Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 12 (Fin)

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With the overarching objective of saving Kaori successfully and satisfyingly (if tragically in terms of the cost of Yui) achieved, I had no idea where the show would go in its final act. I’d argue in its post-main-plot-resolution state it was just as successful and satisfying.

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The odd feelings of deja vu and of some kind of ‘absence’ in the astronomy club and in its members’ lives don’t simply go away. On the contrary, the feelings get even stronger for Sou, who is constantly reminded every time he sees something or somewhere that Yui had once been in another timeline. Also, there are lots of coincidences like everyone who had Uchihama Syndrome suddenly waking up…at once.

That makes sense (in the science of the show), because she came back a lot, and because the human brain is a quantum turing machine (again, in the show), it is capable of retaining information it recorded in other timelines. But still, for now, that ‘temporal residue’ manifests faint echoes or mirages. Enough to get Sou thinking, but not about anything concrete.

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For her part, Kaori seems to be alright after Sou rejected her the previous day. She comes right out and says she feels like she can move forward now, which obviously wasn’t the case when buses kept killing her. Sou’s recollection of the rejection, particularly the reason, are hazy to him (he did hit his head, after all).

Kaori insists he said he only sees them as childhood friends, which suggests that he didn’t say he couldn’t love her because he already loved Yui…because Yui didn’t exist anymore. And yet…he keeps being reminded that someone existed at some point; most strongly when he finds an old mannequin where he had found a naked Yui so many times ‘before.’

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Surprisingly, we head back to the future where an old, worn Sou and a weary Airi continue to look over a comatose Kaori. Here, they’re resolved to the fact that Yui may have failed in her final attempt, though even if she succeeded, the universe they live in wouldn’t necessarily vanish, but continue along in parallel to the one she created by saving Kaori.

When Airi wonders out loud whether Sou only ever saw Yui as a tool, and sent her to the past knowing she would disappear if she succeeded, you can feel her own bitterness and impatience with Sou, as she’s the living, breathing, non-artificial woman right in front of him with whom he could have found happiness had he only let go of the past and let himself.

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The day of the festival arrives, and their planetarium cafe finally goes off without a hitch. But yet again, being there gazing at the stars and hearing the same things he said about them to Yui both in the past and future, Sou starts to get deja vu again and cries, but about exactly what he still isn’t sure.

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He even gets a flash of the night he and Yui gazed at the stars alone, only there’s nothing but a dark cloud where she sat. Compare that to Kaori becoming the most visible person at the school and named Miss Uchihama, and it’s as if the fates of Yui and Kaori were reversed.

Then the school pop idol Karin comes by the club room to regale them of her experience on stage, when for one moment she saw the friend she thought she had but no one else had remembered. Karin, like the club members, had clearly formed a deep enough bond that her brain retained memories and even imagery of Yui even after she vanished.

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That same ability to retain is echoed in a car ride (MAZDA FD RX-7 FTW!!!) in the future with Airi and Sou, who tells her that even if Kaori was saved and Yui never needed to be created by Sou, the memories and emotions still within past Sou’s head will ultimately lead him to create Yui anyway, but for a different reason; one that really capitalizes on the whole ‘chicken or egg’ nature of the show.

Sou won’t be able to stop picking at that mental scab, and when the time comes, he’ll create Yui because he wants to see her again.

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Then, after a worrisome delay, the effects of Yui’s actions reveal themselves in future Sou’s timeline, and Kaori finally wakes up, her mind no longer trapped behind a causality roadblock.

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The resulting passionate reunion and hug is a real showstopper, and yet I noted Sou’s words well: “You came way too late, dummy!” I wouldn’t be shocked if at this point, even this Sou’s love for Yui outstrips whatever romantic feelings he had for Kaori.

That’s not to discount his elation at Kaori waking up, but he isn’t elated because the love of his life woke up; she isn’t that anymore, nor was she ever. He’s elated because his beloved childhood friend woke up, without whom he had been just as lost as she was.

His true love, meanwhile, has yet to be born. It’s a little weird to think that Sou was the creator of his own true love, because that’s a kind of situation ripe for the assignment of sinister undertones in a lot of fiction, be it literary or visual. But if ever there was a case of ‘good playing God’, this is it.

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Let’s not forget that Yui couldn’t have been made without some of the information from Kaori’s brain. It’s as if Sou would have been able to fall for the person Kaori is, if only she were someone else. Yui was that someone else.

As the box beside the computer in the club room glows once more, I have more questions, like ‘if Yui is coming back, how did that happen without a comatose Kaori?’…but the time for questions has ended, and I’m satisfied with the answers I did get, plus the ones to questions I didn’t even ask. This show was a nice bit of light sci-fi romance that I don’t regret sticking with.

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Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 11

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Yui is in a predicament. She was sent to the past to save Kaori’s life, but it wasn’t as simple as keeping her away from the runaway bus. Now she’s finally cracked it, and Sou simply won’t leave her alone.

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And then there’s the slightly more pressing matter of…her existence. I’m not sure Future Sou and Airi told Yui, but if she’s successful in saving Kaori, Sou will have never had to create her, so she will cease to exist. That’s not really ideal, because after all this time she’s fallen for Sou and can’t deny part of her wants to be with him.

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Whether or not Sou and the others recall even a faint glimmer of having known Yui before she entered their lives (from the previous times she went back and ended up naked in his arms), on this, perhaps the last time she can come back, Yui finally stumbles on the answer to saving Kaori: by having Sou give her a straight answer.

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With no other ideas, Yui decides to facilitate that course of events. She can no longer afford to be subtle or clever (and in any case that never worked before) so she just comes out and tells Sou that Kaori will confess to him tomorrow, and that he has to give her an answer. The thing is, after how Yui has acted the last few days, Sou takes this in a much different way than Yui intended. It’s almost a case of unintended reverse psychology.

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Kaori reacts the same way when Yui is equally upfront in insisting she harbors no romantic feelings whatsoever for Sou. Kaori isn’t buying what Yui is selling, even if Yui didn’t have possess fragments of Kaori’s memories and personality that come through in her behavior and demeanor.

Kaori can tell Yui’s lying…because she is lying. But Kaori will still confess. No matter what happens, she can’t move forward the way things are. This is also literally true, as every time Sou hasn’t answered Kaori, she’s ended up dead shortly thereafter.

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Things go almost like clockwork on the fateful day, but only in where people are, and when. In terms of what’s said to who, things go far differently than Yui imagined. Despite her feelings for Sou, she never imagined his straight answer to Kaori would be a rejection. After all, they grew up together. Kaori has had so much more time with him! Surely he must return those feelings! Well, he doesn’t…and ironically, it’s thanks to Yui.

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This time Kaori stays at school while Sou chases once more after Yui, who had done her best to say her goodbyes, both to her friends and to the town. But so flags her down just as the bus arrives. It crashes as before, but Yui and Sou avoid it and survive. The loop has been broken.

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It’s here where Sou tells Yui he rejected Kaori…because he really loves her. Yui returns his confession with her own, plus a kiss (get out of the street, lovebirds!), but she knows this is the end for her. Her mission is complete, so she was never created, and she disappears. Put simply, this is time-trippy romantic tragedy done right.

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It’s not the somewhat silly kind of ‘vanishing in his arms’ disappearance either, though she does go a bit translucent. Rather, time continues as if she had never been there. Well, almost. The astronomy club finds Sou at the crash site, and everyone thinks very hard about whether everyone is really accounted for. Furthermore, Sou puts his hands to his lips, where a Yui that never was just kissed him.

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In every physical form, Yui is gone, or rather never existed…even in the group photo, BTTF-style. But somewhere in the hearts and minds of the others, particularly Sou, a part of her still seems to linger. An absence is felt, even if they know not why. Was Sou’s rejection of Kaori negated? Is Yui well and truly gone? Have we really seen the last of her?

I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen in next week’s finale. I kinda like that!

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Sword Art Online II – 21

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Much to my relief, this doesn’t turn into The Kirito Show just because he showed up at the end of last week’s episode. Heck, he’s not even the only guy who shows up; Klein does too. They’re only there to let Asuna and the Sleeping Knights focus on defeating the twenty people blocking the boss room. And that’s it.

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Kirito estimates he can give them three minutes; the Knights only need two ( I counted). After those two minutes of awesome, blistering battle, punctuated by a powerful charge by the Berserk Healer herself, the way is open for the boss, and Kirito stays behind, giving Asuna the victory sign.

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Facing the montrous two-headed boss for the second time, Asuna notices a special guard stance he takes whenever a gem between his two necks is hit. Asuna focuses on that gem and tells Yuuki to target it, which she does by using one of her male comrades as a step stool. In the heat of the battle, Yuuki slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’. That’s no surprise to me, but Asuna finds it odd.

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She shrugs it off when the boss is defeated and the Knights revel in their victory, rubbing it in the faces of the dastardly rival guild. Kirito is nowhere to be found, I guess he split after those three minutes. But as has been the case with him this entire arc, we’re just fine with him being a cameo.

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Kirito doesn’t even crash the Sleeping Knight’s party, which Asuna hosts, even though it’s held in his house. Classy move on his part, as the party is for the Knights, after all. During the party, Asuna asks if she can join them, but Yuuki seems oddly put off by the request. Sinue seems to want to say something, but never manages to. Changing the subject, Asuna suggests they check out their names on the Soldier’s Memorial.

There, Yuuki again slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’, but this time realizes it, and promptly and tearfully logs out. Throughout the boss battle and celebrations that followed, the idea that Asuna’s mom would pull the plug on her again was always in the corner of my mind, lending an extra layer of tension to the whole episode.

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Yet, in the end, it’s Yuuki, who has been sold as Asuna’s secret sister (or half-sister), who disappears from the game, without so much as an explanation. Why doesn’t she want Asuna learn the truth? How did Asuna play so long without getting yanked? Will they ever meet in the real world? All questions I’m hoping will be further explored in the next episode, forebodingly called “Journey’s End.”

Until then, I continue to revel in this Asuna-centric, and really Women-centric arc, really turning around what had been a lackluster SAO II Fall cour simply by treating its female characters as more than just Kirito’s suitors.

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