Chihayafuru 3 – 11 – Be the Master, Beat the Master

Back at school, Chihaya’s game still has momentum from the Yoshino Tournament, while Mashina has slid a bit since losing in the qualifiers, as evidenced by how badly Chihaya beats him. But Chihaya is going all out because she thinks Mashima will quit altogether if she goes easy on him.

Meanwhile, Chihaya finally manages to call Arata to congratulate him, but she’s so stiff she ends up blasting his ear off. In any case, one hopes the two will get to spend a little more time together in the next cour, because I felt seriously short-changed in this first one where Chirata shippin’ is concerned.

 

Chihaya also makes it clear to Arata that he’s going to LOSE to Dr. Harada and the Shiranami society, as Harada has recruited all classes of players to help prepare him for his playoff with Arata. Indeed, the whole reason he started the society was to one day become Master.

To that end, he has Mashima serve as a “Virtual Arata”, making him memorize Arata’s layout so he can play against him as if he were playing Arata. Chihaya volunteers to serve as “Virtual Suo”, intensely studying the Master’s play and even starting to talk very softly and offer candy to people, leading to a misunderstanding from her tutoring cousin Shinji.

Watching Chihaya emulate Suo—and hearing Mashima trying to talk in Arata’s dialect—is jolly good fun, while we get a couple of tear-jerking moments with Inokuma Haruka, who at 34 sees both her challenger and reigning Queen and wonders if she’s simply done. She also worries she’s putting karuta before her children.

When Haruka has a nursing emergency just before her match, Mama Oe is there to calm her, and show her that kimonos are open on the side so that you can nurse a child without undoing or wrinkling it, which is some choice Traditional Clothing Mama advice. Having fed her lil’ Jin, Inokuma regains her composure and is ready to go.

When Chihaya arrives at the playoff as a spectator, she’s seriously regretting not being one of the players. That said, one would hope a show as long and sprawling as this isn’t about build her up as a future Queen for years, only for her to not attain that title. For now, the playoff is still a valuable resource. Now is the time to watch and learn from all four finalists.

Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Chihayafuru 3 – 09 – Luck of the Draw

As Chihaya desperately watches her phone for updates from the Master qualifiers, her friend Michiru hits her limit, snatches Chi’s phone, and removes the battery. Good for you, Michiru! The only reason Michiru is even at the Hundred Poets Museum is because she hoped Chihaya would teach her a few things.

Chihaya, having come back to earth, apologizes profusely, but as we know, her own knowledge of the poets is pretty limited. It falls to the incomparable Kanade Oe to school them both, demonstrating that she could be a decent history teacher today if she wanted to—and kick Chihaya’s ass at it!

Back at the East qualifiers, Taichi also hits his limit, losing to the goof-prone but still focused Koshikawa Shusaku of KU. In a tense back-and-forth game that comes down to a luck-of-the-draw he loses, Taichi curses himself for not taking the “Impassionate” card, which will never not remind him of Chihaya. It’s almost as if Koshikawa eliminated him from qualifying and stole his girl!

Sumire watches the whole thing through the window, but when she starts to rush to Taichi’s side, she’s stopped by Tsukaba, who tells her that the last thing Taichi wants is company, because it’s the last thing he’d want after such a tough, close loss.

Dr. Harada, old crab meat knees and all, manages to avenge Taichi by defeating Koshikawa in the semifinal, which also ends in a luck-of-the-draw which Harada wins largely because he’s been playing for forty-five years, longer than Taichi or Koshikawa. He has a pretty good idea which cards aren’t going to be read at the end—the so-called “Eternal Maids”—a confidence borne out when he claims victory.

He’ll face Sudo in the East Master qualifiers final, while Yamamoto and Inokuma will face each other in the Queen qualifiers final. Back in the West, Arata ends up in the final with his own society-mate, Murao Shinichi, and is disappointed—and a little relieved!—to learn Taichi won’t represent the East.

Finally, Suo wants to win a fifth-straight crown so he can retire, while Shinobu is vexed by her gramps worrying about her having no friends, which is none of his business. Is it just me, or to both of these monarchs seem a teensy bit…vulnerable?

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Hanebado! – 10 – Shuttlecock Tease

Finally, the long-awaited rematch between Nagisa and Ayano in the…wait, we’re not getting that this week? It’s just the boy’s matches? LAME. I won’t apologize for simply not caring about chunks of Hanebado! I feel to be padding, and a sure as hell don’t care any more about Yuu’s weird crush on Hayama or his and Isehara’s matches than I did before.

do care about Ayano, so it’s good to see her deliver the only appropriate welcome to a mother who peace’d out and found a taller, blonder girl to be her daughter and successor: a nonexistent welcome. Ayano doesn’t say one word to Uchika the whole episode, and frankly, one word would be one too many.

You can lay into Ayano all you want for being such an awful, insufferably haughty jerk to Nagisa and everyone else, but her mother’s shunning is primarily to blame.

We don’t even meet Nagisa’s parents, but we can assume they’re better than Ayano simply because they’ve stayed in her life and presumably didn’t betray her. One wonders why none of the kids on the team seem to have parents or siblings to watch them play.

Isehara and Hayama proceed with their matches, and it’s all a bit of a yawnfest, honestly. It’s just another version of the “hard work means something” and “you don’t have to have the most talent to play” trope. Isehara is talented—and handsome—but he loses anyway, just as Hayama does even though he works his ass off and has the enthusiastic support of his team

As for Yuu—Ebina Yuu; we finally get her last name, ten episodes in!—her crush dies shortly after Hayama loses, or possibly even during his match, but not because she thinks he sucks. Rather, her desire to support her came out of her own inadequacies. Now that he showed her there’s still value in fighting on despite not being any good, she’s content to part ways with a hearty thank you and goodbye.

This is honestly the boringest way things between them could have ended, which serves to fully justify my lack of enthusiasm for their plotline all along.

With the boys out of the way, all that remains is the final between Nagisa and Ayano…and if it doesn’t take place next week, I’m honestly going to skip the episode! Ayano is either intentionally or unintentionally continuing to provoke Nagisa into a “practice” match with her, as a kind of dry run to the finals, because she finds no one else (save the Olympics-caliber Coach Tachibana) a worthy opponent.

Nagisa doesn’t necessarily rise to the provocations; she wants to play in the finals with Ayano for a different, more personal reason. This isn’t about revenge, it’s about redemption. Nagisa acknowledges that she gave up in the All-Japan Juniors; she lost more to herself than Ayano. So she doesn’t see this as fighting Ayano, but fighting the person she was back then. It didn’t have to be Ayano.

As for Ayano, her mom mentioning she knows about her match with Connie, and her mom’s sudden offer to take her away from Japan (presumably to be a real family along with Connie), may yet create a psychological hitch in Ayano’s match with Nagisa. It’s not much, but especially with her troublesome knees, Nagisa will need all the help she can get.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 21

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Well now, the final battle between Amagiri/Julis and AR-D didn’t last as long as I thought: in fact, it gets wrapped up in the first ten minutes! Of course, I never believed for a second Amagiri and Julis were going to lose to an autonomous Gundam knockoff, and the resulting foregone-conclusion feeling diluted the joy of victory, but no matter: it was a suitably intense final, with Julis helping Amagiri transform Ser=Versta into the form best suited for him.

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Once he has his new, smaller, lighter, faster sword, it’s Game Over for AR-D, who is gracious in defeat. Amagiri and Julis get their trophy, heaps of applause, and the adoration of all…except for those lurking in the shadows.

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While Amagiri and Julis soak in the victory, thank their friends, celebrate, flirt a little, and wonder what’s next, Dirk the Tyrant is busy trying to recruit Ernesta (and possibly succeeds by withholding vital raw materials for her research). Yabuki tries to take out the former Grimalkin agent Werner in a sewer, but fails.

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Finally, a police investigation finds no evidence Dirk or Le Wolfe were involved in Flora’s kidnapping, frustrating Julis, who wants justice. But it’s clear while our hero and his ladies fight the good fight the right way, they are surrounded by cockroaches scheming and corrupting behind their backs.

Chief among those scumbags is Asterisk Steering Committee Chairman Mesa, who tells Julis lies about the investigation (in truth, he’s allied with Dirk, if not working for him) and more despicably, tells Amagiri lies about starting a search for his sister Haruka.

All this poor kid has wanted since the start is to see his sister alive and well, and he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations (except perhaps his own and Julis’) in getting to a place where he can actually make the request, and yet he still has to deal with all this backroom political bullshit and a perv keeping Haruka stashed away naked in a stasis tube.

If you ask me, they all need a taste of Amagiri’s newly-optimized blade. I wonder how he and Julis will play this in the next three episodes, and if a reunion with Haruka will be deferred for a third season (which would be kinda lame).

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 20

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I’m gonna level with ya’ll: this was not an exceptionally interesting episode, but it kinda couldn’t help it: Ayato and Julis’ finals match against the puppets was never going to take up only one episode, which means this episode was always going to be only the first of a two or even three-episode final battle.

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From the get-go, our heroes are the underdogs, as they’re just flesh-and-blood humans facing artificial beings, and Ayato still can’t use Ser=Veresta because Flora is still at large. That being said, they’re still tough enough t make Rimsy and Ardy do their special move wher Rimsy gives up all her luxes to make Ardy extra-powerful, at the cost of her own badge.

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Meanwhile, Kirin and Saya get to Flora, and after a couple of hiccups, manage to defeat the shadowy dude who is holding her captive. Kirin takes a wound to the vitals, but her swordsmanship is enough, combined with Saya’s backup firepower. Looks like Ayato and Julis were right to trust in them after all!

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Claudia hijacks the mic from the Phoenix Festa commentators in order to relay to Ayato and Julis the news that Flora has been successfully rescued. This means Ayato can finally wield Ser=Veresta once more, and he and Julis only have one opponent left to defeat, albeit the strongest one they’ve faced yet. Perhaps they can turn the tables now that they’re not hampered by dirty tricks.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 19

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Whereas last week seemed to be taking up space, Asterisk War’s eighteenth episode kicked some serious ass. Not just in the action category, either—though that certainly helped. It introduced an immediately likable new girl, was packed with underutilized characters finally getting cool stuff to do, and still managed to re-focus on the main couple of Julis and Ayato, whose final against the robots remains paramount.

First up, the new girl, Sylvie. Sure, she comes literally out of nowhere last week to bail Ayato out, but the more we see her in action, the more she makes sense. She can handle herself, and doesn’t need Ayato to protect her; quite the opposite takes place, as she dispatches a nasty far faster than he could have, especially without Ser=Veresta.

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Then Sylvie, AKA Sylvia Lyyneheym, shows off some more of her apparent omnipotence by helping Ayato locate Flora, using her song to do so. Sylvie is so much more appealing and less cliche-laden, as the idol in Hundred. Her mouth also matches her singing, and the music, while accompanied by English-ish lyrics, is another fine Rasmus Faber earworm.

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Moreover, it’s nice to see Ayato taken aback by a girl for once instead of the other way ’round. Sylvie comes in at a great time when he’s got so many eyes on him, and yet she’s portrayed as not only more powerful than him, but a more popular celebrity as well.

And yet, unlike nearly all the other students outside his immediate circle of friends, she’s neither arrogant nor combative, even friendily so. She’s just a nice, pleasant girl helping out another gifted person who needed help, and someone who could prove a valuable friend to Ayato in the near future.

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Second: the second-stringers finally get to DO something other than fight in Festa battles. Once Ayato gets Flora’s location (on the condition he doesn’t tell anyone Sylvie helped him) he and Julis trust Saya and Kirin to carry out the retrieval operation, as they have to rest for the final that’s only hours away.

Surprisingly, Yabuki joins the two girls and helps break them into the vacant casino, while they have his back when the shadow clone army attacks. Yabuki contributes one more trump card by bringing in Lester MacPhail to keep the clones busy so the girls can advance to the next stage of the dungeon. The four characters form a fresh dynamic, adding variety to the season.

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Indeed, this episode, in which the Phoenix Festa’s fianl match is about to begin with five episodes left, got me thinking: If Julis and Ayato can pull out a win against the Arlequint robots in the next week or two and Saya, Kirin, et al, can secure Flora, there’s definitely potential for a third season. And that notion doesn’t bother me!

Of course, a lot of things still have to happen, chief among them a victory in the final duel. In her dealings with Ayato and the others, Julis has learned Flora and the other orphans weren’t the first and only people she’d come to cherish.

She trusts Saya and Kirin to ge tthe job done, and trusts Ayato to have her back, and is confident they can win even without Ser=Veresta. AR-D and RM-C are equally confident they can win, and quickly becoming fully sentient artificial beings – worthy final opponents for our main couple.

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Sword Art Online II – 06

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.