Sword Art Online: Alicization – 15 – Books and Covers

This is an episode of jumping to conclusions with regard to one’s opponents…or is it? Eugeo and Kirito are seemingly caught off guard when the two young Axiom nuns plunge their paralyzing poison daggers into their chest and back, respectively. Linel and Fizel are not merely nuns, but Integrity Knights in their own right. And they both revel in having been seen as nuns just long enough to draw in close enough to attack their prey.

The girls drag the paralyzed guys up to the fiftieth floor Hall of Ghostly Light, where the Four Whirling Blades and Vice Commander Fanatio Synthesis Two are waiting. The nun knights, the last two sheltered survivors of one of the Ponfex’s resurrection experiments, don’t want the other knights stealing their thunder, but still need witnesses when they behead the criminals.

Unfortunately for them, Kirito only mistook them for harmless kids for an instant; far less time than they thought. When he noticed apprentices were disobeying orders (an impossibility in the cathedral) and wearing ruby oak sheaths (for poison daggers), he quietly recited a poison-dissolving art, which completed in time for him to stop them and give them a taste of their own medicine.

He cures Eugeo, then tells him to quietly recite a perfect weapon control art when he can and wait for his signal. Then he drives past the Four Whirling Blades and crosses swords with Fanatio one-on-one. Perhaps impressed by his cheek, Fanatio orders the subordinates to stand back as they duel.

Fanatio learns that despite a sword that contains the reflective power of the sun itself, Kirito and his black sword are no slouch. He chips off a piece of Fanatio’s helmet, endures the heavenly sword’s beam-like strikes (to non-vital areas) and eventually knocks her helmet off. That’s right: Fanatio is a woman. The look of momentary shock in Kirito and Eugeo’s faces pisses her off to no end; they’re faces she’s seen all her life.

But the one who seems most upset that Fanatio is a woman is…Fanatio herself. It is Fanatio reading her own book by its cover, and reading Kirito’s cover as Just Another Guy who won’t fight her with everything he has. As with Zel and Nel, Kirito quickly moves beyond his instinctive surprise and fights her on equal terms; as he says and we know, he’s no stranger to being beaten by swordswomen.

A splendid duel ensues; one that Fanatio almost seems grateful for, as for once she isn’t being underestimated or not taken seriously, despite her “detestable” face. Kirito asks her if she thinks she’s so detestable, why does she doll herself up so; it’s strongly implied she loved/loves Commander Bercouli Synthesis One.

But there’s no room for love, or anything else, for Integrity Knights. Only “glory” through obedience to the Pontifex. And so even when Eugeo unleashes his Blue Rose Sword upon her, he can’t quite finish the job. Part of that is that he trying to beat her with his hatred, and as Kirito calls for his own weapon enhancement, he corrects Eugeo’s thinking.

They’re not there to kill the enemies they hate, but to save the people they love—as well as those enemies themselves—and end the tyranny of Axiom so humans can live normal lives. And he’s going to do it or die trying.

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Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 02 – Being Served By Power, Not Serving Power

Gaining Sayoko and Nozomi as friends only added both to the list of things Asuka has to lose and the things she must use the power she had laid down to protect. Iizuka admonishes her for battling in downtown Tokyo so brazenly, and repeats his desire for her to join Spec-Ops. Asuka isn’t budging; she’ll protect herself and her friends, but she won’t go back to that life.

As we learned last week, however, there’s no way to have one foot in this world and one foot out. You’re either all-in or not, and Asuka not using her power last week would have meant Sayoko buying it. For her part, Sayoko remains subconsciously traumatized by the terrorist battle; the magic that occludes ordinary peoples’ perception must not have worked on her 100%.

We also learn that unbeknownst to Nozomi, her “boring desk work” policeman dad is actually a top interrogator (read: torturer) with the National Police Agency, and is torturing the terrorist leader for info on future attacks. One such attack is being facilitated by a group of “bad” magical (badgical?) girls, who possess an enhanced Disas from the bad old days.

Sayoko’s incomplete memory wipe aside, she is feeling terrible about having not been able to do anything to help her fellow bystanders, which means while she got to go home safe and sound, some people didn’t. Asuka tells her it’s better to be cowardly than to pretend you’re stronger than you are. Naturally, Asuka’s not telling her friends she’s Rapture, and you can’t help but wonder how long she can keep them in the dark.

A call from Iizuka warns Asuka that a powerful Halloween-class Disas has been deployed by the terrorists, and “War Nurse” is the only active Magical Girl in Japan who can engage it. That doesn’t sit right with Asuka, who after all was the one who recruited War Nurse, AKA Mugen Kurumi. Kurumi was perhaps the weakest of the Magical Five, and her success in combat relied on the cooperation of the other girls beside her.

Kurumi is confident she can deal with the Disas herself—she doesn’t have any other choice—but it proves more powerful and dangerous than the Halloweens of yore, and it isn’t long until she’s in the same position as the mother and young daughter she saved: about to be slashed to bits by a giant evil plush bear.

While I maintain the resting states of the Disas are hella goofy, when this bear version gets serious it’s actually pretty goddamn creepy-looking, what with its giant claws, buzzsaw-like teeth, and the bloody carnage it unleashes. Fortunately, Asuka is Just In Time to bail Kurumi out.

While the bear is tough, it’s no match for Asuka, who dispatches it with ease, angering the badgical girl who lent it to the terrorists (she works out her anger by stabbing a passing policeman in the eye). As her catlike familiar fights pigeons for food crumbs, Kurumi tells Asuka that she has been and will continue to be a “terrible person” for recruiting her while knowing she wasn’t strong enough to fight alone, only to abandon her.

She’s not wrong. Sure, it was Kurumi’s choice to make, but she made it believing Asuka would remain by her side, and that hasn’t been the case of late. Still, she’s willing to forgive Asuka as long as Asuka keeps her promise “from now on.” When Kurumi then transfers to Asuka’s school and class, it’s apparent that Asuka has some trust to rebuild with her friend and comrade. She’s strong; stronger than Kurumi. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 14 – Opponents Without Pasts

SAO: Alicization commences its second half with an end to the Cardinal infodump, a return to the action, and a new OP that still, unfortunately, prominently features Kirito and Eugeo’s painfully lame secret handshake, which I believe they have yet to actually use in the show itself.

Ah well—no sooner do the two break into the cathedral armory to retrieve their weapons (and some new threads) than they’re attacked by the bow-wielding Crimson Integrity Knight Deusolbert Synthesis Seven. He sends a hail of arrows their way, but the lads are barely able to dodge them all without injury.

Deusolbert then takes off the kid gloves, using his Perfect Weapon Control art to unveil his Conflagration Bow. Kirito manages to slow his first shot with a series of ice shields as well as the sword skill Spinning Shield, allowing Eugeo to get close and unleash the full power of the Blue Rose Sword.

In this ice-vs-fire matchup, the Blue Rose wins, and Eugeo’s Veritcal Arc delivers decisive freezing blows to the knight. It’s perhaps the most jacked up we’ve ever seen Eugeo, no doubt taking a page from Kirito, as it’s absolutely essential in this world to believe you can do what you’re setting out to do, and trust in the source of your weapon to boot.

Defeated, Deusolbert asks Eugeo to finish him off, before he is stripped of his armor and knighthood and essentially frozen indefinitely by Administrator. Eugeo, recognizing his name as that of the knight who arrested young Alice, bound her, and took her away from Rulid, is almost enraged enough to oblige him, but Kirito asks him to stay his sword against one who will no longer fight back.

He also deduces that Deusolbert doesn’t remember capturing Alice, because Administrator erased his memories of doing so, then reassigned him to guarding the cathedral. They leave him on the staircase landing to choose whether to go back to his boss to accept punishment, heal his wounds and come after them again, or…perhaps try to remember more of the dream he always has of a young woman’s ringed hand on his arm. Integrity Knights may not have pasts, but Deusolbert definitely did.

Kirito and Eugeo continue their climb to the fiftieth floor, where a host of Knights await them who have orders to take them dead or alive. But before they can get far, they encounter two mysterious girls. Are they a form of Integrity Knight we’ve yet to see, some other kind of foe…or perhaps not a foe at all?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 13 – Sage of the Infodump, Part II

Cardinal completes her story, in which Quinella, basically running out of soul disk space, copies her memories to a young girl’s fluctlight, overwriting whatever was there. But Cardinal, now possessing a good deal of Quinella’s powers, decided to try to make her move. She fails, but was able to flee to the Great Library to fight another day.

Their duel is brief but exciting, despite all the awkwardly long English incantations the two must make (“System Call: Generate Luminous Object”, etc.) For 200 years since being banished to the library, Cardinal has been observing the Underworld, waiting for the right person with which to collaborate. She used a little spider named Charlotte to help bring Kirito to her.

Cardinal also suspects the god of the outside world (i.e. Rath) aren’t doing anything about Admin because the happiness of the people of the Underworld isn’t their primary goal. Rather, the whole system is a load test to see how much they can tighten the vise on a civilization before it loses cohesion.

Cardinal also tells Kirito that this isn’t just about defeating Asmin and ending her domination over the Underworld. The Forces of Darkness beyond the Realm of Humanity are planning a massive invasion, and Admin’s Integrity Knights are far too few in number to repel them, and she had all four guardian dragons slewn because she couldn’t control them, further hampering her defense.

Cardinal isn’t going to allow the Forces of Darkness to invade the Realm of Humanity; she’s willing to destroy the Underworld and start over to keep that from happening, and this is why she needs Kirito and Eugeo’s help.

If they successfully defeat Admin and Cardinal regains her authority, she’ll let Kirito save “about ten or so” Fluctlights, which if I’m honest, is close to all of the people in the Underworld who mean a lot to him (Cardinal also asks, and is given, a simple human hug, which she considers more than adequate reward for her efforts).

Of course, that’s not ideal, and Kirito will be searching for a way to have their cake and eat it too (I mean, he wouldn’t be Kirito if he didn’t). As for saving Alice, it turns out to be just a simple matter of ejecting the “piety module” from her head that’s blocking her past self, by reminding her of her most treasured memory—stored in Admin’s chambers.

Kirito and Eugeo’s mission has similarly simple steps, though of course they’re all easier said than done: First grab their newly-improved weapons from the third floor. Then, go to the 100th floor to recover Alice’s stored memories.

I have no doubt the 97 floors in between will prove a challenge, but should they run into Alice herself, Eugeo is given a dagger that will connect her to Cardinal, who will put her to sleep. So that’s the plan…all that’s left is to execute.

Bloom Into You – 13 (Fin) – Right Now Is Different

As she visits her family grave, Touko remains determined to “see things through” and put on the stage show in her sister’s place. And that’s all fine and dandy…for the present. But what about when the show is over? Who is she, who does she become once there’s nothing left to do in her sister’s name?

Miyako’s Café Echo is a quiet and intimate place that draws both Yuu and Kanou (to start the process of re-writing the play’s ending) and Touko and Sayaka. While the latter two are there, Miyako and Sayaka share some knowing glances and phrases, and Sayaka finally asks Touko about her sister: What was she like?

Touko is somewhat hesitant to answer, as she’s realized the Mio she knew wasn’t the whole picture. Sayaka responds that just because what she knew of Mio wasn’t complete doesn’t mean that part wasn’t a real and legitimate part of who she was—and a part about which Sayaka wants to hear.

Talking about her sister puts Touko back in a forlorn, uneasy state, and she just wants to see Yuu at times like that, to simply exist with her in the right now. Yet even though she’s been told she’s allowed to “indulge herself” Touko still hesitates to send a text…until Yuu sends her one first, inviting her to hang out.

Just that one simple little text completely changes Touko’s right now. Back at the cafe, Riko arrives, and Miyako asks her if she prefers men or women; a kind of loaded question. Riko admits, she’s not especially attracted to women, but right now, she’s dating one: Miyako. Life is full of exceptions, contradictions, and imperfections. They can or can’t be explained, and can only either be accepted or not.

Yuu and Touko go to Aqua World and have a blast, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d much rather the series end on a lovely date that explores where they’re at in their relationship right now, rather than focus on the festival and stage play. I’m far less interested as a play than as a mirror to who Touko “is.” I shouldn’t, then, be surprised that Bloom Into You gave me what I wanted.

What I also didn’t want, and thankfully didn’t get, was a confession or “awakening” from Yuu. What I did get was Touko explaining why she says I love you so easily and often to Yuu. Regardless of how Yuu reacts, simply saying it makes Touko feel relieved. Relieved that she can actually fall in love with someone, something the sister she knew never did (as far as she knows).

That means that she’s not falling in love simply to check off another box on the list of things her sister did. It’s something that happened to her, Touko, organically and without influence. And however much of who she is is only a lie or an emulation of Mio, the part of her that likes Yuu is most assuredly neither. It’s real, and it’s relieving.

She admits that sounds self-contradictory, but Yuu further comforts her by stating what she believes: that it’s perfectly fine to be self-contradictory. To be so is to be human.

While outside before the penguin march, Yuu starts performing the play, and Touko joins in once she realizes there’s no one else around. When Yuu changes some of her lines from the script, she says she’s improvising, that Touko follow suit, and that Kanou is changing things up because she wasn’t satisfied with the script as-is.

When the part comes when Touko’s character is apprehensive about which person she should choose to be based on the different stories she’s received, Yuu asks why she needs to make a choice at all. “I don’t know anyone aside from ‘you'”,  Yuu’s nurse character says. It’s not like Touko’s character has no memories, she’s gained enough during the hospital stay to lay out the groundwork of who she is right now, not who she might’ve been.

The penguin show interrupts their rehearsal, and the two continue to enjoy the aquarium. Eventually Yuu takes Touko by the hand and leads her through the transparent underwater tunnels, to other exhibits, and to the gift shop. Touko wishes this would never end, but the exit approaches … they’re there already; too soon for her taste.

On the train home, both Touko and Yuu are sleepy and close to drifting off. Yuu tells Touko she can, and she does, leaning her shoulder and head against her. In idea for the title of Kanou’s play comes to Yuu: “Only You Know.” She takes the sleeping Touko’s hand and draws nearer, gently waking her and saying they need to change trains…

…And that’s it! Such a quiet, delicate ending full of warmth and love. Do I wish we got to see more of Touko and Yuu’s relationship blooming, and possibly Yuu eventually figuring out that what she feels for Touko is indeed a kind of love? Sure, and in that regard, this series has left us with naught but an elipsis, and a second season has not yet been confirmed.

So Like Touko with her memories of her sister, we have to be content with what we have and the fact that it’s not the whole picture…though I hope we get a little more down the road.—sesameacrylic

Bunny Girl Senpai – 13 (Fin) – Everything is Going to Be Alright

Upon the return of her memories, Kaede doesn’t really seem to grasp why this is all such a big deal; from her perspective, she was never actually ever “gone.” But it’s a huge shock to Sakuta; bigger than he could have expected or was prepared for

“Kaede”, the entirely new personality he’d loved and cared for as his little sister for two years, isn’t just gone; it’s as if she never existed, and that deletion of her existence occurred just when she was starting to take her biggest steps yet towards living a normal life. It’s enough of a shock for Sakuta to simply lose it upon leaving Kaede’s hospital room.

He simply wasn’t ready to lose Kaede. Even the three huge slash marks reopen and bleed. And just when Sakuta needs someone—anyone, but also not just anyone—most, who should appear but his first crush; the girl no one else can see: “Shouko-san.”

Shouko-san takes the soaked and suffering Sakuta home, gets him into a hot bath, and proceeds to read Kaede’s diary to him. While this may seem like a gross breach of privacy, this is mitigated by the fact that the Kaede that wrote the diary is now gone, and thus the diary is the only link to her Sakuta has left.

Through the diary and Shouko-san’s words of support and reassurance, Sakuta learns that both Kaedes never stopped loving him, and while it might’ve seemed only natural to regret not helping her back when she was being horribly bullied, she never held that against him, and thus there was never any reason for regret, self-hatred, or the physical manifestation of those emotions, his chest slashes.

Knowing that we’ll never see or hear Kaede as we knew her ever again, its a particularly poignant diary/farewell letter, narrated in both Shouko-san and Kaede’s voices. More importantly, it finally gives Sakuta, who had been so busy helping others to help himself for so long, finally achieved a kind of catharsis. The next morning, Shouko is gone, leaving only a note behind.

Sakuta has no other way of reaching Shouko-san, and can’t even reach the younger Shouko on the phone. He does finally call Mai back, and fills her in on what happened, without really getting into his whole ordeal in the bathtub. When she surprises him by coming over, prepared to spend the night with him, she finds Shouko’s note.

Since this is Mai we’re talking about, there’s no way she’d get jealous over such a note, or that she wouldn’t believe Sakuta’s explanations; rushed and verbose as they are, everything he’s saying is the truth. But Mai is still hurt, and has to leave as soon as she arrives.

Part repaying a debt, part helping out her sister, and part being a good friend, Nodoka meets with Sakuta and tells him to make things right. It’s Mai’s birthday, after all. Sakuta double-times it onto a bullet train to catch up to her in Kanazawa.

Things are chilly both inside the car in which Mai and her manager give Sakuta a ride and outside where some snowflakes start to fall. But once Sakuta shares his coat with Mai, the ice is broken and they both proceed to apologize to each other.

What caused Mai to say the things she did and leave wasn’t jealousy, but frustration that she wasn’t able to be with Sakuta when he needed her the most; “Shouko-san”, whoever she is, filled that role instead. She feels bad about that and apologizes.

Of course, there’s nothing to apologize for; Sakuta is just happy to have Mai by his side whenever he can, even if it wasn’t at a crucial time this time. She’s his girlfriend, and he loves her, and that’s more than enough for him. She almost leans in for a kiss, but instead gives his cheek a yank, remarking that being “punished” is probably the ideal thing for him anyway.

All is well that ends well, as Sakuta introduces Mai to his parents and re-introduces her to Kaede, continues hanging out with Tomoe and Futaba and Nodoka, and re-bonds with his little sister, who is ready to go to school and ready to see some pandas with her big brother for the first time…again.

While the Kaede and Sakuta arc wasn’t my favorite, it was still a solid way to bring the anime to a close. It’s a shame we couldn’t see more of the “new old” Kaede as herself, or going back to school, and it’s also a shame there was so much mystery surrounding the nature of the Shouko(s), but it sounds like at least the latter will be covered in an upcoming film.

I for one wouldn’t mind returning to this pleasant, charming world where people who feel so alone it starts to do weird things to them are saved by friends and family whose help proves that they’re not alone after all, and never were.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 12 – Sage of the Infodump

Kirito and Eugeo just barely hold their own against Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One, who is armed with all manner of magical attacks and divine objects. They’re only able to escape defeat when Eugeo suddenly remembers why Eldrie seems so familiar: he used to be Eldrie Woolsburg, the North Empire representative swordsman.

Hearing his former name and other details of his past, a triangular prism is slowly ejected from his forehead, and the former Eldrie’s personality seems to return. The transformation is interrupted by an attack by a second knight armed with a bow and riding a dragon, but the implication is clear: what happened to this guy must’ve happened to Alice. The person she used to be might not be gone; only repressed.

Kirito and Eugeo would have probably eventually been caught by the second knight, but are given yet another break when a voice tells Kirito which way to turn and presents them with a glowing secret doorway through which to dive.

They land at the bottom of a stair, before a diminutive-looking sage called Cardinal. She is the Cardinal System that once governed the Underworld, but she’s been usurped, and her powers are now limited to the great library that contains all of the world’s knowledge and history.

Upon showing the boys around, she sends a sneezing, soaked Eugeo off to the bath to warm up, and summons some food and tea for Kirito. The balance of the episode is Cardinal (voiced, I think, by Tange Sakura, complete with “umus”) basically delivering a lengthy infodump, focusing on her “twin elder sister”, Administrator, the self-made Pontifex of the Axiom Church and only one who can contact the outside world.

“Administrator” was once Quinella, the offspring of the first political marriage between high lords, and the descendant of one of the “original four” inhabitants of Underworld who, unlike the other three, was driven by greed and a lust for power. Quinella was gifted with System Call, and used it to hunt animals and gain more and more authority.

Eventually, she had her followers, upon whom she demonstrated various “miracles”, build her a church in which she still resides to this day, being worshiped and ruling with absolute authority. She solidified that authority by writing the Taboo Index, which forbade the very actions that gave her the power boost she needed to seize command of the world.

Even Quinella couldn’t initially win against the ravages of time, but even on her death bed never stopped trying to find the right commands to undo her demise. She succeeded, either due to coincidence or help from the outside world, and her fluctlight was augmented with the Cardinal System as it was to create a new, no longer “human” being, naming herself “Administrator.”

Suffice it to say, Admin is one tough cookie. Considering how badly Kirito fared against a novice Integrity Knight, he and Eugeo are going to have to seriously up their game if they want to overthrow her. I daresay it wouldn’t hurt to snap Alice out of her brainwashing (Eugeo knows far more of her past than of Eldrie’s) so she could fight beside them.

But I’m just spitballing at this point. The villain has been introduced and explained. Now we’ll see what the heroes are going do about it.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 11 – You Can’t Have Alicization Without Alice

Any hope of Saber Alice looking upon Eugeo and Kirito and remembering her past is thrown out the window when she clobbers Eugeo for getting too close, and threatens to have his hand off if he does it again. It may look and sound like Alice, but the personality has changed, whether it was overwritten or wiped and rewritten.

She merely fulfills her duty of sending them to the Central Cathedral dungeons via dragon—a pretty short trip, but I guess traditions are important in the Axiom Church. Tiese and Ronie tearfully send their mentors off with their swords, apologizing for their role in getting them in trouble. Eugeo, for his part, tells them they did nothing wrong: it was right to try to help their friend, despite the risks.

Back in the real world, Asuna watches the unconscious Kirito, wishing she could dive in to the Underworld to rescue him—and has me wondering why that hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s still too soon to pull him out without killing him?

In any case, Asuna at least has Rinko to keep her company. She also meets one of Higa’s latest inventions: a robot that is the prototype for the kinds of artificial bodies into which they’ll eventually be downloading fluctlights, which is ethically all kinds of iffy, no matter how lighthearted Higa seems.

In the dungeon, Kirito and Eugeo learn that their chains are the same level, which means when they smack them together hard enough, they shatter. And since the chains are stronger than the bars of their cell, they’re able to knock that down too. It’s a good thing the guard is a very heavy sleeper.

From this point on, the two know they’re openly defying the church: no more hesitation. The plan is to find out why Alice has lost her memories, then find a way to undo whatever was done with her so the three can go home to the village together, just like old times.

They make it into the cathedral’s hedge labyrinth, which is bursting with gorgeous rose bushes, but are stopped by Alice’s student, Integrity Knight Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One.

Alice expected Kirito and Eugeo to escape, and thus stationed Eldrie where she did. He’ll send them back to the dungeon, but not without doling out some kind of harsh punishment—something neither of them are about to take lying down.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Attack on Titan – 45 – Her Next Duty

The bad news? Rob Reiss transforms into an utterly massive Titan, far larger even than the Colossal. The good news? He’s no immediate threat to anyone in particular, just the structural integrity of the cavern and the chapel above it.

While neither of those two things survives the episode, everybody who set out to rescue Eren and Historia does. All the damage he causes allows Levi & Co. to escape Kenny’s trap and access the chamber where Eren and Historia are.

Even while free, Eren is lost. He was fully prepared to be eaten by Historia (and we later learn Historia momentarily considered transforming him and eating him so as not to be hated by her Dad). Between his antics and the sins of his father, Eren initially just sobs about being so worthless. His friends aren’t enthused. They risked their necks to get to him; the least he can do is not want to die, rendering their efforts in vain.

So Eren bucks up a bit, and bites down on a vial labeled “Armor.” The result of ingesting the serum within allows the Eren Titan to use the same Titan Hardening ability as the Armored Titan, building an avant-garde yet sturdy cage around his friends in order to save them from the growing Rob-Titan, which Levi dubs the “Big-Ass Titan.” It’s accurate!

Once they free Eren from his still fully-hardened Titan (sorry if that sounds a bit dirty), Levi & Co. take him and Historia and ge tthe hell out of there. As Armin and Moblit got the injured but stable Hange to safety earlier, the Scouts suffer no fatalities.

But there is that tricky matter of the Big-Ass Titan, which is a sight to behold; like something out of a Miyazaki film (Nausicaä, to be precise), yet like those Giant Warriors, not quite complete, and so it crawls awkwardly on its belly. Still, it’s so damn huge even in its current state it will reach the wall by dawn—and likely incinerate it.

When the initial plan to let Eren feed himself to Rob is shot down (there’s no guarantee Rob will return to being a human even if he eats Eren), the plan becomes “Stop the Big-Ass Titan at all costs.” Since Eren now has the Hardening Ability, there’s now a decent shot of repairing Wall Maria, but no repairs can take place until Rob is dealt with.

However, we do learn that Rob’s story about Eren’s father was naturally biased; in reality, Dr. Yaeger was trying to save humanity by destroying the line of the First King and the Reiss reliance on brainwashing. There’s also fresh mentions of the secrets in Eren’s basement, so there’s that.

Levi adds to Historia’s burdens by informing her that Erwin has insisted that once the latest battle is over, she will have to take up the mantle of Queen in order to give the regiment coup legitimacy and appease the public. Both Connie and Jean rightly pipe up that that shit ain’t fair, Historia has only just turned the page and gained as sense of individuality, only to be thrust into yet another duty.

I’ve really enjoyed Tori’s rise to prominence since her true identity was revealed; she’s basically a co-protagonist alongside Eren, and watching her decide her course in life in a world where such a thing’s a great luxury, has been a delight.  She’s grateful for their defense, but she agrees without complaint…but with one request: If she’s to be queen, she’s going to give it all she’s got in the battle that proceeds her coronation.

That means donning the uniform of the Scout Regiment, strapping on her ODM gear, and taking her place beside her comrades—her friends—her true family—to whom she owes not only her life, but her sense of self. Rob isn’t her dad anymore; he’s the enemy. It’s time to go to work.

Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Attack on Titan – 44 – Eat Me, Save Humanity

As Rob Reiss prepares to instruct Historia to inject a serum that will transform her into a Titan so she can eat Eren, Hange and Levi’s team enters the cavern, sporting some unconventional tactics in order to level the playing field against Kenny and his intensively-prepared anti-personnel troops.

With a combination of surprise, gunpowder, signal flare smoke, and pure guile, Eren’s allies are able to get right on top of Kenny’s people; the hard part is having to make the decision to kill their fellow human beings for the first time.

The sequence is taut and intense, but doesn’t forget to show those tiny moments of hesitation that linger in the thoughts of Sasha, Jean, and Connie. Not surprisingly, there’s nary a shred of hesitation in either Levi or Mikasa.

Kenny himself enters the fray, and quickly finds his nephew Levi is a lot tougher than he gave him credit for, successfully wounding him in the midsection and forcing him to retreat almost as quickly as he arrives.

But his presence gives his second-in-command the opening she needs to deal a crushing blow to the Scouts: by getting the advantage over Hange Zoe and seriously wounding her. If she isn’t able to get back up, that’s a huge blow for the good guys (even if it’s been demonstrated that neither Hange nor anyone else is 100% good or bad here).

This season of Titan continues to be generous with its answers regarding what the heck is up with this world, filling in a few more of the many blanks that have lingered for nearly four dozen episodes. Rob is the source of more world history wisdom. Turns out most of society, due to the mind control of the Reiss Titans, don’t recall any history beyond 100 years…no doubt since an ignorance populace is easier to control.

The Founding Reiss Titan used its power to built the Walls that protect humanity, but also passed on all the knowledge that proceeded the boundaries of the rest of mankind; how the world as they know it was formed and how to preserve it. That is now Historia’s repsonsibility; she has to eat Eren in order to inherit Freda’s memories as well as her powers.

When an eavesdropping Kenny hears that only someone with the blood of the Reiss’ can inherit the full power and memories of their predecessor (meaning if he took the serum and ate Eren, it would be meaningless) he’s pissed.

More than having planned to betray Rob, he knew Rob knew he’d betray him one day, and even counted on it, but not until it was all but too late to do anything about it. Rob releases Kenny from his service, and Kenny in turn decides to make things interesting by removing Eren’s gag and cutting him so he’ll transform and give Historia a fight.

That would have likely been something quite awesome to behold…but something perhaps more interesting happens instead: Eren doesn’t transform. He doesn’t want to; he wants to die. He sees himself as the cause of all of the trouble they’ve been in up to this point, and more importantly, all of the people who died, who he lists in roughly the order in which they died.

With both Rob and Eren begging her to inject herself with the transformation serum and eat Eren, Historia seems stuck between a rock and a hard place…but there’s still the matter of what she, an individual, wants to do, even if her duty seems clear, while her victim is ready to die for the sake of humanity and correcting perceived wrongs, both his and those of his father.

But then she remembers Ymir, telling her whether she’s simply trying to do something “nice” (i.e. what she thinks everyone expects of her). She also rememebers that time on top of that castle, when Ymir, before transforming, tells her that all she wants is for Historia to live a life she’s proud of.

‘Tori can’t do that if she injects herself. She can’t do that if she eats Eren. She can’t do that if she exterminates the Titans. Rob calling what she’s becoming to be something akin to godhood is the last straw. She slaps the syringe out of Rob’s hands and it shatters on the ground.

Historia decides to free Eren, because she likes him a heck of a lot more than she likes the rest of humanity. As far as she’s concerned, they can all get wiped out by Titans—hell, she’ll even lend a hand, declaring herself both “humanity’s biggest enemy” and “the worst girl who ever lived”…neither of which are true. Humanity’s true worst enemy? Itself. Historia Reiss? More badass than bad.

Unfortunately, Historia is also her own worst enemy, as she breaks the syringe but then rushes to free Eren, leaving the puddle of MacGuffin transformation serum completely unprotected, ready to be lapped up by anyone. And not just anyone laps it up; Rob does, not long after telling Tori in no uncertain terms that he should never be the one to transform. We didn’t learn the reason why, but I imagine we will, very soon.