Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

Fruits Basket – 07 – On the Outside Looking In

Tooru arrives for her mysterious meeting with Hatori and is brought to her office by Momiji. Hatori doesn’t mince words: when most of the members of the Souma clan aren’t aware of the Zodiac members’ secret—only around fifty “insiders” do—it’s an “outrage” that Tooru knows, and she should leave the Soumas and never have anything to do with them again.

It seems like a classic case of trying to scare someone off by making things sound far worse than they are, but when Momiji explains why Hatori is so resolute. He once had a girlfriend named Kana, who was a Souma but an “outsider.”

They loved each other deeply, and asked Akito for permission to marry, but Akito blew up at them, resulting in Hatori being blinded in one eye by glass from a shattered mirror. Kana blamed herself, and that blame turned into an obsession and an illness. The only way Hatori could save her was by wiping her memories of loving him.

Tooru is empathetic of Hatori’s position, but doesn’t want to leave Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure, the latter of whom suspected Hatori was up to no good and comes to put Tooru’s mind at ease, as Hatori is prone to over-drama. Still, he and Momiji have New Years-related matters to attend to, so Hatori escorts Tooru back to the front gates.

While doing so, Tooru gets lost in thought and slips down some stairs, and Hatori catches her, which technically means hugging her, and transforms into his zodiac animal: a dragon. But not a big dragon; a tiny, defenseless seadragon. As Tooru rushes to get him in water, he remembers this is exactly how Kana first reacted when she learned his secret.

That takes us down memory road, to when Hatori’s ice-cold heart was warmed by Kana’s warmth. A man who neither knew nor felt he needed love suddenly found himself not just receiving it, but giving it back in return. Kana accepted him for who he was, and if anything only loved him more because of it.

Things went seriously pear-shaped when they attempted to ask for Akito’s approval, an absolute must, considering he’s the boss. But Akito sees Kana as nothing but an outsider, not someone who would do anything about “the curse.” He says a great many terrible things to Kana that day, including that she’s to blame for Hatori if he goes blind.

That sets Kana on a downward spiral that leads to her memory being wiped, which was probably what Akito was going for. I must say in my limited exposure to him I’m not a fan of Akito…but hey, I wasn’t a fan of Hatori last week and here we are, seeing him in all his humanity, passion, and tragedy. Perhaps Akito’s story is even worse than Hatori’s!

Hatori comes to on a bench beside a worried Tooru, who then runs off to find his shoes that she dropped. While she’s gone, a newly-engaged Kana walks past as her friends congratulate her. From her perspective, Hatori never loved her, but it doesn’t change the fact she finds him more handsome than the man she’s going to marry; his dream man.

Tooru returns, it starts to snow, and when Hatori asks what Kana told her, she has the same answer Kana had: when snow melts, it doesn’t simply  mean water, but that Spring is coming. Tooru reminds Hatori of Kana on more than one occasion; he just hopes she doesn’t suffer the same fate.

As for “the curse,” Tooru tries to ask Shigure about it but he demurs, stating it’s not quite time to tell her, should he choose to do so. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to learn the Soumas’ secret; perhaps she’ll learn about the curse through plain happenstance…

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

Yuki, Tooru and Kyou’s class decides to do an onigiri stand, and we see again the dynamic between Prince Yuki fangirls and Tooru’s delinquent friends, as well as the fact the class has warmed to Kyou despite—or possibly partly due to—his hot temperament. Oh, and because cute cats flock to him!

Still, when they criticize his idea and accept Yuki’s, he storms off to skulk on the roof. Kyou opens up about his long-held resentment of his “golden boy” cousin, who was always respected and trusted more than him, and excelled at everything he did better and faster than Kyou. He admits if he could be like Yuki, he would be.

That sentiment proves vital to Tooru as she attempts to figure out why these two hate each other so much. She gathers more intelligence when Kyou becomes the life of the party when the class plays cards, while Yuki is off rejecting the umpteenth girl to ask him out. She tells him he’s nice, but closed off to people, and that everyone says a “normal girl” isn’t worthy of him.

It doesn’t sound like a compliment to him, and it puts him in a sour mood when he ends up in Kyou’s presence. The two go at it verbally until Yuki loses his cool and kicks Kyou across the room. All Tooru knows is that this is about more than the fact they’re rat and cat; and probably quite a bit about Kyou waning badly to become the thirteenth member of the Zodiac.

In what feels like a non sequitur of a mini-scene, Tooru falls down the steps at work after her shift is over and encounters a strange blonde who speaks German to her and kisses her before Tooru runs outside. Obviously, we’ll see more of this person in the near future, but all I could do for now was chuckle at Tooru’s extremely flusteredness around someone seemingly not from Japan.

When Yuki arrives to walk her home, Tooru tells him he and Kyou are both so kind, and Yuki flashes a sad smile and turns to walk. Tooru stops him to say he can tell her anything that’s troubling him and she’ll listen and try to help. She’s so passionate about this point she doesn’t notice the drunk salaryman who shoves her into Yuki, transforming him into a rat.

While walking with Rat-Yuki, he tells her his deal with Kyou, which is basically that once the ice is broken it’s easy for him to fit into a group of people, who flock to him just like cats do once they learn the rough edges are only skin deep. Thus Tooru learns that Kyou and Yuki resent each other because they’re both jealous of the ways they’re not like the other. Tooru tells him how kind he is and how that draws people to him too, but Yuki dismisses his kindness as merely self-serving; phony.

When a typhoon suddenly hits, Tooru assists Yuki in protecting his secret base—a vegetable garden—from the harsh weather. Tooru tells him what his mom told her to be, which is a believer and not a doubter in people. When everyone is born they have nothing but desires, but gradually develop their own unique “shape” of kindness; their hearts growing with their bodies and minds. To her, Yuki’s kindness is like a warm, bright candle.

Yuki apologizes for bringing this stuff up, but she assures him she’s glad he did, because it means he trusts her enough to share his problems, and that they’re becoming closer as friends. Yuki promises to try harder to interact naturally with people at school, even if it’s intimidating, because that’s what he wants.

After a night protecting the vegetables, Tooru decides to use some as she spends the rest of the morning experimenting with onigiri in the kitchen. Kyou wakes up before Yuki, but since he’s cat-based he hates the chive filling, and would prefer something meatier. He makes some of his own, showing Tooru that he’s actually a natural at forming onigiri, though he doesn’t think it’s so great.

Tooru disagrees. In fact, she decides to create another metaphor to describe both Kyou and Yuki’s issue, which is not so rare: if a person is a rice ball and the plum is what’s great about them, they have “plums on their backs,” meaning they can’t see them. But people are drawn to both of them, just as all people are drawn to their friends, because they can see those plums. Hence, both he and Yuki are great.

With that, Yuki arrives on cue and force-feeds Kyou a chive onigiri to show him that one politely eats something someone has made for you, even if you don’t like it. Then a knock comes at the door, and Tooru finds a shy young woman outside, asking about Kyou. Could this be an admirer of his, or another member of the Souma clan? Whoever she is, it seems pretty clear she can see his plum!

Tooru could come of to some as overly preachy and poetic this week, but she’s so goshdarn cute and sincere it’s hard to fault her. She had such a good Mama, and duitifully honors her memory by being the best possible person she can be, while sharing the lessons she learned from  her.

For all the loss, grief, and pain she endured, Tooru remains a staunch believer in people, as well as in her ability to help those people. If Kyou and Yuki can’t find each other’s good aspects or make any kind of peace with each other on their own, then she’ll lend them a hand.

Fruits Basket – 02 – Sodium in Water

When Kyou, Yuki and Shigure all transform into animals, Tooru panics, right up until the dog signs for a package with his seal, and they start talking with human speech. Turns out each member of the Souma clan is possessed by an animal of the Zodiac, and when hugged by the opposite sex, they transform into those animals for a time, eventually changing back to (buck naked) humans.

To call Yuki and Kyou like oil and water would be inaccurate: oil kinda just sits on top of water. Yuki’s more like sodium and Kyou water; it always ends up with an unpleasantly violent explosion. Once’s everyone’s dressed they go at it again, and Kyou breaks a table in his rage, accidentally injuring Tooru’s forehead. Yuki has had enough, and decides to show why sparring with Kyou is never fun for him: he always wins handily.

At school, suspicions from Yuki’s fan club persist, but he doesn’t pay them any mind, and meets with Tooru in an empty classroom, asking if she told anyone about “them.” Tooru takes this to mean the Souma family secret of animal transformation, but it could just as easily be asking if Tooru told her friends she was now friends with Yuki and living in his house.

Regardless, Yuki informs Tooru that Shigure has to report to the Souma family head, Akito, who will determine what if anything is to be done about Tooru knowing, up to and including memory-suppressing hypnosis. Tooru accidentally bumps into him, turning him into a rat, but once the shock of that is over, Tooru expresses her wish that even if her memories do have to be altered, she’d like to still be friends with Yuki afterwards.

Back home, Kyou is making preliminary repairs on Tooru’s ceiling, and is about to offer some kind of apology when Shigure returns home with good news: as long as Tooru keeps their secret, she’s free to live there without any memory modification. Tooru celebrates by putting her well-honed cleaning and cooking skills to use. That night, she learns Shigure has arranged for Kyou to transfer to Yuki and Tooru’s school.

The reason for this is because he essentially dropped out of the school he was attending to train his body and mind to defeat Yuki, and he could use a fresh start to learn more about interacting with people in ways other than confrontation and combat. True to his Zodiac sign, this is better said than done.

He causes an instant sensation at school, as the girls flock to his desk to chat with him. Not used to so much attention, he tries to get away, but one of the girls clings to him, and he puts her in a painful arm lock before jumping out a high window (and landing on his feet, natch). In other words, not a good start!

Outside, Yuki tracks Kyou down and scolds him, and their two diametrically opposed goals are made plain: Kyou wants to work to become a full-fledged member of the Souma clan, something Yuki considers a cage he’d rather escape.

The fight gets heated, and Tooru intervenes, resulting in Kyou transforming into a cat. The enraged Kyou snaps at Tooru once more, and she slinks away, believing Kyou truly hates him. Yuki doesn’t even bother punching him.

Back home, Shigure tells Kyou it’s simply not going to be easy, but he has to keep going to school, and consider it training. That means hurting, being hurt, and developing empathy that informs his future words and actions, not just going with his impulses.

As Tooru walks home from work later that night, she remembers her vow to her mom to cease being a Dog and become a Cat in solidarity for the way the Cat was treated in the Zodiac legend, but now that she’s met the Cat, he seems to hate her. Of course, that’s not strictly true; Kyou simply isn’t sure how to act around Tooru yet, and takes Yuki’s place as her escort home as an olive branch.

He snaps at her again once or twice, but takes the advice from Shigure—not every strike, verbal or physical, needs to be carried through. He can stop short; hold his tongue or fist; consider a less extreme response. He tells her she can call his name even if she doesn’t need anything, can hang around where he can see her, and she’s welcome to hit him if she says or does something she doesn’t like. It’s his way of apologizing, and it lifts Tooru’s spirits considerably. She tells Kyou about her love of the Cat, and her desire to be friends with its vessel.

Kyou reacts somewhat like a tsundere would, and Tooru feels she finally understands Kyou has a gentle heart under the rough exterior. Having thus made peace with Cat and having official permission from the family head to live with Yuki and Shigure, Tooru is looking forward to fun-filled days ahead. Here’s hoping she gets them; she’s already experienced enough of the other kind.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 24 (Fin) – Better Late Than Never

The last two weeks of 3D Kanojo: Real Girl have been odd and honestly a little frustrating. First of all, with Iroha facing a potentially life-and/or-memory-threatening medical operation, Iroha and Hikari basically break up, saying their final goodbyes.

The question I had at the end was, why? Why is Iorha cutting Hikari loose now? Certainly not to spare him the pain of losing her! And why is Hikari okay with this, and not insisting on staying by her side so she doesn’t have to face this trial alone? Then, last week, without providing a satisfying answer to that question, the show simply moves on with a HUGE leap in time, after which we learn Iroha survived the operation, but her memories didn’t.

That’s all well and good, but when they broke up, neither Iroha nor Hikari knew with 100% certainty that this would be the case. Iroha could have emerged from the operation with her memories intact, allowing them to remain the loving couple they clearly wanted to be. More troubling is the possibility that even though she lost her memories post-op, she might be more likely to regain them with her lover present (another reason I questioned them breaking up when they did).

Alas, none of that happened. And that was a little strange! But hey, sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I’m sure Hikari is well versed in this concept early in the episode, as he ponders whether it’s time to finally forget about Iroha. Who would have thought that Iroha’s brother Chika of all people would be the one to actually make the right choice at the right time?

If he wanted, Iroha would move back to L.A. and live with him. He obviously adores her. But his love is not the kind that would deprive her of that which she needed most, just for his own benefit. So after six months of being a total dick to Hikari in high school, he pulls a 180 (seven years later, for some reason) and tells Iroha why she feels there’s a big hole in her heart she’s unable to fill: there’s a guy out there who knows and understands her better than he.

So Chika arranges for Hikari and Iroha to meet—something that should have happened ages ago, mind you—and Hikari is his usual self-flagellating self. While he’s happy beyond belief that she’s alive, he stops short of giving his name. He’s prepared to let her go all over again, content that she survived. But then Iroha sees the strap on his bag that matches hers, and she suddenly remembers Tsutsun.

Hikari was ready to let her go because he feels he didn’t deserve to have her remember him (always nailing himself to the cross, Hikari). There’s definitely a case to be made for why he didn’t fight harder to stay by her side…or even suggest it for that matter, but one can chalk that up to Hikari being a romantic naif. But that hopelessly kind side of him is what finally causes Iroha’s memories of him to surface.

Fast-forward to Takanashi and a very pregnant Ishino’s wedding, where we’re introduced to 25-year-old Itou (who’s not that different), but no Ayado (it’s as if she was written off the show!), and during which Hikari of all people accidentally catches the bouquet. That’s right about when Ishino discovers one of her wedding guests is none other than Iroha.

It goes without saying that she, Takanashi, and Itou are beyond elated to see her, and simply by reuniting with them, Iroha is able to remember bits and pieces of her old friends (which, again, if only she’d done this years ago her memories would already be back!)

At the reception, we finally learn that Ayado married someone else, and simply couldn’t make it to the wedding. After the reception, Hikari tells Iroha they should get together again sometime, even if she’s going back to L.A. That’s when Iroha tells him she’s remembered more—a lot more—about the person she was, and how she was once terrible.

At first, dating him was only about curiosity than actually caring about him, but that soon changed when she got to know him, and being with him changed her as well, for the better. She now remembers those six months with him were the happiest of her life. Hikari feels the same way, and if he ever found out she was alive again, he’d always hoped she’d fall in love with him again.

Hikari doesn’t want her to go back to Los Angeles after all, and so does something he should have done seven frikkin’ years ago, and what he needs to to do stay by her side: he tells her not to go back. As Iroha feels the same way, she wholeheartedly agrees.

Fast-forward to another wedding, this time, that of Iroha and Hikari. Ayado is there—with long hair! Everyone’s doing the opposite length of what they had in high school, apparently—and not only that, she’s recently divorced! Itou, in his eternal awkwardness, sees this as an immediate opportunity to ask her out to dinner!

Thankfully poor Ayado is spared having to respond when the bride and groom appear. Hikari’s family is there, and even Kaoru is blushing a bit while their folks are crying tears of joy, and Chika is there too, good sport that he is—heck, Hikari and Iroha owe their joyful reunion entirely to him not being a total dick for once.

I still shrug at the point of the seven-year gap, which in hindsight seemed only to inflate the drama of the lovers’ inevitable reunion, but it happened so fast it didn’t quite land. Also in hindsight, I appreciated the ambition that went into such a development.

Let’s say Hikari and Iroha didn’t break up, and Hikari stayed by her side throughout the operation and immediate recovery. I posit there’d still be plenty of drama to be mined from the period immediately following the surgery when Hikari would have to wait and see not only if Iroha would live, but would return to being the Iroha he knew and loved. That would have been a smaller-scale denouement, but still effective.

Still, had it stayed in their high-school years we wouldn’t have witnessed their wedding, or that of Ishino and Takanashi, or their little one, or see Itou ask the recently-divorced Ayado out on a date at a wedding! So I’m content to say MEDETASHI MEDETASHI.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.?

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.