86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 15 – Everything Will Go Our Way

The good vibes of the previous episode’s SAO OG reunions were thoroughly, mercilessly washed away this week, starting with Sinon arriving too late to save Bercouli. In a rare-for-SAO demonstration of restraint, there is no music in the opening scene between Sinon and Alice, just the marvelous talent of Sawashiro Miyuki and Kayano Ai, which is all that is needed.

Sinon has to be the bearer of bad news—Vecta may be dead, but the real-world person isn’t, and could be back any moment in a new form. This makes Alice despair that neither her efforts nor her uncle’s sacrifice had any meaning, and this is all a farce. Sinon begs to differ: her and her friends’ love of Kirito is real, and so is his desire to save Alice. Everyone is buying time so she can get to that altar and end the war.

That said, the war is very much still going on, and victory is not yet certain for the good guys. As we see, there isn’t a real-world power-user account helping out Sheyta and Iskahn, so they’re eventually on their own against a legion of American foot soldiers as all of their comrades have fallen around them. Sheyta takes what little time she has left to tell Iskahn she finally realized why she had to slash so much.

It was in order to find what she didn’t want to slash—i.e. whom she wanted to protect. And that’s Iskahn. While showing the impending doom of two characters whose names I know is an effective way to show the battle is growing desperate, the couple’s joint confession doesn’t quite resonate, as I barely know these guys besides the fact they’re both tremendous badasses.

Meanwhile, Seeing Asuna and Klein simply having a breather in between cutting down columns of baddies carried more emotional weight for me, since these two peeps have been fighting side by side since the beginning. I’m reminded why Klein and the others came: not just friendship, but a desire to repay Kirito and Asuna for saving them all back in SAO.

Unfortunately the pleasant moments are quickly blotted out by new dark developments. Vassago is back in the form of Laughing Coffin leader PoH…and he’s brought a ridiculously large number of reinforcements down the digital well. They’re not all from America, either.

In a very neat shift of POV, we’re introduced to the real-world gamer Moonphase and his teammate  Xiang Mei Mei. Both get the same notice from Miller and Vassago’s men as thousands of others throughout Korea and China: Evil Japanese hackers are besieging the Underworld and a coalition is being formed to stop them.

Both Moon and Mei volunteer for the mission, but they immediately feel like something is not quite right about this. Moon’s clearly seen his fair share of fighting, and can tell the Japanese “villains” are fighting far too desperately to be the antagonists in this conflict. Here’s hoping these two can offer the “helping hand from a stranger” roles our heroes are apparently going to need as the odds are further stacked against them.

Miller wasn’t even out of the Underworld for a whole episode before returning in his Subtilizer avatar, just in time to meet Sinon, whom he defeated in GGO. Honestly my memory’s a little fuzzy on the details of their fight but the fact Subby has a creepy focused look in his eyes and seems to be restraining Sinon with some kind of telekinesis doesn’t bode well for her.

That said, I for one am hoping Sinon can break whatever hold he has and make this a good rematch without needing to be rescued. And if she has to be bailed out, I’d like it to be Alice, even though she really should be using the time Sinon is giving her to head to the Altar.

Asuna is really getting worn down by the unyielding masses of enemy troops, so it’s nice to see Klein, Agil, Lisbeth and Silica help plow the road for her a bit; she’ll need to stay fresh and relatively intact for what I imagine to be a duel with PoH.

As for why I’m not in a hurry for Alice to reach the Altar? Because I knew Higa was going to run into trouble once he reached the terminal or whatever where he can interface with the STLs of Kirito and his three friends. That’s because Yanai was and is an obvious mole, and pulls a gun on him in a panic.

Since Yanai doesn’t pull the trigger, maybe Higa can still find a way to have him stand down, or maybe Rinko or someone can intervene. The bad guys made the lion’s share of the moves this week and may have inadvertently brought in a group of wild cards who don’t quite buy what they’re selling. As Asuna says, eventually things should go the good guys’ way…but I wouldn’t bank on that happening just yet.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 04

It’s Day 4, and Kuga and his bald mapo legion still don’t fear Souma and Megumi in the least. Ryouko and Yuuki agree that things look pretty bleak; but Megumi assures them that she and Souma have a plan. That plan, which required a great deal of networking and preparation, finally starts to come together, and not a moment too soon.

That plan aims to exploit the weaknesses of Kuga’s Sichuan stall: the increased patronage on Saturday means longer lines. The very old, the very young, and everyone who came with them are all waiting to be plucked from the endless lines. But first, Souma needs a place to seat them; enter Tomita-san, his neighbor from his home shopping district, with a set of benches.

He’s got seats, but he needs one more push to poach those people waiting in Kuga’s line, and has it in an innovative twist on mapo tofu. Not only does he add his noodles, but a pork meatball with a heavenly center of gelatinous curry-seasoned broth that melts through the dish and sends waves of wonderful aromas straight into the line.

With both seats and a means to put people in them, Souma quickly swipes half of Kuga’s hungry line, and Kuga realizes he’s not dealing with a docile housecat. That cat has been watching his stall for three days, and he’s grown into a ferocious lion.

And yet Kuga doesn’t panic, because Souma has just Megumi helping him. The increased workload is sure to cause both of them to break, but Souma pulls one secret weapon after another out of his arsenal. First, the scene where his diner appeared open is explained: it wasn’t Souma, but Mimasaka Subaru working there, training to become exactly like Souma in food stall speed and skill.

In a way, Mimasaka inspired Souma to truly observe and profile his opponent (Kuga) before formulating a plan to defeat him. With Mimasaka by his side manning the stoves, Souma doubles his productivity, while Megumi’s innkeeping experience at the Staigaire has made her formidable at customer service.

When it gets dark, Megumi’s colleagues at the Cultural Research Club arrive with gorgeous lanterns that draw even more customers. When the three again start to feel the strain of the increased workload, Nikumi arrives, having delegated her spot at the Don RS booth, to help Souma out. She helped develop his buns, so takes over that task from Megumi.

Then the Aldini brothers join in. Takumi won’t allow his rival Souma to be defeated without “accomplishing something.” Now numbering six, all of them elites within their class, Souma’s restaurant has finally come together.

Once the day’s takings are tallied, Souma & Co’s stall beats Kuga and his army of baldies with first place in the central area, all but assuring an expulsion-preventing profit with one day left. It’s a thrilling come-from-behind victory, with Souma relying on the friendships he’s formed far and wide, quite a contrast to Kuga running his stall like a despot.

In other Moon Festival news, Alice & Co. finally get their act together, as she combines Akira’s excellent curry with a special kind of 3D-printed chocolate ribbon that slowly melts into the dish, enhancing it. Looks like they’ll escape expulsion too. Akira even smiles, impressed by Alice’s clutch idea, which pleases Jun to no end. Up in Yamanote, Erina keeps a good table open just in case Souma’s dad shows up, while Tsukasa Eishi quietly chops veggies in a kitchen…what’s he planning?

Schwarzesmarken – 02

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Shortly after her first training sortie with the Black Marks, which goes quite well, and being introduced to the kindly, beautiful Lt. Pham, Katia quickly meets the darker side of her new country, the Stasi, who arrive in force to take her into custody for questioning.

Bernhard resists the handover of a soldier under her command, even a brand new one, and challenges both Lt. Col. Axmann and her academy rival Major Brehme to produce a reason for the arrest, and is actually backed up by her unit’s political commisar, Gretel Jeckeln.

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The Stasi leave empty-handed without a fight, but they promise they’ll be back when, not if, they get something on Katia. And between her big mouth (talking about things like wishing for both Germanys working together to fight the BETA) and asking Theodor to look through documents on a certain general who is actually her father, they might not have to wait long to have an excuse.

Theodor, who clicks his tongue enough to make a drinking game, certainly doesn’t like being in another situation where the Stasi spotlight is on him and his loyalties are questioned. There are no second chances, so feeling particularly selfish about his well-being, he considers doing…something on the battlefield to solve his “Katia Problem.”

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But he doesn’t. Instead, when she’s about to be pounced on by a BETA, he actually saves her. Perhaps, in the heat of battle, Theodor is compelled to do the right thing, not what’s best for his own skin. Their operation is crippled when the Stasi, who promised to send reinforcements, instead simply sit at HQ sipping tea, leaving the 666th out to dry.

They lose their CO, and both Katia and Pham are somewhat inexplicably called upon personally to help defend Fort Neuenhagen, where their TSFs are damaged and where they wake up, not knowing if they’re prisoners or not at a place whose soldiers call “Hell on Earth.”

“Fine” is the best way to describe this episode. It wasn’t bad, but nothing really stood out. Theodor remains a bland, tongue-clicking boob, Katia strikes me as way too idealistic for her own good, the visuals are nothing special.

As Oigakkosan mentioned last week, the show is also juggling too many premises. It seems far more interested in the shades-of-gray political conflict than the war with the BETA, who are, like the enemy in Kantai Collection, are just pure, bland, malice…but also extraneous. This show is eliciting too much meh in me to continue.

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