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.

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The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

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.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

The Promised Neverland – 09 – Let’s Get Cracking

By the end of last week, four episodes of The Promised Neverland remained for the kids to escape the farm and survive the aftermath of casting aside their old lives, and all the protections and amenities therein. Even if their lives wouldn’t last much longer than if they’d  stayed put, at least they’d die free.

Alas, for all of the kids’ careful preparation up to this point, the situation has never been more dire. Any hope of Emma escaping on her own two feet has been dashed thanks to Mama’s act of appalling brutality (“clean break” indeed) while Norman is due to be shipped out in a day’s time.

Norman puts on a brave face for Emma, but when he fetches water he betrays a look of paralyzing fear and despair. And yet, once that moment has passed, there’s a decidedly defiant look on his face, like he’s decided and committed to his next move.

When he returns, Ray is with Emma, and they’ve already decided something as well. When Norman proposes they proceed with the escape plan without him once he’s gone and Emma is healed, they reject him in unison. Their counter-proposal: Norman will deactivate his tracker with the device Ray has just completed (using parts from all the various discreet rewards he got over the years), and hide out until Emma heals. Then they’ll all escape together.

Norman is fine with this plan, except for the fact that if he goes missing, they may ship Ray out in his stead. In that case, Ray says he’s willing to have his arm broken so, like Emma, he won’t be suitable for shipping. When Norman asks how Ray found out about the truth of the House, he says he’s always known, since he has memories of his life going back to when he was still in the womb.

Norman agrees to the plan, and the next morning, Norman executes his escape, running to the wall with the backup rope Don and Gilda made, while Emma and Ray stick close to Mama. The music that plays while Norman is running to freedom is epic, hopeful and triumphant.

After he attaches the rope, he holds it taut as he runs up the wall, and manages to grab hold of the top ledge and hoist himself up. A vast forest unfolds in all directions on the other side; a forest full of possibility. If they could get everyone into that forest, the adults would be hard-pressed to find them.

When Mama finally notices Norman is not around, she checks his tracking device, and her expression makes it clear it’s not working. But to Emma and Ray’s horror, she smiles and closes the device, and Norman emerges from the forest, looking like he’d just been drugged or hypnotized.

Turns out it was neither, but simply the look of utter, complete defeat. Only while atop the wall and looking over the other side could he discover the truth: there is a vast, yawning, sheer CLIFF between the wall and the forested land, of a distance they can’t hope to surmount.

Just when the kids’ spirits were at their highest, everything is cruelly snatched away, and their doom feels more inescapable than ever. What an emotional roller coaster; a symphony sorrow; a triptych of tribulation. Those poor damn kids…what are they going to do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.

Golden Kamuy – 19 – Missing Something

The reunion of Tanigaki, Inkarmat, and Cikapasi with Asirpa and the others was facilitated by Ainu hunters who then invite the whole gang to their kitan as they perform a post-bear-hunting ceremony, in which they tell the other gods that the world of humans is a good place. Asirpa is once again the “tour guide” describing the Ainu concept of kamuy.

Tanigaki then tells her about Huci, but Asirpa can’t go home yet, not when she’s so close to Abashiri and learning the secrets of her father. Instead, Tanigaki decides to stay by Asirpa’s side and assist her in her efforts. Asirpa also gives Inkarmat a look that seems to ask  what does this woman want?, which is also something I’d like to know.

One of the Ainu hunters recognizes Tanigaki’s rifle as having once belonged to the hunter Nihei Tetsuzou, whom he once hunted bear with. At the time Tetsuzou revealed the purpose of the seven notches in the rifle: they were made by his only son, who died in battle.

He made a notch for every enemy he killed, but his father would never know whether he lost count or simply died once he’d reached seven. He just wishes he’d never gone to war and simply stayed with him and hunted bear.

Koito, who like the taxidermist is in love with Tsurumi, reports on his failure to keep a hold of Shiraishi, and Tsurumi thinks Koito’s consolation prize of the con artist’s tattooed skin has the wrong marks, suggesting it may be fake. He assigns Koito to henceforth assist him in hunting down those who would prevent the 7th from its glorious victory.

When Koito mentions how Ogata was with Shiraishi and the others on the airship, Tsurumi laments how someone he was sure would be loyal is no longer in the fold. He regails Koito of the tragic tale Ogata told him, of how he was the bastard son of the famous Lt. General Hanazawa and a prostitute who went mad hoping that he’d come back to her if she kept making monkfish stew.

She did that instead of loving her son, who one day poisoned his mother to end her suffering, and also to see if his father would come to her funeral; he didn’t. He then met his half-brother in the army and could tell that he had a family who loved him. He shot that brother in the head, again to see if his father would simply think of his other son and his mother.

Finally, with Tsurumi’s help, Ogata performs seppuku on his own father General Hanazawa, who curses him as a failure of a son who was always “missing something.” Whatever that “something” was, it couldn’t have helped that Ogata never had anyone in his life who loved him. The closest he got was Lt. Tsurumi’s attempt at seduction, which, unlike, say, Koito, didn’t interest him in the least.

Back in the present, when Sugimoto, Asirpa, and the gang reach the sea and jump for joy, Ogata is watching their backs with binoculars, still searching for that thing he’s missing. Could he one day find it by sticking with these folks?

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Golden Kamuy – 16 – Climbing Out of the Swamp

Shiraishi rather carelessly falling into the custody of the 7th Division is one more detour on the increasingly complex road to meeting Nopperabo. Hijikata cannot act when so outnumbered by armed soldiers, but he can lie in wait at a fragile hanging bridge that causes them to bottleneck.

Hijikata cuts the bridge, sending the soldiers and Shiraishi into the river, and Kiroranke is waiting to pick him up in a boat. But Shiraishi remembers his nightmare of being killed by Sugimoto for his betrayal, and hesitates to grab Kiro’s arm, and ends up right back in his captors’.

After imagining his annoying self in their heads, everyone kind of shrugs at the prospect of losing him, but decide that his know-how is worth traveling to the 7th Division base, infiltrating it, and rescuing him.

Meanwhile, we learn a little more about how Tsurumi intends to carry out his grand plan: Lt. General Arisaka’s top-quality weapons will sell like hotcakes; those weapons will be used to kill and maim in war after war; opium from Tsurumi’s cold-weather poppies will supply the drugs to sooth those who survive the battles. But he needs capital for his venture, hence the need to find the Ainu gold.

Tsurumi also had Arisaka built Nikaidou a new leg, all but assuring one more rematch between him and Sugimoto, who himself finally puts two and two together and realizes that Shiraishi was feeding info to Hijikata. Asirpa urges him not to kill anyone unless necessary, implying Shiraishi isn’t that.

On the contrary, he’s crucial enough to their plan for Hijikata to reach out to a fellow inmate at Abashiri, Suzukawa, who is a master of disguise. They’ll have him impersonate Abashiri’s warden Inudou Shirosuke in order to infiltrate the 7th’s base. Sugimoto accompanies him, also in disguise.

There’s now a lot going on, with the Hijikata/Sugimoto alliance (more like a truce) just barely covering up the fact that there are nearly as many competing motives as there are characters. The crowded field also means Asirpa gets another short shrift, with only one line that I recall. Sidelineing my favorite part of the first season—Sugimoto and Asirpa’s blooming friendship—had better bear some compelling fruit.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 04 – Calling Fulfilled

It took three episodes and the absence of a designated Goblin Slayer, but Sword Art Online: Alicization finally got around to showing some decent Sword Arts when Kirito goes up against the head goblin holding Selka captive.

The fight is as fast and brutal as the animation is smooth, silky, and stylish. But when he’s nicked by his opponent’s blade, the pain is unlike anything he’s experienced in any VRMMO, and it slows him down.

Eugeo freezes a lot early in the fight, but when it’s clear that he and Kirito and Selka aren’t going to get out of there alive unless he joins the fray, he summons enough courage to draw his sword and cross blades with the boss.

He only buys Kirito a bit of time before he is near-mortally wounded across the midsection, but it’s enough for Kirito to recover, take over, and use another one of his latent Sword Skills to behead the goblin, threatening the others away unless they wants some.

Selka is none the worse for wear, but she and Kirito must put their lives on the line with a high level Sacred Art in order to save Eugeo, who recalls a memory of Kirito being with him and Alice six years ago. As Kirito can feel his vitality draining into Eugeo, he has a vision of Alice behind him, telling him she’s still waiting for them atop the cathedral in Central City.

The healing is a success, and the three return home. The next day, while hacking at the tree, Eugeo asks Kirito to train him in swordsmanship; Kirito tells him he is a master of the “Aincrad style”, in reference to his time in SAO, and a brief training montage ensues.

At the end, Eugeo can summon a Sword Skill in the Blue Rose Sword, and the vitality of the Gigas Cedar has dropped to the point it only needs one more good strike to fell it, a strike that Eugeo executes, bringing the massive tree down.

As someone who adores huge trees, it was a little upsetting to see it not only fall but its demise be celebrated, but considering how much of a scourge it is on the village, I suppose I can make an exception.

At the post-felling celebration, Kirito encounters Selka and assures her she need not try to catch up with, surpass, or be a replacement for Alice; there are things only she as Selka can do, and she should focus on being the best Selka she can be instead. Selka knows. Eugeo sees her off, apologizing for what she and her family went though and promising to return with both Kirito and Alice.

The reward for fulfilling the calling of felling the Cedar is that Eugeo gets to pick his next calling. Thus, he is playing by the rules in choosing to become a swordsman like Kirito. The two set out for Central City, where the plan is to locate and bring back Alice. We’ll see what trials await them on the way to the city, and when they arrive, we’ll see if she’s anything like the Alice who was taken away by that Integrity Knight six years ago.