says she’s stronger than Zeta…I kinda believed her. She certainly demonstrates the validity of such a claim by putting Zeta on her ass (well, abdomen; she’s an insect) with an equally novel homebrew insecticide spell.

With four other sites and four other maids, I expected the episode to jump around more, but I appreciate Overlord’s patience in sticking with one battle once it gets into rhythm, as this one does.

This battle escalates so many times with the introduction of new parties, I wasn’t missing the other raids anyway. When Zeta is just about out for the count, who should arrive but Demiurge, wearing a sinister mask (perhaps to hide his nerdy glasses from mere mortals?).

Demiurge takes out Gagaran and Tia with a ranged fire spell, but went with too high a setting because he assumed they were as strong as Evileye. And even when she throws everything she’s got at Demi, it’s all for naught; his defense is just too strong.

Demi looks ready to stop playing around and finish things when there’s yet another arrival—frikkin’ Momonga himself—wondering out loud which of the two combatants will be his foe. I’m intrigued by the possibilities this presents.

Overlord II – 10

This week Sebas must deal with the fallout of his individual actions which drew undue attention to him and by extension Nazarick. However, as expected, Lord Ainz is understanding, and also convinced of Sebas’ absolute loyalty when he orders the Butler to kill Tuare and Cocytus has to step in to stop him.

When Ainz asks Sebas how it benefits him to have Tuare come to Nazarick with them, Sebas says she can cook. This leads to bickering between Sebas and Demiurge about what kind of cooking is “worthy” of Nazarick, which reminds Ainz of the bickering his fellow players once engage in; a pleasant memory.

Tuare, for her part, is ready to follow Sebas wherever he leads, and wouldn’t mind even if he had to kill her for real, giving him her first happy kiss; possibly his as well.

Over at the palace, Princess Renner is getting ready to unleash Blue Rose on Eight Fingers, but knows she’ll need more men, so she invites Marquis Raeven to her chambers for a chat.

Her brother, the Second Prince, also tags along, and is a lot less antagonistic, especially when he learns just how much his sister knows about the complex political tapestry draped across the kingdom; not to mention when she shows her “real” side, which Raeven likes, but decidedly not if it means betrothing his five-year-old-son to her.

Renner intends to bear children with Climb, but her official, noble-born husband will make those children legitimate. Or something. It’s all…a little arcane? Bottom line, Renner has the troops she needs to bring Eight Fingers down, and she intends to add Gazef Stronoff to those numbers. It should be quite a raid.

Meanwhile, Lord Ainz ordered everyone from Nazarick back to Nazarick, but first orders Sebas and Solution to take care of a grain purchase for Demiurge’s sheep. Why neither Demiurge nor Sebas on his own could accomplish this errand, or why Tuare is left so exposed and vulnerable, is not explained. All we know is Tuare has been re-kidnapped by Eight Fingers, and Sebas intends to rescue her.

I’m certain such a rescue mission, for which Sebas orders Albedo to arrange assistance, will be entertaining, but it seems rather artificially created crisis borne out of abject stupidity on the part of all involved parties. It makes me wonder if the kidnapping truly was set up, perhaps so Ainz could further observe just how far Sebas’ attachment to one lowly human really goes.

Overlord II – 09

While Sebas, Brain and Climb agree to take on the brothel together, they take different entrances, with Sebas going right in the front door, tearing through any hapless resistance, and delivering swift justice to the fat bastard whose name isn’t worth remembering. Epsilon might not care what pitiful humans do to other pitiful humans, but Sebas definitely has a soft spot for the weak and helpless.

Meanwhile, it isn’t long before Brain and Climb split up, and Climb happens to end up in the very room where Succulent (one of the Six Arms) and Cocco Doll (human slavery extraordinaire) happen to emerge from a secret entrance. Climb figures out Succulent’s trick, combining swordsmanship, invisibility, and illusion to show his opponent a fake arm, a fake sword, and even fake clones of himself.

Succulent’s just a half-step ahead of Climb, and delivers what should be a fatal wound, but like his encounter with Sebas’ killing strike, Climb summons the power of his love and devotion to Princess Renner to stand up and hold out just long enough until Brain arrives. Brain has the boy heal himself while he takes care of Sucky with one strike, showing just how far ahead of Climb he is in pure swordsmanship.

With that, Sebas appears and the three celebrate the apprehension of Succulent and Cocco and the taking down of a truly awful brothel. It’s all in a day’s work for Sebas, but he still has to come home to learn Solution has tattled on him; Lord Ains is waiting for him (though no doubt Ains will be proud of what Sebas did). Back at the palace, Climb gives a full report to a worried-sick Renner.

Brain celebrates by having drinks and a meal with his new best bud Gazef, telling him that despite Climb’s obvious lack of talent, he might just exceed his own pure will to live and fight, judging both from his scrapes with Sebas and Succulent.

As for Renner, after she sees Climb off, she summons a maid she suspects “made fun” of Climb with the intent to kill her and anyone else who would do such a thing, revealing a heretofore unseen sinister side. I kinda like how she’s not some pure naive princess, but has her own dark side…it makes me worry a lot less about the five remaining Six Arms we meet. If they want a knock-down, drag-0ut fight, Renner is most definitely game.

Overlord II – 08

Climb and Blue Rose prepare to go to battle with Eight Fingers, and Climb mentions his little sparring session with the great Stronoff. He wants Evileye to train him in magic, but she doesn’t think he’s ready or talented enough; Gagaran notes that Evileye is simply worried about Climb.

Evileye also mentions the fact that their colleague Lakyus may be having trouble controlling the cursed sword in her possession, and that leads to the mention of Momon and a quick overview of their great deeds. While they may be rivals, Evileye might also see them as potential allies in the fight against the Fingers.

Meanwhile, Sebas walks the city streets thinking about the position he’s in, and more specifically what needs to be done to keep Tsuare safe from her former tormentors. A haughty jackass happens to be stomping on a poor kid who happened to bump into him when Sebas arrives to put the bully in his place. Not only does climb witness Sebas’ good deed (and his fancy moves), but so does Brain Unglaus.

Climb tracks Sebas down and begs him to teach him the move he saw. Sebas does a quick character survey of Climb, learning from his hands, his sword, and his words that he’s a decent chap, then warning him that the move he shows him could kill him if he has no one he cherishes and vows to protect.

Climb has Princess Renner, so there should be no problem, but still…damn, Sebas is scary when you’re his target, even in a supposed training session. Climb manages not to die of shock, and proves he’s a loyal and true servant to his mistress. Brain witnesses all of this and introduces himself to Sebas and Climb…just as five assassins from Eight Fingers come for Sebas.

Now, I have no doubt that Sebas could have easily taken all five attackers on his own, but one doesn’t turn down an extra pair of hands, so he lets Brain and Climb take on two of the five. They handle themselves pretty well despite Climb’s greenness and Brain’s rust.

Sebas then decides to head to the brothel where he rescued Tsuare and nip things in the bud, and Climb and Brain join him. I must say, it’s an inspired party, and I look forward to seeing what they can do. I just wish this show didn’t look so dang rough.

Overlord II – 07

As “Momon” contends with mounting expenses for his various ventures, Gazef (who considers Ainz his savior) seeks out Climb, the princess’ bodyguard. He may have come from nothing and is young and inexperienced, and Gazef seems certain there’s a ceiling to his ability, but Climb is still someone who can hold his own against Gazef in battle, which is more than he can say for most other fighters.

Climb needs to be strong. His Princess, Renner (voiced by The Heroine herself), is called a “monster” by her own older brother, the second prince. There is all manner of wrangling and under-the-table deals between the royals and nobles and Eight Fingers in this kingdom. As such, despite noble warriors like Climb and Gazef, it’s a kingdom slowly rotting from the inside.

Princess Renner, one of the kingdom’s few principled, moral leaders, seeks to cut out that rot, but without any kind of military force of her own she needs willing swords and shields. She has them in the elite adventurer group Blue Rose, who we were introduced to last week burning Eight Fingers’ drug fields.

Renner welcomes Climb to a meeting she’s having with members of Blue Rose, who are preparing to hit other Eight Fingers targets. Renner doesn’t want Blue Rose’s Lakyus Aindra to sully her name and that of her families in such activities, but she has little choice, as she can’t very well send Climb out alone. Instead, Lakyus will “borrow” Climb.

Meanwhile, in the mansion seemingly occupied only by Sebas and Solution, the former has made Tuare a maid, much to the latter’s chagrin. Solution does not like humans and doesn’t see Tuare’s presence as anything other than a nuisance at best and a threat to Ainz at worst.

When unsavory parties arrive who wish to get Tuare back from Sebas, and they give him until the day after tomorrow to surrender either her or the “lady” of the house, Solution. These guys are obviously scum, but they and Solution are alike in one important way: neither of them give a shit about Tuare’s well-being.

Only Sebas does, and since only 41 or so people in the whole dang world are stronger than him, Sebas would normally get his way, and Tuare would remain safe. But even he can’t be everywhere at once, which is why when he goes for a stroll to think things over, Solution breaks protocol and contacts Lord Ainz to report the possibility that Sebas has turned on them.

That seems farfetched to me, in that so far all he’s done is demonstrated his empathy for humans and been a Good Samaritan for a woman who had nothing and no one else. If anything, if Ainz hears the whole story he’d find a way to applaud Sebas’ actions. Is Solution overreacting, or does she sense something Sebas a mere human such as myself cannot?

Made in Abyss – 09

Riko and Reg descend the four thousand meters of the Great Fault (over ten Empire State Buildings, for those keeping count) using the “weakling’s way”, as Ozen suggested: the network of tunnels within the fault’s walls.

They quickly learn why when they inadvertently scare some flat, fluffy Neritantans out onto the edge, where a few quickly become lunch for the flying Madokajacks.

The Neritantans are ridiculously adorable, but this isn’t a place where you can be sentimental about such things if those animals are the only thing you can use to distract the predators that make no distinction between them and you.

Riko and Reg find the ancient ruins of a ship embedded in the fault wall, which raises so many questions, chief among them how it got there. In any case, it’s super cool. But just as the Madokajacks were distracted by the Neritantans, Riko is distracted by the prospect of finding cool relics.

She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s strayed right into a Madokajack nest. Ozen warned Reg not to use Incinerator recklessly, but he’s confident Riko will be safe for the two hours he’s out if he uses it, so he does…and it continues to be a fantastic, if terrifying, sight to see.

What Reg didn’t know is that the strange distant sound he’d been hearing was a Crimson Splitjaw, who he grazed with the beam from Incinerator. He and Riko have to book it fast before he passes out, and they seem to receive som karmic justic when their only avenue of escape is blocked by tightly-packed, Neritantans.

If I didn’t know better, I thought I saw the thirst for vengeance in their beady little eyes. But the roar of the Splitjaw spooks them and they disperse. In a place of relative safety, Reg warns Riko to stay where she is and then passes out. Now who seriously thought Riko was just going to sit around?

No, She’s Got This, and wraps Reg’s extendo-arms around her and drags him behind her…straight into the digestive chamber of a Amakagame, yet another wonderfully bizarre beast of the Abyss. But this is Riko we’re talking about. Does she panic? No, she breaks out her knife and stabs the shit out of the Amakagame until she’s pierced its skin and escaped.

At first, I thought the legions of Neritantans that amassed around her were there to celebrate her vanquishing of the monster that claimed so many of their own—an “okay, we’re even now, you’re not so bad” kinda moment.

Then I remembered she smells like the fruit they love, and they swarm ravenously at her, the cute fluffy-looking animals suddenly a little more threatening. They cause Riko to fall down another steep tunnel, but far from a shortcut, it dumps her at the bottom of hexagonal basalt cave, and the only way out requires an ascent of several hundred feet.

It’s rough going, as Riko experiences headaches, dizziness, nausea, and the kicker: extremely realistic visual and auditory hallucinations. I mean, she might as well be on the holodeck, because she’s in a full-fledged dreamworld.

She knows what (and who) she’s looking at isn’t real…until her mother appears and they ascend all the way back up to Orth in the same gondola at the Seeker Camp. There, the entire city has come out to celebrate their return to the surface. What snaps her out of it? The fact that Reg isn’t there. He’s her totem, and he saves her butt again, without even being awake.

However, at nearly two hours, it’s really time he does wake up, and none too soon, either, as the Splitjaw that was after them before has found them again. Riko decides it’s time for Blaze Reap, but even as she wielded it and faced down the Splitjaw’s charge, it just didn’t look like she’d be able to do much damage.

Fortunately, Reg does, and uses his superior strength and speed to land a critical blow on the Splitjaw’s jaw, with the axe’s power causing multiple explosions that disable the beast once and for all.

With both kids awake and safe, Reg apologizes for going out so long, but Riko is actually appreciative: she learned by doing that taking this journey all by her self really would have been impossible, while Reg is certain it’d be impossible for him too if he didn’t have Riko with him.

Next up, the Fourth Layer: The Goblet of Giants.

Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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