Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 01 – The Price

When we last saw Kirito and Alice, Eugeo had just died, Administrator was defeated but not killed, and Kirito had lost his right arm and his fluctlight fried by some kind of power surge. This exemplary episode is all about the aftermath of those events, both immediately following them and some months later.

Aside from Rintarou Okabe or Natsuki Subaru, I can’t think of a protagonist in recent anime memory who has suffered as much or fallen quite as low as Kirigaya Kazuto. He was being kept alive in Underworld, devoid of memories, but after saving that world from a tyrant, he lost even more. In the present, autumn is falling on Underworld, and Kirito is a mute, emotionless husk under Alice’s care—with frequent visits from her sister Selka.

Alice is no slouch in the loss department either. She may have regained a sister and, incidentally, her freedom from the Axiom Church and Order of Integrity Knights, but she lost Eugeo, one of the best friends whom she’d forgotten, while the other of those friends in Kirito is the aforementioned husk. It’s ultimately Alice’s episode, and it’s an unyielding portrait of anguish.

Alice scratches out a meager wage felling trees with her sword skills, incomparable to anyone else in the village. The villagers need her help to make progress, but suck their teeth behind her back and even mess with the minimally-responsive Kirito and the Blue Rose Sword he inherited from Eugeo. It doesn’t matter that Alice, Kirito, and Eugeo saved them from Administrator’s evil plans; they just don’t like them.

Knowing Kirito wouldn’t be safe anywhere near the Cathedral, she tried to return to Rulid Village, but her own father shunned her, so she settled in a cabin on the town’s outskirts with Kirito and her loyal (and adorable) dragon Amayori. It would be a happy life—were it not for Kirito’s condition and the still-looming Dark Territory situation.

The tranquil, picturesque surroundings call to mind Kirito and Asuna’s cabin, once the site of so much joy. But while Alice and Selka try to make the best of things, there’s no escaping the fact this is an extremely dismal situation, with no immediate sign that things will get any better.

Quite the contrary: with Administrator off in some other dimension, the world of men has never been more vulnerable to incursions of orcs and goblins from the Dark Territory. Bercouli musters his fellow Integrity Knights and starts re-training lower-ranked forces Admin had banished, but the time of the titular War of Underworld is just over the silver mountain horizons in the background of those gorgeous vistas.

Eldrie is on a mission to confirm the various tunnels into their lands have been blasted to slow the enemy’s advance, but his dragon senses his younger sibling Amayori and thus Alice. Eldrie begs her to rejoin the knights and join the fight. Alice doesn’t tell him she won’t, but that she can’t. Even if she didn’t have to care for Kirito, she can no longer wield her sword. Eldrie reluctantly accepts this and the two part ways cordially.

As Alice turns in with Kirito, sharing his bed to keep him warm or just so she can have human contact, her remaining eye fills with tears as she asks Kirito just what the hell she should do. After all these months with no progress, I imagine she’s starting to lose hope he’ll ever recover, and in the meantime has been coping, enduring, and operating on inertia.

When Kirito suddenly moves as if reacting to something, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope that’s just as quickly snatched away—he’s only reacting reflexively, as Amayori does. You see, fires are blazing in the direction of the town and there are sounds of fighting—no doubt a Dark Territory raid. So yeah, no hope, just more awful shit to deal with.

As all this is happening in Underworld, we have no idea what is transpiring in the real world with Asuna on the Ocean Turtle. While I’m no sucker for punishment, I do appreciate the bleak depths to which our heroes have fallen, because it will make it that much more compelling if and when they manage to claw themselves out. That’s why we must watch.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 20 – Strong Bonds

Well, look at that…Queen Mirelia understands that you need to have a camp and supplies if you’re mobilizing a large force. She also understands the need to make a regal impression in front of that force, as she suits up in her armor against the wishes of her Shadows. Finally, it seems she’s ready to take a more active role, promising to bring the Pope and his flock to justice for their treason.

Meanwhile, in the magic Cathedral, the Pope manages to block, parry, or nullify pretty much every attack thrown his way, and unlike his opponents, he doesn’t particularly care if his acolytes push themselves so far they end up dying; he considers that martyrdom (though I bet if you asked him to lay his life down he’d have a different view).

When the other heroes urge Naofumi to break out his “overpowered” Rage Shield, the cursed dragon within takes hold of him. Like Emperor Palpatine, the dragon wants Naofumi to let the hate flow through him—not just the dragon’s hate, but his own, amassed during all the various injustices that have befallen him since arriving in this world.

Thankfully, Raph, Filo, and Melty pull him out of his rage spiral by reminding him that they love and support him, and aren’t about to lose him to the darkness.

Naofumi promises not to let the shield get the better of him, and coordinates with his allies and the other heroes to press the attack against the Pope.

But no matter what feints and combos they throw at him, he calmly deflects it all, and serves up more innane religious babbling as if anyone wanted to hear any more. All the while, his followers outside fall and expire one by one. He can’t keep this up forever.

Ultimately, the Pope decides to concentrate his remaining Mana into a large-scale illusion spell that creates a kaleidoscope of Pope clones along the inner surface of the Cathedral, enabling him to attack his foes from above and every angle.

It’s almost game over for our heroes, but Queen Mirelia casts an Icicle Prison spell that freezes him in place for them to finish off. Naofumi delivers the coup-de-grace by casting Blood Sacrifice, which, you guessed it, requires him to expend the majority of his own blood.

At first it looks ineffective, but the blood creates a mechanical serpent that bursts out of the ground, snatches up the Pope, snaps his staff, and basically dissolves him into a pool of blood. With that, the Cathedral falls, the Heroes are free, the lame boss I never cared about is gone (hopefully for good), and Queen Mirelia introduces herself to the nearly-bloodless Naofumi, apologizing for not showing up sooner and promising not to let him die.

Obviously, he’s not dying—we have at least five episodes left—but hopefully this victory marks the beginning of détente and future cooperation between Naofumi and his fellow Heroes. I’m just glad this Pope-Coup mini-arc is behind us, and that it was resolved in reasonably satisfying fashion.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 17 – Rite of Succession

The next morning, it’s No More Mrs. Nice Fitoria. She binds Melty in a wind prison and demands once more for Naofumi to make up with the other heroes. When he refuses, she once again threatens to kill all four heroes, but first gives his party the chance to prove they can take on the waves on their own. She’ll determine this by fighting Filo.

As expected, the spirited but woefully under-leveled Filo is absolutely no match for Fitoria…at first. But with continual pointers and encouragement from Naofumi, Filo keeps getting back up dusting herself off, and trying again. Eventually, she’s able to summon enough power to literally put a scratch on Fitoria’s face. That’s enough to satisfy the queen: Filo wins.

Not only that, but Fitoria names Filo her official successor, conjuring a crown to place on Filo’s head, which is replaced by an ahoge of which Filo very much not a fan. She opens a new Filolial-themed section of Naofumi’s sphere grid—albeit all shields he’s of too low a level to access—and increases Filo’s stats (though she still can’t break Level 40 quite yet).

She also apologizes to Melty by giving her a ride in her giant filolial form (of which I wish we could have seen more), and throws a huge party. Throughout these events, and the episode itself, Kevin Penkin’s marvelous score really asserts itself, elevating the images on the screen. This show’s music is just a pure joy to listen to.

Once the festivities have wound down and everyone else is asleep, Naofumi finds himself in a similar situation as the previous night: alone with a Fitoria committed to getting him to reconsider his hard stance on not playing nice with the other heroes, which she actually manages to achieve when she points out that his refusal to defend himself against Malty’s lies is as saying the lies are true.

While Fitoria doesn’t have the best memory, on two occasions Naofumi says something her hero once said to her, and the nostalgia leads to her tearing up and placing her head in his lap to be patted. The reason Fitoria works so hard to make Naofumi repair his reputation and relationship to the other heroes goes beyond the fate of the world: she knows he’s a good man by dint of raising the next Filolial Queen. It’s time the rest of the world knew it.

As for those other heroes, both Sword and Bow enter a cave seeking some kind of treasure, only for it to be a trap that incinerates the entire cave. I highly doubt they didn’t survive, though it’s not like I’d care if they didn’t…

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 16 – The Feathery Fifth Heroine

It happens sometimes in RPGs: You come upon a boss you just can’t beat, either because you’re underleveled (as Naofumi and his party certainly are), or because you’re meant to be rescued so that a potential ally even more powerful than that boss can be introduced.

That’s what happens in this thrilling episode of Shield Hero. The “dragon emperor” (read: souped-up dinosaur) wreaks havoc in the town after smushing Idol, but Filo’s able to use her fragment to lure it out of town to a lake where they can fight without collateral damage.

Only the best Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty have isn’t enough to scratch the dragon. Naofumi prepares to bring out the Rage Shield, but a mysterious voice warns against it. Then a massive retinue of slim, disciplined Filolials march out of the forest and circle the boss.

Then something comes out of the lake—something huge: the Filolial Queen. That’s right: for sixteen episodes we’ve waited in vain for Melty and Malty’s mom to take the stage and use her authority to bring an end to Naofumi’s persecution. But a very different queen beats her to it.

After a magnificent entrance that really drives home the difference in scale between the Filolial Queen and the party, she confronts the dragon face to face and gives it a chance to surrender its fragment. When it refuses, she delivers a kick for the ages that throws it back hundreds of feet.

Not interested in a quick fight, the Queen finishes the dragon off quickly and decisively, with an attack so lightning-fast we can’t see it. The Queen then transforms into human form and introduces herself as Fitoria, voiced by Cardcaptor Sakura, Cardinal, and Saber Nero herself, Tange Sakura.

To Naofumi’s shock, Fitoria has been around for centuries, ever since she was raised by a previous Hero and tasked with protecting humanity in their stead. Her prodigious age and experience means her warnings about Naofumi’s overuse of the Rage Shield carry weight.

She also has many questions for the Shield Hero, so she bid he and his party get in a carriage, which she uses a portal to teleport them to some ruins that serve as a filolial sanctuary. There, she samples Naofumi’s cooking, and her lesser filolial subjects’ puppy eyes force him to make enough for everyone.

With the rest of the party sleeping off a long, hard day, Fitoria and Naofumi talk, speficially about her and the Cardinal Heroes’ symbiotic relationship. She is currently more powerful than any of them, so they’ll need her for the tougher Waves to come; seeing Glass in action proved that.

But while she’s very powerful and has lived a long life, she isn’t immortal. When her power starts to wane and flicker out, she’ll need the Heroes as much as they need her now to protect the world—not just Melromarc—from the Waves. This is all news to Naofumi.

Which brings us to her main complaint: the Heroes cannot under any circumstances be at odds; even the classically shunned Shield Hero. He must find a way to reconcile with them. When he outright refuses (and not without good reason…we know what he’s had to contend with) and assures her he won’t be convinced to make nice with the other heroes, Fitoria’s demeanor grows very grave.

She informs him that in the event the Heroes can’t get along, it’s her duty to kill them, for “the sake of the world”, as four dead Heroes are apparently preferable to four warring ones. For his sake, I hope Naofumi changes his tune and entertains diplomacy. Otherwise, this show will be without its titular character for the balance of the series…which seems unlikely.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 08 – Don’t Let The Hate Flow Through You

Fresh off of cleaning up the Spear Hero’s mess (carelessly introducing an invasive plant species), Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo come upon yet another village suffering unintended consequences of a hero’s actions. This time it was the Sword Hero Amaki Ren, slaying a dragon in the mountains but leaving its massive corpse behind to rot.

That rot causes a plague in the village that has already claimed many lives. Naofumi treats those still living with his potions for 50 silvers, then agrees to deal with the root cause of the problem (the dragon corpse) for ten times that amount. When the village doctor’s nurse questions whether he’s really a savior, he remarks that he never said he was.

By the time they reach the dragon, the rot has set in to the point the corpse rises again as a zombie dragon with a nasty poison breath. Naofumi is immune, but Raphtalia is not, and his shield can’t fully protect her. Worse, Filo can’t help herself from charging the dragon on her own, since filolials apparently hate dragons just that much.

While Naofumi is struggling to minimize Raph’s exposure to the toxins, Filo is distracted for a moment, and in that moment, she gets gobbled up in a spray of blood. Just like that, barely a month into her life, it would seem the Heavenly Fowl was no more.

Naofumi retreats into his dark brooding corner of his mind, fearing he’s about to lose everything once more, when he’s suddenly visited by something best described as a curse of pure, unadulterated hatred. He’s quickly consumed by his hatred for this world, everyone in it who loathes and distrusts him, and of course, Malty.

The hatred imbues him with formidable power—enough to stop the dragon’s arm when it tries to crush him, then lops off its tail, setting the stump on fire. But it’s too much power for Naofumi to handle. Fortunately, Raphtalia is there to pull him out of his hate-trance, though she bears the brunt of the curse emanating from his person.

As for the dragon, it suddenly keels over, and Filo bursts out of its stomach, having eaten the crystal core that gave it live. The “spray of blood” was merely Filo puking up all the red fruit she ate earlier; the dragon swallowed her whole.

But while Filo is fine and the dragon defeated, Raph is in a bad way, and Naofumi’s quick heals only offer temporary relief. Naofumi offers all the silver the doctor just gave him in exchange for healing her, but the village lacks holy water pure enough to dispel the curse. Still, Raphtalia doesn’t regret doing what she did; she didn’t want the curse to take her Naofumi away.

As she and Filo rest, Naofumi resolves to continue growing stronger—for one thing, his level is too low to unlock the shield he gained from absorbing the dragon’s crystal. They’ll also need to head to a larger city with a larger church that will possess stronger holy water. But more than anything, Naofumi seems relieved his family wasn’t taken from him…not when he had just fashioned accessories for them using the crafting hammer they gave him.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 17 – Angelic Gibberish

Two former Aztec comrades come to kill Etzali, apparently independent of anything else going on in this episode. Thankfully this tangent doesn’t drag on too long, since I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about or why. Like last time with Xochitl, Etzali seems to hang around the fringes of the show only to be suddenly confronted by old comrades who want to kill him, but always end up failing.

Moving on! Kinuhata uses a bottle of nitrogen she always keeps on her person in case someone tries to neutralize her powers by filling the combat space with flames, as Stephanie Goofyname does. The nitro enables Kinuhata to rush at Steph and punch her in the face, thus defeating her (?) and allowing Hamazura to escape with Takitsubo.

But Kinuhata is immediately arrested by SWAT under the command of the Girl in the Dress. She informs Kinuhata that the chase isn’t over for Hammy, as apparently all of Academy City’s forces are after him. He’s an unpredictable element that Aleister Crowley would rather eliminate than worry about mucking up his carefully-laid plans (whatever they are).

Next Up: Accelerator. His fight with Koga doesn’t last long, since whatever clever trick Koga tried on him ended up getting flipped around by another clever trick by Accelerator involving his electrode and walking cane.

I won’t get into the technical details because frankly I forgot what they were, but suffice it to say, as expected, Mr. Random Smoking Dude is not the one to do in everyone’s favorite unhinged Index antihero.

GROUP reunites and tries to get Shiokishi to spill the beans about what DRAGON is, when DRAGON itself appears, knocking everyone out but Accelerator. Appearing as a brightly-lit angel-like being, DRAGON reveals his real name is “Aiwass”, and he’s a being that was both summoned by and mentor to Crowley.

The two are now pitted in some kind of supernatural philosophical debate about the value of people’s independent actions versus the efficiency of using people, or something to that effect. Honestly it’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that purports to get closer to the core of what exactly Crowley is up to, but doesn’t seem to have much to do with the events of the last couple episodes, except that Crowley and Aiwass were able to observe different kinds of heroes in action.

Did I mention the show brought back Mugino, mostly so she could tell Hamazura that Kakine Teitoku is still alive too, and so could kill her again in an aircraft testing chamber. Hamazura and Takitsubo escape on a military plane headed out of Academy City, while Accelerator grabs Last Order and boards a train out of Academy City.

Accelerator is headed to Russia, where Touma has just arrived, and seems to be a bit underdressed for the climate. Perhaps Hamazura will head there too. All three guys have gals they want to protect, while all three gals are in danger of having their lives snuffed out by current events. Perhaps we’ll find more clarity and focus in Russia…or maybe Etzali will run into more friends while Aiwass speaks to them in tongues…

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 16 – Something Pretty Substantial is Happening

Hamazura uses all the guile and resourcefulness he can muster to get to Takitsubo, settling on commandeering a helicopter (the pilot basically agrees to drop him off, but has to report it as a hijacking). In doing so, he ignores Takitsubo’s warnings about Spark Signal being too heavily armed for Hamazura to rush in recklessly.

Of course, since Hamazura is classically a rush in and figure out everything later kinda dude, that’s what he does. When he finds Takitsubo, Accelerator is looming over her, but has no real ill will towards either of them until Hamazura picks a fight.

Accelerator uses minimal effort to beat the crap out of Hamazura before leaving him to be comforted by Takitsubo. Neither of the former ITEMers are in particularly good shape, but they’re at least better off together as they search for Kinuhata.

Meanwhile, Stephanie has made Kinuhata her present primary target, urging her to make peace with the fact she’s going to take her life for what happened to Sunazara.

Shortly after the subject of DRAGON comes up in the RV, it’s targeted and destroyed by a missle, and the electricity in Accelerator’s gear is cut. He eventually wakes up in the car of the guy whose beloved teacher he saved, proving that even villains are paid back for their good deeds, even if Accelerator didn’t expect it.

The other members of GROUP having survived, Tsuchimikado sends Accelerator to talk with Director Oyafune for political help in bringing down Shiokishi after he betrayed GROUP. Her bodyguard insists she’s no longer involved in the fight against the Dark Side of Academy City ever since her daughter was taken hostage.

But when one of the little kids Accelerator saved from Spark Signal demands to come and fight alongside him (he calls Accelerator a “hero”, the opposite of what he constantly calls himself), Oyafune is done being a coward who does nothing to stop the darkness.

Hamazura and Takitsubo finally locate Kinuhata, but she’s been driven into the metro by Gorgeouspalace, who sets the whole station aflame with explosions in an attempt to rob Kunuhata of the nitrogen she needs to fight. Will she, a Level 4 after all, yet be able to fight Steph off?

With Oyafune in tow, Accelerator and Musujime infiltrate Shiokishi’s “fortress”—the guy is a war hawk after all—and are quickly separated from Oyafune by blast walls. Musujime is then knocked out by poison administered when Shiokishi’s boyguard Koga lights a cigarette. Accelerator will have to deal with the man—part of an age-old family of tough, troublesome thieves—on his own.

As for Oyafune, she looks particularly vulnerable trying to negotiate with a guy so paranoid he’s wearing a mech suit. When negotiations break down Shiokishi prepares to kill her, but she reveals she’s not Oyafune at all, but Etzali in disguise. She may be in a safe(r) place at the moment, but she still had to sacrifice the skin on her arm so he could take her form. Now the negotiations will continue, as Etzali demands to know what DRAGON is.

They’re interrupted by two more guards Shiokishi sends in, only for them to pull of their skin masks to reveal they are two members of Etzali’s old group, Return of the Winged One. As if there weren’t enough tangled interests involved in this arc. I tell ya, it’s as if you can’t trust any face you see on this show!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 15 – A Punk-Ass Villain At Work

Looks like Touma and Index’s story is on hold as we return to Academy City, presumably at the same time the two are in Britain. With the ITEM, SCHOOL, BLOCK and MEMBER groups officially “defunct”, the remaining members of ITEM (Hamazura, Takitsubo, and Kinuhata) consider their next moves.

Meanwhile the group, er, GROUP, consisting of Accelerator, Tsuchimikado, Musujime and Etzali, continues to execute jobs. Boring jobs, to hear it from Accelerator. He repeatedly calls himself a “punk-ass villain” even as he’s rescuing a woman being used as a “punching bag” or saving a pregnant woman’s life.

Musujime also sends him 100 meters underground where he saves a group of kids from terrorists hoping to use a particle accelerator to hold the governing board hostage. Meanwhile, a friend of SCHOOL’s sniper Sunazara, one Stephanie Gorgeouspalace, decides to kill her former boss, seeking revenge against all of Academy City.

As GROUP is given fresh orders to kill off the 20 remaining terrorists of Spark Signal, all Accelerator wants to know about is the mysterious DRAGON; Kinuhata then informs Hamazura that the remaining pieces of the defunct groups are being combined and given the same mission as GROUP. Kinuhata doesn’t want to be on the new combined team, so she asks Hamazura to help her take out the terrorists alone.

As GROUP engages the terrorists in the subway, Aceelerator saves the pregnant woman, and when one of her students thanks him, he shoots at him, telling him to get lost. Such a pleasant fellow, Accelerator!

Hamazura drives as Kinuhata takes on a six-winged drone chasing them, then the two part ways. All Hamazura wants to do is retrieve Kinuhata and get back to Takitsubo, but he gets a call from SCHOOL’s “Girl in the Dress” known also by her ability Measure Heart, telling him to pass on the message to Kinuhata that the terrorists she’s after have seized a private room in School District 3. So that’s where Hamazura’s now headed.

I have to admit to a bit of whiplash after the British Coup arc—I’d hoped we’d get to see a bit more Touma and Index, but I suppose they’re at a good stopping point, and time doesn’t stand still back home in Acedemy City. It’s also notable that there was no Misaka sighting this week; I wonder if she’ll see any action during this reorganization of groups and continuing terrorist activity.

Overlord III – 08 – Never Root for Humans and You’ll Never Be Disappointed

In Demiurge We Trust remains the name of the game, but our gallant band of good-hearted workers end up pawns in his grand scheme to advance Nazarick’s stature in the world, and that leaves a rather nasty taste in my mouth, because they’re very likable pawns with a noble goal.

I know there’s a human in Ains Ooal Gown who probably shares some of that taste…but isn’t letting it get in the way of following the plan. In a way, he’s letting himself be a pawn in that plan; playing the role he’s been assigned.

The workers know they’re doomed as soon as they walk in the arena. Ains removing a ring so Arche can see how powerful his magic is (it’s powerful enough to make her vomit) only confirms what they already knew: they’re hosed.

When begging for their collective lives doesn’t work, the team does their best, but of course everything they can throw at Ains bounces off him harmlessly. The difference in power is simply too overwhelmingly great. So they work to get one of them away: Arche.

Unfortunately, while Arche can fly, she has nowhere to fly to; they’re not really outside but on the sixth floor of the tomb. Ains dispatches Shalltear to retrieve Arche and fill her with fear and despair before delivering a painless death.

It seems Arche is resolute to the end, and Shalltear failed in the first objective. but as Entoma ends up with her voice in a later scene, using it to describe all the ways her various parts were distributed among Lord Ains’ many underlings, her second objective of killing her did.

Not long after, the next stage of Demi’s plan is set in motion, as Aura and Mare arrive at the imperial capital on the back of a giant golden dragon to deliver a message—Lord Ains is pissed, and demands a personal apology or he’ll destroy the entire country.

To prove he means business, Mare rends a great crack in the ground, and all of the dozens of amassed soldiers surrounding the dragon fall to their deaths, leaving even the proud, fearless young emperor looking dumbstruck. He’ll no doubt have to rely on his grizzled head wizard Paladine at least a little longer.

Overlord III – 01 (First Impressions) – Chillin’ Like Villains at the ‘Tomb

OverLord is back…again, after taking the Spring off. And rather than go off into an entirely different direction within the world of Yggdrasil, we spend all of this  first episode with the gang we know and love, most of it within the walls of Nazarick.

Ains Ooal Gown grants Sebas and Epsilon rewards of their choosing for their intel-gathering services in Re-Estize. Sebas asks for sundries for Tuare, and Ains grants him some gold to buy what he likes, as long as he goes on a nice date with her in E-Rantel. Epsilon gets non-innocent humans…to do who-knows-what with. Nothing good, most likely.

It’s a relaxing episode in which Ains finally reveals all—which amounts to a stylized skeleton—the human player within happy he’s found a satisfying and effective way to wash such a strange body. Meanwhile, Eclair ends up snatched up by Shizu Delta as if he were a plushie, when his ultimate goal is to rule the whole Tomb himself.

Ains splits up his Guardians by gender and has them participate in group leisure activities. Albedo, who is with Shalltear and Aura, summons a badass bicorn, but cannot ride it, and Shalltear discovers the reason: a “pure maiden” cannot ride it; much to the shock of all. But it makes sense: most of Albedo’s existence is spent in the throne room, presiding over the Guardians and their movements. No time for the succubusing she was ostensibly created for.

In another private moment, Ains’ player worries his lowly office worker background doesn’t lend him the charisma or bearing necessary to properly “operate” an overlord as impressive as Ains…though it’s clear by how his servants regard him that he has nothing to worry about as long as he keeps on keeping on.

His kind words to them, referring to them as his treasures, sends Albedo into an amorous frenzy, and not even her overlord can stop her from essentially dry-humping him. Later, when the sexes are in their respective baths, there’s a disturbance on the women’s side, and Ains recognizes the voice of a fellow “supreme being” i.e. player. That could be interesting.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 12 – The Butler is Up to Something

This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.

It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting  something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.

By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?). 

It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.

The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.

The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.

Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.

Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.

It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.

After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.

Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.

She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.

That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!

Hoe Count: 4

P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

Overlord II – 01 (First Impressions)

It’s been over two years—833 days—since I last watched or wrote about Overlord, so an immersive episode packed with exposition wasn’t the worst way to be introduced back into its world.

In a lengthy eight-minute cold open, we meet a good number of parties I either have fuzzy memories about or don’t know at all (I haven’t read the light novels).

But the bottom line is, many of these parties spread far and wide throughout the world know of Ainz Ooal Gown, which is precisely how Momonga wanted.

When we finally meet up with the big dude, he’s in Momon Mode, taking out a giant lizard with help from Hamasuke; Nabu by his side. It’s not a tough opponent at all, more of a warm-up, like this episode.

From there, he returns to the Tomb of Nazarick where Albedo is waiting for him, as eager as ever for praise and, well, more physical contact than Momonga’s player is able to consent to (seeing Alby and the other NPCs more as children). Still, Flustered Skullface is always welcome.

Momonga then has a seat, unfurls a big map, and methodically points at each destination, as Albedo gives a report on all the various projects his guardians are working on, from the building of a Fake Nazarick in the nearby great forest, to the status of the investigation to find the one who used a World Item on Shalltear, forcing her to fight her master.

Shalltear is drowning her overwhelming guilt in drink, so Albedo suggests Momonga issue some form of punishment in order to exorcise that guilt, which he considers. He also sends Cocytus off to fight Nazarick’s “first war”, though the details on whom it’s against and where are not shared. There’s also a talking penguin with a very stern look on its face, which…cool, cool.

The episode closes out with a visit to the land of Lizardmen; specifically, Zaryusu, a supposedly disgraced yet respected warrior, and the grizzled chief of his tribe, inspecting Z’s first-of-its-kind fish farm.

Then inky black clouds coalesce and swirl above the village and a super-creepy ball of purple skeletal faces with red eyes announce it is a herald of the “Great One”, declaring death unto the lizards.

So yeah, was this episode a bit all over the place? Sure. But it was still fun. And after so much time, it was great to see the gang back in action (or planning future action) while meeting a few new faces.

Lastly, after the credits, we have a nice little auspicious note from original creator Maruyama Kugane thanking the fans of Overlord for making a second season possible, and dedicating the season to us; a gesture I appreciated.