Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 13 – They’re (Not) All Women

Three months later than originally planned, we return to the War of Underworld already in progress, picking up where we left off (this is a trend in sequels this season). The good: Sinon beats the second wave of American players back, and is able to have a quiet moment with Kirito that makes everyone in the wagon tear up.

He has got to wake up, and since this sub-arc is called Awakening, here’s hoping he does just that when his friends need him most. Sinon’s Solus character can also fly without a time limit, so Asuna immediately sends her to join Bercouli to rescue Alice from Vecta.

Another familiar face suddenly appears in Leafa (AKA Suguha, Kirito’s sister), though unlike Asuna and Sinon her entrance isn’t very grand. She falls to the ground in front of the grieving orc soldier Lilpilin, who is astonished to hear Leafa refer to him as human, since they’re talking and all.

Within minutes Dee Eye Ell shows up and restrains Leafa with her glowing, groping, probing tentacles. Taketatsu Ayana makes a lot of, ahem, distressing sounds during this scene, and while Leafa loses a lot of blood (and presumably life energy) she’s still able to endure.

When Dee tells Lilpilin she’ll let Leafa go if he strips down and walks on all fours like a pig, he prepares to do it, because he has no other choice. That’s when Leafa breaks free from the tentacles without much effort, slices Dee’s arms off, and then blows her into bloody pulp. A girl has her limits.

Meanwhile Asuna’s forces repel more hordes of American players at ruins that form a bottleneck. In that narrow place Lightning Flash Asuna shows off her stuff—as do the battle animators. All the while, Vassago, who has returned to the Underworld in a new body, bides his time.

When Bercouli is unable to catch up to Vecta even with three fresh dragons, he resorts to cutting Vecta’s dragon down with Uragiri, the “sword that slashes the past”. Vecta and the unconscious Alice are grounded, but Bercouli soon finds he’s no match for Vecta’s swordsmanship. He throws everything he’s got at him, only for Vecta to call him an “old vintage wine”—not to his taste, but perhaps a god “palate cleanser”.

Vecta also has a nasty ability to make Bercouli completely freeze up and forget what he’s even doing for a few crucial moments during which Vecta can hack and slash at him at will. Remembering his former boss Administrator’s question about a “premonition of death”, he resigns himself to dying there, but not without protecting his beloved Alice, who has always been like a daughter to him.

If Bercouli can buy just a little more time for Sinon to catch up, he’ll have succeeded. Obviously, Vecta can’t be allowed to place Alice on the World’s End Altar, or the good guys lose. As a bloodied Asuna is mopping up the last of the Americans, the sky opens once more, but it’s not more enemy reinforcements, it’s their old comrade Klein…and he’s not alone.

Ten episodes now remain to tell the Awakening story. I imagine this week’s format—cuts between individual battles and conversations—will eventually resolve into fewer lines as allies reunite and combine. Vecta and Vassago are still quite the tough customers, but they’ll soon find themselves outnumbered as more of Kirito and Asuna’s wide network of friends—both women and men, Ronie—flock to his support.

 

 

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 02 – Friends are Delicious

Well, that didn’t take long. Princess Connect soundly beat Shironeko Project this week, and it wasn’t close. And it did it with a no-holds-barred charm offensive, introducing the fourth member of the party: a twin-tailed tsundere catgirl named Karyl (Kyaru).

We learn all we need to know about her as she observes three cats playing together while a fourth keeps its own company. Karyl identifies with this cat. Who needs friends?

Well, if your friend happens to be Pecorine, you don’t have to answer that question. The crusader lights up every scene she’s in, managing to be immensely powerful and a complete airhead without coming across as annoying or cliched.

That’s a fine line to walk, but she walks it extremely well, owing to her cool character design, fluid, lively movements, and of course great voice work from MAO. It’s just barrels of fun watching her wake up in a stable after a rager then win an eating contest for breakfast!

Karyl seems intent on making Pecorine acknowledge her power. She also has the ability to control animals, like an Orc just outside the city. Pecorine deals with the orc easily with her bare hands, and Karyl gets knocked out by that very flying defeated orc!

The reason Peco was in the right place was that she spotted the sword thieves (who are still around and still fun characters in their own right) and was attempting to catch up to them—not because they stole her sword (she thinks they’re just minding it for her as a favor!) but to deliver “Beriberi’s” medicine.

Karyl just so happens to witness the thieves get snatched up by a dragon, who was lured to them by Peco’s valuable sword. Since Peco, Yuuki and Kokkoro were nice to her, she decides to lead them to the dragon’s lair, but won’t lift a finger to help them separate the sword (or the thieves) from its clutches.

Karyl’s ulterior motive is to use her magic to control the dragon and demonstrate her power to Peco. Interestingly it’s not Peco but the amnesiac Yuuki who leads the charge against the dragon, defiantly standing before it, attracting it with his cloak like a matador, only to get hilariously snapped up as the dragon takes flight.

Peco tags along, first using her sword as a handhold and then the afro of one of the thieves. His roots eventually give way, sending Peco flying, but she manages to position herself above the dragon’s head and delivers a devastating blow, knocking it out of the sky and saving both Yuuki and the thieves from a sticky end.

Throughout all of this, Karyl is manipulating the dragon, having made it fly erratically to shake Peco off. However, on the ground she is helplesss against Peco’s luck, pluck, and brawn, the dragon proving to be no big deal at the end of the day.

Pecorine also ends up reunited with her sword, which is actually a good thing for Karyl, because the monsters she controls always have a tendency to land so close to her they manage to squash her. She’s saved by Peco and her sword, and Peco then goes into all-out Crusader Mode, cleaving the dragon’s fire breath then blowing it away with a devastating strike.

In the aftermath, all Karyl can do is gawk at Peco’s glowing magnificence…and you can’t blame her! This right here could have been the best battle of the season so far…something I did not expect, but for which I’m very grateful. The animation was smooth and sweeping and packed a huge punch, and underlining all of it is Peco’s God-Level energy an enthusiasm.

In the end, the quartet returns to Landosol (bathed in the light of another gorgeous golden sunset) and tucks into onigiri made from leftover lunch rice. Pecorine proposes the four of them create a “Gourmet Guild”, the object of which is to discover the tastiest dishes in the realm. Yuuki and Kokkoro are all about it, but Karyl reverts to tsundere mode and huffs off, offended that Peco would think she’d be happy about being included in such nonsense.

However, Karyl has a change of heart when she spots the three cats now playing with the lonely fourth. She takes a bite of the onigiri, made with love by Kokkoro for her companions, and thus tasting better. And while she claims to still not need friends, her recent escapades indicate otherwise. There’s no question of her eventually joining the guild.

Princess Connect Re:DIVE looks and sounds great, has an infectiously upbeat tone, and is legitimately funny. Kokkoro’s expression whenever Yuuki is suddenly injured is growing on me, while Peco is never not entertaining, whether she’s kicking serious ass or being a charming space cadet. I also like how food will be the focus of the party’s efforts going forward. It took two episodes, but I’m sold!

Bofuri – 01 (First Impressions) – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

Kaede‘s friend Risa recommends that she start playing a fun new VRMMO called New World Online…so she does. That’s pretty much it! Oh, and because she doesn’t want to get hurt, virtually or otherwise, she uses her entire allotment of status points on Vitality, or defense, thus becoming a slow but stalwart Tank-class character named Maple.

When Maple finally encounters low-level monsters, they can’t hurt her, and to her dismay, the first of them (a cute bunny) disintegrates before her eyes. However, the violence remains PG-rated throughout, and she continues to gain levels, skills, resistances, and status points—all the latter of which she puts into ever greater defense. Maple’s single-mindedness and bemused commentary keep things lively.

Eventually she heads to a dungeon and buffs her way to the boss, a 3-headed dragon with poison breath that destroys her shield and shortsword. Still, once she gains a poison immunity, she nibbles the dragon to death, and earns some cool armor, among other treasures and abilities, as a reward. Bofuri is not on my list, but it’s competently generic and harmlessly pleasant.

Cautious Hero – 06 – My Precious Porter

Following Leviae’s declaration that Eruru is to be sacrificed, things move very quickly and Eruru heartbreakingly comes to resign herself to dying for the caused, absent any words of protest from Seiya. But when the time comes to cast herself into the abyss, Seiya grudgingly says the words he deemed unnecessary earlier: he’s not about to let his precious baggage carrier die.

Leviae had the food and drink at the banquet drugged so Rista and Mash are paralyzed…but the ever-cautious Seiya vomited up everything her appeared to consume, and challenges Leviae to a fight. Leviae transforms into a Dragon God Mode, and a time limit is set to the battle in the form of of Eruru’s necklace, which will kill her in three minutes time.

The battle is another back-and-forth affair: Seiya weilds Dragon Killer (made from more Rista hairs, plus Eruru and Mash hair), Leviae activates Ultimate Wall, Seiya eats a bag of Speed Seeds and Double Wields Dragon Killers, Leviae takes minimal damage, Seiya backs Leviae onto a precipice.

Leviae drops Ultimate Wall and activates Dragon Breath, Seiya counters with Double Wind Blade, Levia pretends to give up, then reverts to offense, but Seiya pushes her over the ledge, and because he destroyed her wings just prior to Ultimate Wall, she plummets to her death.

Eruru is spared, and a new sword emerges from the abyss, which Seiya embues with a drop of Eruru’s blood to produce Igzasion. But Rista confronts Seiya later about it being a fake; he created a big song-and-dance to put the Dragonfolk at ease, and thus ease their withdrawal.

But the party’s troubles are far from over: Seiya lacks the ultimate weapon, the entrance to the Dragon’s Den is blocked by some kind of military force that doesn’t look the friendliest, while the Demon Lord and his underlings are confident the Hero will be no threat to them.

The comedy, so dominant in the training episodes, takes a firm back seat to drama and action, and despite not knowing Eruru for long, it was impossible not to empathize with her plight and hope Seiya did the right thing, which he did. It’s also encouraging that he can say something like “it’s gonna be okay” and “we’ll figure something out” with regards to the Demon Lord; his cautiousness is looking less psychotic and more prudent by the day.

Cautious Hero – 05 – Heaven Hath No Fury Like a Goddess Scorned

With Mash all healed up and Seiya agreeing to let him and Eruru carry his stuff, Rista deems it time to head to the Dragon’s Den to recover a powerful new weapon. Seiya insists on making a stop to the Divine Realm first so that his new assistants can train a bit. After the torture of Seiya, Cerecus is happy to have a normal student in Mash, though Eruru doesn’ t make any progress with the fire goddess Hestiaca.

As for Seiya himself, he almost starts a fight he might not be able to win with goddess of destruction Valkyrie; thankfully Aria is there to calm the “exhibitionist” down. Instead, she introduces Seiya to the war goddess Adenela, whose disheveled appearance gets more and more girly as she falls deeper into love with him, only to be callously rejected, sending her into a fit of rage. Thus, Seiya has now proven a “goddess-killer” in two very distinct ways.

Seiya says sayonara to the Divine Realm, and the party begins their first real quest together, to the Dragon’s Den. Rista learns the hard way that he won’t let her peek at his true levels (the fake-out “1’s” even turn and poke her in the eye!). Mash and Eruru may be useful insofar as they can sense when they’re getting closer due to their dragon blood, but Seiya doesn’t let them actually fight any monsters on the way.

Instead, he simply relies on his “Automatic Phoenix” to instantly destroy any monsters under Level 30 within a certain radius. Mash can’t get close to any monsters, and the Phoenix even rudely knocks down one of Eruru’s fire arrows! Just when the two dragonkin think they can be of help by opening the gate to the den, Seiya simply smashes through it with his sword.

Inside they find a magical circle, and after Seiya tests it on a lizard (bemusing the people on the other side), the party uses it to transport to the remote Dragon Village. There they meet the…ahem, Mother of Dragons Leviae, who shows Mash how to turn into a dragon to boost his levels.

When Eruru asks if she can do the same, Leviae casually tells her that won’t be necessary, because she has a different role: that of Igzasion, the mightiest of weapons. That, of course, means sacrificing her life, something clearly Eruru doesn’t want. As for Seiya, his stone face doesn’t give away much, but could it be he wouldn’t be particularly enthused about Eruru dying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!