Little Witch Academia – 24

Show of (virtual) hands (that I can’t see because they’re virtual):

Who kinda knew going in that Naruto Palpatine Croix would ultimately succeed in activating her “Noir Rod”, only to find the world reconstruction magic she sought so vehemently would still not available to her, and that the technology she had developed would overload from all the bad soccer vibes and turn on her, requiring Chariot—who spent the first part of the episode fighting her—as the only person who can rescue Croix, and does so, because, well, she’s a good guy?

I mean, it all pretty much unfolded how I expected. Did it look great? Well, it’s Trigger on Red Bull: it’s usually gonna look gangbusters. But was it a great episode? I gotta say…no. It was merely good.

And lets start with the good. Obviously, the visuals stood out, as everything got crazy in a hurry. Watching Chariot fighting while keeping her emotions (which Croix can use against her) in check was also fun. Heck, it was also kinda fun to see Croix succeed (if only temporarily).

You really get the sense her unending quest to gain the Triskelion (and her long-standing resentment she wasn’t chosen by the ‘Rod) slowly twisted her until she became the supervillain she is today. And Chariot knows she shares some blame for the creation of the monster Croix has become, for the reasons laid out last week.

But in its quest to put on a big, bad, exciting Trigger Brand Dramatic Climax™, the beats just feel too familiar. “Borrowing” the Star Wars lightsaber, then escalating the battle to near-Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann levels of lunacy, only invites comparison to those better Trigger works—a comparison that doesn’t favor LWA.

I know it sounds ungrateful or even hypocritical to accuse LWA of going too far with the weird, wild special effects, but it’s somewhat disheartening to see characters who felt so big when we heard their stories earlier, scaled down to the size of ants before all the great big crazy stuff going on.

That’s why I appreciated Akko & Co. arriving at the scene where Chariot was desperately trying to save Croix from her self-made mess. After taking out the Noir Rod with a Shiny Arrow, it’s just Chariot and a forgiving Akko excited and elated to finally be meeting her lifelong idol.

Not only that, her dream has come true, she thanks everyone who helped her get here, and she’s hopeful Chariot will continue to teach her how to be a great witch.

With that, the Shiny Rod indicates the Final Word is ready to be unsealed, granting Akko the power to transform the dark and dreary surroundings into gorgeous, colorful scenery – the “world transformation magic” Croix could not access, seems to be available to Akko.

We’ll see the extent to which that magic will be able to stop the ICBM of negative emotional energy that has launched as a result of civil unrest hitting an untenable fever pitch. Andrew finds himself in the halls of power, among people who want to use war to their advantage.

From the look of that alert on Croix’s phone, the menacing missile soaring high in the sky, and a red-hot steaming populace, we’re probably in for a Trigger-brand Finale of Exponential Escalation™.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t totally eclipse all the little witches.

Gunslinger Stratos – 01 (First Impressions)

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Aw man, this made two straight Spring premieres that take place in a strange future with bland male-protagonist. Seriously, this guy wants to be a sheep.

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Oh no…an inappropriately-dressed sexy teacher with a map of a fractured Japan run by mega-corporations? That’s two ani-cliches in one shot. Not a good start, GS.

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Okay, this is a little more like it. This school has combat training for P.E., which allows the two pairs of guys and girls have at each other with both paintball and lightsaber. The dynamics are straightforward and believable: Kyouka likes Tooru; Kyouka’s bro Kyouma doesn’t like Tooru; and Kyouma’s pint-sized acolyte resents Kyouka.

The character design is almost too simple, but at least the combat animation is smooth, crisp, and fun to watch.

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Things went a bit nuts from there, which reminded me of Patema Inverted, right down to the rickety bridge over a huge vertical shaft. While chasing what seems to be a hologram of a girl from Tooru’s surreal recurring dream in which she’s writing a large and complex mathematical proof on the sidewalk, Tooru and Kyouka fall down that shaft and end up in a totally different world, one that looks more like present day Japan than their futuristic, overly stuffy Utopia.

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While exploring, they find a recently-murdered guy and end up in a firefight. Again, they put their school training to good use. I’m not sure how you can dodge a steady stream of bullets with acrobatics, but nor do I care, because as I said, it’s fun to watch them twist and bound through the air.

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That brings us to the “DundunDUNNNN” moment at the end, where the gunman pursuing them shows his face and reveal that that he’s Tooru…too. There’s Two Toorus. To quote Neo: “Whoa.”

Unlike Plastic Memories, events unfolded in a way I was able to engage in, and without a wildly fluctuating tone. The characters here are pretty bland too,  but I prefer a couple who are on good terms in stories like this to, say, a dense dunce and a tsundere (or doll-like whitehair).

Tooru and Kyouka both like each other, and Tooru’s robot doesn’t too closely resemble a human. There are also a lot of weird sci-fi mysteries I’m eager to see explained, as long as it isn’t through infodumps. Gunslinger Stratos is nothing special, but it’s tolerable, has quantifiable strengths it largely sticks to, and most importantly, never rubbed me the wrong way.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 42

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As Ryouko surveys Takahashi from a high vantage point, you get the sense she senses something’s up. So when Yuki turns out to be absolutely right about there being a big government conspiracy (though people always sound crazy when they say that) and Kurihara has the Science Club and Momo arrested, Ryouko doesn’t stand idly by.

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Kurihara puts a lightsaber to Tenchi’s throat, insisting she’s done with his games, but Ryouko busts in and uses her diversionary magic to allow Tenchi to escape with the girls.

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Meanwhile, the GP Commander in charge of the operation to extract the “singularity points” finally zeroes in on Washuu, as the warhead is less than 45 minutes from reaching its target. But Washuu isn’t concerned…that is, with anything other than the fact these GP jokers are on her turf. Time and Space are her ‘playground’, and she won’t have interlopers. So what’s she got up her sleeves?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 12

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We get another “domestic” ATM following the favorable conclusion of another adventure, which is much better than another recap. The Masaki sisters are there to welcome Tenchi as he stands in his genkan, wearing uniforms from his school, having used a Neuralyzer to convince the StuCo to let them man a stand at the upcoming festival.

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Meanwhile, Ryouko, whom we’ve only seen bits of, is busy doing positively awful things in the kitchen, having caught some kind of intergalactic delicacy and seasoning it with mandrake root. The pure ridiculousness of her “avant-garde” gastronomy was enough for a good hearty laugh or two.

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The episodelet ends with a bit of a moral: it’s a sin to waste food, especially when it’s been lovingly prepared. Thus, neither the Masaki sisters or Tenchi can avoid giving Ryouko’s stew of Undagon—native to the planet Kururu in the Andre Galaxy—a taste. Ryouko won’t let them.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 11

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Beni and Hachiko have a go at Gooriki, but it’s too powerful. Before it can land a decisive beam on either girl, Tenchi springs into action with a lightsaber and dispatches the robot. They escape from the warehouse safe and sound.

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Tenchi gets to be a badass again, following up his ability to stop Beni’s blow back at the hallway squabble at school by showing he can take care of something neither Beni nor Hachiko are able to, thus gaining their respect and maybe even admiration after rough introductions. This is a teacher who will put himself on the line protect his students without hesitation.

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I like how Hachiko’s complex is elaborated, in that she only has the will to fight if she’s holding some kind of weapon (preferably wood, it would seem); otherwise she’s a basket case. Beni gives Tenchi a punch to test if he’s really as strong as he looked in the warehouse. What she doesn’t understand is that unlike her and Hachiko, Tenchi doesn’t broadcast his strength, and only uses it when he really needs to.

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Sword Art Online II – 06

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One of the nice things about SAO is that the previews are simply a static screen with the title of the next episode, as Kirito says “Next Time: [Episode Title]” It doesn’t spoil what’s to come, so we had no idea the show was about to hit fast forward on the BoB preliminaries and deliver what we’ve been waiting for: the first battle between Kirito and Sinon.

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By SAOII standards, that came in a hurry, but a welcome one. The second episode showed us how a GGO battle works and how good Sinon is, but fell down on both stakes and emotional resonance, since we hadn’t yet learned about Sinon’s troubled past, and the parties in the battle were fairly inconsequential, beyond reminding Sinon she has to get stronger.

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This episode improves on all of that one’s shortcomings, and while the vistas were cooler in that one, the quality and pace of the combat is maintained, only this time we care more about the outcome, which ends with Sinon conceiting defeat and surrendering. It also repairs the rift caused by a misundrstanding last week that drew Sinon away, and also turned her idea of the “strength” she seeks on its head. For all those reasons, I think this was SAOII’s best episode to date.

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Up until now Sinon had fathomed strength as the thing that allowed her to slay the most powerful foes with ease, and which allows Kirito to stand still and still dodge her sniper fire, or slice her final bullet in two in their final duel. Kirito sees all that as merely skill, not strength. He also relies on luck and circumstance; his interaction with Sinon after the first round wasn’t a calculation on his part, but it affected her aim from then on regardless.

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No, to Kirito, strength is the thing that allows you to continue living with yourself after having chosen to kill, and kill more than once. Even if it was to defend his comrades and the woman he loved, he still took their lives. Sinon also killed to protect herself and her mother, but both of them have the same problem: Sinon has been unable to move on from that event, and now that Death Gun has reawakened his crimson memories, neither can Kirito.

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Kirito and Sinon, sittin’ in a tree…A-N-G-S-T-I-N-G…so now Sinon may well belive that she’s found her soulmate, but Kirito is, not surprisingly, unaware of the connection, since he doesn’t really know about her past. He also already has Asuna. But in any case, he and Sinon are now no longer enemies, which means she could prove a valuable ally in the coming fight with Death Gun, should he choose to involve others. Of course, he’s said he’s done with killing, but up against a killer, he may have no choice.

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Stray Observations:

  • I really dug the GGO victory fanfare that plays when the battles are one. I counted at least three instances of it here.
  • Particular kudos are in order for Sawashiro Miyuki on her voice-acting in this episode. It’s always nice to hear her voice a leading lady, though her villains are pretty great too.
  • Notable Kirito and Sinon contrasts: she’s primarily in white, he’s black; he charges his opponents in a mad rush, she hangs way back and snipes.
  • I dug the flashback to when Asuna was still rocking her Knights of the Blood garb. Too bad we didn’t get to see her fight much. She remains a tragically underused character.

Sword Art Online II – 05

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Ah, Kirito…so good with a sword and at dodging bullets…not so good at avoiding unfortunate situations. To whit: he follows Sinon into the girl’s locker room, forgetting he’s a guy. She’s already in her underwear, so all he can do is tell her the truth and apologize right then and there. Perhaps not undeservedly, Sinon sours on him at once.

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She’s mad not just because he misrepresented himself and got a free show, but every bit as much (if not more) because she let herself get fooled; let herself believe she’d finally met another strong girl in GGO; someone she could trust. While it wasn’t Kirito’s intention, he did make a fool of her, and that’s not something she’ll easily forgive.

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Still, even before the revelation, Sinon warned Kirito that she wouldn’t go easy on him if they meet in the finals; there can one be one BoB champion, after all. Now considering him her enemy, she makes him promise to meet her there so she can personally teach him “the taste of the bullet that means defeat.”

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It’s a harsh position, but like I said, Kirito made her remember how much stronger she needs to become. Meanwhile, Sinon, while declaring she’ll “beat all the strong ones” with a slightly twisted smirk on her face, reminds Kirito of Death Gun, the whole reason he’s here. He’ll know for sure when he gets to fight her who she is, but first he’ll have to win five battles to reach the finals.

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The first battle, set in an ancient ruin at dusk, is a bit hairy at first until Kirito catches on to the way GGO informs you of bullet trajectories. He dodges his opponent’s bullets with acrobatics, speed, and his light sword, which he uses to run him through. One down, four to go. It’s tiring, but it’s doable.

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Then, back in the staging area, where Shinkawa Kyouji (our candidate for Death Gun), is watching Sinon fight on the monitors, Death Gun himself suddenly sidles up to Kirito, asking if he’s “the real thing.” Kirito gets the vibe from the guy that they know each other, and his tattoo confirms it: he’s a fellow SAO survivor and former member of PK guild Laughing Coffin.

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It’s not surprising that Kirito wouldn’t be the only SAO player in GGO, and that some of those other players might not be all right in the head. Since Kirito was a thorn in Coffin’s side, there’s no doubt at this point that he is now on his list of strong ones to eliminate. So much for a low profile!

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Sword Art Online II – 04

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After three weeks of setting the stage, Kirito is finally in Gun Gale Online…and he looks like a friggin’ girl! Though he isn’t a girl in the places that count, his clothes hide that fact. The extremely low female player population of GGO means he sticks out like a sore thumb, and I like how uncomfortable being ogled makes him. HA! Now you know how all your many lady friends feel, KK!

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His looks work in his favor when he runs into Sinon, who’d likely be a lot more standoffish if he was a guy, even the willowy Kirito of ALO or SAO. As it is, she’s glad to be hanging out and talking with another girl, considering she has no friends of any gender in the real world. Their walk to the gun store gives us a better look at GGO’s whimsical cyberpunk capital. At the store she unleashes a hail of gun geekery on Kirito…but with a thin wallet his choices are limited.

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Enter Untouchable!, a goofy minigame within GGO that’s deceptively primitive but requires that you anticipate the animatronic gunman’s bullet trajectories. Most people just try to dodge them when their HUDs warn them, but he inevitably gets them. Kirito takes the game on and clears it easily, netting him a cool 300K and the dropped jaws of Sinon and everyone else who watched.

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Then he goes and blows half of it on…well, there isn’t an easier way to say this, so I’ll just say it….on Mace Windu’s lightsaber. The darn thing has the exact same on-off swooshing and woom-woom sounds. I’m guessing these sound effects, originally created by Ben Burtt, are used under some kind of license. At any rate, it’s quite fitting that Kirito is bringing a sword to a gun fight. Stick with what you know!

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As for guns, he knows nothing, but Sinon is a walking Gunipedia and is willing and happy to help him out. When they lose track of time and have only ten minutes to get to the Governor’s office to register for the Ballet of Bullets, Kirito shows off his racing game skills, giving Sinon an exhilarating 3-wheeled buggy ride. We’ll see what she thinks of him when she finds out he’s a guy, but for now, it’s all smiles and figurative sunshine.

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