Goblin Slayer – 03 – A Fellowship Forms

A High Elf, a Dwarf, and a Lizardman walk into the guild, and then into the lives of the Priestess and Goblin Slayer. While they have far loftier goals in mind—defeating a horde of world-ending demons—the Slayer won’t give them the time of day until they propose he kill goblins, to which he asks how many, how strong, and where.

The trio of adventurers adds much needed new personalities to the show, and I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings-style banter, with the Elf and Dwarf going at it about any number of things while still tolerating their company, and the stoic Lizardman floating above the fray.

The Elf doesn’t think much of the GS at first, but the Dwarf can see much practicality in what he does and how he does it. We also learn why the GS never cleans his arms or armor: the goblins would be able to smell clean metal, putting him at a disadvantage.

The GS would probably be content rushing into a situation where there were so many goblins he’d end up getting killed, but he’d certainly take a lot of goblins with him. He’s not quite sure that’s what the Priestess wantshowever, and so prepares to leave her behind to “rest.” However, the Priestess doesn’t like how he’s making decisions without her input, and voices her desire to come with.

And so the group of five adventurers set off to their first goblin target. But before that, they make camp and have a meal, in which everyone introduces themselves and offers a gift to the others. The Lizardman provides the meat, the Elf some elven bread, the Dwarf some firewine (that gets the Elf tanked), and GS provides some cheese from the farm where he hangs his hat (so to speak), which the others love.

He even opens up, but only when the subject of conversation turns to, what else, goblins. Specifically, how they come from the desolate green moon, and live their lives envious of the riches of Earth. It’s a story his late sister told him, and it’s clear he treasures it. As for the priestess, her contribution to the evening is insight into the GS, whom the others find particularly inscrutable.

At dawn the five strike out, and the High Elf demonstrates her prowess with the bow by sending a single homing arrow through the heads of two goblins at once; very Legolas-esque. They move with accompaniment of a metal riff, indicating that the goblins within the lair they approach aren’t going to be much of a problem; the main question will be how cleverly and awesomely they can dispatch them.

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Goblin Slayer – 02 – Not a Man’s Man, but Maybe a Goblin to Goblins

This week begins from the perspective of a rose-haired farm girl who is going off to the city. She gets into a fight with her childhood friend, a boy who can’t go with her. Jump forward to the present, and the farm girl is a very buxom farm woman who prefers to sleep in the nude.

She’s friends with the Goblin Slayer, who rents a place to stay at the farm. He has a routine of inspecting the entire area for signs of goblins, keeping her and her dad uncle safe for no charge. He never removes his mask—not even for breakfast—but it’s clear the farm girl knows who’s behind it.

When they go into town, she can see that while she admires the Goblin Slayer a great deal, neither he nor his singular task of goblin slaying are particularly well-regarded. His fellow Silver-rank adventurers look down on his shoddy arms and armor and his weak chosen opponent, while the Porcelains wonder if he’s really worthy of Silver.

And yet, while they’re all jockeying for position to get the highest-paying or most dangerous quests, he waits until the end, when all the goblin-slaying requests remain unclaimed. The priestess is there too, and will stay by his side even though he refuses to go to the aid of another party of rookies.

Turns out those rookies come back alive, well, and victorious; it’s often just the roll of the dice out there. As for Goblin Slayer and his new companion, together they bring down an entire mountain goblin fortress. The priestess uses a new miracle, “Protection”, but to trap the goblins to choke and burn in the flames.

The Priestess doesn’t much like using the Earth Mother’s miracles for such heartless slaughter, but as the guild admin opines, the Goblin Slayer is doing something that needs to be done. There has to be someone out there culling the herds of the weakest rung of foes, or else they won’t be so weak for long. That makes him, and anyone who aids him, a net good for society, methods be damned.

The farmer’s daughter niece knows this, and also is simply glad her childhood friend is still by her side, even if he never takes off his mask. Her father uncle warns her not to get too involved with the guy, whom he believes “lost it” ever since their village was raided by goblins, introducing the GS’s motivation.

While certainly unglamorous, the GS’s adventures are known by at least one bard in a city, who tells the tale of how even after he saved the fair maiden from the goblin king, he left her to keep wandering the wilds the rest of his days, slaying and slaying and slaying some more goblins.

A tough-looking she-elf approaches the bard after a performance to ask if it’s all true, and he answers in the affirmative, letting her and her party (an old dude and some kind of lizard-man, also tough-looking) know where they can find him. Do they seek a fight with our tortured, single-minded slayer…or a team-up?

Goblin Slayer – 01 (First Impressions) – Shoulda Leveled Up More…

A young priestess and healer is eager to start adventuring, and registers with the guild. She’s quickly recruited by a party of three: a swordsman, a hand-to-hand warrior, and a wizard of the mage’s college. All are Porcelain-ranked, the lowest.

They’re all very gung-ho about going into a cave and hunting some goblins who recently raided a village, but they don’t have any plan, and it’s clear from the worried look of the guild registrar that they’re in over their heads with such a mission.

At no point do the members of the party take the threat of the goblins seriously, or not overestimate their skills. The swordsman even boasts he could slay a dragon if he wanted, even as his long sword hits the roof of the cave, showing just how out of his element he is.

Predictably, the low-level rookies get their asses handed to them, and it’s not pretty. This show promptly shows the folly of underestimating goblins, who are all too willing to exploit the many weaknesses of their human opponents.

The party manages to kill a couple of goblins, but the wizard is stabbed with a poison blade and the priestess’ healing spell is useless. The swordsman nicks the cave roof at the wrong time and gets overrun and gutted; and the hand-to-hand specialist is over-matched by a larger hobgoblin, who tosses her to the other goblins.

That’s when we learn one more little detail that takes the threat of the goblins to a new and darker depths: they’re quite fond of raping the women they manage to overpower.

They don’t even have a problem about raping the half-dead wizard. The depiction of bestial rape was apparently (and understandably) controversial in both the LN and this adaptation. The helpless, fear-petrified Priestess is shot in the shoulder with an arrow and looks to be their next victim…until the titular Goblin Slayer shows up.

The Slayer is as effective, ruthless, and cunning as the noobie party was ineffective, overconfident, and foolish. He keeps a running tally of his goblin kills (like Gimli and his orc-count), puts the wizard out of her misery, and with the Priestess’ Holy Light assists, takes out the two biggest threats: the goblin shaman and the hulking hobgoblin.

He also finds the goblin children and slaughters them, saying they’ll learn from their elders’ mistakes and hold grudges for life. The Goblin Slayer may be more the manifestation of an concept (namely, goblin slaying) than he is an actual character, there’s no disputing his skills…nor his respect for his enemy, something that doomed the rookies.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

That leaves the Priestess the sole survivor of her first ill-fated party, but to her credit she’s not discouraged from continuing her life as an adventure; it’s just who she is. Indeed, she takes her first fiasco of a quest as a valuable lesson: don’t go in to any quest half-cocked. As soon as she returns to town she procures some chain mail.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

To survive the next quest, she must also gain strong allies—allies like Goblin Slayer. She may only be able to heal or cast holy light three times, but those three times will make his job of slaying goblins that much easier, so he’s happy to have her by his side for his next session. And so, a new party of two is born.

Like other White Fox works like Akame ga Kill!, Re:Zero and Steins;Gate, Goblin Slayer knows how to pile on the suspense and dread and doesn’t hold back when it comes to torturing its characters. It also features some pretty solid soundtrack, including a thoroughly badass battle theme during the end crawl.

It’s a desperately simple show—something I believe works in its favor—and while its protagonist is pretty much an Index clone looks a lot like Index, at least the episode ends with her in a good position to succeed…though she’ll have to get stronger for the day or moment when the Slayer won’t be there to bail her out.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 11 (35)

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Her fate on hold for now, Celty is literally above the fray this week, as Erika gets in touch with Kasane, informing her of what Nasujima is up to, Shizuo and Izaya continue their fight in the streets, biker gangs from all over the region who have joined the Dollars amass, and Akabayashi considers Awakusu’s role in all this, if any.

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Now that Masaomi is on that roof, there’s no more reason for Mikado to hold any secrets, and he points his handgun at his best friend, while revealing his ultimate plan: to turn the Dollars into such a nasty group with so many enemies, it will end up collapsed, with nothing left but another urban legend.

The reason? The Dollars, which he founded to escape his ordinary life, have become, well ordinary again. At the end of the day, Mikado shares the same “creative destruction” philosophy as many other villains in anime: he’ll destroy the world as it is, and him with it, hoping it will give way to a better one.

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He’s well on the way to doing just that if someone doesn’t stop him, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t want to be stopped; not by Masaomi, or Anri, or anyone else. Mikado has backed himself into a corner, but it’s exactly where he wants to be when all the pieces he’s set up start lashing out.

Meanwhile, the story of Kasane falling for (!) Shinra seems like something that belongs in a much quieter episode. I appreciate that Kasane realizes Shinra’s feelings for Celty are real, and that she figures if she won’t be loved by anyone, she’ll love him, but as far as Shinra’s concerned Kasane is just a glorified obstacle on his journey to find and reunite with his one true love. The connection with Mikado’s situation is that Celty may have the power to stop him. The problem is, it may be too late.

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Masaomi, knowing how Mikado would be holding his gun by the book, slaps it away and starts trying despertely to beat some sense into him, but Mikado has gone well and truly cuckoo (he’s even aware Izaya is using him, but doesn’t mind).

When he shoots Masaomi in the thigh with a hand-mounted micro-gun, he retreats even further back into that corner, now believing if he could shoot Masaomi, he could shoot Anri. Rather than end up in that scenario, he turns the little gun on himself. He doesn’t see any other way to stop himself from doing worse things and causing more trouble for more people.

And considering he shot at both the police and Awakusu, he may not be wrong. I just wish he was, and that Masaomi and Anri and whoever else could tell him there’s still a way out of that corner; he can come back from the precipice; that no amount of trouble he causes will hurt his friends as much as killing himself will.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 10 (34)

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Like water towards a drain, Dx2’s many  characters are accelerating faster and faster towards the epicenter created by Nasujima, and Anri lists all the people who have a reason to go and fight, including herself. First things first: she wants to help Dotachin’s group rescue Erika from the Saikas.

She also feels it’s time to finally reveal her secret to them: that she has Saika within her; that she’s not quite human. Unsurprisingly, no one in the van recoils or condemns Anri; quite the opposite. These are Celty’s friends, after all (not counting Namie, though she’s with Seiji).

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As Shizuo and Izaya’s battle continues, with Shizuo stalking a slow, wounded Izaya, their friend Shinra reminisces on a talk he had with Celty back before she got her head back and lost her memories. He draws contrast between their group of friends at school and the triangle of Anri, Mikado and Masaomi.

In particular, how the their friendships have been defined as much about the secrets they kept from one another than anything else. Izaya and Shizuo never had any secrets about who they were to the rest of the world, while Celty, like Anri now, wanted to be the peacekeeper. Shinra isn’t ready to give up on her yet, as the dark night sky reminds him of her embrace.

Anri, meanwhile, is overcome by gratitude that Dotachin and his crew are so kind and understanding, but Dota makes it clear: even though Celty’s far less human than Anri, they know her, and know her well, and care for her, so they’d never fear either her or Anri.

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As for Erika, she digs into her purse and finds the one thing that will serve her best in the middle of a pack of Saika zombies: red contacts lenses. Able to move more freely by looking and acting the part, Erika’s wandering segues nicely into Niekawa, who Anri calls on her cell.

Nasujima answers for her, telling her how Niekawa now calls him mother, that Mikado and Masaomi have been invited to his “party”, and she should attend as well. This only further steels Anri’s resolve to do what she can both for Erika and for her two best friends.

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Masaomi and Chikage, it turns out, are tricked by Blue Square, by having Chikage lured into a baseball bat ambush while Mikado sneaks up on Masaomi on the rooftop to finally reveal his secret: he’s the founder of the Dollars. It’s a confession so long in the running I could have sworn Masaomi already knew long ago.

But the confession itself is of little consequence compared to whatever Mikado plans to do next. Is that gun for Masaomi? Are they truly beyond the point of no return? Can Anri get to them in time, and when she does, slap some sense into them? Will Shinra be able to reunite with Celty, and will she ever remember him again? Will somebody put Nasujima in his place? This is all going to be answered very soon.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 02 (26)

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This week’s narrator is Shingen, whose wise, matter-of-fact tone is somewhat offset by the fact his voice is slightly muffled by the gas mask he never takes off (He’d be right at home in a Gundam anime). And what does Shingen talk about all episode? Women. No, nothing so crude as how they be shoppin’ all the time, but how women are women, whether they’re human or not.

Just take Anri and Erika at the hospital when Chikage arrives with his harem in tow. The two girls donning black may as well be sisters, but only Erika is fully human; Anri is a vessel for Saika, her calm, timid facade concealing churning multitudes of power and potential for destruction. By comparison Erika can’t do much besides not call Chikage back after giving him her email.

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Later, then Izaya shows up to have his injuries checked out, he tries to lure Saika into losing her cool and proving she’s not human but just a pretender…and Izaya knows humans, loves them, and believes that gives him leave to mess with them all he likes.

His tortured metaphor of Mikado and Masaomi walking a tightrope with nooses around their necks connecting them, and all the various people trying to help or hurt him, is nevertheless enough to get Anri’s Saika blood boiling, until it’s all she can do to not kill him.

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The whole episode, Manami is walking around with a bag we later learn contains Celty’s head. She’s ostensibly working for Izaya but also trying to hurt him wherever she can after failing to kill him before. But Izaya has made it clear humans who hate him are free to try to kill him, but he’ll never stop loving and forgiving them. But that love means nothing to Manami.

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Erika consoles a very disturbed Anri; after all, it’s plenty human to feel like killing Izaya now and again. And just as Izaya will always forgive humans no matter what they tried to to to him, Erika will always love and forgive Anri, even if she becomes the dark instrument of the world’s destruction.

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As Celty, another non-human whose human friend (and lover) Shinra will always love and forgive even if she destroys the world, is run ragged getting all the freeloaders situated in the apartment, her “still unknown enemy”

Kujiragi Kasane shows that she isn’t always Saika, or the shadowy leader of an organization using body doubles as the now-dead Yadogiri Jinnai to conduct business, or Ruri’s mothers half-sister (as we learn from the gossipy Shingen). Sometimes, she’s just a woman who buys cat ears, takes her shoes off and relaxes in the park, contemplating cafes to try out.

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When Erika sees how Anri smiles and cries and feels such concern for her troubled friends, she can’t help but disregard “humanity” as some kind of requisite for being a good person. Anri is a good person, whatever’s stewing within her, and I think she has a crucial role to play in mediating the war between her two friends soon.

It’s a little heartbreaking, then, that just when Anri is accepting Erika’s words of encouragement (and going to buy cat ears for her, only to find they’re sold out), she runs into Niekawa Haruna in the street, who asks her to come with her, or else.

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As I said, Shinra, like Erika with Anri, sees Celty as a woman first and foremost, but a woman who, due to her non-humanity, is disposed to act even kinder than humans usually act towards one another, aware of the stigma of what she is and how hard it is to hide. Without even thinking, Celty is a passionate, warm, caring, generous woman, and all Shinra asks is that she not think any less of herself.

But like Anri with Niewkawa, Celty has her non-humanity thrown in her face, as Manami took her head from Niekawa and unceremoniously hucked it in the bushes for all to see. It even making the news, which after chatting with the twins is how Celty finds out. And when she sees her head, exposed and vulnerable; the very object she was made the head of a new guild to retrieve, she does something a woman is more likely to do than a dullahan – she faints.

Shingen completes his monologue about “women being women” human or not, telling the women listening he has nothing more to say, but warning the men they “can’t be too careful,” implying the woman you choose may be someone like Anri, Ruri, Kasane, Haruna, or Celty, who are all more than just women.

It’s less of a condescending warning to stay away, and more of a warning to make sure you’re worthy of such women, and are resolved and prepared to stand with them when things get tough.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 01 (25)

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This third and final cour of Durarara!!x2 is subtitled Ketsu (結) Japanese for (among other things) “sintering” (compacting a solid mass without melting it) and Chinese for “knot.” (It can also mean “ass”, referring to the end of Dura2…but stay with me.)

We begin where Ten ended: Celty in her and Shinra’s apartment, which is full of random people, and she has no idea why they’re all there. That is the knot, the puzzle that is loosened and unraveled in this episode. On a larger scale, Ikebukuro itself has always been like a knot: a combination of disparate strings periodically tightening and loosening, with often surprising results.

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This episode follows the same pattern as most Dura episodes: a central narrator (this week Shinra) comments on all the various goings on. We dart from string to string in the Ikebukuro knot, from Mikado still mixed up with Aoba in an imminent war with the Yellow Scarves, a potential conflagration Aoba wants to keep Kururi and Mairu out of. Two cops under Saika’s control try to get rid of Heiwajima, but the motorcycle cop Kuzuhara frees him.

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It’s not easy when the only people in her house who aren’t certifiable are Igor and “the driver” (Togusa), Celty gradually learns their reasons for being there. Shingen and Igor descended on Seitarou and Kujiraji Kasane in gas masks to rescue Namie (using gas bomb that made the news in the process). Walker and Togusa are hiding out, as is Yagiri Seiji and Mika.

I must say there’s a great imaginative, insane energy to putting all these kooks together. Shingen, Emilia, Walker, Namie and Mika are each their own special blend of crazy, and knotting them together makes for interesting exchanges and reactions, none of which really help Celty get to the bottom of things.

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As for Izaya, who looked to be in bad shape last cour, was only pretending to be passed out as the Saika-controlled Sloan took him to a hideout of Izaya’s enemies. He had Sharaku and Kine follow Sloan, who he knows is under the influence of Kujiraji, not Niekawa or Anri.

The immediate puzzle of her many houseguests thus solved, Celty lays out her goal: to retrieve her head from Izaya and leave it in the care of Nebula (which Shingen and Emilia belong to). She’d rather they poke and prod it than leave Izaya to use it as a ball or vase; it’s a matter of pride and principle.

The crazies all unite right then and there to form a “guild” on Shinra’s suggestion in order to aid her, with his true reasoning being keeping his lover as minimally involved as possible in the head retrieval process, knowing that she and the Dollars, are at the very center of the storm brewing…which is, after all, nothing new.

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Sword Art Online II – 22

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sword Art Online II – 21

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sword Art Online II – 20

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sword Art Online – 03

While the front line teams are approaching the halfway point of the game, Kirito wallows down on the 20th floor, where he saves the lives of a guild called the Moonlit Black Cats. They insist he join them, and he does, though he conceals his far higher level from them. While a member, they climb high, and he befriends Sachi, a girl constantly afraid of dying; Kirito insists she won’t. While the Cats’ leader Keita is off buying the guild’s first house, the rest go to a dungeon and are ensnared in a treasure box trap, and everyone is killed except for Kirito. When Keita returns and learns of Kirito’s level, he commits suicide.

Kirito goes after a level boss called Nicholas Renegade, who arrives at the stroke of midnight on Christmas, believing he’ll drop a rare item that will bring Sachi back. Klein and his men fight off the elite Holy Dragon Alliance, and Kirito defeats Nicholas, but the item will only bring back a life ‘within ten seconds’ of dying. He gives the item to Klein and slinks off on his own. That night, he recieves an auto-sent message from Sachi, in case she died, telling him not to blame himself and keep surviving to the end.

This weeks episode shows us a Kirito who hasn’t taken leadership of any group or guild, but merely wanders the game, leveling up and staying away from the front lines. But circumstances led him to saving a lower-leveled guild, and when they insist he join up, he can’t say no. This is a group of friends in real life (a PC research club), and it’s probably nice from Kirito’s perspective, at this point in the game, to see that there are close-knit ‘families’ fighting for one another. He probably couldn’t turn his back on that…only he didn’t reveal he was double their level when he joined. Thus he entered a “safe” arrangement – until he learns that one stupid mistake in the game can mean game over. It’s pretty awful to see the guild get killed one by one, but as soon as Kirito told Sachi earlier she wouldn’t die, we kinda expected her to, and she did.

Sometimes simple premises are the best when dealing with single-episode romances like that of Kirito and Sachi, so we’re glad they didn’t do too much, and were moved nonetheless. We found ourselves hoping he could keep her alive and help her overcome her fear. When she died, we hoped he could bring her back, but it just wasn’t to be (the “within ten seconds” catch was particularly heartbreaking). Sachi’s posthumous message was a touching coda to their story of tender, doomed romance. It hopefully allows Kirito to move forward and become a more important force in SAO – if not for himself, than for everyone else; something his dead leader Keita insisted the elite groups were doing.


Rating: 9 (Superior)