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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Attack on Titan – 30

In true Attack on Titan momentum-killing fashion, we cut away from Titan-Ymir’s impending brawl with the other Titans to the fateful night Krista and Ymir shared back during Winter Training. There, it wasn’t Titans that threatened their lives, but the freezing cold of the blizzard they found themselves caught in.

Krista is determined to drag their injured comrade Daz back with them, but he’s half-dead already, and he’s slowing them down so much they may all freeze before returning to base. No, Ymir doesn’t think Krista is trying to save Daz. She thinks she’s trying to end her own life and pass it off as heroism.

In a flashback within the flashback, we learn why, and the root of Ymir’s interest in Krista: she learned that Krista was the illegitimate child of a noble, and thus ineligible to succeed him. Rather than just killing her, they changed her name and forced her into the cadets. Considering Krista a kind of kindred spirit, Ymir doesn’t think Krista should make the people who cast her aside happy by dying just yet.

As the flash indicates, Ymir transforms into a Titan to carry Daz back to base, having conveniently buried Krista in the snow. By the time Krista returns to base on her own, she’s stunned to find Ymir and an alive Daz beat her there. She asks Ymir how the hell it’s possible, and Ymir tells her…but only if she keeps an important promise.

Back in the present, it would seem that Krista either Ymir’s secret, after being plied with wine by Ymir shortly after learning the news. As it happens, Reiner and Bertholdt’s friend was killed by Titan-Ymir, so for a moment Reiner takes his blind rage out on Krista’s slender leg, before pleading ignorance of Ymir’s secret form.

Meanwhile, Titan-Ymir is kicking ass, but in her efforts to keep the tower from falling, is at a distinct disadvantage. You can’t play offense and defense at the same time, and noticing Ymir’s attempted heroics, insists that Ymir not die here, and instead tear the dang tower down, which she does. After that, everyone grabs Ymir’s hair and she flies them to safety.

“Safety” being out of range of the crumbling tower, but once all the stunned Titans get back up, they find themselves sitting ducks. There’s a horrifying oment when a Titan confronts Krista and goes for her head, but just then, Mikasa blazes in to take the beast down.

The cavalry has arrived, and their arrival brings a huge jolt of adrenaline to what had become an increasingly hopeless scenario. Eren even manages to sneak in “his first kill”, though I assume he’s talking “as a scout”, as he’s killed plenty as a Titan.

Once the remaining Titans are mopped up, everyone turns to Ymir, who has returned to human form, but is in rough shape. Krista talks hold of her and fulfills her promise, telling Ymir her true name: Historia. Then Ymir closes her eyes and smiles.

While I’m not left 100% sure this means Ymir is dead, with missing limbs, and a chest wound, she’s certainly not fighting anytime soon. Still, it was another emotional journey that deepens two more scouts, even as it seemingly takes one of them away.

Ymir clearly isn’t a saint (from the looks of what she did to Reiner’s village) but she’s not quite the devil, either. She decided long ago she’d go her own way, and that way included supporting Krista whenever she could, even at the cost of her life.

And Krista, who never made that deep of an impression in the first season (though I briefly mistook her, not Annie, being the Female Titan) really comes to life, both through her backstory and the passion she exudes. That character work makes this a solid outing, despite not touching on any of the show’s other, arguably larger extant mysteries.

Ushio to Tora – 39 (Fin)

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No more dancing around the matter at hand: this is the final week of Ushio to Tora (for the forseeable future), so if Hakumen’s going down, Hakumen’s going down today. And I couldn’t be happier; frankly, I’d gotten a bit tired of its raspy, evil voice-of-many-voices.

The souls of the recently deceased like Hyou and Nagare aid Ushio against a Hakumen who has been exposed as jealous and terrified; a Hakumen that never wanted the existance it got, but couldn’t escape, and so became more and more twisted.

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Ushio’s parent’s also finally unite, but at the end of the day, all the amassed allies of Ushio can only do so much; it’s Ushio and Tora and the Beast Spear that must defeat Hakumen once and for all.

In a last-ditch effort to kill them without fear, Hakumen gouges out its own eyes and goes by the smell of the spear. Tora counters this by stabbing himself with the spear, hiding its scent long enough to disorient Hakumen. Ushio and Tora go in for the kill, drive the spear through Hakumen’s skull, and end it.

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Hakumen goes out not cursing the victors, but wishing someone, just one person, could say its name—it’s real name, which we never learn—in a soft, quiet voice, as something other than the wretched monster it was throughout its existence.

Not long after Hakumen evaporates into the either, Tora, whose spear wound was mortal, also passes away before Ushio’s eyes, content that he already “ate” Ushio and he’s full now.

Put another way, Ushio filled Tora’s once empty, black heart (which had been thoroughly wrung out in his past life) with experiences and people Tora cared about and fought to protect. Now it’s time to go home to his family, who is no doubt waiting for him. Tora’s death was a surprise, but a welcome and noble one.

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When it becomes Ushio’s turn to pay the piper and become the next Tora, the souls of Jiemei and Giryou bail him out by leaving the Beast Spear (which shatters into dust) and entering his body to keep him from transforming into a beast.

Back to being a human, he falls from the sky, and his dad catches him as Mayuko watches. But Tora isn’t coming down; she never got to change him back to a human. Ushio got a happy ending, but Mayuko most assuredly did not. What did she do to deserve such a raw deal?

Oh, and Saya has to say goodbye to Omamori, who goes in her place in order to close the gate from the inside. It’s the right move; like Tora, Omamori has lived far longer than her friend, and so it’s only natural she be the one to go. Ushio and Saya have their whole lives ahead of them.

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With that, there’s even more loss, as the bulk of monsters turn to stone in order to prop up a sinking Japan—not purely for the humans’ sake, mind you, but because they love the country too. Thanks, youkai! Also, some like Kagari and Raishin remain behind so the humans aren’t lonely. How thoughtful!

Of the life that stretches far ahead for our young protagonists thanks to their efforts and the sacrifices of those dear to them, we see precious little, which keeps a good finale from being a great one. I liked how Kirio wants to step in to fill the void in Mayuko’s heart, but Ushio and Asako didn’t meet until the end credits, and only then wordlessly as they walk to school with the other two.

While I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of quality Ushio x Asako time at the end, the fact remains this was a tight and often moving finale. Things got a little heavy in the home stretch, but Ushio to Tora was worth the watch.

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Noragami Aragoto – 12

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The drastic measure Ebisu ominously suggests turns out to be a variant of a soul call, which is basically ‘Yeah, just YELL HIS NAME REALLY LOUDLY down the vent’, and Yato will come back. I know, it’s a little more spiritually involved than that, but I was still amused by how simple the approach turned out to be…or rather would have been, had Hiyori actually known Yato’s real name.

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She summons back a confused Bishamon without any trouble, but Yato dosn’t come no matter how hard she calls it. That casts doubt on the fact Yato is his name at all, which hurts Yukine deeply if true. Nonetheless, as Bishamon and Ebisu fight off the Heavens’ Punishers who have come to take Ebisu away, and Kofuku keeps the vent open, Hiyori keeps calling.

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She keeps calling Yato not just because she desperately wants him back, but because she doesn’t want it to be true that he kept his name from her; not after she saw how happy and tearful he became when he saw it carved on the shrine she made for him. They’ve come too goddamn far for him to still be hiding basic stuff like his name…right?!

But then, Hiyori concentrates on the structure of Yato as she carved it, and focusing on two  crossed strokes forming a kind of offset plus, and calls out a different name: Yaboku, which does the trick. Yato apparates right on top of Hiyori, but she’s so happy he’s back she overlooks the closeness. Nay, in situations like this (and when Yukine underwent ablution), this is when the family comes in for a big warm hug.

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So hurrah!, Yato is back safe and sound. But notsofast; there’s still those Heavens’ Punishers to deal with, what with their biker gang name and Mortal Kombat-esque dragon regalia Kiun, which they summon when their arrows fail to pierce Ebisu and Bishamons defenses.

To deal with Kiun, Bishamon puts faith in her exemplar Kazuma to work his blessed vessel magic to power up her whip Kinuha, and he doesn’t disappoint in asserting his dominance, in a nice bit of visual trickery, Kazuma reaches out to the lightning dragon high in the sky, and suddenly grabs it as if it were tiny and within reach.

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Yukine isn’t quite ready to forgive Yato for hiding his name, going into the underworld, and getting beaten up without telling him or Hiyori anything. Still, the Heavens’ Punishers have a lot of tricks up their sleeve, and contingency plans for their contingency plans, so it has to wait. Or rather, the making-up has to happen immediately, as Yato requires Sekki at full power to repel the nuke-like projectile launched from the Punishers’ Purification Ring.

Sekki does just that, and with authority, and Ebisu, who after being reamed by Yato, actually wants to keep living, is appreciative. He’s appreciative of all his fellow gods’ efforts, as well as their regalia and human. But it may not be enough against the forces of the heavens. Another ring appears beneath his feet, and before the credits roll, Ebisu is swallowed up by white light.

Will it be blocked again? If so, by whom; Yato? Bishamon? A god who has yet to appear in this battle? If not, will it be the end of Ebisu? How will the gang deal with the loss of the one person they all worked together so hard to keep alive? Heck, I can answer that last one: They’ll feel like shit! So here’s hoping something—a miracle, perhaps—happens to prevent that. Because you know what? I like Ebisu.

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Sword Art Online II – 14

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I was initially a little disappointed that yet again a Damsel in Distress would be rescued by the valiant Kirito, and then Kyouji proceeds to pin him down and inject him. In that moment, he’s the damsel now, and it’s Shino who saves him by knocking Kyouji out with her boombox. Sure, the lethal injection didn’t enter his body (Kyouji just happened to shoot into an electrode on Kirito’s chest which is lucky to say the least), but Shino still saved him, and herself, from the psychotic Kyouji.

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In the next act, Shino shows how much she’s grown since meeting Kirito and winning the BoB: when three bullies ask her for money, she politely refuses; when they pull a gun on her, she freaks out a little at the sight of it, but recollects herself. When the girl can’t pull the trigger, Shino disarms her, turns off the safety, and hits a can dead on from pretty far away, revealing it’s a BB gun. Then she puts the safety back on and hands it back to her terrified would-be tormentor.

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It’s an immensely satisfying exchange, escpecially when Shino’s out of sight and nearly collapses from anxiety afterwards. She didn’t suddenly become Rambo in the real world, but she’s taken the crucial first small step, and she’s going to keep taking more. It’s also pretty funny that Kirito picks her up from school in his motorcycle, which creates a small sensation from Shino’s classmates and likely raises her stature in the school a couple of ticks, simply because they don’t know that Kirito’s actually a bit of a dweeb.

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What follows is unapologetic exposition about the three people who together were Death Gun in and out of GGO, and how they planned to take out powerful players. Both Kyouji and his older brother were fueled by envy of those more powerful, while Kyouji himself dealt with the additional stress of being the heir to the family hospital after their dad gave up on his older brother. As their plan to kill elite players got more realistic, the virtual world became his reality.

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Here, Shino shows a different kind of strength when she insists on talking to Kyouji as soon as it’s possible. Even though he did terrible things to her, he was a broken person, and she doesn’t want him to keep on being broken. She herself once sought power in GGO, and risked having that world become more real than her own. Her apparent willingness to forgive Kyouji may be more than he deserves, but its her right to bestow that forgiveness if that’s what she wants.

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The final and most powerful act of the episode that redeems the somewhat boring Death Gun infodump is the sort of intervention-light that follows. At first it seems like Kirito is just going to introduce her to Asuna and Rika, but then he reveals (and apologizes for) his true intent: for her to meet the post office worker whose life she saved by killing that gunman. The worker comes with her adorable four-year-old daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident, so Shino saved two lives in one.

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One can weigh the pros and cons of one’s actions all they want in one’s head, but having grateful beneficiaries of your actions staring right at you, thanking you profusely and giving you a drawing is another thing entirely. Because she saved lives, she has the right to forgive herself for taking one, as much she has a right to keep blaming herself. While certainly a delicate and highly personal situation, Kirito went through a very similar thing, and because he and Shino became friends, he did all he could to help her, as did Asuna and Rika; before they even met her.

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Sword Art Online II – 13

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Yaaay, stuff happened in this episode! Lots of stuff. Some of it great, some of it very unsettling. First of all, BoB is over. It was excitng at first, and ground to an irritating crawl in the middle, but got exciting again at the very end, which had the effect of restoring our patience for the show, at least for now.

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When Kirito is locked in a tough battle with an estoc-armed Death Gun, a scope-less Sinon tries to figure out another way, any way, that she can help him out. She finds one in a bullet trajectory aimed at Death Gun that distracts him just long enough to give Kirito an opening to halve him, right after finally remembering his name from SAO: Red-Eyed Zaza. (He remembered the red eyes that matched that name in a briefing).

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With Death Gun dealt with, the focus moves to his real-world accomplices. Kirito and Sinon exchange their real names, and Sinon tells him where she lives so he can rescue her later. Sinon then ends the BoB by pulling the pin on a grenade, tossing it to a totally freaked-out Kirito, and then pulling him into a big hug. They both explode at the same time, making them co-winners of the BoB.

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That was a pretty funny and happy scene, but things would get far darker and more messed up from there. Kyouji pops by to visit Shino and “congratulate her victory”. When she opened her door to him I knew things wouldn’t go well at all, as the loose screw in his brain gets a little looser when he’s alone in her bedroom with her, and he starts to force himself on her, his fixation having come to a breaking point. It’s skin-crawling, claustrophobic scene.

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Kyouji actually sought her out because she killed people with a real gun, and decided to use the same Type 54 she used to do it in GGO. Now he’ll kill her before he lets anyone else have her. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Shino has to be the would-be sexual victim of a demented psychopath just as Asuna was in the first series, but we knew Kyouji was no good and had a bit too much of a one-sided thing for her, so it was only a matter of time before he popped.

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Fortunately, when she half-heartedly declines to have Kirito visit her, Kirito had no intention of staying away. Shino helps her own case by going into her mental cave, communing with Sinon who tells her not to give up, and gives Ryouji a fight that keeps him from doing any permanent damage when Kirito finally busts in and takes him down. As he was her knight and pillar of strength in GGO, so he is now in the real world. Only much less girly.

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