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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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.

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.

Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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