Deca-Dence – 11 – Being a Mistake is What Makes It Right

Spoilers: Natsume does not meet her maker by Hugin’s hand this week. Instead she’s saved by two things: Hugin’s momentary distraction with the new Gadoll bug, and Kabu managing to log back in as the orange Gear and shoot Hugin through the chest, thus logging him out of Deca-Dence. It’s a bit convenient and plot-armory, but fine, it’s not like I wanted Natsume’s story to end in that trailer.

After that, Natsume must quickly wrap her head around the fact that the Boss she knows who is lying dead on the ground is just an empty avatar, and the Boss himself is in the orange Gear body. Minato’s crew determines the massive Gadoll to be a bug that survived the GGS. The System designates it Gadoll Omega, and orders Deca-Dence to take it out.

But while this Gadoll bug isn’t that much larger than the largest Gadoll they’ve fought and defeated in the past, it’s much tougher, not only absorbing Deca-Dence’s fist blow in its crab-like claws, but shoving Deca-Dence back, doing critical damage to its movement apparatus. When Solid Quake’s orbital HQ uses its Solid Cannon from orbit, the Gadoll meets that beam with its own red one…and wins.

It’s the first time we’ve seen the pristine Solid Quake HQ ship damaged, and it’s enough to spook The System into pure Self-Preservation Mode. To that end, the entire Deca-Dence program is being shut down. Hugin is replaced by Munin, who politely announces to Minato that all Deca-Dence facilties are to be reverted along with Omega via the spacial decompression device—a fail-safe in case the game ever threatened the System.

Suddenly, there’s six hours until the end of everything on the planet surface, including what remains of humanity. But Jill, reestablishing contact with Kabu, says there’s still a way for a user to log in with Deca-Dence itself as their avatar. She knows this because prior to being designated a bug, she helped build Deca-Dence’s core.

Kabu and Natsume go their separate ways, but Natsume assumes they’ll meet up again at some point, while Kabu is ready to not return, as he’s volunteered to take the reins of Deca-Dence. His jeep passes Natsume, marking the first time she’s seen his cyborg form. Of course, she only gets a brief glimpse and has no idea it’s him.

At the epically huge and cool-looking core, Minato confronts Kabu, telling him there’s still time to run, to which Kabu asks where to? When Minato admits he has no idea what he should believe or do anymore, Kabu tells him he was once the same way, and simply waiting to be scrapper, until he met Natsume the Tanker Bug, who taught him he can make his own choices.

Then the best thing ever happens: Natsume meets Kabu’s cyborg comrades…and after a few moments of profound confusion, accepts it, finds them adorable, laughs, and introduces herself. Now Jill sees why Kabu has gone so far for a human bug’s sake. Jill herself has a bug still within Deca-Dence she’s hoping will make a difference.

Minato decides to help Kabu log in as Deca-Dence after all. While it’s true Deca-Dence is an absolute wreck, perhaps being under Kabu’s direct control (rather than the System’s) combined with Jill’s surprise bug, could conspire to unlock heretofore unseen abilities.

They’ll need everything they can get in the forthcoming finale, as the twin existential crises of the still-evolving Gadoll (and its brood) and the countdown to self-destruct will both have to be dealt with if anyone is to survive.

Deca-Dence – 10 – Not All Right At All

When Kaburagi tries to tell Natsume the truth in a masterfully-directed scene in which we feel her disorientation, Natsume passes out, much like Neo when Morpheus first tells him he’s in the real world (though she doesn’t vomit). Could it be her status as a bug depended on her believing the lie? Did Kabu break her with the truth?

We’re left in suspense after she faints, as the episode cuts to the three techs evacuate the Gadoll Factory. The director tells his subordinate to simply leave the tiny cute Gadoll, as it’s already dying, and the Gadoll sticks two little tendrils into him. By the time he notices they left red welts on his green belly, the elevator goes out of control.

As Kaburagi drives Natsume back to Deca-Dence, she wakes up yelling and he puts the brakes on. Once he calmly explains to her what’s going on, she takes hold of the part about him deceiving her. She’s not shocked anymore so much as betrayed and disappointed. She also wishes Kaburagi never told her the truth—saying this through broken glass is a nice touch, as her world is now thoroughly shattered.

After what is no doubt a wordless trip home, Kabu returns to find Pipe has disintegrated along with the other Gadoll as he expected (it’s an absolutely gutting scene, and perfectly staged and lit). Natsume hangs around the elated Tankers celebrating the apparent end of the war, but when she’s approached by Kurenai, she runs off.

In a way the truth as told to her by Kabu did break her. Wallowing in a dark alley, she no longer knows what to do, who to trust, or if any of her efforts ever mattered in the first place. Having pushed herself to her limits, she finds herself in the same position as Mei when Natsume became a soldier: why couldn’t things stay the way they were?

It’s only when Kaburagi is about to log out when he notices the note Natsume wrote him still lying unread on his desk. It’s a simple message, with the part about letting her know when he’s back crossed out, but still readable. Kabu decides the best way to apologize is to hand-write a letter of his own to her.

The Tankers may be celebrating, but the revolution is not over, and they’re far from free. The cyborg admins basically put Deca-Dence on pause for all Gears, and Hugin stalks around the Tank searching for Natsume. This is especially chilling since Kabu logs out after writing his letter, leaving Natsume alone and exposed.

As for the little Gadoll that could, it is reborn within the dead green factory director’s belly (he and his team don’t survive the elevator drop) It bursts out, Alien-style, then proceeds to devour the three bodies, and begins to…grow.

With the prison overrun by police when Kabu logs out, he, Jill, Donatello and the surviving inmates flee in a jeep, which I believe is the first time we see cyborgs interacting directly with “human” machinery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to say the least! When Kabu learns Hugin is in Deca-Dence he races to get to Jill’s hideout so he can log back in.

Hugin hasn’t quite found Natsume, but Kurenai does, and allowing Natsume to talk about how she feels (or doesn’t feel) without judgment. Asking questions about what she should think or feel or do, Kurenai tells her simply that she’s glad she’s back and unharmed, and everything else is up to her; the opinions of others are ultimately only supplementary to her choices. It’s a lovely, elegant scene between the two women in which Kaburagi doesn’t even come up.

That said, when Natsume returns to her home and finds and read’s Kabu’s heartfelt letter, she learns a lot more about him, how he was about to off himself when he met her, and how she changed him for the better. The words of his letter are beautifully accompanied by a montage of the moments in his and Natsume’s lives that he mentions.

With this, Natsume rushes to Kabu’s trailer, and just happens to whack him in the head when she throws open his door; he had just logged back in; great timing! Natsume gets everything he’s said now, but doesn’t like the connotations in the letter that suggest that he’s leaving again. If he is resolved to breaking all the rules, as she says with certitude: “he’ll have her help”.

It’s an absolutely heartwarming reunion and reconciliation of our co-protagonists, and Deca-Dence knows it…which is why it chooses the very moment Kaburagi agrees to let her keep helping him that he’s impaled through the chest by Hugin, who expected him to return to his trailer.

In his haste to reconcile he completely forgot the danger he and Natsume were in. His life’s blood splatters across a shocked Natsume’s face, and back at the hideout Jill tells the logged-out Kabu he can’t return to the Kaburagi avatar. Natsume is all alone with his lifeless avatar, and a sinister, smirking Hugin tells her she won’t escape, for The World Must Be Rid Of Bugs.

If that weren’t enough, our little Gadoll friend has grown quite a bit…into something that looks bigger than all of Deca-Dence; perhaps the largest Gadoll ever. Kabu and Jill watch as it rises over the horizon, no doubt still hungry and ready to devour everything and anyone it can get its hands on.

This giant Gadoll, sole survivor of the GGS, may even be out of the control of Hugin and the system, unless that ship in orbit has some serious space-to-ground firepower. If that’s the case, perhaps the Gadoll can be somehow used to help break the system, instead of just everyone.

Stay with me here…but what if the Gadoll, with their potential for collective intelligence, know that Kaburagi and Natsume were kind to Pipe? That’s all I’ve got for now, because as audacious as Deca-Dence continues to be, I can’t see this ending with the heroine being unceremoniously killed off.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 21 – Loose Ends

With all the battles in Underworld ended, all of this week’s SAO prior to the end credits takes place on Ocean Turtle, as Kikuoka, Rinko, Higa, and Nakanishi attempt to eject Alice (which is successful), log out Kirito and Asuna (who tells Rinko she’s staying with Kirito) and secure the facility.

Instead of the fantastical battles in the Underworld, it’s all metal, shadows, bullets, blood, and keyboard clacking. There’s more than a little Die Hard to the proceedings.

Gabriel Miller “wakes up” only to see his own body still lying dead on the STL, his face contorted in pure terror. He’s just a ghost, and Alicia appears and drags him under the water. When Critter reaches his and Vassagos STLs and finds them dead, he loses the will to fight any longer.

Still, his comrade Hans insists they continue their mission to the end. If they can’t steal Alice, they’ll destroy her by overloading Ocean Turtle’s reactor and rigging an explosive to cripple the control rods that prevent cataclysmic fission.

With Ocean Turtle suddenly converted into a ticking nuclear bomb, Nakanishi rushes to the reactor only to be pinned down by Hans, who is willing to die for Miller and the mission. He’s bailed out first by the robot Niemon, who somehow contains the consciousness of Kayaba Akihito, and also the wounded Kikuoka.

The deus ex machina Niemon is heavily damaged, but Akihito manages to restore control to the reactor and destroy the explosive detonator before collapsing, thus saving the Underworld, Alice, and his lover Rinko.

As Critter and the remainder of Miller’s team escapes on their sub, the timer zeros without any accompanying explosion, and Critter assumes they’ve failed. However, when he checks the bodies they brought with them, there are only two: Miller’s and Brigg’s.

What happened to Vassago’s? And what happened to Niemon, who also vanishes without a trace? We don’t know, and between those unknown elements, the looming JSDF, and Kikuoka’s health, the Ocean Turtle team can’t breathe easy despite no longer being in imminent peril.

Higa seems hopeful he can log Kirito and Asuna out before their fluctlights run out of memory capacity, but after the credits roll the two meet, embrace, and resign themselves to two hundred years in the Underworld.

No number of centuries matters to them as long as they’re together. And since they’re probably the two most powerful people in this “just born” new world, they feel obligated to do their part ensuring it will be a world of peace and happiness for all its inhabitants.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 20 – Starburst Scream

Asuna gets to use her avatar template Stacia’s special move (always a great sound effect) to create an earthen staircase with which to convey Alice to the World’s End Altar. She and Alice are able to get away because Gabriel Miller has to get past Kirito first.

When asked who he is, Kirito momentarily blanks, but Eugeo reminds him: he’s Kirito the motherf***ing Swordsman. A duel filled with bombastic bright lights and colors ensues. Kirito loses his lower half but fights on. Gabe transforms into a neon angel/demon entity.

This showdown has been built up for years, so why did it feel somewhat …  underwhelming? It was okay—it wasn’t great—and it did kind of…go on. I can offer several reasons. First, we’re epic dueled out. Second, while featuring some impressive visuals this fight wasn’t as good as the one between Subtilizer and Bercouli. Visually things got a bit abstract, muddled, and even a little dull. Kirito’s edge—the love amassed from everyone’s hearts—was always going to beat Miller’s hate and greed.

Mostly the lavish duel just felt superfluous; ceremonial. A formality for Kirito to get through, perhaps so that the final final threat can come to light. At least the fight was generously punctuated by beautiful callbacks to the very beginning of Alicization and cameos from both friends and former foes. I also appreciated seeing everyone wake up in the normal world hoping they did enough, providing a neat contrast to the fantastical environs of Underworld.

I also liked how…ho-hum the Worlds’ End Altar looked. Rather than a towering baroque basilica, it’s a relatively modest shrine in a pleasant, tranquil garden. When Kirito reaches it, Alice has already logged out…or has she? Whatever happened to her, she’s no longer in the Underworld, nor are Suguha, Shino, and everyone else.

Kirito assumes he’s the only one who didn’t make it out before the acceleration factor grew too high for fluctlights to bear. He gets on his hands and knees and starts to weep, lamenting how he’s alone again and separated from those who love him. That is, until, quite curiously, Asuna appears, with a reassuring smile.

We know she’s still beside him in the STL room at Ocean Turtle, and so weren’t subject to the logout failsafes of the other players. But whether they’re stuck in there or there’s (more likely) hope for them to get out in one piece, it’s clear Asuna won’t let Kirito face the latest, and possibly final trial of Alicization alone.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 19 – Bros Before PoHs

Once Kirito is awake and functioning, he hasn’t time for breakfast or even to splash water on his face; he has to fight PoH immediately. Maybe he has a little rust to shake off, because he’s soon pinned down and even gets his throat nicked by PoH’s massive cleaver. That’s when his old friend Eugeo shows up in ethereal form to keep Kirito steady and tighten his grip.

Together, the two release Recollection in order to log out PoH’s entire red army without causing them any harm, then absorbs the amassed sacred resources to heal all of his friends and allies. In one last parting shot of Yuuki, she expresses relief Kirito is working to make the Underworld a beautiful, fun and joyous world like those of SAO and ALO were meant to be.

PoH is no longer able to summon more soldiers or restore his own vitality, so all Kirito has to do is give him his best shot, resulting in a very sick explosion complete with long booming bass. While he has a giant hole in his chest, PoH still vows to log right back in, or otherwise just find him and Asuna on the street and slit their throats.

In response to that, Kirito prevents him from ever logging out for a good long time by basically planting a new Gigas Cedar inside the hole in PoH’s body. The tree rapidly grows and merges with him until his face is embedded in the bark. Kirito muses that perhaps in a couple centuries there will be a village at that spot like Rulid, and two kids will try to chop him down.

I almost hoped he’d shout the one-liner HAPPY ARBOR DAY“, but that would have admittedly been pretty tacky. With PoH/Vassago taken care of (hopefully for good), everyone finally rushes in to celebrate Kirito’s return. There’s lots of tearful moments, but none more powerful than when Asuna finally embraces her love; the pure unbridled joy on her face is devastating in its effectiveness.

Okay…next crisis. When Miller’s tech tries to increase time acceleration past a certain level and hits a security lockout requiring a key, his colleague shoots the lever, which for all he knows could have killed their boss and everyone in the Underworld. Instead, it releases the acceleration limiter, which means in fifteen minutes time there will pass too quickly for human fluctlights to handle.

Considering four episodes still remain after this one, I could have done without a literal ticking clock here, especially when there’s no chance whatsover those fifteen minutes will occur in real time. There’s been so much twisting and turning of time in WoU already, it just feels excessive. Hopefully the wounded Higa can fix it before the time is up (with Kikuoka’s help).

Until then, the stakes and urgency of Kirito’s mission were just raised a hundredfold. It’s good then, that he has the ability to quickly fly (with Asuna in his arms) to Alice’s location, just as Miller is about to kill her two dragons, who ignored her orders to abandon her and go make babies.

Like Asuna, Klein, Ronie, and everyone else who is glad he’s awake again, Alice tears up when he sees Kirito back in action, just when she needed him most. Interestingly when he appears Asuna isn’t with him; I wonder if she’s hanging back in reserve or if Kirito has a plan. In any case, the stage is set for Gabe vs. Kirito. If past epic duels this season are any indication, it should be a sakuga smorgasbord.