Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.

Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Made in Abyss – 07

Just as Habo is telling Nat and Siggy about the badass White Whistles (who kinda remind me of the Espada) and wondering if he should have gone against Riko’s wishes and accompanied her and Reg after all, Riko and Reg face their toughest challenge yet: An Ozen the Immovable as their enemy.

But while both kids get beaten within an inch of their lives, it isn’t physical punishment that cuts the deepest—it’s Ozen’s utterly curel and tactless presentation of the giant white cube, which turns out not to be merely a vessel that repels curses. Ozen reveals to Riko that she was stillborn, and upon being placed in the vessel, she was brought back to life.

Ozen further explains that she put some of the meat she uses for dinner in the vessel, and it came back to life as well: that weird, threatening-looking but also bumbling and pitiable thing that made Riko wet the bed. The final twist of the knife? Before long, the thing turned back into lifeless meat, and Ozen wonders when Riko’s time will come to turn back into a corpse.

This is harsh, merciless stuff, but Ozen is just getting started. When she threatens to hurt Riko, Reg intervenes with his arms and ties her up, but she frees herself effortlessly, noting how the arm cables are made of extremely tough stuff. She then proceeds to try to pound Reg into dust, and when Riko tries to stop the madness, a light flick of Ozen’s finger sends her flying across the room, knocked out and bloodied.

Goddamn was this shit hard to watch. Reg tries to break out his Incinerator, but while trying to narrow the focus his beam so he doesn’t blow up the whole camp, the bitch grabs his still-charging cannon and points it at the out-cold Riko.

Where it not for a last-second kick of his own arm out of harm’s way, Riko would be gone. Fortunately, she’s not, and the hole his arm blasts in the ceiling doesn’t cause any serious structural damage. But using his cannon makes him pass out, and when Riko comes to, she sees Reg bruised and bloodied, the result of Ozen continuing to beat his unconscious body.

And yet, after three-quarters of an episode of the most heinous, villainous, evil-ass conduct one could imagine, the other shoe drops: Ozen was TESTING Reg’s strength, as well as Riko’s resolve. And let me tell you, she got me, just as she got them.

I never thought for a moment that she wasn’t simply being the evil monster the build-up to her appearance portended. Marulk ‘saved’ Reg and Riko by calling Ozen’s band of cave-raiders to her in…something Ozen both thanks her apprentice for and promises to string her(?) up for.

Frankly, I didn’t know what she was thinking. It’s another way she’s “immovable”…as in unable to be “moved” by anything … except, perhaps, by the prospect of learning more about the Abyss. Riko on her own would never, ever have gotten this far, let alone any further, without becoming, as Ozen says, “poor meals, little seedbeds, or a stain on the ground or some wall.”

And yet while her approach underscores how far from her humanity Ozen has strayed, it also makes perfect practical sense: the Abyss is fundamentally not a place for little kids. Beasts far tougher, crueler, and more cunning await them in the lower layers.

And as flashbacks prove, Ozen isn’t as emotionally “unmovable” as she appears, as she recalls the first day a Red-Whistled Lyza asked to become her apprentice. In virtually no time, Lyza had earned her Black Whistle, and credits her quick success to Ozen, who may have an “irredeemable” personality, but is still the “best mentor ever.”

Does Ozen truly “despise” Riko? Could it be because she sees Riko as Riko saw that meat? Is she, dare I say…scared of what Riko is and might become as she draws nearer to the bottom? With Ozen, deep questions abound.

One thing’s for certain: as much as she has changed (her armor and the 120 or so implants in her body make her cut quite the menacing figure), there’s still some humanity in there; the humanity that lets Riko know the grave she found was empty; Lyza could well still alive and waiting for her daughter.

In the meantime Reg might might might just be tough enough to protect Riko as she continues her descent, but Ozen isn’t willing to send them on their way yet, she needs to gather more ‘data’. She takes the kids out to the far edge of the layer, far from camp or anyone else, and tells them to survive with the supplies they have for ten days.

Furthermore, Reg is forbidden from using his cannon, as the hours she’s determined he shuts down for would likely be fatal to Riko…unless, of course, he manages to bring down whatever threatens them. It’s the toughest of tough love, but in a world where kids are regularly punished by being strung up naked, I guess it’s par for the course.