Haru and Taku meet up with Yuniko in a maid cafe, where she grudingly agrees to give Taku a crash course in the Incarnate System. While she trains him in an arctic wasteland, Haru returns to the real world, and Yuniko’s underling Blood Leopard takes him to a neutral underground duelling hall in Akibahara where they’ll investigate Dusk Taker’s ability to stay off of the lists.
The Red King Scarlet Rain proves a valuable, if reluctant, ally to Haru and Taku in their quest to defeat who’s likely the final boss in this series, the insufferable Nomi Seiji/Dusk Taker. Not only does she welcome them into her Red Legion’s prominence base and give Taku a personal lesson in how to use the Incarnate system, as a bonus she lends Haru the services of one of her subjects to aid in his investigation of Nomi. It’s good to be strong, but they won’t beat Nomi unless they know as much about him as they can; no more surprises.
We liked Yuniko’s sudden shift from her cheerful facade to surly grouch when Haru mentions Incarnate in public; but we’re glad she knows she has a debt to pay and is willing to do so. We also like Blood Leopard’s very matter-of-fact manner with Haru (we too thought at the time she was pretty stiff for a maid waitress!) Plus, her bosozoku motorcycle with voice-activated ignition is freakin’ awesome, and riding it in a maid costume really helps them blend in with the colorful Akiba rabble. The underground duelling bar is another nice touch.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Yellow Radio and his legion scurry away, leaving Hime, Niko and Haru to deal with Cherry Rook/Chrome Disaster. Haru is too scared to move at first, but Hime encourages him. Hime is struck down by the armor, then shot in the back by a frustrated Niko, who loses an arm. The Armor then bounds away, but Haru goes after it, using its own tethers against it and driving it into the ground in pieces. Niko delivers the judgment blow. Everyone checks their equipment for remnants of the armor, and find none, though Haru still hears its voice, as a part of the armor has infected his avatar.
And so the Cherry Rook/Disaster story is more complex than a simple matter of a subordinate going off the reservation. Turns out, Cherry and Niko were good friends at a facility for abandoned children, and he introduced her to Brain Burst, not the other way round. He was her guardian, and she was his protege – but she caught up to and surpassed him. In the real world, he was about to move away, and wanted desperately to keep in touch with her through the VR game, so he sought out the Armor of Catastrophe to become stronger. Turns out that was a bad move; since the armor doesn’t just make your stronger, but turns you into a mindless, avatar-devouring animal.
For all the build-up, he’s done in pretty easily, but we chalk that up to Haru getting better at dismissing his inherent fear of being worthless and losing – potentially self-fulfilling prophecies – and tapping into his ample potential. We also liked how Niko hesitated when she had the chance to take Rook out; she’s still a kid after all, and was hoping he could be redeemed. The transition from the dark city to the Castle in the Sky-style lush green paradise dotted with ancient ruins was a nice touch, as was the post-battle scene between Haru and Niko, who have indeed beccome friends, regardless of Niko’s tsundere insistences to the contrary. Of course, with the armor not-quite-gone and apparently lurking within Silver Crow, the second half won’t be all fun and games.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Haru, Hime, Taku and Niko are ambushed by the Yellow King, Yellow Radio, and a large force of his followers. He neutralizes Black Lotus by playing back video of her beheading Red Rider in a sneak attack. Taku believes retreat the best option, and he all but sacrifices Cyan Pile to cover the others. Silver Crow and Scarlet Rain struggle with Radio’s superior numbers, until Haru snaps Hime out of it and Black Lotus squares off with Radio himself, the first battle between Level 9 Kings. Before they can unleash their special attacks, Radio is stabbed by Chrome Disaster.
The end of last week looked like a tough spot for our heroes, as their foes had the high ground and far more numbers. Thankfully, Yellow Radio is more insterested in talking and letting the small fry fight for him; he only lifts a finger when Black Lotus comes at him directly. There’s also no nice way of saying this: his henchmen can’t aim. They do manage to dismantle much of Niko’s red fort, as Haru is busy squirming on the ground getting shocked. At this time, you can bet Niko is regretting not bringing Red Legion backup.
As for Kuroyukihime, seeing herself betray the old Red King, someone she respected and would probably be friends with in real life, is a sudden shock that drains her will to fight (“Zero Fill” ~ there’s a term for everything!), and without that, her avatar won’t move. Fortunately the shock is only temporary, as sufficient yelling from Haru wakes her up (so she can correct him about her having loved Red Rider; she didn’t). Then the silly-looking Yellow King with his silly illusory powers literally gets stabbed in the back by the very Chrome Disaster he created. But we agree with Kuroyukihime…we never liked him anyway.
Rating: 5 (Average)
Scarlet Rain AKA Kozuki Yuniko AKA Niko meets with Kuroyukihime, Haru and Taku at Haru’s place under a truce. After confirming their real identities, she reveals why she infiltrated Haru and sought him out: she needs Silver Crow’s wings to defeat the Armor of Catastrophe AKA Chrome Disaster. Everyone direct links with Kuroyukihime and watches her memory of the battle in which the fourth Chrome Disaster was destroyed. However, there is now a fifth incarnation of the brutal loose cannon within Niko’s own Red Legion. She must deliver the Judgement Blow to “regulate” him, but due to his leaping ability, she wants to borrow Haru to do so, in exchange for the Reds conceding territory inSuginami. Hime agrees. Jealous of Niko staying with Haru, she sleeps over as well, and Haru contemplates Taku’s warning not to forget that Niko is the enemy.
If the last episode was the powerful introduction of Kozuki Yuniko as someone who is not to be trifled with despite her petite stature and innocent facade, and someone who takes an instant loathing to Haru due to an accidental groping, this week was the inevitable clash of Niko and Hime, who fight throughout the episode for the attention of the lovable squishy Teddy Bear that is Arita Haruyuki. As Chiyu is absent this week, Taku can only sit back and endure the heated tug-of-war over his roly-poly friend and colleague. But if we had to choose between “endure” and “enjoy” when describing th competition, we actually think we’d hew closer to the latter. In short, it wasn’t that bad.
Part of this is that there is a reason Niko’s around: she’s got a problem, and Haru is the best avatar for the job. We’re also treated to a past battle in which Hime and other Kings of Pure Color united to take down an unstable, chaotic element that threatened everything they’d fought for. Haru shudders to think what kind of person lurks beneath the reincarnating hate armor. Combined with Niko telling Haru how real life can “fade away” if one spends too much time in the Accelerated World (which you have to do in order to rise to Level 10), it builds a case that there’s a monster within every linker, even him. The real life interactions between Niko, Haru and Hime were well-played and helped flesh her out as a real person who likes to play video games and cook food for friends, and not just a slogan-spewing, scenery-chewing villainess. If they can spend a civil night together, they can work together to solve Niko’s problem…before it becomes everyone else’s.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)