Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 06

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This is probably my last Netoge review. It’s not unwatchable, and there’s a certain charm about it that draws you in, but it’s so safe, and formulaic, and devoid of interpersonal conflict and stakes. I’m not saying I need conflict in my rom-coms, but it does spice things up, and its absence in Netoge is impossible to overlook. Cute character designs, in this case, aren’t enough to sustain my interest.

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Netoge doesn’t do itself any favors in its latest outing, which, Ako studying and passing her exams aside, is all about one thing: Nishimura properly confessing to Ako. He spends the whole episode worried about how and when to do it, completely oblivious to the fact a girl like Ako would naturally reject an offer to be his girlfriend, because she already considers herself his wife, both on- and offline.

It would be one thing if Nishimura/Rusian actually had to lift a finger for Ako’s affections, or if Segawa or Kyou took exception to that finger-lifting because they harbored feelings for him. But he’s already got the girl. She’s presented herself nude for him, for crying out loud! All he has left to do is come to terms with the fact he has her, and in the process learn more about her…if there is anyting else to learn, that is.

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I’m sorry, but watching the interminable process of this particular lug hesitating at the finish line just doesn’t sound appealing. The other two female leads playing game matchmakers from the sidelines only serve to make things even easier for him, making it that much more frustrating that he’s not able to seal the deal. It also makes the intense love Ako has for him feel unearned; shallow, even.

Sorry Netoge, but this isn’t working, and the promise of a beach episode isn’t enough to change my mind: I’m announcing a summary divorce!

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 05

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Turns out Sette-san isn’t Nishimura’s sister, but his pink-haired classmate (and friend of Segawa’s), Akiyama. She teases both him and Ako by glomming on him in class, but she causes a lot more trouble than she expected, as she creates an environment Ako no longer feels comfortable in. She even suggests the club play an FPS unrelated to LA, likely to avoid Akiyama/Sette.

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Ako then recedes again from school life, vowing only to live in LA, where she knows Rusian is his wife, if nowhere else. At long last, Nishimura’s wishy-washiness and failure to clearly define his real world relationship with Ako has been laid bare, and this is the sum product: an Ako more reclusive than ever, who wishes to “reincarnate” into someone cooler.

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The club pretty easily figures out that Ako herself is caught up in a spiral of stubbornness and a desire not to lose further face, and that Nishimura is the only one who has a shot to bring her back to school. While walking home with Segawa, she relays to him how important he was to Ako, both in the game and in her life, and how she, like Ako, wouldn’t mind spending a good long time with Nishimura…gaming, of course. Just gaming. As usual, Segawa fools precisely no one but the guy she’s trying to pretend she doesn’t like.

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When he arrives at Ako’s house, Nishimura is confronted by Ako’s mom, who looks more like an equally attractive older sister and is delighted that Ako’s “future husband” has come to sort her “problem daughter” out. She then shuffles off to work, leaving him with the key to Ako’s room, of all things.

When he enters, Ako isn’t ready for him, being in her underwear and all. When she tells him she is ready and he can come in, she’s totally naked, revealing her and Nishimura’s definitions of “ready” in this instance differ greatly. She eventually gets some damn clothes on, however, and to her surprise, Nishimura isn’t there to drag her back to school; he’s just there to play LA with her.

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After a day of this, during which they were supposed to be at school, Nishimura essentially proposes mutually assured destruction: if Ako can stay home forever and never go to school or see any of their friends, so can he, and whatever fallout there is from that, so be it.

While I kinda doubt Nishimura’s parents would allow him to ruin his chances of getting into college or securing a good job, Ako is touched by Rusian’s devotion. The knowledge that he’d stay home with her forever if that’s what she eventually decided gives her the strength to tough it out at school with him.

Once she’s there, Akiyama mends fences by proclaiming to Ako’s peers that she has a dutiful boyfriend who visited her when she wasn’t feeling well. That’s a narrative Ako can get behind. Do I buy that it’s enough to mitigate all her other mental and social issues? Not really. Is Nishimura now Ako’s explicitly public boyfriend? No. Is that fundamental ambiguity a problem going forward? Certainly.

Furthermore, the last few episodes have felt like slightly-tweaked versions of the same story, beginning and ending in virtually the same space. Characters can talk about Ako “progressing”, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

And everyone’s too…nice. This is high school, where are the “normie” antagonists? Those issues, combined with its Thursday night time slot (my movie night) and lackluster production values, are making this a hard show to stick with.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 04

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There were three main story thrusts this week: Segawa’s attempts to keep her “twisted” net game-playing second life a secret; Nishimura’s insistence on drawing semantic boundaries in his relationship with an ever-increasingly enthusiastic Ako; and the introduction of Sette, who immediately threatens to rend the married couple asunder.

The first two stories are re-treads of what we’ve already seen: Segawa isn’t ready to be totally exposed for the gamer she is, even as she fails to realize all the effort and stress she’s exerting is to perpetuate a lie, and not even a necessary one.

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This doesn’t seem to be that hostile a school environment, socially speaking, and Nishimura is proof you can be openly otaku without becoming a pariah.

Segawa’s issue is that she doesn’t want to be viewed for what she really is, but rather some obscure ideal she must have consumed somewhere. The “perfect high school life” she seeks will always be a mirage as long as she’s mired in efforts to maintain a false identity.

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Also a bit of a re-tread, with little progress one way or another, is Nishimura’s careful dance with Ako. In spite of his mates having a good idea what his hobbies are, like Segawa he’s trying to have his normal life cake and eat it too; project an image of someone at least more normal than Ako.

And while he’s clearly uncomfortable with anyone mistaking Ako for his girlfriend or wife, the reality is he’s become very close to this person. I had thought they’d reached more of an understanding, but Nishimura’s discomfort and awkwardness in the fact of any advance by Ako…it’s all a bit dilatory.

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Ako doesn’t help matters by overreacting to every interaction Nishimura has with the opposite sex. It was Nekohime/his teacher last week, and Segawa’s friend Akiyama this week.

But Sette looks to be the first true threat she should actually worry about, but not because the newbie is in danger of usurping her role as Rusian’s wife, but seems more like and admiring imouto.  Heck, Sette could well be Nishimura’s real-life sister for all I know.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 03

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The “Modern Communication Electronic Game Club” (too wordy IMO) has been ostensibly organized with the purpose of getting Ako to discern between the real world and the game world, but the road to that outcome is a long and perilous one, as Rusi—er—Nishimura quickly finds out.

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That being said, there is only a slight learning curve to playing in the same room together, and the party eventually gets more efficient in their first grinding session. Ako, under Nishimura’s guidance, equips herself properly. I also liked how Ako had to be reminded she doesn’t have to chat in-game; he’s right there. Force of habit!

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After the session, Ako is in a glow of happiness, a parade Nishimura really doesn’t want to rain on, because he must realize on some level it’s not the end of the world for the two of them to be mistaken for boyfriend and girlfriend, if not more.

But as the club sessions continue, Segawa points out that they seem having the opposite effect on Ako: only bringing the two worlds that should be separate closer together. Nishimura seeks guidance from Nekohime, the cross-player he previously proposed to, but Ako gets wind of it and her jealous side is revealed.

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After a pretty harsh sit-down with Ako, Nishimura tells her flat-out they’re not married in the real world, they’re just classmates and friends. The full effect of that statement doesn’t come until Ako doesn’t show up for school the next day, and in-game talks about meeting offline with a “friend” who is a guy (whom I immediately assumed was Nekohime).

Nishimura wants to stop her from meeting a random dude on her own offline, but is worried he’d be going against his code of keeping world separate if he did. Balderdash, say both Segawa and Goshouin, in a united front against Nishimura’s wishy-washiness.

It’s clear he likes real-life Ako too, and so there’s no way he’d stand by and let her do something imprudent at best and potentially dangerous at worst. I like how the other two girls in the club are supportive of what Nishimura and Ako have, and quick to show him the proper path.

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In a nice twist, we don’t get the heartfelt reunion between Nishimura and Ako I thought was coming. Instead, the cross-playing Nekohime turns out to not only be a woman, but Nishimura’s teacher, Saitou-sensei. Which means that yes, he once unknowingly proposed to his teacher.

Now, this is an awkward situation for all parties involved—save Ako, who has come prepared to punish whoever the real Nekohime turned out to be, teacher or no, for breaking her beloved Rusian’s pure heart.

For a second, I thought like Nishimura and Saitou that she was about to pull some kind of serious weapon. Thankfully, it’s just a toy mage staff; but Saitou still instinctively defends herself, taking Ako out.

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That puts Saitou in the pefect position—from the club’s perspective—to fill a role the club needed to ensure its survival: a faculty advisor. As someone who not only understands the club’s purpose but also plays LA, she’s the perfect person to advise the club (whether it’s under duress or not).

As for the purpose of the club, well, it seems to have taught Nishimura more of a lesson than Ako. While she considers the two worlds too similar, he’s kept them too separate, putting his actions an his manner with real-life Ako at odds with his actual feelings for her.

Yes, Ako still needs work in the real world, but that’s accomplished here too when Saitou makes her agree to come to school as much as she can. Another fine Netoge that highlights a rarity in these kinds of shows: a club in which all the members are likable characters that still have their own personalities and quirks. Rusian and Ako are also a lovely, fun-to-watch couple, even if Rusian has trouble seeing them as such.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 02

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This second episode of NetoYome didn’t cover quite as much ground as the first, and seemed to lag at times, but didn’t do any harm to my impression that this is one of the better school comedies airing this Spring. There’s an inscrutable exhilaration from watching Nishimura suddenly find himself among the real-world equivalents of his game comrades.

They seem just as exhilarated…even Segawa. As for Ako, she barely acts any differently in real life, professing her steadfast love for Rusian, and being elated to hear he chose her irregardless of what age or gender she was in the real world.

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It’s interesting, then, that throughout the scenes in which Nishimura is gaming, his mind’s eye no longer sees Apricot and Schwein as exclusively men, which he assumed they were. That makes Apricot’s garb suddenly extremely racy, but he can’t help it. He’s met the real Apricot, Schwein, and Ako, and there’s no going back.

What’s interesting is that both Nishimura and Segawa are determined to go back to their normal high school lives after the real-world meetup, and they have no reason to suspect they couldn’t. Segawa doesn’t help matters by greeting Nishimura, something I doubt she did before they met.

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But the most doom befalls the two when Ako enters the classroom, refers to them by their game names and calls Rusian her husband in front of the entire class. The class is more bemused than anything else, but Segawa in particular finds this whole situation a serious breach of what she considers a sacrosanct barrier between the game and reality.

But here’s the thing: Ako knows of no such barrier, which is why she floats right over it. Rusian is Rusian, even when Rusian is named Nishimura Hideki. Same with Schew-chan. This ‘condition’ of not being able to discern between their real and in-game personalities troubles both Segawa and Nishimura…but I wasn’t as quick to condemn her.

Initially, I thought, people fall in love sight unseen all the time, and I was backed up by Ako asserting that her and Nishimura’s hearts connected through their in-game chatting. The difference is, Nishimura and Segawa were attempting to affect personas distinct from who they really are, while Ako was doing everything she could to be herself.

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Ako is firm in her belief that that doesn’t matter. I think the answer is in the middle, and Ako’s very different mindset from Segawa and Nishimura makes for an enticing character dynamic going forward, not just as a matter of debating these matters, but the fact Nishimura is closer to Segawa on this issue, despite Ako being his waifu.

One thing I’ll say is that while Ako is usually all over Nishimura, neither Segawa or the Prez seem intent on rocking that boat, at least not for the moment. As to Goshouin, she sets up a club where their game and real selves will be in the same place at the same time, which, if Real Nishimura’s as good a person as Ako already believes, is a gesture not so much tailored to ‘curing’ her of her inability to separate games from reality, as much as it could only confirm to Ako that she’s right.

No matter wha airs the others put on in the game, they remain essentially who they are, and those are the people Ako wants to be friends with in both worlds.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 01 (First Impressions)

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It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve watched a long-titled school quartet rom-com—KonoSuba doesn’t count b/c it took place entirely in a fantasy world (and didn’t have any rom; just com).

NetoYome, which I’m shortening this to for now, has a distinct game world and real world, and the group of four close friends and colleagues in the online RPG Legendary Age are actually quite distant in the real world…at least at first.

That distance is there despite all four members of the Alley Cat Guild going to the same school. It’s that intrigue; that sense of dual personalities, one of which is concealed by the anonymity of the net, that provides appeal initially.

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Of course, we realize before Nishimura Hideki who his fellow guild members are in real life. The shy girl who doesn’t show her face is clearly Tamaki Ako; enough seems a bit off about Student Council President Goshouin Kyou to suspect her, and Segawa, turning her nose up at Hideki’s public otakuism, is clearly being a hypocrite.

The last hint needed is that Hideki once confessed to a cute catgirl who turned out to be a guy in real life, making him swear off falling for girls in the game until he got over it and realized it doesn’t really matter what gender people are in the real world, becaue LA isn’t real. As long as their in-game alias is cute, he’s fine with it.

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Of course, things change when the guildmaster Apricot announces an offline get-together, and the four classmates come face-to-face with each other and learn that rather than three guys and a girl, their party is actually three girls and a guy.

Despite all the telegraphing it’s a legitimately exciting moment, whether it’s Ako suddenly realizing it’s okay to act towards Hideki the way she does in-game, to Kyou being able to discern who is who, to Segawa’s hypocrisy being exposed, and having no defense.

She is who she is; it doesn’t change the fact she still thinks Hideki is gross!

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In fact, all four members are who they are; and that’s why they’re so likable; they’re genuine. When it comes down to it, even the tsundere Segawa doesn’t deny her nature. She won’t date anyone in the real world despite getting offers because it would take away from what she truly enjoys: playing LA with the others.

I was also touched when Ako voiced her relief and joy that she can consider her comrades real friends she can talk to, as to this point she’s had no friends (neither has Kyou). Or Hideki telling Segawa he much prefers who she is to her school persona. Or Hideki hardly being able to believe his luck that this time the cute waifu he chose in-game is actually a cute real girl offline.

It started a little slow (the RPG action early on was pretty lame), but NetoYome gradually grew on me. It’s cute, it’s earnest, and it’s got lots of heart and rom-com potential.

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Sword Art Online II – 24 (Fin)

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SAO completed the Sleeping Knights’ mission and resolved Asuna’s family problems to my satisfaction, leaving one episode to do, well, whatever it wanted as a curtain call. Preston seemed pretty miffed that she watched so much Chaika only to get a rudely rushed finale, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case here.

The episode opens with a barbecue at Asuna and Kirito’s cabin; an opportunity for her new friends to meet her old friends. A montage follows, showing how they go on to fight more battles and go on missions as a united super-party, along with Asuna hanging out with her friends in the real world.

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But this isn’t just a goodbye to SAO, it’s a goodbye for Yuuki as well, who takes a turn for the worst. There’s nothing out of left field about this, though Asuna is still distraught that so soon after meeting Yuuki the universe means to rip her away.

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The Yuuki of the real world is too weak to talk, so Asuna grabs an Amusphere and meets her where they first met, on the isle with the great tree. Seeing the hale, healthy, and alert Yuuki there is a sight for sore eyes, but we know it won’t last long. This is her last full dive, and this time when she logs out, she won’t be waking up.

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There’s not much to say about Yuuki’s sendoff, except that it was pretty much perfectly done. Yes, it got pretty mushy there (even my roommate, who was watching SAO for the first time, teared up a little bit) but the emotions that let loose here were earned a long time ago. Asuna summons not only the other Sleeping Knights to say goodbye to Yuuki properly, but hundreds if not thousands of fellow players gather to pray for her safe journey to the hereafter, a fitting farewell to the finest swordsperson in the game.

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Yuuki could not have imagined a better way to go either; surrounded by friends and admirees alike; closing her eyes for the last time in the arms of someone she’s come to love like a sister. At her memorial service in the real world, those same masses from the game come to pay their respects, and Asuna is surprised to be able to meet Siune (An Si-eun), who took a turn for the better when her leukemia went into full remission not long after saying goodbye to Yuuki.

She also reports that at least one other Sleeping Knight seems to be on the mend as well. These aren’t taken as miracles endowed upon them by the departed Yuuki, but her love and strength, as well as Asuna’s, obviously helped their spirits and mindsets. And it’s understood that not all of the Knights will get better.

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Asuna also learns that Kirito knows Kurahashi too, and Kurahashi tells them that the original designs that led to the creation of the medical full-dive technology that’s now in development (and vastly helped by Yuuki’s cooperation in her last days) were created by none other than the late Kayaba Akihito AKA Heathcliff, the creator of SAO; an interesting (if sudden and oddly-timed) callback.

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We close with Asuna and Kirito enjoying a picnic with Sugu, Shino, Klein and the others in a park in Shinjuku. Yui is on Asuna’s shoulder, with eyes and ears to the real world, and probably more in the near future. Kirito and Asuna reiterate their desire to never leave each others’ sides, and as long as she keeps her grades up, she’ll be able to honor that desire. So Kirito…where’s the ring?

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Sword Art Online II – 12

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Last week was almost entirely Kirito and Sinon idle in the cave talking, and it seemed like they’d arrived at a plan. That was the planning, this week would be the execution, right? Hold on; we’ve got ten more minutes of exposition and re-planning in the cave before we see a lick of action. That’s a disappointing choice for the midpoint a show that’s had no shortage of them this season.

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I get that asking for a prompt resolution to the Ballet of Bullets arc is something of an unreasonable demand, but the fact of the matter is, I’m just not into it anymore. It’s been dragged out too long and the urgency and momentum aren’t there. Even when we get to action, as we do in the Kirito/Death Gun/Dark Wind/Sinon battle, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Sniping is only so interesting an activity, as is dodging bullets and swinging a purple lightsaber around.

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I’m glad Sinon is able to take out Dark Wind, gaining back her confidence in the process, and isn’t even particularly troubled when Death Gun takes out her scope. As for Asuna, I’m glad the show is trying to involve her somewhat, but this week all she did was move from ALO where she was watching Kirito on TV to the hospital where she watches him on TV.

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The development of her part in this is molasses slow. One thing I did like was how Kirito will never remember Death Gun’s real name because he arrogantly refused to learn it in the first place. But it wasn’t a particularly confidence-inspiring episode going into the show’s second half. I never thought I’d be considering dropping SAO…but even my patience has limits.

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Sword Art Online II – 11

Sinon's Ass, From Four Different Angles
Sinon’s Ass, From Four Different Angles

Those of you looking for some SAO action this week were surely disappointed, as literally absolutely nothing happened this week. Kirito tells Sinon about his past and his mission and they formulate a new plan, while Asuna gets Kikuoka to spill the beans about Kirito’s whereabouts. But it’s all just talking, and most of it is while Sinon is in a needlessly compromising position. There are also enough shots of her ass to make a decent drinking game.

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Still, I can appreciate the need to have a calm-before-the-storm episode before the mid-season climax, and what is said in Kirito and Sinon’s episode-long discussion is at least interesting to me most of the time, even if the episode on the whole isn’t. For one thing, Kirito realizes that Death Gun can’t actually kill people with a virtual bullet: that’s magic. It’s far more likely there’s a second Death Gun—his accomplice—in the real world, preying on players who live alone and have crappy locks on their doors.

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Sinon is Death Gun’s latest target, and the real-world one is indeed in there, even administering a shot that raises her heart rate, though somehow Kirito is able to calm her down and keep her from logging out, which would have meant certain death. Still, the Death Guns seem to be following a certain code, which means the real world one won’t kill her unless virtual Death Gun shoots her. For that reason, Sinon needs to stay out of Death Gun’s sights, which won’t be easy as he can become transparent.

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The plan is pure simplicity: Kirito will serve as a decoy and draw Death Gun out, and Sinon will snipe him from afar. Easier said than done. Other highlights of their talk was Sinon learning Kirito hasn’t learned how to deal with the lives he took while in SAO, any more than she’s learned how to deal with those she killed in the real world. All he can tell her is that to “keep thinking” about it—at acknowledge that it was done—is the minimum amount of atonement.

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Both of them have yet to learn that atonement need not consist of them hating themselves for the rest of their lives. I can’t say I was enamored of the overdone Sinon fanervice this week, but I like the fact that the responsibility for taking out Death Gun will fall to her, as well as the fact Asuna may yet involve herself in this situation out of love for Kirito. The mission he told Kikuoka he’d carry out may be important, but isn’t worth his life, and Asuna seems poised to see his life isn’t lost needlessly.

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Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 12 (Fin)

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Sunday Without God comes to a moving close full of twists, tears, and drama. First of all, when Dee sees Alice and Ai playing basketball, she decides to end the status quo right then and there by making Class 3-4 remember the incident that led to their wish, then makes them act out April 28 as she jumps from the window once more, bringing it all to an end. But not only does Alice have no intention of letting Dee disappear, but Dee wasn’t even dead to begin with; he was.

In a twist that we were too preoccupied with Dee to ever see coming, it’s revealed that he was the one that had fallen to his death while trying to save Dee, and then forgot when he got caught up in the loops. The wish he got was Buzzer Beater, while Class 3-4 wished not for him to come back to life, but for eternity, a semantic difference that ends up making a huge difference in everyone’s lives. Alice and Dee aren’t as unaffected from the loops as they had thought, resulting in roughly fourteen years of believing the wrong person died.

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The scene of a leaping Dee being caught at the last second by Alice, who in turn is caught by Ai and the rest of the class, is stirring, poignant moment that also illustrates conceptually what takes place to complete this arc: Dee resigns herself to a false fate but Alice saves her, and in the very end, Ai makes a wish that saves Alice. There’s a great “this is it!” finality to watching the town vanish as its inhabitants clear out, once the truth is known, but it turns out not to be the end for Dee or Alice.

Was that a cheat? It’s a matter of preference, but we didn’t think so. The ending followed the rules the show had established from the start: in abandoning the world and ending death, God gave people what He thought they wanted. It became a world where wishes could come true, and they did, resulting in all of the colorful characters with strange powers we’ve has come across. Alice had come to mean a great deal to Ai, so it’s no surprise she wished not to forget he ever existed, or for things to go back to happier times and never change. She simply wished for him to remain in her world.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)
Final Cumulative Rating: 7.833
MyAnimeList Score (as of 1/5/14): 7.72

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 11

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This week more of the mystery of Class 3-4 is revealed, testing our theories about what’s going on, while Ai is caught between two people with differing goals hoping to enlist her aid, when all she wants is a resolution amicable to all parties involved, which may not be possible. Turns out we were right about Dee falling out that window, but it wasn’t her wish for what ultimately became the timeloop; it was the rest of the class. After that, for fourteen years she stayed by the side of Alice, someone she knew was a nice guy but had barely spoken to before her fall.

So here we have Dee desperate to keep the looping world going, not only because she doesn’t want to disappear, but because she wants to keep living in a world with Alice, even if she doesn’t deserve to have him return her feelings. She’s so desperate, she even killed Alice many loops ago in hopes that his need to break the timeloop would reset when he respawned. Instead, he was granted Buzzer Beater, which made his passion of basketball a meaningless bore, since he could never miss again. And he continued to save the world—the only world where Dee could remain alive—by destroying it.

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We hear much of this from Alice’s own mouth, both in narration and in an initially tense scene in the library with Ai, when we’re not sure just how far she’s willing to go to maintain the status quo. And while Alice considers her “the enemy”, she doesn’t come off as a villain at all; she’s just trying to survive, and doesn’t want Alice, someone whom she’s fallen in love with, put in the position where he’d make any sacrifice to save Class 3-4, since that would make her “useless” to him. In any case, we’re sympathetic to her cause, selfish as it is, and so is Ai.

No, Dee’s no villain; if anything, she’s a victim. For one thing, someone really should have been spotting her on that tall ladder. Secondly, the class made the wish, not her. Thirdly, barring the magical cure-all solution Ai holds out hope for, things don’t look good for Dee or the status quo, as the very presence of Ai in Class 3-4 is gradually destabilizing the false world, drawing it closer to collapse. Alice remarks that granted wishes keep people from moving forward, but it’s small comfort for someone like Dee who literally can’t. We’ll see in the final outing if Alice means with he says, and after fourteen years with Dee, if moving forward is worth her sacrifice.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 10

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Ever since he first met Ai at Goran (and not Ortus, as we had thought; Lion Mask Guy was apparently someone else), Alice Color has remained pretty vague about what he’s trying to do and why; of course, one could accuse Ai of being vague about saving the world to, but in her case, it’s because she doesn’t know quite how to do that yet. Both Alice and the show have dropped hints here and there, but nothing solid until now, when images like the Ferris Wheel, ruined cathedral, and open window finally gain a measure of context.

In the strongest episode of Sunday since the Ortus arc wrapped, we, along with Ai, Yuri, Scar and Celica, finally gain access to the world Alice means to “save through destruction”, a that statement finally makes sense. Unlike Ortus, a city of the dead in the real world, Alice’s world is a city of the living in a false world, one he’s been adding people to in an effort to break the unending one-year timeloop in which he and his Class 3-4 is trapped. The episode begins with a bang—several, actually—as Alice guns down his entire class without any explanation, only to see them reappear outside, unharmed and unaware. Needless to say, the episode had our attention right then and there.

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A further gravity and sense of occasion is lent by the ominously dark entrance to this world, and Alice’s warning that AI & Co. won’t be able to leave until all is resolved. Once we’re there, seeing it from the perspectives of Ai, Yuri, and Scar, it doesn’t seem that bad of a place; peaceful, full of friendly living people; etc. Still, we can’t blame Alice—one of only two people who are aware of the looping—for wanting to bring an end to something that’s not supposed to be; something that was likely the result of someone’s powerful wish. Once in this world, Alice still withholds one nugget from the others, letting them form their own impressions first.

When he’s ready, he tells them he has an enemy in this looping dreamworld: Dee Ensy Startmitos. What’s more, there’s a strong inkling that Dee fell out the classroom window, and before dying, made the wish that set everything in motion. It explains why she’s a ghost in the real world, but solid in the fake; it explains why she’s the only other person aware of the loops; and it explains why Alice considers her an enemy: she doesn’t want the world to end. Further evidence of this is when says she’s hopeful Ai will want to stay there forever. It’s a very clever, intricate, meaty scenario with no obviously apparent resolution.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)