Sword Art Online II – 22

saoii221

Asuna is troubled and confused after Yuuki suddenly disappeared and didn’t come back, and Siune doesn’t make things better by meeting with her and not answering any questions before quickly logging out herself. She did assure Asuna that it wasn’t because of anything she did…just that this has to be goodbye.

saoii222

While it would have continued her own dependence and time spent using a device her mother has threatened to take away if it makes her late one more time, Asuna was still excited at the possibility of continuing her friendship with the Sleeping Knights, even after they disbanded. But all the while she thought she was opening a book, they recruited her with the intent of closing a book, at the time and in at way of their choosing.

saoii223

Thanks to Kirito’s involvement with full-dive tech, he finds out where Asuna may be able to find Yuuki. Again, Kirito plays a small but crucial role, not only being a shoulder to lean into, but the source of the information that could give Asuna the answers she desires so badly. But unlike the previous episodes, where there was a battle to be fought and victory was achieved, those answers show Asuna that Yuuki can’t win the real-world battle she’s fighting.

saoii224

Now I finally understand why Kirito thought there was something “long-term full divey” about Zekken/Yuuki. Reinforcing the idea that you truly know someone by fighting them, he saw the same tendencies he himself has in VR combat as a result of his two years there fighting for his life. The real Konno Yuuki has been in full dive continuously for three years, because in the real world she’s bedridden in a hospital clean room, suffering from incurable, drug-resistant AIDS.

saoii225

The reveal of the rail-thin Yuuki surrounded by machinery, as well as the tragic story of how she ended up there, is desperately sad and tough to watch, yet also calls to mind the kind of reveal a mad scientist-type villain would pull to show Asuna he means business. Refreshingly, that isn’t the case here; Dr. Kurahashi is a good man and this is simply the future of medicine, though it’s more than a little strange and frightening to contemporary eyes.

On the other hand, considering Yuuki’s irreversible condition, being able to escape the body that failed her to new virtual worlds is a tremendous gift, and that’s how Yuuki sees it and how she saw her time with Yuuki on the Sleeping Knights’ final mission.

sao226

Throughout Kurahashi’s discussion with Asuna, Yuuki is listening, but once she sees Asuna only wants to see and talk to her again, she invites her to dive into ALO to meet her. There, she explains that the Sleeping Knights are all hospice patients (hence the ‘sleeping’) with terminal illnesses. They decided as a group that the next time two of them were told they didn’t have long to live, they’d disband.

Thanks to Asuna, they were able to do so on their terms, and even leave their mark on the memorial wall. They wanted Asuna to forget them to spare her the pain of knowing the sad truth of the Knights, but Asuna isn’t that kind of person, and Yuuki knows that now.

saoii227

It was great enough that SAO finally got around to using my favorite character, and give her something important and exciting to do. It’s even better that they gave Asuna something she couldn’t do, no matter how strong she became: save Yuuki’s life. It also puts into perspective just how trivial her own problems with her mother and her life direction really are. After all, she haslife ahead of her, period. That alone makes her blessed.

saoii228

But while Asuna can’t save Yuuki’s life, she asks her what else she wants to do before it ends. When Yuuki says she simply would like to go to school, suddenly Asuna has something she can do for her, for the same reason she was able to find and speak with Yuuki at all this week. Kirito. His research on trying to give Yui a real-world experience could be used to let Yuuki experience school.

9_brav

Sword Art Online II – 21

saoii211

Much to my relief, this doesn’t turn into The Kirito Show just because he showed up at the end of last week’s episode. Heck, he’s not even the only guy who shows up; Klein does too. They’re only there to let Asuna and the Sleeping Knights focus on defeating the twenty people blocking the boss room. And that’s it.

saoii212

Kirito estimates he can give them three minutes; the Knights only need two ( I counted). After those two minutes of awesome, blistering battle, punctuated by a powerful charge by the Berserk Healer herself, the way is open for the boss, and Kirito stays behind, giving Asuna the victory sign.

saoii213

Facing the montrous two-headed boss for the second time, Asuna notices a special guard stance he takes whenever a gem between his two necks is hit. Asuna focuses on that gem and tells Yuuki to target it, which she does by using one of her male comrades as a step stool. In the heat of the battle, Yuuki slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’. That’s no surprise to me, but Asuna finds it odd.

saoii214

She shrugs it off when the boss is defeated and the Knights revel in their victory, rubbing it in the faces of the dastardly rival guild. Kirito is nowhere to be found, I guess he split after those three minutes. But as has been the case with him this entire arc, we’re just fine with him being a cameo.

saoii215

Kirito doesn’t even crash the Sleeping Knight’s party, which Asuna hosts, even though it’s held in his house. Classy move on his part, as the party is for the Knights, after all. During the party, Asuna asks if she can join them, but Yuuki seems oddly put off by the request. Sinue seems to want to say something, but never manages to. Changing the subject, Asuna suggests they check out their names on the Soldier’s Memorial.

There, Yuuki again slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’, but this time realizes it, and promptly and tearfully logs out. Throughout the boss battle and celebrations that followed, the idea that Asuna’s mom would pull the plug on her again was always in the corner of my mind, lending an extra layer of tension to the whole episode.

saoii216

Yet, in the end, it’s Yuuki, who has been sold as Asuna’s secret sister (or half-sister), who disappears from the game, without so much as an explanation. Why doesn’t she want Asuna learn the truth? How did Asuna play so long without getting yanked? Will they ever meet in the real world? All questions I’m hoping will be further explored in the next episode, forebodingly called “Journey’s End.”

Until then, I continue to revel in this Asuna-centric, and really Women-centric arc, really turning around what had been a lackluster SAO II Fall cour simply by treating its female characters as more than just Kirito’s suitors.

8_brav

Sword Art Online II – 20

saoii201

Asuna’s takeover of SAO II continues this week, much to my approval. When Zekken Yuuki whisks her off, I was partially expecting something more sinister than a guild of friends wanting to make memories before they have to split ways in the Spring, but it still worked incredibly well, because, Asuna was the anchor.

sao202

Yuuki was dueling people in search of a seventh member to join the six of the Sleeping Knights – the smallest party allowed to fight a boss, and she chose Asuna to be that seventh. It’s while hanging with them that she realizes “Hey, this isn’t Aincrad anymore. My life isn’t literally at risk; I can let my hair down, go all out, and have fun!” It’s a liberating feeling.

I like the idea of this Asuna-for-hire. With her skills, exp, and rep, she can basically get work wherever and whenever she wants in ALOIt’s a similar situation in the real world in that she has the ability to be and be with whoever she wants…only in the real world, others are calling the shots for her.

sao203

That point is made clear with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when, still beaming after meeting her new friends and agreeing to fight with them, her mom literally pulls the plug, because Asuna is hella late for dinner. It’s telling that its hard for Mom to wake her up gently, almost as if Asuna’s subconscious self doesn’t want to leave.

Pulling the plug is the only way to pull her out. Her mom is annoyed, but she’s also concerned about Asuna’s priorities, and her continued reliance on a device that stole two valuable years of her life. Still disoriented from being pulled out so roughly, “This isn’t like the NerveGear,” is all Asuna can muster. That distinction means nothing to Mom, but a multitude to us, knowing what she went through. What Mom can’t grasp is that for two years, Aincrad was her daughter’s reality.

sao204

Depriving her of ALO, especially right now when she’d finding herself again, is to deprive her of the means to heal the psychological wounds of the NerveGear, and transition to the mindset mentioned above, that it is just a game, not life and death. Coming to grips with that and making that her new normal is a large step in re-establishing the real world as her primary reality.

Even if her mom was in the mood to listen, Asuna lacks the means to properly explain why she needs this; their experience gap is just too wide. And if Asuna’s late for dinner again, Mom is taking the machine away, period. Asuna is trapped again, and runs out of the house. Looking at her missed calls, a snowflake settles on Kirito, the boy her mother won’t let her have.

sao205

But Asuna, to her credit, doesn’t call Kirito. The next day, she dives into ALO, meets with Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, and go over the gameplan: they’ll hit the labyrinth and look in on the boss, and if the conditions are right, they’ll have a go at him too. She’d never betray it to her new friends, but Asuna may benefit from a quick mission here, as she’s not sure when that plug will be pulled at any time.

sao206

The strong and balanced Sleeping Knights end up impressing Asuna with how quickly they carve through the labyrinth, but her skills come in handy early when she detects scouts from a rival guild spying on them behind shrouds of invisibility. Interestingly, though the boss makes a badass entrance, we don’t see the fight at all, but they end up losing badly.

That feels like a cheat until Asuna takes the group aside and warns them that their battle was watched by the rival scouts’ lizard familiar, which explains why their last two boss losses resulted in that boss being defeated quickly soon after. The Sleeping Knights are so into the fights, they never noticed they were doing all the heavy lifting revealing the weaknesses to their rivals. Pretty dastardly, isn’t it?

sao207

Asuna, again taking charge, cheers the group by saying it’s not too late to avoid a third theft of their rightful glory: if they hit the dungeon and defeat the boss before the rival guild can mobilize, they’ll their names carved on the memorial wall after all.

When they return to the boss, the partially-amassed rival guild blocks their way and won’t budge. From Yuuki’s perspective, there’s only one thing for it: fighting them. She walks up to the biggest, toughest member of their guild and takes him out in three blinks of an eye. It’s a nice reminder of just how tough this girl is.

In the process, Yuuki tells Asuna “some things can only be understood through fighting”,  and suddenly Asuna thinks of her protracted battle with her mother in the real world. Because words are the only weapon she can use out there, her Mom will never truly understand her.

sao208

That’s not to mean she and her mom need to go have at it in the dojo, of course, but it does explain their impasse. Also, there are other kinds of fighting. I’m also mindful of the fact that Asuna’s mom is out there and doesn’t understand her, but someone who is probably her sister (she’s not called Yuuki for nothing) is in here, and does.

Yuuki’s words galvanize Asuna, such that even when the rival guild’s reinforcements arrive and prepare a pincer attack, and they’re outnumbered dozens to one, Asuna is not fearful. She puts her wand away, draws her sword, and gets ready to rumble. This is where she wants to be, right here and now: fighting beside her new friends. Even if they lose this battle — and they’re probably going to lose this battle — they’ll dust themselves off, come back, and win next time.

sao209

Really the only thing that would make this better for her is if she were having this battle with people closer to her, like, say…this guy. Oh, hey, there he is, right on cue, hiding among the ranks of the charging rival guild members, Yui perched on his shoulder.

sao209a

Don’t be mistaken: Kirito isn’t here to rescue the Damsel in Distress and fight so she doesn’t have to…not this time. This time he’s here simply to even the very uneven odds in her present battle. He’ll take on one part of the rival host, while she and the Sleeping Knights can push through the other and fight the boss.

Because of the distinction in how he’s he’s utilized here, I’m not miffed in the least by his presence. It’s a good use for Kirito at a good time. Just being there reminds Asuna that she isn’t alone, those she loves have her back, and her own battles aren’t over and lost yet, either in here or out in the world.

8_brav

Sword Art Online II – 19

saoii191

It took until just five episodes left in the damn show, but SAO II finally delivered something I’ve been yearning for since the second season was announced: an episode with Asuna as the focus, doing things. While part of me is content we got an episode like this at all, I’m pleased to report that it was a damned fine episode in its own right.

By now we’re well aware of the inner turmoil Kirito, Asuna, and the others carry with them, even though only Kirito has gotten that much screen time to explore it (as well as Sinon, whose turmoil came from the real world, not the game). What we haven’t seen is much of Asuna’s struggles with that turmoil, and just how cold and uncaring her family is to her situation.

sao192

Asuna leaves her very cold bedroom to the huge, stodgy dining room where her mother scolds her for not being five minutes early for dinner. The dinner starts off relatively innocuous until Asuna realizes her mother is using this opportunity to tell her she plans to marry her to a countryside banker and move her to a better school so she can start college early.

This dynamic works because while Asuna’s mom is basically the villain here, she’s decidedly not evil, only cold and pragmatic: she didn’t come from money, but married into it, and she’s determined to make sure Asuna avails herself of the opportunities she’s been given in life.

sao193

And that’s all well and good…if ignoring the fact that Asuna “one of those children who spent two years killing each other.” Her mom’s phrasing seems to be designed to underplay just how traumatizing the experience is, and shrug it off as an unfortunate inconvenience, but she can’t just wave away the emotional scars, nor the bond she formed with Kirito. Her mom’s checked into him as well (again, devaluing him by calling him a child), and forbids her to choose him as her mate.

When Asuna questions her judgment after subjecting her to the criminal Sugou as her first betrothed, her mom dismisses that as her father’s choice, not hers. Asuna is forced to retreat, but not before tossing that dig about her mom being ashamed of being from poorer parents.

sao194

Asuna doesn’t want the path that’s been laid out for her; it’s a path laid out by parents who may on some level care about her happiness, but are forcing their own definition of happiness upon her, “for her own good.” It’s pretty tough love, and unlike Kirito, whose family situation is just peachy (aside from his sister briefly being in love with him), it’s made diving into ALO a kind of emergency release for Asuna. With the weight of the world and her parents’ expectations bearing down on her, ALO is where she has strength and agency.

sao195

Yet even in the virtual world, Asuna admits she hasn’t done much and is worried the Lightning Flash Asuna of yore is gone, along with her innocence. Fighting Zekken — whom she’s surprised to find is a girl — is a way of validating whether she’s still “got it”, which in turn could give her more strength to face her problems in the real world.

sao196sao197

Zekken is a perfectly nice, polite young lady, but the surprise of her gender throws Asuna off at first – as does her ridiculous speed.

sao198

Taking a step back and another deep breath, Asuna realigns her resolve, remembering why she’s there: not just to prove she’s still a power in ALO, but to blow off some steam. The difference in the two halves of the fight are like night and day; in the latter half, Asuna goes all out and is able to keep up…

sao199

…Right up until Zekken turns it up and breaks out her overpowered, almost-cheating special skill. At this point, while Asuna’s resigned to losing, she’s not upset by her performance; it was a duel she can look back upon with satisfaction. Then, at the last second, Zekken holds back her blade and ends the fight. It turns out she wasn’t necessarily looking to win the duel either…only test her opponent. And Asuna passed.

sao1910

Before the duel, Kirito confided in Asuna that he thought something was fishy about Zekken, as if she were a “product of the full-dive environment.” I don’t understand that term any more than Asuna, but it is an unsubtle hint that there’s more to Zekken than just a duel-loving heavy user. The fact her player name is “Yuuki”, Asuna’s last name, is also telling.

Kirito’s suspicions are confirmed when Yuuki flies Asuna up into the sky to formally ask her to “please help [them],” meaning whatever Yuuki is, there’s more than one of her, and as powerful as she is, their duel impressed her enough to believe Asuna could be of help. And I’m sure that notion alone raised Asuna’s spirits considerably. This episode sure raised mine!

9_brav

Sword Art Online II – 18

saoii181

We start in a warm and familiar log cabin in the forest on a cold and snowy night…

saoii181a

Perhaps well aware its audience would only tolerate so many recaps, SAO II wisely avoided a re-telling of what was a brief, self-contained Excaliber arc. What we got instead was still lightweight enough to make Colin Chapman blush, but rather than a random, partially-baked, pulled-out-of-its-ass Norse-loaf, both distinct halves of this episode were steeped in the SAO we’ve lived through and emotionally resonates the most for us. It was a warm, cozy episode.

saoii181b

Full-size Human Yui > Tinkerbell Yui. There, I said it.

God, I almost forgot Yui was once normal-sized! Yes, we go all the way back to the halcyon time of almost perfect contentment on Aincrad’s 22nd Floor, a log cabin in the forest where Kirito and Asuna fell in love and built a home and family. Unlike Kirito, Asuna didn’t really like her home and family in the real world, so when they lost their cabin, it was like losing the only home where she’d ever been happy.

saoii182a
saoii182b

So when Egil notifies Kirito and Asuna that the 21st through 30th floors of New Aincrad are open for exploration and clearing in ALO, they jump at the chance to find and reclaim that home. Their friends and family help out, and unlike the Jotenheimr arc, there’s an actual important purpose to their fighting that I care about. The boss on Floor 21 puts up a fight (on Christmas Eve!), but with their usual excellent teamwork the party brings it down and advance to the next level.

saoii183

Asuna’s well-earned jubilation at returning to Floor 22 to find their cabin just as they left it, and Yui returning to her normal size after they press they “Buy” button together…I’m not gonna lie, I got a little glassy-eyed myself. It’s a beautiful little moment; filled with joy. And now we know why in the episode’s cold open the gang was in that cabin!

saoii184

The timing couldn’t have been better for Asuna, either. As the daughter of a super -rich aristocratic family in Kyoto, her family subjects her to meet-and-greets and omiais with sketchy rich douchebags. There isn’t any indication she’s being forced into anything, but it’s clear ALO isn’t just an idle escape; it’s where she finds strength and control over her life. There, she has a family in Kirito and Yui and the rest of the gang. But still, you’d think her folks would let her choose for herself after she came so close to being freaking coma-raped last season.

saoii185

It’s at her home in the cabin in the woods where she’s having a study sleepover session with Kirito, Yui, Sugu, Liz, and Silica, where she learns of Zekken, a mysterious but singularly powerful dueler offering a unique eleven-hit combo sword skill that matches her preferred setup to the one who beats him (or her; they’re continually referred to without gender).

saoii186

Liz, Sugu, and even Kirito have already gone up against Zekken and lost, so it would seem to fall to Asuna to get the job done and win that skill for herself. That’s a good thing, as it would be nice to have Asuna front and center kicking ass again, as we’ve only seen the slightest tastes of her in action thus far this season.

saoii187

When Asuna is shocked Kirito couldn’t beat Zekken, Liz has a very good theory for why he lost. Sugu remarks that Kirito wasn’t slacking off, but nor did he dual-wield. As Liz puts it, Kirito will probably only ever fight with everything he’s got if the game is no longer a game, such as it was in the days of SAO and when he was fighting to free Asuna. It’s a nice bit of analysis from Liz, another one we hear far too little from.

saoii188

No green-bobbed Slylph Asuna? BOOOO!

Just kidding, Blue Asuna will do just fine for the upcoming fight. A new ending sequence prominently shows a girl who somewhat resembles Asuna but isn’t Yui or anyone we’ve met before, and furthermore matches Zekken’s general color scheme. Combined with the way the gang talked about Zekken without specific gender articles, this girl is probably Zekken herself. I for one am excited to see where this new Asuna-centric arc takes us.

7_brav

And now, your SAO II Moment of Zen:saoii18mz

Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

hanam51

A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

haanam52

Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

hanam53

Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

hanam54

I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

hanam55

The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

hana56

Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

hana57

Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

hana58

Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

hana59

As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

9_ses

Sword Art Online II – 06

saoii61

One of the nice things about SAO is that the previews are simply a static screen with the title of the next episode, as Kirito says “Next Time: [Episode Title]” It doesn’t spoil what’s to come, so we had no idea the show was about to hit fast forward on the BoB preliminaries and deliver what we’ve been waiting for: the first battle between Kirito and Sinon.

saoii62

By SAOII standards, that came in a hurry, but a welcome one. The second episode showed us how a GGO battle works and how good Sinon is, but fell down on both stakes and emotional resonance, since we hadn’t yet learned about Sinon’s troubled past, and the parties in the battle were fairly inconsequential, beyond reminding Sinon she has to get stronger.

saoii63

This episode improves on all of that one’s shortcomings, and while the vistas were cooler in that one, the quality and pace of the combat is maintained, only this time we care more about the outcome, which ends with Sinon conceiting defeat and surrendering. It also repairs the rift caused by a misundrstanding last week that drew Sinon away, and also turned her idea of the “strength” she seeks on its head. For all those reasons, I think this was SAOII’s best episode to date.

saoii64

Up until now Sinon had fathomed strength as the thing that allowed her to slay the most powerful foes with ease, and which allows Kirito to stand still and still dodge her sniper fire, or slice her final bullet in two in their final duel. Kirito sees all that as merely skill, not strength. He also relies on luck and circumstance; his interaction with Sinon after the first round wasn’t a calculation on his part, but it affected her aim from then on regardless.

saoii65

No, to Kirito, strength is the thing that allows you to continue living with yourself after having chosen to kill, and kill more than once. Even if it was to defend his comrades and the woman he loved, he still took their lives. Sinon also killed to protect herself and her mother, but both of them have the same problem: Sinon has been unable to move on from that event, and now that Death Gun has reawakened his crimson memories, neither can Kirito.

saoii66

Kirito and Sinon, sittin’ in a tree…A-N-G-S-T-I-N-G…so now Sinon may well belive that she’s found her soulmate, but Kirito is, not surprisingly, unaware of the connection, since he doesn’t really know about her past. He also already has Asuna. But in any case, he and Sinon are now no longer enemies, which means she could prove a valuable ally in the coming fight with Death Gun, should he choose to involve others. Of course, he’s said he’s done with killing, but up against a killer, he may have no choice.

9_brav

Stray Observations:

  • I really dug the GGO victory fanfare that plays when the battles are one. I counted at least three instances of it here.
  • Particular kudos are in order for Sawashiro Miyuki on her voice-acting in this episode. It’s always nice to hear her voice a leading lady, though her villains are pretty great too.
  • Notable Kirito and Sinon contrasts: she’s primarily in white, he’s black; he charges his opponents in a mad rush, she hangs way back and snipes.
  • I dug the flashback to when Asuna was still rocking her Knights of the Blood garb. Too bad we didn’t get to see her fight much. She remains a tragically underused character.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 02

mahouka21

Vice President Hattori is neither grateful nor impressed with Tatsuya’s neat little bit of diplomacy, but Tatsuya earned the gratitude of two other Blooms, as well as the attention of Disciplinary Committee Chairman Watanabe Mari. By the end of this episode, both the positive and negative ramifications would play in his favor.

mahouka22

When President Saegusa Mayumi offers Miyuki a spot on the student council, its another opportunity for Miyuki to demonstrate her fierce and unwavering loyalty to her brother by begging them to somehow bring him aboard too. But they can’t, because he’s a Course 2 student. That’s when Mari comes in, offering him a position on the disciplinary committee. When he hears of this, Hattori bristles, believing a lowly weed would be in over his head.

mahouka22a

One thing I’m enjoying about how consistently the characters’ traits are portrayed; whether it’s Tatsuya’s calmness, Miyuki’s loyalty, Saegusa’s amity, Mari’s open-mindedness…or Hattori’s haughty assholishness. He’s the kind of snobbish creep you love to hate, and while he’s outnumbered this week, he still brings the hate strong and fast, spitting on weeds like Course 2 and glibly accusing Miyuki of nepotism.

mahouka23

Miyuki knows aspects of her bro neither we nor Hattori know, that the established practical tests couldn’t detect (hence his low scores), and which Mari caught a tantalizing glimpse of. So if Miyuki says he’ll win against anyone, she may well be speaking the truth, unclouded by affection. This is confirmed when Hattori is soundly beaten in a simulated battle.

mahouka24

Hattori may be a powerful magician capable of acing the same practical tests where Tatsuya struggled, but in an actual fight, he put himself at a disadvantage by assuming Tatsuya would simply go down exactly as he envisioned in his head, ignorant to his skills. Now Tatsuya will be the first weed with the power to discipline blooms. The times are changing, but I don’t see Hattori and his ilk blithely falling in line.

7_mag

Kill la Kill – 22

kll221

While watching an episode of anime, we typically don’t give much thought to what rating we should assign until it’s almost over. There are exceptions to this, obviously: sometimes something can happen in the last moment that can kick a 6 up to an 8, or vice versa. But most of the time, we don’t settle on a number until the credits are done rolling.

kill222

So after a bloodied Ryuko puts Senketsu back on; duels with Harime while explaining the differences between them; slices her arms off, forcing a hasty retreat; the Elite Four-plus-one extract both human and life fiber assets to strengthen their arsenal; Satsuki agrees to be punched by Ryuko, but the Elite Four take the punches for her; and Satsuki admits her mistakes and apologizes(dazzilingly); the two make up and decide to join forces at sunset; and Mrs. Mankanshoku and Soroi whip up croquettes and tea for everyone…

kill223

…We thought we had ourselves a pretty awesome episode in the bag: a solid 9 to be sure. More to the point, we though the episode was going to end with that feast. I mean, all that we mentioned up there…that’s a lot of stuff; surely an episode’s worth, right? And that’s the super-abridged version of what we’d watched up to that point. So, it was superior episode. Only one problem: it wasn’t even close to over. We were only fifteen minutes in.

 

kill224

We’ve never been that off with an ending. That’s the power of Kill la Kill in its home stretch: it’s covering so much ground so quickly and so deftly, it seems to bend time itself. Each episode surges things forward, but each stands alone as a cinematic achievement. After everyone tucked in to supper, everything there after felt like bonus anime, even though it wasn’t. As soon as the dishes are washed and put away, it’s Operation Starto.

kill225

Satsuki finally lets us all in on Ragyo’s ultimate plan: to clothe the entire world in life fiber fabric. It’s how the aliens reproduce: find a world, stimulate its population to evolve into an energy source, than cover it, use the energy to explode, and spread the “seeds” all over the cosmos; rinse, repeat. For all its ridiculous trappings, the plan is surprisingly elegant; the life fibers aren’t evil; they’re just higher on the food chain. But mankind still has plenty of teeth.

kill226

Satsuki puts Mikisugi in command of the Elite Four to take out the transmitter at Honnouji that Ragyo needs to activate Covers worldwide, while the sisters—Ryuko in Senketsu (who feels more warm and comfy than ever now that it has Mako and Satsuki’s blood in it), Satsuki in Neo-Junketsu (no longer evil and imbued with Ryuko’s blood and Senketsu’s fibers), intend to intercept their mom and the Original Life Fiber. With even Mako breaking out her two-star uni to fight, it’s all hands on deck, and when the credits finally rolled, we wished we were still just fifteen minutes in. Instead, we only have about forty-eight left.


Rating: 10

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Kill la Kill – 21

kill211

This show’s propensity to ratchet the intensity to dizzying elevations and then keep it up there for weeks is unparalleled this season; nothing else comes remotely close. This whole episode was a case in point: it never takes its foot off the gas for a minute, and yet there’s somehow ample fuel to spare. In the case of the stakes involved and the dwindling options of the good guys, it may just have been the most stressful yet exhilarating episode yet, and we could tear our eyes away any more then Junketsu could be easily torn from Ryuko’s body.

Frankly, after watching Ryuko’s wild ride, we started to wonder if it would have been preferable if Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader was strictly a matter of the suit making him evil. That’s certainly what goes on here: Ryuko’s rage and self-loathing give Junketsu the opening it needs to wear her completely (that and Ragyo and Nui made sure it was altered to her unique and exacting biology). What’s more, Junketsu continues to mess with Ryuko’s mind as it wears her, lifting the weights of her lifelong emotional burdens and just making her feel better than she ever has.

kill212

However, as Satsuki neatly puts it, it’s only the bliss of slavery, and Ryuko is one more human (or at least half-human) brought under the heel of the Life Fibers, who are mobilizing for world conquest now that Revocs has achieved 100% market share. Wearing Senketsu despite being unable to communicate directly, Satsuki puts up a hell of a fight, especially when you consider she’s been hanging by her fingernails without food or water for untold days. The battle is everything we had hoped for; moreso, since Satsuki isn’t simply dueling with Ryuko out of her own pride and honor.

That’s because she never intended to defeat Ryuko with Senketsu alone. Ever the well-prepared big sister playing a game of chess, she reveals herself as nothing but bait to lure Ryuko into the right spot at the right time so the Elite Four can maneuver her into a position of vulnerability. The gambit fails, but it’s one hell of a good try. Satsuki creates one last opening, through which Senketsu and Mako slip into Ryuko’s consciousness—don’t sweat the metaphysical details.

kill213

Once in there, Ryuko’s about to get married to Junketsu once and for all, but Mako bursts in, Hollywood style. With her there in color and the dreamworld in monochrome, confined to a small frame within the frame tangled with life fibers, it feels far more like a prison than a paradise. When Mako tells Ryuko to go ahead and kill her, and with a casual flick of her scissor, Ryuko appears to do just that, for a moment our hearts sank. Puppet slave or no, there’d be no coming back for Ryuko if that happened.

As it happens, the act merely ejects Mako and Senketsu out of there. It’s only when Nui gets that same scissor through her sternum that we learn they were successful in cutting the strings after all. And yet again, a conflict that could have carried many an excellent show to the end is essentially resolved when the old Ryuko emerges from the tatters of Junketsu. This show is moving way to fast for the Evil Ryuko to be the final plot. There’s still a world to save from the Life Fibers, after all. Maybe at last the new-found sisters will work together side-by-side.


Rating: 10

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Stray Observations:

  • Needless to say, this episode is your usual Kill la Kill Klinik of imaginative angles, expressions, body-positions, explosions, and giant floating letters.
  • Mako’s performance art-like “explanations” (always beginning with “Hallelujah!”) have been a comic standby for one time, but they’re employed well here and have yet to get old.
  • They’ve had inferior resources for a while now, but you’ve gotta rally behind the tenacity and teamwork of the Elite Four (plus Shirou).
  • The explanation for why Senketsu is “skimpier” than Junketsu is the same reason Nudist beach don’t wear clothes: less surface contact with the skin means the human wearer is less likely to fear enslavement. MAKES SENSE TO US.
  • Call us crazy, but we’re starting to feel some sympathy for Harime Nui’s plight. While she’s a similar hybrid being to Ryuko, she’s unable to synch with any clothing. In the same vein, for her whole life she’s been a servant of Ragyo, unable to synch with anyone else, or with a normal life, for that matter. If the show intends to redeem rather than destroy her, it’s a transformation we’d be interested in seeing. Ragyo is probably a lost cause, however.
  • If you han’t noticed by now…Yes, we are no longer rating this showIt is rating us.

Nobunaga the Fool – 07

nobu7

The twin shocks of the serious wounding of Himiko (who seems to be alive for the time being, if barely) and the news that Nobukatsu has been killed shake Nobu out of his pity party. Now, whether his advisors like it or not, he’s their last hope at surviving the coming onslaught against Takeda. However, Nobu doesn’t immediately lash out in rage. After hearing his counselors debate the next step, he makes the decision to meet with Shingen and ask him face to face if he sent the assassins.

All the while, Mitsu sits there, concealing the knowledge that it was he who killed Nobukatsu, clearing the way for Nobu to take unchallenged leadership of the clan. The episode begins with Mitsu remembering the day his father committed seppuku, and it’s possible that Mitsu will one day have to do the same, but as long as his life serves Nobunaga, he doesn’t really matter how it ends. Jeanne, meanwhile, has decided to stay by Nobu’s side for the time being, accompanying him to Takeda’s main camp.

nobu72

The bawdy encounter between Nobu Lord Shingen is a pleasure to watch, with Nobu satisfied Shingen is telling the truth that he did not send assassins, and Shingen impressed at Nobu’s cajones for even showing up. To Jeanne’s dismay, however, their cordial talk turns into a duel, not because of any slight enacted upon the other, but for the simple fact that neither can sully their reputation by avoiding a fight with the other. They want to fight each other, as do Shingen’s men. A fight is what they get, and a glorious one, at that.

It’s hella fun to watch these two dyed-in-the-wool warriors whaling on each other in their regalia-infused war armors, reveling in every moment of it. It is here where Shingen is revealed as an honorable foe, one who will abide by the laws of the duel, keep his men on the sidelines, fight Nobu one-on-one, and admit defeat and the loss of his two regalia (fire and wind) when Nobu bests him. Caesar proves far less principled, stabbing his business partner Shingen in the back and snatching the wind regalia, and then framing Nobu for the act, enraging Takeda’s army. Nobu still comes away with the fire regalia, but a Roman thorn remains in his side.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nisekoi – 07

nisekoi71

Nisekoi isn’t done introducing major characters. This week we met Tsugumi Seishirou, who transfers to Raku and Chitoge’s class and whom everyone assumes is a very pretty boy. Seishirou puts out a lot of different vibes to Raku: at first he’s weary of his gangster connections, then gets the feeling he’s a normal, friendly guy. Then Seishirou gets Raku to say he’d die for Chitoge, then pulls a gun on him – so he can do just that!

Even after learning Seishirou Claude’s top hitman from Chitoge, and that he’s been preparing his body and mind to protect Chitoge for ten years, Raku has no choice but to accept an duel. Seishirou opens up a massive arsenal on him, but Raku manages to evade the attacks long enough to fire his own ammunition: the knowledge that Chitoge isn’t the kind of girl who’d sit by and be protected by someone. He also gets Seishirou to follow him out a third-floor window into a pool. With Seishirou out cold, the battle is Raku’s, but he’s too considerate to leave his soaked opponent outside to catch a cold.

nisekoi72

That’s when he undresses him in a locker room and discovers that he’s a she, and they’re forced to hide in a locker standing very close to each other while Chitoge and their classmates search for them. In there, Seishirou admits defeat, and starts to cry about not being worthy of protecting Chitoge herself, despite abandoning being a girl for that end. Raku then flatters her by saying she’s cute, something she’s apparently never heard from anyone before. At that point, Chitoge discovers them, but the armor is cracked: Raku was nice to Seishirou, and she definitely seems to like getting complimented by him.

Seishirou’s seiyu Komatsu Mikako delivers a layered and diverse performance, showing Seishirou’s many moods, sides and mistaken genders with subtle changes in her voice. There’s also the fact that she knows about the promise Chitoge made to a boy (not her) ten years ago, but suspects she forgot about it, adding further credence to the theory Raku was that boy. In any case, Seishirou looks like a good addition to the cast, someone we can see competing against Raku for Chitoge’s attention, while also gradually falling for Raku himself, further complicating Nisekoi’s love polygon.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Kyoukai no Kanata – 07

kyoukan7

Inami Sakura remains in town, and transfers to Mirai’s class. Of evenings she defeats low-level youmu, charging her scythe in preparation to fight Mirai, but grows exhausted from its power and is rescued by Akihito, who takes her to his apartment. Mirai shows up and catches a glimpse of Sakura before she flees. Later the two duel in a sewer pipe. Sakura is no match for Mirai, and is nearly devoured by her own weapon, but Mirai saves her and talks her down. Fujima Miroku, the one who originally gave Sakura the scythe, retrieves its from the sewers. Izumi and Mitsuki observe the start of “the calm.”

You can be the most badass spirit hunter around, but what’s that compared to being a great cook? We kid; we truly enjoyed this episode—enough to award it a 9—but it was very different from last week’s 9. Whether it’s a playful loopy standalone romp or a serious character drama culminating in an earned catharsis, Kyoukai no Kanata it is capable of making any story a compelling one. This week was the dramatic kind, in which welcome resolution comes to the impasse between Mirai and her would-be nemesis Sakura, sister of the friend Mirai “murdered,” climaxing in a cool close-quarters sewer pipe fight. And the episode doesn’t forget how Mirai’s outlook evolved after defeating the hollow shadow.

Not letting guilt and regret consume and define her anymore, Mirai recognizes a similar misapplication of energies in Sakura’s. She knows from experience that Sakura is walking down a one-way road with no solace at its end. As much or more than she thirsts for vengeance, Sakura hates being so unsuited for the work at which Yui—and Mirai—so excelled, and of being unable to carry her sister’s mantle, something she never should have felt she had to do (but was encouraged by Fujima, lending her that scythe). Mirai is able to pull Sakura from falling into the shadowy abyss, for which she’s thankful, and onto a new path of peace, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. We like the change, and it will be interesting to see what the show does with Sakura going forward.

9_superior
Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Even in a very straight-laced episode, there was still room for the ol’ “Girl #1 visits when Girl #2 is already there” scenario at Akihito’s place…not to mention that aside with Hiromi’s idol CDs being replaced by Yaoi
  • There, Sakura criticizes Akihitos cooking (likely because she’s a better cook)…though she still scarfs down every bit of her omelette.
  • Were we the only ones who thought the scythe’s vicious tangle of “feelers” resembled Mirai’s beloved udon?
  • Fujima Miroku has been a shifty one since his abrupt intro, so we’re not surprised he was the one who gave Sakura that scythe. Was he just performing an experiment, or did he want Mirai taken out? 
  • That “calm” looks pretty dicey, if beautiful.