Sword Art Online II – 14

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I was initially a little disappointed that yet again a Damsel in Distress would be rescued by the valiant Kirito, and then Kyouji proceeds to pin him down and inject him. In that moment, he’s the damsel now, and it’s Shino who saves him by knocking Kyouji out with her boombox. Sure, the lethal injection didn’t enter his body (Kyouji just happened to shoot into an electrode on Kirito’s chest which is lucky to say the least), but Shino still saved him, and herself, from the psychotic Kyouji.

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In the next act, Shino shows how much she’s grown since meeting Kirito and winning the BoB: when three bullies ask her for money, she politely refuses; when they pull a gun on her, she freaks out a little at the sight of it, but recollects herself. When the girl can’t pull the trigger, Shino disarms her, turns off the safety, and hits a can dead on from pretty far away, revealing it’s a BB gun. Then she puts the safety back on and hands it back to her terrified would-be tormentor.

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It’s an immensely satisfying exchange, escpecially when Shino’s out of sight and nearly collapses from anxiety afterwards. She didn’t suddenly become Rambo in the real world, but she’s taken the crucial first small step, and she’s going to keep taking more. It’s also pretty funny that Kirito picks her up from school in his motorcycle, which creates a small sensation from Shino’s classmates and likely raises her stature in the school a couple of ticks, simply because they don’t know that Kirito’s actually a bit of a dweeb.

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What follows is unapologetic exposition about the three people who together were Death Gun in and out of GGO, and how they planned to take out powerful players. Both Kyouji and his older brother were fueled by envy of those more powerful, while Kyouji himself dealt with the additional stress of being the heir to the family hospital after their dad gave up on his older brother. As their plan to kill elite players got more realistic, the virtual world became his reality.

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Here, Shino shows a different kind of strength when she insists on talking to Kyouji as soon as it’s possible. Even though he did terrible things to her, he was a broken person, and she doesn’t want him to keep on being broken. She herself once sought power in GGO, and risked having that world become more real than her own. Her apparent willingness to forgive Kyouji may be more than he deserves, but its her right to bestow that forgiveness if that’s what she wants.

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The final and most powerful act of the episode that redeems the somewhat boring Death Gun infodump is the sort of intervention-light that follows. At first it seems like Kirito is just going to introduce her to Asuna and Rika, but then he reveals (and apologizes for) his true intent: for her to meet the post office worker whose life she saved by killing that gunman. The worker comes with her adorable four-year-old daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident, so Shino saved two lives in one.

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One can weigh the pros and cons of one’s actions all they want in one’s head, but having grateful beneficiaries of your actions staring right at you, thanking you profusely and giving you a drawing is another thing entirely. Because she saved lives, she has the right to forgive herself for taking one, as much she has a right to keep blaming herself. While certainly a delicate and highly personal situation, Kirito went through a very similar thing, and because he and Shino became friends, he did all he could to help her, as did Asuna and Rika; before they even met her.

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Bakuman 2 – 03

TRAP’s first chapter ranks third in the Jack polls, which is fine by any measure, but disappointing for Takagi. Mashrio says the only thing for it is to keep plugging away. But their work on the fifth chapter is interrupted by news that Aoki has dumped Nakai to write for NOOGY. Rather than heartbroken, Nakai decides to win her back by drawing outside her window every free minute he has. Just when everyone is about to stage an intervention for Nakai, who is drawing in a snowstorm, Aoki cracks and decides to keep working with him after all. The second chapter of TRAP falls to eighth.

For side characters, Aoki and Nakai are pretty complex. Aoki isn’t just the stone-cold bitch she appears to be on the surface, nor is Nakai a desperate, creepy stalker he appears to be. It’s more complicated than that. There’s no doubt that Nakai likes Aoki very much, and a lot of his actions are stalkeresque, but he has also bet everything on her manga, hideout door. He wants to prove himself to her. But she decides to work with KOOGY so she can tell the story she wants to tell – not bend to the will of Jack editors. Their standoff dominates this episode, and it was fun to see them back in action, along with Fukuda.

That standoff resolves itself without cheating. Aoki isn’t going to call the cops on Nakai, because part of her must know that he’s the best artist for her. Koogy’s all flash and no substance, but Nakai has been finely honing his art almost as long as the likes of Koogy have been alive. The scene where she finally comes outside to apologize is an awesome culmination of all the emotions expressed so far. She admits its her work she feels is inadequate, not his, and promises to do her best for his sake. Then Nakai gets overexcited about her inviting him in, that even manages to elicit a teensy scream from the stoic Aoki. There’s clearly unrequited love at play here, but the manga is more important than that.


Rating: 3.5