Sword Art Online II – 02

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This week backed up a bit from Sinon’s introductory scene last week, setting up that scene with a bit of team strategizing, and then barreling right into the action, which barely lets up thereafter. The episode is dominated by one big, elaborate, very slickly-animated, thrilling battle. Just two episodes in, and things are looking good here at SAO.

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In GGO, Sinon is the sniper in a six-man crew of player-hunters, but their latest prey appear on the horizon with a new face attached to a big, cloaked body. Sinon is uneasy about this unknown, and wants to take him out first to eliminate that unknown, but the team leader Dyne overrules her. Sinon shoots the known Minimi gun-holder first, and can’t take out the stranger after, as he dodges. Then he pulls the cloak off to reveal…a minigun.

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Turns out the big man is Behemoth, a noted bodyguard-for-hire whose smile on the battlefield only further fuels Sinon’s intense desire to kill him, proving she’s the strongest on said battlefield. When her team loses a man, Dyne wigs out, but Sinon calms him down and directs everyone to execute a pincer attack. Behemoth still won’t go down, even after Dyne lunges at him with a gutsy suicide attack that buys her time to find a new nest.

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But even high up in a huge, awesome half-collapsed skyscraper, as Sinon’s crosshairs focus on Behemoth, his focus on hers, and she loses her leg, dodging a lethal shot only barely. As she plummets to the ground, she executes a number of bullet-dodging acrobatics before finally regaining her bearings and delivering a perfectly timed headshot. Sinon 1, Behemoth 0; Game over. “Sinon” awakes in the real world, unsatisfied. She won, but lost two comrades and a leg. She’s not as strong as she wants to be. Not yet.

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The episode could have cut to credits right then and there and I’d have been perfectly happy, but instead we get Bonus SAO, as we check in on Leafa, Liz, and Silica still chillin’ in ALfeim Online, gathering loot. Kirito and Asuna are also there with Yui, happy as clams. Staring up at Aincrad, Kirito ready to discuss something with Asuna—most likely the mission Kikuoka gave him last week. The day he inevitably crosses paths with Sinon should be something to behold.

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Sword Art Online II – 01

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Aside from a few brief glimpses of the scale and majesty of the new online world of Gun Gale Online (see above) and a few flashbacks to more energetic times, this was a pretty quiet, unflashy opening to a new season of SAO. Yet after more than a year and a half since we’ve seen Kirito and Asuna, I rather appreciated a less hectic, more introspective start that catches us up with what’s been happening in the world.

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For one thing, both Kirito and Asuna (who are the focus of the episode) seem to have more or less retired from gaming. While neither seem to be in the throes of PTSD, they did endure quite a few horrors, and four thousand people did perish in SAO, so I could understand if they decided to be totally done with VMMOing. Still, Kirito wants to transition from playing to R&D, so the virtual world can be made even more like the real world, where holding hands with Asuna conveys a lot more information between them than in current games.

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There’s a definite sense of peace and contentment between the two as they walk hand in hand through Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens, maintaining the subtle but warm romance they started in the virtual world. Having been there myself, I can relate to the deep, inscrutable aura of a 2km x 1.5km area of land virtually untouched by time in the center of the world’s biggest urban conglomeration. It’s a nice nod to their past that the two show up for their date wearing the colors of their SAO avatars.

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Of course, Kirito isn’t really done gaming. In the classic “pulled in for one last job” scenario, he’s lured into a swanky cafe and given free rein over the dessert menu by one Kikuoka Seijirou of the Advanced Communications Networks Promotion Division Section 2 (“Virtual Division”) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Telecommunications Bureau, which is a ridiculous title, but sums up what he does, which doesn’t sound all that different from what Kirito eventually wants to get into.

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Kikuoka wants to employ Kirito’s very particular set of skills to infiltrate GGO and investigate a set of player deaths whose hearts stopped in the real world after they were shot in the game by the lamely-named “Death Gun”. Since people can and do make their living playing GGO, it’s a tough game for an amateur, but if anyone can quickly pick up a game, it’s Kirito, and as the OP (here the ED) suggests, he may well bring a (glowing purple) sword to the gunfights and still kick ass.

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So, we had to sit around in a cafe for some time, but the table has been set for the adventures to come. The player deaths will probably prove not to be mere coincidences Kirito and Kikuoka hope they are. At some point Kirito will meet Death Gun, along with the New Girl, handle “Shinon” (Sawashiro Miyuki), who has Eureka-like hair, a nice bum, nicer aim, and uncertain loyalties. Will they warm to each other, or butt heads? I’m guessing the latter, at first.

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Tokyo Trip Journal 7

10 June, Heisei 22 (Thurs)

This morning heralded in a clear, warm, sunny, and absolutely perfect day to visit Tokyo’s waterfront district, a reclaimed “Inner Harbor/Harbor East”-like area known as Odaiba. The ruby Uedo. line took me form Shinjuku to Shiodome, and then I only needed to hop on the Yurikamome monorail to take me across the part of Tokyo Bay to Odaiba. As I write this I am enjoying a Georgia Iced Latter (a Coca-Cola product) with the Rainbow Bridge across the bay from me, Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills visible behind it in the distance, the eccentric Fuji TV Building at my back, and, oddly enough, a third-scale but otherwise exact replica of the Statue of Liberty to the right.

Odaiba is also home to Toyota Mega Web, the largest Toyota auto salon in the country, but less stylish than the one in Ikebukuro. It is also home to a gallery of automotive history, containing some real gems I had not had a good look at in the flesh before (E-Type, De Lorean, Isetta, Spider, Mustang, Biarritz, etc., along with some notable specimens from Toyota’s storied racing history. At least at the hour I was there, I was apparently the only one interested. From Aomi I dashed to the next station to get an up-close look at Tokyo Big Sight, described as either an upside-down version of the Pyramid building from Blade Runner, or your average convention center flipped upside down and suspended on stilts. It is an insane piece of architecture, very sci-fi. Btw, each monorail station has a unique color and pattern decoration derived from Japanese art and design history. What significance this holds alludes me at this time, but its still neat, and I appreciate the attention to detail, as always.

After sightseeing in Odaiba, I finished the Yurikamome monorail loop to get my 800 yen’s worth, ending at Toyosu station on the Yurakucho line, which conveniently connected to Sakuradamon, on the side of the Imperial Palace grounds I hadn’t been to yet. First I took a quick look at the National Diet building, a handsome structure combining elements of Japanese and Art Deco architecture.

The gardens and plazas surrounding the palace moat were gorgeous and impeccably tended. I wondered what life was like up there on the raised stone ramparts, and whether the Emporer ever walked along its perimeter, gazing out onto the modern city beyond his moat. I had to wonder, because you cannot see much; the main gate was firmly closed and under heavy guard, and the one of the only good views in, while picturesque, still didn’t allow visual access to the palace residences themselves. No biggie though, it was cool just to get as close as I did.

Hungry, i went east to the modern city to find a place for lunch. I found one in “Banri”, another no-nonsense value-for-money place, where I stuffed myself on a miso-like stew with cured pork, mushrooms, bok choy, bamboo shoots and scallions, with excellent pork fried rice on the side. Portions at these restaurants tend to be huge, and people typically eat quite fast. I take my time cleaning my plate, again so as not to offend. Ometachi station was right next door, so I took the now very familiar red Marunouchi line to Shinjuku, where I decided to satisfy my curiosity regarding the “Toto Super Space” on the 27th floor of the Shinjuku L-Tower. The fixtures on display were quite slick…and expensive.

After a brief rest in my room and a shower, I head somewhere I haven’t been before – Ebisu – on the Hibiya line. Ebisu is apparently a diner’s haven; as soon as I emerged from the station I was assaulted by hundreds of places to eat. Choosing where to eat when there are so many good choices can be excrutiating, but I bit the bullet and chose somewhere. I’d eaten Japanese-style food essentially every night I was here, so I decided to switch it up and try out an Italian place called Palermo. They made a mean Margherita pizza.