Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 05 – The Eve of Reckoning

With a title like “The Night Before Battle”, it was clear there would be one more calm-before-the-storm episode before that battle took place, but in this case, it was not only earned, but welcome. After all, there a lot of reunions that need to happen before battle is joined. That starts with Alice’s protege Eldrie and her “uncle” Bercouli.

Eldrie is concerned about the dead weight that is Kirito, but Bercouli demonstrates that he’s still capable of defending himself through sheer willpower. That means he may yet come back to them, hopefully in their hour of greatest need. That’s coming soon, by the way—their forces are outnumbered more than 16-to-1.

Alice considers that perhaps Kirito can’t hear or react to her voice because she’s still suppressing her feelings, and that maybe a gesture of those feelings may finally wake him up. She comes close, but is interrupted by Tiese and Ronie, who heard Kirito was at the camp. I suppose kissing him wouldn’t have mattered; the conditions haven’t been met for him to come back yet.

The pages are beside themselves upon learning of Kirito and Eugeo’s fates, and Alice can’t help but notice they act as if they loved the boys. They rebut that assertion by saying they don’t deserve the right to say they love him, citing their traumatic experience that led the boys to break Axiom law to save them. Alice rejects their position, transforming to “peacetime” Alice Zuberg that would have been had she not been kidnapped.

Her lesson to the two is that bodies are unimportant compared to the hearts and their souls. If they feel they love someone, or that they can and should do something, they need not be ashamed to carry those feelings with pride. It’s something she learned from Kirito and Eugeo and is happy to pass on.

Alice is less enthused by Lady Fanatio carrying such feelings with pride, especially when she asks to see Kirito so she can “try various things” in an attempt to revive him. Alice betrays her own personal feelings for Kirito by barring Fanatio from seeing him. But such bickering has to wait; it’s time for the war council.

Administrator truly screwed the Human Empire in her management of their military forces. The remaining Integrity Knights must make do with what little they have and pursue a strategy of bottle-necking the enemy’s superior numbers in a narrow, barren ravine, hoping that location will also prove challenging to dark mages, who require material in order to cast their arts.

After saying what could be her final goodbyes to Kirito (leaving him in the pages’ care) and Eldrie, Alice mounts her dragon and the forces move into the ravine. The gate resolves, heralding the “Final Load Test.” The good guys are at a huge disadvantage against Miller’s massive forces.

I don’t doubt they’ll need to rely on a last-minute intervention from…someone; maybe Kirito answering the call in their greatest need, maybe Asuna, finally arrived in Underworld and ready to fight to save her fiancee. As for Alice…we just saw a lot of death flags… :(

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 04 – I Don’t Want to Live In This Dark Territory Anymore

Before arriving in Underworld as Emperor Vector, Gabe has a vision of a girl he grew up with, and remembers his father talking about the location of the brain in humans compared to insects. I already didn’t like where this was going, because there’s little point in showing this guy’s past other than creeping people out even more than his desire to eat ALICE’s “sweet” soul.

Most of the tribes of the Dark Territory support Emperor’s decree for more “blood and terror”, except for Dark Knight Commander Vixur ul Shasta and his lieutenant/lover Lipia. Dark the Dark Territory may be, but they know delicate alliance between the tribes will be thrown out of balance and lead to ruin if they go all out against the Human Empire.

Lipia shares Vixur’s sentiments on this matter, but takes it upon herself to rectify it by waiting for Vector in his bedroom and attempting to assassinate him. He’s able to repel her attack, and after strangling her to death, her soul emerges from her forehead and he eats it, experiencing something he’s been yearning for since it happened just once more in his life, with his childhood friend Alicia.

It hapened after he killed Alicia when he drove a screwdriver too far into her ear, hoping to find her soul. Whether he was trying to kill her or not, he was extremely happy with the result, and sought to repeat it by doing it to many, many others. It helps that he’s voiced by the veteran Ishida Akira, who does “aloof, world-weary misanthrope” very well, but yeah…yet again we’re dealing with a straight-up sociopath and irredeemable bastard of an SAO villain. Would be nice if he had more…nuance.

Gabe’s lieutenant (who gets a name this week: Vassago) is amused by how naturally and how well-suited for acting like an emperor his boss is. In a communication with Critter back IRL (where just two hours and change have elapsed), they are warned that if they’re killed in their current bodies, they won’t be able to return to the Underworld as superusers, but mere grunts. So for all intents and purposes, they’re mortal here.

Gabe goes ahead and warns his would-be future assassins by presenting the head of Lipia frozen in a block of ice. This throws Vixur into a fit of rage, but one of the dark mages poisons him before he can touch Vector. Somehow, he manages to overcome the poison and enter a kind of Overdrive mode, launching a suicide attack on Vector that ultimately fails.

Vixur ends up in a strange void where he learns Vector’s soul is “neither alive or dead”, which will make it hard for anyone to kill him. It sucks that seemingly the only two people who opposed Vector are immediately out of the picture.

Before joining the other knights in preparing their defense, Alice peeks over the suddenly crumbling Eastern Gate and spots the massive armies of the Dark Territory advancing. The Human Empire isn’t just, as Alice says, “out of time”, but they’re also very lacking in numbers, and even if they were to mobilize regular citizens, what hope to they have against vicious goblins, orcs, ogres, giants, and…er, pugilists?

We’ll just have to find out. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen enough from the perspective of the bad guys, who are, in true SAO fashion, the baddest bad guys to ever bad who need to get got in the worst way. I don’t like them; mission accomplished, show. Hopefully it returns to Alice’s POV, and/or gets around to updating us on Asuna’s status.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 13 – The God Tongue Officially Joins the Rebellion

…Aaaand we’re back. Good! I missed my Food Wars. The Fall cour of the third season ended with Erina learning that the irritating pest and hack chef Yukihira Souma’s father is none other than her beloved Saiba-sama.

Eishi gives a school-wide address about impending Advancement Exams that will no doubt drive this cour, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that those who stray from Central’s edicts won’t make the cut. The morale among Polar Star’s ranks sinks at the news.

Erina, to her credit, doesn’t go on an “avoiding Souma” binge to forestall telling him what she’s learned. Instead, she comes to his room, in her nightgown, no less! She has something to say, wants Souma to hear it, and it can’t wait.

What she essentially tells him is that she’s lost. As God Tongue from a young age, tasting and cooking were merely tasks to be performed, and she never derived any fun from any of it…until on a rare day off she got to sample some of Saiba’s cooking. From then on, she got it: cooking could be fun and good enough to win over the God Tongue!

But not long after experiencing that fun, her father began her “education” in “good food is only what I say it is” culinary orthodoxy. She cannot easily cast aside that conditioning, even if she wanted to, and part of her understands the need for standards to be set and followed, even if Azami goes about it in far to harsh and oppressive a way.

As such, she’s torn between two opposing philosophies. Souma decides to try to put his finger on the scales, so to speak, and get back at her at the same time for telling him his food was disgusting the first time she tasted it. He wants to make something quintessentially Yukihira, to remind her of those fun yet refined flavors Azami tried to condition away, along with her passion for cooking.

Souma’s Polar Star peers worry he may be up to something, but Megumi assures them he’s on a mission to make her understand not only his philosophy, but all their philosophies. The rewards of “awakening” Erina to culinary freedom may be the key to Polar Star’s survival.

Souma ends up preparing a tempura egg rice bowl, the process for making which neither Erina nor the eavesdropping dorm-mates understand, until Souma lets them in on the secret: freezing the egg before coating and frying it. And not just any egg: a low-quality egg that was on sale at the local shops.

Not only does Souma achieve an aroma, texture and flavor that have Erina imagining countless tiny Souma-chickens gently pecking her naked body (yikes, that’s a foodgasm for the books), but he manages to debunk Erina’s firm belief that only the finest, rarest, highest quality ingredients can make a great dish. In this case, a finer egg would be too overwhelming due to the freezer’s effect on the protein.

As expected, Erina never actually says “delicious” as Souma bet he’d make her do, but he does remind her of Saiba, not just in his style of cooking, but how he talks about it. Cooking isn’t about following a book, it’s about taking risks. To paraphrase Julia Child, great cooking requires a multitude of failures. It takes risks that sometimes won’t pan out. And taking those risks is what makes cooking fun.

So even though Erina craftily takes her leave before giving Souma any answers about the taste of his bowl, the effects of the meal inspire her to call for all of Polar Star to assemble out front the next morning. It’s cold, and her first words to them are cold as well, rattling their cages before praising them for helping to teach her that not only is their value in cooking food that is “free”, but that such innovation-through-failure is essential to stave of culinary stagnation.

To that end, she challenges each and every Polar Star member to keep doing what they’ve been doing—cooking free food, failing, learning, and improving—and she’ll summon the full powers of her God Tongue to see to it each and every one of them pass the Advancement Exams. And so, Erina has officially taken a side against her Azami and Central.

I have no doubt that if the dorm-mates can cook food that impresses her, they’ll impress any and all impartial exam judges. The question is, how are they going to get non-Central-sanctioned food to the judges’ table? The Rebellion Continues…

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 12

Here we are: at the midpoint of what I assume will be a 24/25-episode third season of Food Wars, and Souma has finally taken it on himself to challenge the First Seat of Totsuki’s Elite Ten.

But it wasn’t arrogance that led him to this position! What would you do if Tsukasa told you Nakiri Azami’s ultimate goal is to shut down every restaurant in Japan? Somebody has to take a stand, even if it’s foolhardy.

Despite the stakes, Souma remains calm and does his thing. I appreciated the meta nod to his bag of secret ingredients that have won him challenges in the past. He whips out a new one to use with the venison—sweet chestnuts—then cooks the meat in a seemingly very un-French way—with a charcoal brazier.

When his dish is complete, Tsukasa wonders who will judge it, clearly too focused on his cooking to notice the eavesdroppers in the hall. Souma, however, knew Megumi, Hisako and Erina were there all along, and encourages them to serve as judges.

Souma’s dish tears both Megumi and Hisako’s clothes off, and even Erina is pleasantly surprised; despite the charcoal, Souma used the bitterness of instant coffee to balance his dish, and it is presented in a way that barely passes the French cuisine test.

Then it’s time to taste Tsukasa’s dish—absolutely perfectly-cooked venison with two exquisite sauces—and it isn’t even a matter of clothes coming off or foodgasms…the girls are transported to an Eden-like dimension where they are one with the deer, the trees, and the sunshine.

So yeah…it was kinda silly to imagine Souma was never going to come anywhere close to beating Tsukasa, unless Tsukasa was jobbing. As much as they don’t want Souma working for Central, they have no choice but to pick Tsukasa’s dish as the winner; it’s just…better.

But hey, turns out Souma doesn’t have to work for Central even though he lost! He put up a good fight, and in the process demonstrated to Tsukasa that he’s far too wild and unpredictable to serve as his right hand. So he declares a draw and takes his leave. No harm, no foul!

With that, the episode moves on, with two quick, surprising wins for Megumi’s Cultural RS Nikumi’s Don RS. While sadly there wasn’t time to get into them in any kind of detail, it’s good to see that it isn’t just Souma and Ryo who can beat Central. The morale of the rebellion reaches a new high.

While celebrating Megumi’s win, Polar Star holds a grand tasting session for the God Tongue (much to her chagrin), but Hisako is nevertheless glad Erina’s fitting in with everyone (though someone needs to take that dour brown frock away from Erina and burn it, IMO).

Just when it looks like the episode will end on a happy upbeat note, Azami darkens Polar Star’s doorstep. He invites himself in, ignores demands to leave, and orders Erina to come with him. Erina almost starts to move reflexively, so completely has he conditioner her to obey, but he’s blocked by the other dorm members, Hisako, and even Fumio, who reveals Azami is a Polar Star alumnus.

Isshiki reports the results of his research on Nakamura Azami, and how he rose to Third Seat in his first year, First Seat in his second, and became a top star…until Senzaemon exiled him. Outnumbered, Azami takes his leave, but Souma follows him outside and asks, basically, why he hates Polar Star so much.

But Polar Star is nothing to Azami; neither love nor hate. He’s after bigger things. Besides, Polar Star’s Golden Age is long gone; during that time, Azami looked up to a senpai named Saiba Jouichirou. Azami’s revolution is meant to be the “salvation of the culinary world that ruined Saiba-senpai.”

Erina peaked her head out at just the right time to hear that the chef she always admired and even loved has a son, and that son is Yukihira Souma. That knowledge should make the second half of the season interesting!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

Last week I pleaded for the show to do something, anything with Erina before the cour is out, and it seems like my prayers were answered … somewhat. She’s finally out of that horrid brown frock, back in uniform, and more importantly, outside the friendly confines of Polar Star.

Erina confides in Isshiki that she doesn’t expect her relationship with Alice to improve anytime because of the “horrible things” she did to her in the past, even though those things were done when she was under the absolute influence of Azami.

So it comes as a shock to the system when Erina arrives at the Shokugeki hall to find Alice telling Azami off right to his face, demanding he let Erina be her own person. Alice knows it wasn’t Erina’s fault she never got her letters, and never again wants her cousin in the postition where she can’t write back.

But this isn’t going to work if Erina herself doesn’t stand up straight and show her domineering creepfest of her father that she’s her own person. Alice can’t let her main rival be a cowering puppet!

The Alice-Erina interaction is wonderful, but things get even better and more complex when Yukihira and Megumi’s teacher is dismissed and replaced by First Seat Tsukasa Eishi. (Additionally, as Ryo was the only rep to beat Central, Azami quickly purges of the other 32 clubs and societies that lost in the first round.)

Tsukasa, wonderfully voiced by Ishida Akira, is the siren, if you will, who will bring the students to heel through their adoration of him; the class is understandably super-stoked to have the opportunity to learn from the First Seat.

Where things get interesting is when Souma volunteers to be Tsukasa’s teaching assistant, then proceeds to exceed Tsukasa’s expectations with the skills he honed at Shino’s, keeping up with the superfast pace of Tsukasa’s cooking.

The class is wowed, and frankly, I enjoyed Souma and Tsukasa—ostensibly an enemy—putting aside their differences to work some culinary magic in perfect harmony. As Souma says, it was fun!

Meanwhile, Erina has worked up the courage to return to scheduled classes, a big step forward and a relief to her admirers. In a scene that’s touching despite the blatant fanservice, Hisako remarks how she’s noticed a change in Erina.

Erina acknowledges is a result of witnessing all of the people, from those in RS’s to Polar Star, Souma, Ryo and Alice, standing up against her father, something she once thought impossible.

She’s now become worried less about how to please father and more worried about what she Nakiri Erina, wants to do with herself…something far beyond taking a side in Totsuki’s not-quite-dead Civil War.

Speaking of sides, Erina, Hisako, and later Megumi end up eavesdropping on an extended conversation in which Tsukasa offers Souma a job as his right-hand man, making him an official member of Central.

When Souma says he wouldn’t want to present Yukihira Diner’s cooking at Central, Tsukasa calmly reveals that such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, because Yukihira Diner’s cooking isn’t necessary.

All Tsukasa wants is Souma’s “supportive abilities” to help him refine his own cooking, while Souma’s cooking would presumably die off. Tsukasa, literally Number One at Totsuki, has no qualms exposing his boundless selfishness common in many elite chefs.

Souma doesn’t see the point if he can’t serve his own cooking, and says for all they know, Souma’s cooking is better than Tsukasa’s, to which Tsukasa responds with an informal challenge right then and there. If Souma wins, Tsukasa will surrender his First Seat to him. If Souma loses, the rest of his days at Totsuki will be spent as Tsukasa’s sous chef.

Tsukasa begins cooking immediately, and the smell of his venison is so invigorating, Megumi and Hisako—outside the classroom—have foodgasms without a bite! Even Souma hesitates in the presence of such superlative cooking skill—until he hears of Azami and Central’s ultimate plans.

Central aims to literally take over the Japanese culinary world, shutting down all restaurants deemed subpar, including Yukihira Diner. This isn’t just a silly little war within the school, it’s primed to become a nationwide battle between the monolithic empire of orthodoxy and the rebellion of independence an individuality.

Here’s the thing: I just don’t see Souma beating Tsukasa. Does that mean he loses and is forced to switch sides? If this is a conflict the effects of which will extend far beyond the school, will he instead choose exile? And since she’s been listening and watching this whole time, what will Erina decide to do?

LOL. Never change, Erina.