Talentless Nana – 02 – A Matter of Time

Talentless Nana let the cat out of the bag in its first episode, and while that was an excellent twist, it also made it much harder for subsequent episodes to deliver the same impact. We’re told about the history of the Talented in an infodump, and it’s not pretty: after a five year war that the Non-Talented won, remaining Talented were basically isolated on islands. Missing from this story is exactly HOW they won against an army of superheroes. Sheer numbers? Kryptonite?

Hiiragi Nana stood before a dark and foreboding Talentless government entity, and given the directive to eliminate the Talented on the island, and threatened with serious consequences if she failed. Not explained: That said, she chose to take the mission and is determined to carry it out. What we don’t quite know yet is why her and only her. Did Supes Talented kill her family?

I mention “Supes” because Nana is giving me some Hughie vibes from Amazon’s The Boys: an unpowered individual seeking to bring down the superpowered despite being at a overwhelming disadvantage. The difference is the Supes in The Boys are almost all horrible people; the kids at the school are arrogant but are ultimately innocent.

They could go bad when they grow up, like their forbears back during the war, but preemptively eliminating them before they’ve done anything wrong is ethnic cleansing, at best! That creates a conflict when it comes to routing for Nana, especially since we don’t know of any motivation she has besides a sense of loyalty duty to the Non-Talented race.

At any rate, the moment Nana pushed Nanao off a cliff, the show transformed completely. Right now, it’s about Nana identifying the most powerful Talented and rubbing them out one by one (though she’d probably take a twofer if conditions were right!) At first her next target would seem to be the Ice Prince, but Shibusawa Youhei is even more dangerous, since he can manipulate time.

Nana does the same thing she did to Nanao and gets friendly and bubbly with Shibusawa. The difference is, this week we get her full internal monologue. While I’m not opposed to this shift in the way the story is told, she withdraws into her thoughts a lot, and often what she has to say is obvious or redundant, like Icy Prince’s tell, or the threat Shubusawa represents.

Still, Nana is good at her job or she wouldn’t be alive, and manages to not only wrest the true nature of Shibusawa’s ability: he can only go back in time. But she soon attracts the attention of the ever aloof and suspicious Onodera Kyouya. He knows Nanao has disappeared because their dorms are adjacent and he never returned home, and he believes Nana was the last person who saw him.

Nana would seem to be in a bind when Kyouya asks Shibusawa if he could investigate Nanao’s disappearance by going back in time. But even as Kyouya caresses her pigtails, she manages to regain control of the narrative by delicately turning suspicions onto Kyouya. He even seems to realize what she’s done and makes a tactical withdrawal, but his business with her isn’t over.

For now, Nana has two objectives: prevent Shibusawa from discovering she killed Nanao, and eliminating him. Pretending to cooperate with his investigation, she learns more about his abilities. He becomes fatigued and short of breath whenever he jumps, and the further back in time he goes, the more pronounced the side effects. More than twelve hours makes him vomit.

Ultimately, Nana can’t stop Shibusawa from going back to the time when she and Nanao were on the cliff. Indeed, last week someone was hiding behind a tree nearby; now we know it was him. But there’s one other key limitation to his time traveling: if anyone from that time spots him, he’s automatically sent back to the present.

Nana can’t warn her past self, she can only trust that she’ll be diligent and observant regardless of the situation. Nanao may have been an easy win for her, but she still followed the best practices of all assassins, namely to make sure you’re not being watched when you do the deed. Sure enough, Shibusawa returns automatically; Nana noticed him after she held hands with Nanao, but before she let go and shoved him to his death.

Still, considering how Shibusawa initially harbored suspicions of Nana since she was the last one with Nanao, it’s odd how he all but drops those suspicions simply because he saw them lovey-dovey together. His abrupt exit from that scene before he saw it play out would seem to be a gaping hole Nana’s testimony—and that’s before considering questions like why he can’t go back again and again, in the off-chance past Nana doesn’t spot him.

Instead, Shibusawa’s satisfied she had nothing to do with Nanao’s disappearance and they call it a night, making it certain too much time will pass by morning for him to go back again. But of course, that’s only one of Nana’s two objectives is complete. To kill him, she devises a dastardly plot that utilizes everything she’s learned about him.

Later that night, Nana goes to Shibusawa’s dorm to tell him the full story: after visiting the cliffs, she and Nanao were ambushed by an Enemy of Humanity, and it ate him. She rushes out to show him where it happened so he can jump back in time to save Nanao, and Shibusawa, with his strong sense of justice, follows her…to the precise spot she prepared.

When he time jumps at that spot, too much time passes and he doesn’t come back, indicating he won’t be coming back. That’s because the spot is really a section of the lake Kori Seiya had frozen Nana covered with earth earlier in the night. She recalled that Shibusawa couldn’t swim, which combined with his shortness of breath after jumping, resulted in him drowning in the past, unfrozen lake, and his body was then entombed within the ice.

It’s an clever, elegant, poetic, and utterly diabolical assassination—and Nana’s superiors estimate she saved 800,000 lives by getting rid of Mr. Time Travel. I still have reservations about whether either Nana or TA can keep this up before things get truly ridiculous, but if they keep delivering fun yarns like this, I’ll keep coming back for more!

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 05 – Bow Before Your Ojou-sama

Like Biribiri herself, despite her personality quirks there are few people you’d want in your corner more than Kongou Mitsuko. This week on Railgun T she finally gets the much-deserved spotlight, demonstrating her value as a person, a young lady, and a friend, and that while three of Misaka’s best friends have been neutralized, there are plenty of others willing to help in her time of need.

After she overhears Kuroko talking like she doesn’t know who Misaka is, Mitsuko admits to Misaka that she knows it wasn’t her for the Balloon Hunter, but her “sister” who looks just like her; abilities aside, Mitsuko can just read people that way. When Misaka asks her to investigate the sister’s disappearance on her behalf, Mitsuko refuses.

This is because for all Misaka knows, Mitsuko could also be brainwashed. Therefore, rather than feed Misaka info that she has no way of knowing is genuine, Mitsuko takes it upon herself to personally find Misaka’s sister and bring her back safe and sound. All she asks is that Misaka keep Shokuhous minions off her back.

Mitsuko’s investigation is off to a good start when she locates Misaka’s frog mask and kitty. But in her rush to take the cat to Judgment so she can continue her sleuthing unfettered, she bumps into Wannai and blurts out exactly what she’s doing without a hint of subterfuge.

While ultimately Wannai is not compromised, one of Baba’s robotic recon dogs picks up the conversation. He wastes no time isolating Mitsuko and then demanding she tell him everything she knows about the Sisters, or else. He’s confident from watching her events that he knows her Aero Hand ability back to front and how to neutralize it.

That’s when Mitsuko proves him so very wrong, by unleashing Aero Hand in a manner and at an intensity of which he was totally unaware. We’re reminded that even a Level 4 can cause plenty of destruction if she wishes, as Mitsuko disperses the robo-dogs and brings down a huge parabolic antenna.

She’s not worried about collateral damage—she is exceedingly wealthy—only protecting Misaka’s sister’s innocent cat. It’s notable she’s also not particularly concerned with her own personal safety; despite her pompous manner, Mitsuko is True Blue when it comes to helping those she considers friends, as well as those whom those friends consider dear.

This ends up her undoing, however, as Baba decides to fight dirty by unleashing a robo-bug that delivers an immobilizing bite to her leg. When Mitsuko takes exception to Baba mocking her selflessness and insults Misaka for “using people”—even if she can’t stand, she’s not going to stand for that!—he starts kicking her until she’s bloody. But still, Mitsuko shields the kitty from harm.

Baba’s about to gather her up to his lair to conduct a drug-induced interrogation—dude is such a loathsome sack of shit—when Saten, Wannai, and Awatsuki arrive just in time. Baba insults Mitsuko as “human debris” their faces, so the latter two calmly ask Saten to take Mitsuko and the cat to safety so they can have some “words” with the dastardly scoundrel.

P.S. Misaka had some good moments this week, despite not being at the forefront. It was mostly just to add color to the group of minders, but I loved how their lilac-haired leader shares Misaka’s genuine love for all things Gekota, and that Misaka took note of how easily her passion could be used to lower her defenses. Her “accidental” train ride was also masterfully done, even if it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 04 – Starry Eyes

Saten’s quest to find Shadow Metal hits a dead end with a dull thud when she’s caught snooping by ominous men in isolation suits. Misaka and Kuroko teleport to her and zap the men, but it’s all a misunderstanding: they’re a deep-cleaning crew responsible for preventing the illegal acquisition of esper DNA. The girls were the ones who were somewhere they shouldn’t have been.

I doubt that’s the end of Saten’s search for the semi-mythical metal. But it may be a while before it’s mentioned again, at least not until after a brutal cascade of events that end up all but burying Misaka are dealt with. Before that, however, the quartet finds a prime viewing spot for the nightly Daihesai fireworks display. I didn’t know it would be the last time for a while that the four are together as friends!

The next day, Wannai meekly asks Misaka for her gym clothes back, and Misaka realizes MISAKA never gave them back. With no events on her schedule, she uses her free time to fly around the city checking cameras for signs of MISAKA’s whereabouts. That leads her to two ambulance drivers she eventually suspects to be under Shokuhou’s influence.

Frustrated over her lack of progress in finding MISAKA and unwilling to reveal the secret of the Sisters, Misaka loses her temper and nearly assaults one of the drivers, leading to a confrontation with Antiskill and a punitive ride back to school and lecture about comporting herself properly from Headmistress Watanabe. Meanwhile, Kuroko, Uiharu and Saten are all “paused” by Shokuhou’s remote when her accomplice distracts them.

Due in part to Misaka’s own actions and loss of her cool, Watanabe assigns members of Shokuhou’s clique to “keep an eye on her” henchforth. One of the members is a telepath who can track Misaka wherever she goes. She may be a more powerful esper than any one of them, but all of them will be tougher, especially when she has to try to undertake a coherent investigation.

The last straw is when she encounters her three best friends…and they have no idea who she is. You do NOT mess with Misaka’s friends. Now no matter what Shokuhou says or does from here on out, we can be assured she’ll be on the end of some shocking retribution. Misaka also still has a few allies not yet under Shokuhou’s web of control. Fun-and-games time is officially over.

Oresuki – 05 – Not Working Out

We saw Asunaro’s smirk last week as she looked over an inflammatory article about Joro’s alleged three-timing, so when she invited him up on the roof, I feared the worst for him, even as he thought Asunaro was poised to confess. It isn’t until he sees that damnable bench that he knows nothing good will come of their imminent conversation.

Sure enough, Asunaro isn’t there to confess, but to warn him about the article she’s about to publish documenting his Don-Juanery, with photos of him very close to Cosmos, Himawari and Pansy to prove it. However, Asunaro believes in publishing the truth, and so agrees to shadow Joro and give him a chance to clear his name.

Sure enough, his next interaction with Cosmos does nothing to assuage Asunaro’s suspicions. He asks the three girls if they can just keep their distance for a bit, and all refuse. On the contrary, he’s doomed to stick close to them until the festival, as he’s been chosen as the boy in the Flower Dance, while Cosmos and Himawari are two of the three girls with whom he’ll dance.

When Cosmos asks if he’ll accompany her to meet the first-year who will be the third to dance with him, he asks if she’ll treat him more strictly around Asunaro, but she ends up pulls out a completely over-the-top full samurai lord act. As for the first year, the nasty rumors about Joro are still floating around her grade, and he’s known as the “Slipper Man” for licking girls’ hallway shoes. So yeah…she’s out of the Flower Dance.

Cosmos picks Sun to replace her (still not sure why Sun is even in the picture anymore after his horrendous threat to Pansy), and gets permission from the adults, which means the whole study group (plus Pansy) end up spending more time together, both practicing and buying outfits for the dance. The more she shadows him during these events, the less Asunaro is convinced of the accuracy of her article—which, it should be said, begs the question of why it ever got from draft to ready-to-print status.

That fact ends up costing Joro a lot when the unedited original article is accidentally published and distributed to the whole school. Joro is confronted by the elites in his class who promise punishment for anyone who hurts girls. They’re not even entirely convinced when President Cosmos arrives to defend him, as they suspect she’s one of the three girls in the article. It takes Asunaro to call them off, and she seems incredibly apologetic and upset to the point she doesn’t even check her dialect.

She offers to personally retrieve every copy, but there’s no letting the genie out of the bottle, and Cosmos seems to realize that when she can’t convince the gals. She decides to call off the rest of the practices between her, and basically tells him it will be best to avoid hanging around each other for the time being. Not just her, but Himawari and Pansy too. Cosmos is worried continuing to interact so closely will only create more misunderstandings, for which Joro will bear the brunt.

This leaves Asunaro as the only girl still in Joro’s orbit at the end of the episode, and considering how many twists this show has already presented, part of me can’t help but wonder if this was her plan all along. The article, the rooftop meeting, the shadowing, the “accidental” publishing, her offer to help fix everything, and finally, her eagerness to practice dancing with him (in which she appears to take great joy); all of that can be construed as a sequence of actions undertaken by someone who wanted to likes Joro and wanted to isolate him from the other girls.

If that was the plan, it’s worked perfectly so far. Chances are it wasn’t the plan, because this is Oresuki, which loves flipping the script. But if it was, she hasn’t achieved total victory quite yet; Cosmos watched them dancing on the roof, and despite being a bit of a goofball most of the time, has the smarts to expose and foil Asunaro’s plot…again, if it is indeed even the plot!

Oresuki – 03 – Bounce Back

When Sun, Himawari and Cosmos all arrive at the library at once, it’s clear that some shit is going to go down. Joro almost manages to slip out of it by revealing his darker side and calling out the two girls for using him as a convenient tool, not because he’s a dear childhood friend or cute kohai.

That last-ditch effort fails when Pansy throws him under the bus, telling them he was trying to get her to date Sun while claiming to be on their side. Sun punches him for playing with the girls’ hearts, declares their friendship over, and carries him off.

It sure looks like this is curtains for Joro, and that all Pansy did was assist in this catharsis of misery. But when she mutters “have faith in me” to Joro on his way out, it becomes apparent there’s still more to this story yet to be explored.

Since there was a bystander in the library during the exchange, rumors spread and Joro is ostracized overnight, including having his indoor shoes bedazzled and a detailed golf course model placed on his desk, which is such a bizarre and random head-scratcher of a prank I couldn’t help but laugh.

With Joro out of the picture, Sun is free to spend the next week of lunch periods in the library with Pansy, unaware that she’s putting the finishing touches on her grand plan. It all starts by asking him, quite simply, why he tricked and entrapped Joro, using the feelings of Himawari and Cosmos as his tools in that venture.

And there it is: Joro, as we know, wasn’t the mastermind here, but neither was Pansy: it was Sun all along, sore over an incident years ago when a girl he liked asked him if he’d help her get with Joro. Sun was the one who put the girls up to confronting Joro about asking Sun about them. Joro played the part Sun knew he would (aware as he was about “dark Joro”) and he got his revenge.

Believing he’s all alone with Pansy, Sun doesn’t deny any of this, but proudly proclaims he was after revenge for “losing” to Joro back then, and again with Pansy. He’s also enough of a jerk that he threatens to “do whatever he wants” to Pansy without consequence, since they’re all alone.

Of course, they aren’t. Joro, whom Pansy summoned to the library a minute before Sun arrived, is a witness to her takedown and exposing of Sun as the villain. She threw Joro under the bus in the previous dust-up to give Sun the false sense that everybody was against Joro, when in fact she loves Joro and intended to clear his name.

Joro comes out of his hiding place at the perfect time, and tells Sun where he truly erred: in making light of the “birdbrained” two girls’ feelings for him in order to use them in his scheme to destroy him. A chastened Sun promises to apologize, and departs, and then Joro tells Pansy that her efforts don’t change the fact he hates her, and he won’t be returning to the library.

That’s when Pansy tells Himawari and Cosmos to come out of their hiding spot; unbeknownst to Sun or Joro, Pansy invited them to listen in on the truth of things.

In golf parlance, we can call this episode a major bounce back for Joro. Himawari and Cosmos apologize, the vandalism of his stuff ceases, and Sun confesses in front of the class, clearing Joro’s name to the whole school through the same rumor mill that sullied it.

That brings us to Joro and Pansy, and why the latter fell in love with the former. Turns out, it isn’t his “dark side” she necessarily likes, but the kind, hardworking side that waited by the north entrance to the gym after Sun’s game, standing there dutifully and waiting with his arms full of Sun’s favorite food.

What Joro remembers most about that day was the gorgeous, well-endowed, raven-haired maiden whose eyes met his and with whom he became transfixed, only to never see her again. The last twist is the most predictable lame: Pansy is that gorgeous maiden, and was simply hiding her looks behind a “plain girl” disguise.

While I understand this reveal was necessary, it was very clumsily done for a show that had just crafted such an intricate tapestry of romantic intrigue, and portrays Joro in a very poor light: someone who is now more or less on board with this “Hot Pansy” on the surface but is still confident he’ll never fall for the Pansy inside.

While the ball might’ve land in a bunker (more golf talk…sorry) at the end, after three (or more precisely, 2.85) strong episodes that subverted my expectations, Oresuki has earned some benefit of the doubt. Let’s see where this goes!

Oresuki – 02 – Golden Sombrero

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Joro’s thankless parallel missions to help both Cosmos and Himawari win the heart of the same guy would continue on for a number of episodes, but this week that’s just a small part of a much bigger picture, as the plot progresses farther than I could have anticipated. Lesser shows might’ve have kept the cupid act going longer, but Oresuki sweeps it all aside in favor of something new. It has more to say. Much more.

It also reveals something I touched on last week: the intentional repetition of situations and dialogue that lend the show an appealing poetic rhythm. While Cosmos and Himawari are equally terrible in executing the plans Joro lays out for them (due mostly to how nervous they get around Sun), their particular ways of bombing are both unique to their characters. It takes a lot of hands-on involvement from Joro to get the two definite dates with Sun.

But it’s not just the girls’ ineptness that makes things hard for Joro. Either consciously or not, Sun is simply hesitant to go on a date with either Cosmos or Himawari, and on Pansy’s urging, learns that there’s a girl Sun already likes. In a third “Darth Bench” scene, Sun confesses to Joro that he’s in love with Pansy, adding further complexity to an already unwieldy love polygon. His story is also very similar to the girls’, as there was a third exit from which he encounter Pansy, who encouraged him after seeing him cry.

This scene with Sun features some subtle yaoi undertones, such that until he specifically said “girl” instead of the vaguer “someone,” I thought Sun might confess his love for Joro. Not only that, after the way Joro genuinely blushes when Cosmos and Himawari mentions his strong bond with Sun, I had to remind myself that Joro was interested (at least initially) in those girls…and hence not into Sun.

Joro refuses to help Sun with Pansy, claiming not to know her well enough (partly true, but also partly a lie) but when Sun brings up a baseball metaphor, Joro responds with advice as if it were about baseball and not love. Sun’s confession of love for Pansy ups the danger for Joro exponentially, since that bombshell renders not just one but both of his cupid missions futile.

When Sun sees Joro talking with Pansy about Sun, and Pansy gets angry for Joro cruelly pushing his friend on her when it’s him she loves,  he gets suspicious. But Pansy of all people bails Joro out, confirming Joro’s claim that they’re not close and were only talking about official school business.

Still, Joro keeps Cosmos and Himawari in the dark, clearly overestimating how much time he has before they find out on their own…which of course they do when Sun does the same thing to the two of them that they did to Joro: ask them to help him get closer to someone else…in this case, Pansy!

That brings us to the Golden Sombrero, a baseball term for when a batter strikes out four times in a game. In this episode, Joro strikes out once when he’s not entirely honest with Sun vis-a-vis Pansy, once when he’s callously dismissive of Pansy, and twice more when he tries to explain to Cosmos and Himawari why he kept Sun’s true feelings from them.

As a result of Joro’s Golden Sombrero, his friendships with both Cosmos and Himawari are in the toilet, all because he took Sun’s words about baseball literally and inadvertently advised him to do what he thought best, which was to ask the two girls he went on a date with about another girl. His friendship with Sun seems secure for now, but Joro is still keeping him in the dark about who Pansy really likes.

That brings us to his latest scheduled meeting with Pansy in the library after some time off, which I assumed was to get a possibly-still-suspicious Sun off their trail. Instead, Pansy comments about how “interesting” things have gotten now that Joro’s plans for the girls have gone up in smoke and the girls are now doing what Joro did for them: supporting someone they love in their quest to be with someone else.

Early in the episode, I wanted to take Joro to task for being so unceasingly hostile towards Pansy in all of their interactions, since we hadn’t really experienced enough of Pansy as a character to justify that attitude. And yet, here we are, with Pansy effortlessly manipulating people and having a gas doing it! She even brings Cosmos, Himawari, and Sun to the library in order to find out how much more interesting things can get.

While that final twist feels very Jerry Springer-esque, it’s entirely earned by the events that preceded it. Sun may be the school’s ace pitcher, but when it comes to twisting people into knots with change-ups and curveballs off the diamond, Pansy wins walking away!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 19 – United Front

The Pope packs a whallop with his attacks, but turns out the first couple were just “trial runs”, to unleash the full power of the weapon he transforms it into a spear and draws upon the mana his holy army of followers, who number in the thousands despite not having any kind of supply train. Did these people just walk out here from wherever they came from without provisions of any kind? Seems like a logistical nightmare.

That weapon turns out to be a replica of the Cardinal Heroes’ own weapons, able to transform as needed. Melty is shocked to learn it still exists, believing it had been lost long ago, while Motoyasu condemns its use as “cheating.” As for Naofumi, he asks why, if they could make such powerful weapons, did they bother summoning heroes at all?

However, Motoyasu’s weapons, nor combo attacks by him and his party, have any effect thanks to Popey’s magical barrier, which enables said Pope to laugh and bray on about delivering judgment and such.  What he didn’t count on, however, were the Sword and Bow Heroes not being dead after all.

Turns out Itsuki and Ren never trusted the Three Heroes Church, and were investigating it when they learned that the church had possession of the weapon. They were led to a false shrine where the church tried to assassinate them, but failed. Now, with all the four Cardinal Heroes, assembled, it’s time to turn the tables as one unit…right?

Wrong. Naofumi isn’t fighting with other three. Not after the shit they gave him and the trouble they caused which he and his party had to clean up. And who can blame him? They’ve demonstrated they’re no better than the Pope, taking and doing whatever they want without regard to the lives they affect.

This results in roughly six minutes of the heroes bickering among themselves and pointing fingers before Naofumi finally gives in and joins the others, but only until they deal with the Pope and the Queen’s Shadow Punitive Force arrives (which, by the way, where the hell have they BEEN?), and because he promised Fitoria he’d at least try to make up with the other heroes.

However, by the time they’re ready to fight as one, The Pope has already prepared “Cathedral”, a high-level spell that encases the entire crater in a magical barrier that he maniacally declares will be their “final destination.” Somehow I doubt that. I have to say, I’ve had quite enough of our ambitious pontiff and his seemingly infinite supply of mana.

But at least his actions led to the other three heroes finally learning not only how wrong they’ve been about Naofumi, but how harmful their own actions have been. Here’s hoping the lessons stick, even if the alliance is only temporary.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 18 – Some Messed-Up Logic

I’ve probably said it before, but since it happens this week I’ll say it again: nothing is less entertaining than watching someone berate or attack Naofumi for actions we know for a fact he didn’t commit. The entire premise of the discussion or fight is faulty, so it just feels like we’re wasting time. I’m long since out of patience waiting for Motoyasu to realize he’s being manipulated by Malty.

Malty uses the made-up term “Brainwashing Shield” as her own version of “Fake News”—two words to dismiss whatever defense Naofumi may field. Her story is that Naofumi is responsible for the death of Rin and Itsuki. Motoyasu won’t listen to Naofumi, or Melty, or anyone else but Malty, so the reconciliation Naofumi promised Fitalia he’d attempt is just as impossible as he thought. Instead, Malty creates a Lightning prison around Motoyasu and Naofumi so her puppet can fight the “Devil of the Shield.”

This entire fight, which takes up a lot of time, is utterly pointless. These two have already fought before, and Malty should know from the last Wave that Naofumi & Co. are more powerful. Simply attacking him again and again under false pretenses when you know Motoyasu will lose is folly. And yet we, the audience, still have to watch them go through the motions.

Not even Penkin’s score could make either this fight, or the lead-up to it, interesting. We get some participation from Motoyasu’s other party members, but even 19 episodes in they’ve been given precisely ZERO personality, so I could care less about them.

Once Motoyasu and Malty are defeated, once again, as expected, they continue twirling their mustaches right up until Filo kicks them all into a pile and demands Naofumi conjure as much mass above them as he possibly can, because something’s coming. That something is very similar to the phenomenon that fell on Ren and Itsuki, and we learn it was produced by the Pope, who calls it “God’s Judgment.”

Popey McGee has bad news Naofumi and Motoyasu: using the receipts collected from their actual deeds, as well as those of Ren and Itsuki, they’re being eliminated as “false heroes.” He has bad news for Melty and Malty too: the church is staging a coup, tossing the Melromarc monarchy into the bin and presumably replacing it with a theocracy.

No doubt his forces are already in the process of capturing their mother Queen Mirelia, whose utter absence in, well, all of this remains almost show-breakingly baffling.

While we at RABUJOI are all card-carrying non-fans of the Lame One-Dimensionally Evil Religious Organization (LODERO) trope common to fantasy anime, the Pope crashing another lame fight with Motoyasu and Malty actually saved this episode for me. His evil is there for everyone in that pit to see, and directly contradicts the lies Malty was telling Motoyasu, who listened because she’s hot and he has a hero complex.

But the Pope’s plans also provide the first real opportunity for Naofumi to make some headway with Motoyasu, who as terrible as he is, is still necessary to defeat the Waves. I can’t really say much about the Pope’s coup—one would think the next move would be Mirelia’s—but it’s encouraging that circumstances have finally put Naofumi and Motoyasu in the same boat. If they want to live, they’ll have to row together. So…Thanks, Pope, I guess?

As for whether Ren and Itsuki are really dead…like Naofumi, I’ll need more concrete confirmation than the word of a power-hungry, coup-starting pontiff. One thing I know for certainty: If and when they all get out of this mess, Malty will still treat Naofumi like utter shit. Take it to the bank.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 21 – Love Isn’t Control, But Friendship Is Power

One would think a duel as significant and built-up as the one between Kirito and Eugeo would last an entire episode, but that assumption gives Administrator too much credit. Eugeo’s hasty synthesis was willing, not by force, and it happened in a profound moment of weakness for Eugeo.

He and Kirito cross swords and give each other matching cuts, but once Kirito asks Eugeo to recall who gave him his Baltio-style moves, not to mention all of the people waiting for them to return home with Alice, Eugeo’s piety module is quickly exposed.

But while Eugeo wakes up and even says Alice’s name, there’s still something off about him, and I dreaded Kirito dropping his guard, and with good reason: Eugeo uses Enhance Armament to bury both Kirito and Alice in ice before returning to the top level.

There, a skeptical Chudelkin asks if Eugeo eliminated the rebels, to which Eugeo responds the Pontifex only ordered him to stop them, and stop them he did. That’s not sufficient for the Prime Senator, who heads down below to finish them off, thereby playing right into Eugeo’s hands.

Without Chudelkin, Eugeo is all alone with Administrator, who assumes that while his piety module was compromised, he’s still loyal to her. But when she removes it outright in order to recalibrate it, she’s only freeing him to recall more memories, which motivate him to break free of her emotional and magical hold and attack her with the dagger provided by Cardinal.

Administrator is taken aback, but her shielding is close to perfect, and tells Eugeo that no blade, even one fashioned by Cardinal, can pierce her skin. As we know from the OP and flashbacks, Administrator prefers to hang around in the nude, and once her “loving partner” gig is up, she dispenses with the clothes and provokes Eugeo by mocking Alice’s ordeal (her synthesis was forced over many agonizing days).

That’s when Chudelkin returns all beat up to warn his Pontifex that the other two are free, and Kirito and Alice arrive on the top floor. Eugeo intended to make up for his initial betrayal by taking care of Administrator alone, but she’s too strong. In fact, it will be a miracle if the three of them working in perfect harmony can overcome her knowledge of nearly every cheat code in the world.

Still, Administrator isn’t interested in fighting the three directly; not while she has one last subordinate standing in Chudelkin. She fires him up by agreeing to let him have every inch of her body for one night if he can eliminate the rebels, and he uses his fingers, toes, and eyes to summon his trump card: a monstrous fire genie.

Chudelkin has always been a wild card since his first appearance (which is only fitting as he looks like a Joker), so I honestly don’t know how Eugeo’s ice, Kirito’s black sword, and Alice’s scattering blades will hold up against this boss, but the important thing is that the three are finally fighting on the same side.

P.S. We get new OP visuals (same theme) as we’ve completed Alicization “Rising” and begun Alicization “Uniting” – featuring Kirito trying to hold his own against a very capable (and very nude) Administrator.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.