3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 23 – No Way But Forward

Hikari is, understandably, a wreck post-Goodbye to Iroha. He is indeed such a wreck that he stops caring about school—or anything else, for that matter—all together. Adding insult to injury is the fact everyone thinks Iroha simply dumped him before splitting town.

After a blow-up with Takanashi, Itou meets Hikari on the roof and gets the scoop—it’s not like Iroha swore him to secrecy about it. One by one his friends and family learn about Iroha’s illness, and can then not only sympathize with him far more, but curse themselves for initially being too hard on him.

The last person to hear the truth is Hikari’s mother, who immediately delivers a swift dropkick to her firstborn. However much pain he’s in, Iroha’s in more, and his mom thinks she’d be even more sad if she knew what became of him.

Hikari fully agrees, and starts to shape up. He returns to school and studies night and day, much to the relief of his friends. When he learns he got into Tokyo U, he shows no emotion, leading the others to think he didn’t get in, and are there to support him. Turns out he did get in, but he hasn’t a clue where to go from here. Hearkening back to his last night with Iroha, Hikari remembers the final promise Iroha asks of him: “forget me.”

It’s a promise he hasn’t been able to keep, and more to the point doesn’t want to. But Iroha at the time is certain that someone as blessed as Hikari has been—with a loving family and dear friends—he’ll make so many happy new memories in the future, they’ll hardly be any for…his first love? Uhhhh…that’s wishful thinking right there, Iro-han! Still, there’s only one way, and it’s forward.

Fast-forward—seven frikkin’ years!—and Hikari is now 25 and a salaryman at a trading company on the rise. A number of female co-workers admire his combination of work ethic and humility and seem interested in him, but he always seems to dash off after work.

On this particular night, it’s to catch an anime, but not just any anime: one in which Itou did the mechanical design! He then gets a call from Takanashi inviting him out to drinks with “Arisa” and Itou in his usual Takanashi way that brooks no argument. Turns out there’s a good reason for that: Arisa and he announce that she’s going to have a baby.

Hikari, clearly far more comfortable in his 25-year-old skin, confidently picks up the check when he has to leave to fix a problem at work. His friends are impressed by how far he’s come; Takanashi even goes so far as to call him amazing!

And he has, especially when you consider the pain he carries from losing his first and only love. Ezomichi pays him the first visit in ages, but despite the pain in his heart—which he carries gladly rather than face an alternate past where he never met Iroha at all—there’s really no need for her to counsel him, and she vanishes—possibly to wherever poor Ayado ended up…the show has cut her out of the circle of friends! T_T

Someone who vanished seven years earlier, on the other hand, makes a semi-triumphant return to Japan, alive and well, which is wonderful to see. Unfortunately, in exchange for her life, she’s seemingly lost all of her memories, and can’t recall anything about the family home, neighborhood, or school.

Her brother chooses this place to profess his love for, and to promise he’ll be by her side no matter where she chooses to live out her re-charged life. Not picking up on anything worth staying for, Iroha says she’s fine returning to L.A. which for seven years has been far more of a home to her.

So, is that it? Are Hikari and Iroha going in different directions, never to cross paths again? Or will a chance encounter with him be the one thing that can rouse her memories, kinda like Your Name.?

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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.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 22 – This Is Goodbye…Or Is It?

Hikari and Iroha make good on last week’s joint declaration not to go home, but their status as minors gets them turned away at every bed-and-breakfast. They come across a charming ryokan whose surly owner says is closed, but he reconsiders when he overhears them discussing what to do now that they’ve missed the last train.

Turns out the innkeeper was loath to host guests because his better half walked out on him—apparently not an uncommon occurrence—but his spirits (and boredom) are lifted by his brief glimpse of “first love in the present progressive”, as he grammatically puts it. He naturally doesn’t see why a hottie like Iroha is doing with a dweeb like Hikari, but hey, that’s the impression most get from just looking at the surface.

When Iroha sneezes and implies she may be coming down with a cold (echoing when they first got together), Hikari makes her bed, and then joins her in it. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know it’s morning and neither of them are wearing clothes.

That’s right, it happened! And I appreciate how low-key and understated it was. The next day, after hanging out a little more, they part ways at the train station, but not before Hikari draws her in for a farewell kiss. But when she gets home, Iroha is hounded by Chika, warning her to end things immediately, not for her sake, but for Hikari’s.

Back at school, Hikari apologizes to Itou for being so out-of-sorts, but explains that it’s because he only has a month left with Iroha before she moves. He also tells him they did it, which bowls Itou over. As for Ishino and Takanashi, they just infer Hikari did it from his complete inability to hide the fact that he had his cherry popped.

But Iroha isn’t at school that day, or the next day, and Hikari worries she’s avoiding him (I assumed she caught a cold). Turns out Iroha is taking Chika’s advice to end things with Hikari. The only thing is, Chika didn’t quite mean to cut off all contact cold turkey. Hikari ends up staking out their house, and nothing Chika can say can convince him to leave.

Finally, Chika gives in when Hikari says he’s fine with her saying she doesn’t want to see him anymore, as long as he hears the words from Iroha herself. The two go back to school together for the last time, where Iroha informs Hikari of the situation: she has a “bug in her head” (read: brain tumor) for which she’s going to have risky surgery. She may not survive the operation, and even if she does, her memories may not.

Hikari treats this information with the gravity it deserves, and he’s well within his rights to descend into a pool of darkness…but is it just me or are both Hikari and Iroha jumping to conclusions and hedging way too early with this goodbye? Sure, one can fear the worst, but whenever the word “may” is used, there can and should always be some hope that things will work out! Maybe she won’t die, and maybe she won’t lose some or all of her memories.

Hikari and Iroha may not be married (and thus never made a vow to be together in sickness and in health), but it’s clear they both love each other; far more than when they first started dating and more now than ever. I understand Iroha wanting to shelter Hikari from the worst case scenario, but the ship has definitely sailed when it comes to coming out of this without any pain or anguish. If I were Hikari, I’d certainly ask more questions about the situation before resorting to despair.

Shouldn’t the choice of whether to stay by her side be Hikari’s to make? And isn’t he giving up too easily considering all the “mays” Iroha used? Will the show really ignore those “mays” and take her away from Hikari, and from us? I don’t want to believe that. But even if it does, I don’t want either of them giving up hope prematurely. There’s two whole episodes left…stay positive!

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.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 15 – Dream Prisons

This week’s Boogiepop is a series of disorienting vignettes in which various visitors to the Moon Temple end up inhabiting old memories, first as their younger selves, then as their present selves. This enables them to do and say things they wanted to at the time, but didn’t.

We begin with a woman who knew Teratsuki Kyouichirou, who offered her money to care for her son Makoto before dying suddenly two years after he predicted. In the present, the King of Distortion takes Teratsuki’s form, but it was the past Teratsuki who spoke of leaving “one last parting gift”—most likely the Moon Temple.

We move on to Sakiko, walking along a train track with her best friend Hinako, who is tall and gorgeous…but Hinako never got to grow up into the woman Sakiko sees. She died in a car accident with her family before Sakiko could apologize for lashing out at her in jealousy. The King of Distortion offers her a chance to turn her bitter regrets into gold.

Next up, a younger Habara Kentarou, friend of Tanaka Shirou and student at Shinyou Academy. He used to hack into companies, but was caught by Kirima Nagi, in whose palm he was dancing all along. Suddenly Nagi, actually the King, turns into Saotome, who like Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi.

The King presents Kentarou with a riddle: if the world is a nightmare, how does one escape? To drive the nightmare point home, the ground starts to shake and windows crack; a giant kaiju appears in the streets. Kentarou finds Makoto, recognizes him from the Moon Temple, and they escape to the one place Kentarou believes he’ll be able to escape the nightmare…the Temple itself.

Upon arriving there, Kentarou finds…himself lying asleep on the ground, gives himself a kick, and wakes up. He wakes up Shirou next to him, and the two are surrounded by sleeping people, every one of them trapped in their dreams by the King of Distortion.

Clearly it was the will of the King, or Teratsuki (or both, if there’s no difference between them) to entice a large number of people to come to the Moon Temple so he could put them to sleep and explore their memories, particularly those containing their regrets. But it remains to be seen where Boogiepop fits into all this. It the King simply another enemy for them to eliminate, or is there more going on here?

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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 19 – Femme Fatale

In the last episode, Alice warned Kirito to give her the unvarnished truth; anything less and she’d strike him down. That’s fine with him. He wants her to know the truth, because once she does, they won’t be enemies anymore.

Alice remarks that, like Kirito, Bercouli and other knights were worried that the forces of the Dark Territory were growing too large to deal with, but their concerns were dismissed by Chudelkin, in a classic “I don’t pay you lunkheads to think!” kind of response.

To hear her real surname, the name of her village, and the name of her sister Selka, brings Alice right to the cusp of remembering. She cannot deny that the pontifex has deceived the knights, so it’s well within her to have been the one to steal Alice’s memories of her human life and lie about it.

The moment Alice rejects the Pontifex’s authority, a System Alert appears in her right eye, which threatens to burst, just like Eugeo’s when he attacked Lord Raios the rapist. Of course, as we’ve seen, Alice is tough as cold-rolled steel, and with help from Kirito, manages to overcome the pain of the eye.

She’s done being Administrator’s puppet. All she asks is that before she regains Alice’s memories, Kirito promises to take her to Rulid to see her sister. He promises, and just like that, the forced foes are are finally allies, and she is committed to the same goal as him: raising a human army to fight the Dark forces.

If only it were so simple. When Eugeo comes to from his deep-freeze, he’s in a dream, in the house where he grew up. His mother is on the bed, but it’s not really his mother, it’s Administrator, telling him he’s the one who killed his own father and brothers so that his mother would love only him.

Eugeo wakes up from the disturbing dream in Administrator’s bedchamber atop the Cathedral, and it’s clear what route the main boss will be taking in neutralizing him as a threat: by exploiting and amplifying his deep-seated longing for the total and unconditional love of someone, anyone.

First of all, I have to note the love with which Administrator is rendered throughout this sequence: she’s ethereally gorgeous, and combined with the delicate, aloof, and haunting voice of Sakamoto Maaya, she cuts quite the bewitching profile. Administrator can also claim to know Eugeo better than he knows himself, and backs this up by telling him all about his life and where it has never gone right: in the love department.

He may love his mother, but she loved their brothers and her husband too. He may love Alice, but she also loves Kirito (and Administrator jacks up the jealousy by showing him a memory of the two kissing as kids). Tiese is the closest thing to someone giving him all their love, but Administrator insists she’ll forget him, as everyone else has. And there’s nothing Eugeo fears in that moment more than not being loved or remembered.

Administrator proceeds to lay the seduction on treacle-thick, slowly disrobing and drawing the entranced Eugeo towards her, until he’s on top of her on the bed. She offers all of her love, and unimaginable pleasure, in exchange for Eugeo offering everything he has in return. In other words, a simple monetary transaction. Due to her otherworldly charms, Eugeo is in no mental condition to refuse her, and repeats after her the words “System Call: Remove Core Protection.”

Regarding this development, it’s a good thing Kirito has managed to bring Alice back to his side, because it sure looks like Administrator has manipulated Eugeo into joining hers. That probably means that order to get to her, they’ll have to through him first. Just as Alice is breaking the Pontifex’s hold over her, she’s fitting shackles on Eugeo, and trading one integrity knight for another—and one trained Aincrad style, to boot.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 18 – The Sword That Cut Through Time

Bercouli Synthesis One isn’t like the other Integrity Knights have Eugeo and Kirito have faced to this point. He’s not in a rush to fight; he agrees not to kill since they didn’t kill his apprentice Fanatio; he calls Eugeo “shounen” rather than “boy-o”; he doesn’t look down on Eugeo or question his existence, or curse his sinfulness.

Yes, Bercouli is a “friendly opponent”, the guy who, inadvertently or not, seems to lull less focused opponents into a false sense of security with his casual, charming manner. But there’s no doubting the guy can bring it, thanks to his Time-Splitting Sword that was once the hand of an earlier Cathedral’s clock.

He’s also more than happy to explain how his move works…but not until he’s already used it and Eugeo has fallen victim to it. Eugeo sees that he can’t make this a close-range fight, but also knows Bercouli wants him to think long-range for his next attack.

Eugeo does indeed go long range—there’s no alternative—but when Bercouli stops and shatters his ice, Eugeo uses the shards to obscure the fact he’s tossed his sword away and made a false one, which also shatters. In Bercouli’s moment of wondering what’s going on, Eugeo releases his real sword from the ceiling, catches it, and stabs Bercouli with it in a smooth sequence of moves.

Kirito would be proud: it’s an Aincrad combo if ever there was one, not only making full use of the surroundings and anything else to gain an advantage, even if the opponent thinks it’s unfair or underhanded. For his part, Bercouli is amused and even impressed by the sheer audacity of someone throwing their sword away in the middle of a fight.

He’s in good spirits because the Eternal Ice didn’t finish him, and he starts to break out of his frigid binds, but Eugeo summons the second memory of his divine object: The Rose, which slowly drains both of their lives. The reason this isn’t suicide for Eugeo is that being a character near the peak of his maximum life, he’s confident that his life will outlast that of Bercouli, who was turned into an integrity knight much later in life.

Bercouli wonders what he’s talking about, miffed that Eugeo presumes to know anything about his past. That response in turn angers Eugeo, who hates how all of these Integrity Knights believe they’re divine beings summoned from the heavens by the Pontifex, when they’re really human beings; their mothers gave birth to them; they lived their own lives.

Even if most of the people in those lives don’t remember the knights, Bercouli is different because the heroic deeds of his life are immortalized in the oral tradition of Rulid Village. It’s as if, in his case, Administrator overlooked the potential means of her first knight recovering his lost memories and thus regaining his humanity.

This is all very good stuff, so it’s a little jarring for a new party to arrive on the scene quite suddenly, especially when that party is of the “goofy carnival clown/jester-class” disposition. Before The Rose fully takes Bercouli’s life, this asshole, one “Prime Senator Chudelkin”, rolls in like a ball, then scolds Bercouli for his “treasonous” act of not going all-out against Eugeo.

Bercouli bristles at this and asks Chudelkin to stay out of the affairs of swordsmen, to no avail. Chuddy puts Bercouli in a Deep Freeze—far deeper than even The Rose—after informing him that both he and Fanatio will be “reprocessed” by the Administrator in due time, and that they’ve found a new pawn to replace him…in Eugeo, calling for Kirito’s help before he freezes over.

That would have been a perfectly respectable, even boss way to end the episode, but SAO:A wasn’t done. We check in with Kirito and Alice resting on a ledge, waiting for more light to keep climbing. Kirito complains about being hungry, assuming Integrity Knights don’t, but he’s shown to be mistaken when Alice’s stomach grumbles.

At that point, he produces the buns Cardinal had given him, and prepares to toast them with a fire spell. Alice snatches them away, and uses a much more appropriate combination of water and air to properly steam the buns right there in her hand. She even jokes about eating them both before handing one to Kirito.

This may seem overly sweet and lightweight after such a comparatively heavy and serious end to Eugeo (which worked despite Chuddy’s horrid design) but I for one enjoyed it, since it’s likely next week won’t have any time for such moments. Kirito, impressed with Alice’s cooking skills, recalls that her little sister Selka is also so skilled, and Alice grabs him like he’d just delivered a grave insult.

She wants to know what he’s on about, and depending on how honest she judges his story, she might kill him on the spot. I had assumed they’d get right back to fighting as enemies once they reached the open floor, but with Eugeo now incapacitated and only Chuddy and Administrator herself left to face, that might not be the case.

It’s possible Alice believes Kirito’s story about her, the memory block is ejected from her head, and the two fight side by side to safe Eugeo and defeat Administrator. But hey, that’s just one possible route; I don’t possess a blade that cuts through time to the show’s future…AKA the LN.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 16 – Duel at Cloudtop

While Fanatio was able to endure Eugeo’s Enhance Armament, Kirito delivers the coup de grace with his own, overwhelming her sword of holy light. There’s a moment when it almost looks like she’s giving up, and that’s when she’s blown all the way up into the dome of the hall.

Kirito passes out once his attack is complete, but Eugeo is able to revive him by transferring some of his life. Kirito rushes to heal the critically injured Fanatio, but neither he nor Eugeo can stop the bleeding. Kirito decides to use the dagger meant for Administrator, asserting that there’s no way he can walk away from Fanatio carrying the tool of her salvation in his hand.

A bemused Cardinal takes her away and promises to heal her, assuring the lads that they can still defeat the pontifex without the dagger provided they get the jump on her while she’s sleeping, which is…often. Cardinal also sends them potions to bring them back to 100% for the next fight. I wonder if the Fanatio who wakes up will be grateful to her saviors…or regain her memories.

The only way to the higher levels is a kind of elevator shaft glowing with green light. A floating platform appears with an almost robot-like “operator” who simply asks which floor they’d like. It doesn’t matter that they’re criminals, fugitives, or enemies of the pontifex; her calling is to operate the elevator, and that’s it.

The dreary drudgery of such a calling calls to mind Eugeo’s constant hacking at the Gigas Cedar, but at least he got to go outside. The operator, who doesn’t even remember her name, would wish that if they succeed in bringing down the pontifex and her calling were recinded, she’d want to retain control of the floating platform and use it to ply the skies.

She brings the duo to the eightieth floor, the Cloudtop Garden, where they find Saber Alice reclining against a tree, asking for a little more time to relax in the sun. When the lads keep advancing, she reveals that the tree is the ancient form of her divine object, the Osmanthus Blade.

She acknowledges that the boys must have some skill if they were able to make it thus far, but promises them this is the end of the road for them. Kirito and Eugeo have no intention of defeating her, only restraining her long enough to use Eugeo’s dagger to send her to Cardinal.

To put it mildly, Saber Alice…doesn’t make that easy. Her Osmanthus Blade scatters into thousands of petal-like shards, giving her far more unpredictable and adaptable offensive power than a mere single blade. I likened it to the shikai of Kuchiki Byakuya’s Senbonzakura, though I’m sure there are plenty of other analogues.

Things seem to go according to plan at first, with Kirito constantly retreatin, then turning aside Alice’s blows until he’s close enough to grab her and hold her still. That allows Eugeo to unleash his Blue Rose Sword’s Enhanced Armament, capturing both Alice and Kirito in a block of ice.

But that’s where things stop going their way. Alice’s blade is exposed, and it scatters into petals and dissolves the ice. Suddenly on his heels, Kirito breaks out his AE again, and seemingly fights Alice to a draw, as the combined force of their attacks blows a big hole in the side of the cathedral.

They’re on the eightieth floor, the pressure differential sucks them both out before Eugeo can get to Alice with his dagger. Worse, the wall almost immediately completely repairs itself, sealing Kirito and Alice outside and Eugeo inside. Neither Kirito nor Eugeo alone were ever going to be able to face the Commander of the Integrity Knights—let alone Administrator. Yet alone is where Eugeo now finds himself.

I can’t imagine he’ll go all the way back down to the entrance to meet back up with Kirito, and possibly continue assisting him in his duel with Alice. Or perhaps the duel is over as far as Alice is concerned. In any case, getting the two lads back together will take some doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if a dragon was involved.