Attack on Titan – 55 – Levi’s Choice

The characters of Titan naturally have to hold on to certain dreams in order to keep going, though Kenny likened that to being a slave to something or someone. For Levi, that has become serving Erwin and seeing to it his dreams come true, if at all possible. That’s why, when he appears with the syringe of Titan serum, he holds out as long as he can to give it to Armin, who is on the verge of death.

Eren is slave to Armin’s and his dream of seeing the ocean one day, so their opposing dreams create a conflict. As for Zeke, he leaves Bertholdt for dead and lives to fight another day, promising Eren, fellow victim of their father, that he’ll come back to rescue him some day.

On the other front, Hange sends Mikasa to see if Levi is alive and still has the serum; if injected into one of them, they can eat Reiner and gain his powers. Otherwise Hange will kill Reiner right there and then, but not before taking possession of a letter from Ymir meant for Christa.

When Mikasa meets up with Eren and Levi, and sees what has become of Armin, Floch arrives just before Levi administers the serum to Armin, with a badly wounded but still breathing Erwin. Right there and then, Levi changes his mind; Erwin will get the serum. Armin will die.

It’s an impossible choice, as both Erwin and Armin have proven to be an integral part of the continued survival of humans within the walls. For Levi, it’s a simple matter of giving it to the more experienced leader, but he can’t pretend he’s not influenced by his greater loyalty to his commander, as well as his buy-in to Erwin’s dreams.

When he knocks Eren aside to execute his decision, Mikasa pins him down, and because he’s in such bad shape from the Beast Titan fight, Mikasa can tell she can overpower him. But Floch is on Levi’s side, and tells them how he believes was the only one of his unit to survive so he could ensure the “devil” Erwin couldn’t go out so easily, that he’d live on and continue to be the devil they needed to defeat the Titans. Then Hange, Jean, and Sasha drop in, further complicating matters.

It’s an apt microcosm of the inner-wall humans all along: different factions or individuals wasting precious time and resources fighting over which way to proceed, with Levi, Hange, and Floch on one side and Eren and Mikasa on the other. Both are factoring emotions into their decisions, and both are right that if either person dies it will be a huge blow to the cause.

Ultimately, when everyone has cleared out, Levi is about to insert the syringe in Erwin’s arm, and Erwin suddenly moves it out of the way, as if to prevent the injection. Turns out he’s delirious and raising his hand as if he was still in Grisha’s classroom. Levi takes it as a sign it’s time for Erwin to finally get the rest he’s deserved.

The next time Eren sees Armin, he’s a Titan, gobbling up Bertholdt and gaining his Colossal Titan powers. Levi quietly explains his choice, and begs Floch and everyone else to forgive Erwin, who never wanted to be a Devil. Everyone made him the devil, and it didn’t seem right to pull him back into Hell when he was finally freed from it.

Instead, Armin is being given a second chance to see the sea with Eren and Mikasa. By being given the abilities of the biggest, strongest Titan, he’s taking Erwin’s place as the Devil the humans within the walls need to lead them to victory.

Even with this massive shift in the balance of power (the Titans’ greatest weapon we know of is now in human hands), even dragging Armin back into Hell might not be enough. There’s still so much they don’t know. But with Zeke and Reiner in retreat, at least the path to The Basement now seems clear.

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Attack on Titan – 54 – His First Lie

This week the Beast, Armored, and Colossal Titans were so sure time was up for the humans, they neglected to detect the diversions that led to their own demise. Beast Titan is having so much fun tweaking his pitch delivery to kill Erwin and his desperate cavalry charge, he fails to see why they keep shooting nothing but green smoke at him.

That green smoke hides the fact that all of his Titans to one side have been felled by Levi, who then comes for him. Bertholdt and Reiner warned Zeke about the one human he had to worry about, but by the time he’s finally face-to-face with that human, the Beast Titan is toast. Levi carves him up like a Christmas goose.

Levi’s victory is snatched away by the “crawling” Titan, who grabs Zeke’s body before Levi can find anyone to turn into a Titan so he can eat Zeke and gain the Beast Titan’s powers. Levi gives chase, still committed to keeping the promise he made to Erwin. The only survivor of the cavalry charge is still alive, but not sure why. Will he be the one Levi gives the serum to, or will there be someone else near death who needs it more than this guy?

Inside the walls, Armin finally has a plan, to the relief of Mikasa and Jean. He’ll wake Eren up to fight Bertholdt, while Mikasa, Jean, Conny and Sasha will deal with Reiner. His plan revolves around the fact that the Colossal doesn’t do well in a battle of attrition, since the amount of steam he can produce is finite, making him thinner and thinner.

Reiner may be alive, but he’s signifcantly weakened, and still isn’t aware of the Thunder Spears, one of which takes out a knee and halts his advance. They need to get his mouth open, but while Conny’s spear finds its target, Sasha misses and is ijured. Armin wakes Eren up, but Eren ends up falling off the wall; Bertholdt is convinced he’s concussed and in no condition to fight, and that Armin is rushing him in a last-gasp suicide attack that will fail.

When telling Eren his plan, Armin reminds him he’s never lied to him, and that they’re going to see the sea together someday. However, this was actually the first and only time Armin was lying; in order to defeat Bertholdt, he had to stay in front of his face—and the tremendous heat from his steam attack—as long as possible, incinerating him in the process.

Back at the Armored battle, Hange swoops in to complete the destruction of his jaw, enabling Mikasa to land on his tongue and fire her thunder spear down his throat, forcibly ejecting the very weak and vulnerable Reiner.

With Armin killed, Bertholdt looks down and notices Eren’s Titan has fully hardened. Just then, Eren swoops in from behind, cuts the Titan’s nape open, and rips Bertholdt out sans arms and legs. The Colossal Titan darkens and falls. With all three main foes defeated, it should be a great victory for the Scouts and humanity.

But there are so few left to savor that victory, and Armin was an irreplaceable friend and tactical asset. I honestly can’t believe they offed one of the three main characters, but his life ended triumphantly the same way Eren first met him years ago: not losing by never running.

Attack on Titan – 51 – Homefield Advantage

With Shiganshina’s outer gate sealed, his troops atop Wall Maria, the Armored Titan on one side and the Beast Titan and his forces on the other, Irwin determines that the enemy is willing to wait out his forces in a siege. They’ll kill all the horses and starve the humans until even Eren can no longer resist capture, and it will be over. The two objectives this week are: keep Eren from getting captured, and prevent the horses, and any chance at resupply, from being killed.

Unfortunately, and paradoxically, the person you’d want kept away from the fighting, Eren himself, is their trump card against Braun, so he must serve as bait to get Braun to change his prime objective from the horses to Eren. Irwin doesn’t give him time to mull over the decision, so he descends the wall he just climbed and goes after Eren, who packs a much more devastating (and armor-shattering) punch now that he’s focusing all of his hardening power on his fist.

Meanwhile, the newbies are having a hard time even with the small-fry Titans. Irwin observes that the Scout Regiment is far weaker than it once was, but the thousands of sacrifices of the men and women under his command were what made this final stand possible. He visualizes himself standing atop a pile of scout corpses, but  if he can get to Grisha’s Basement before he dies, it may all be worth it.

As Eren grapples with Braun, the more experienced Levi and Hange squads advance, with Hange and Mikasa scoring direct hits on both the Armored Titan’s eyes with Lightning Spears, a weapon Braun didn’t know about until it was used on him.

The Scouts keep up the fight, even as they think they’ve “got him”, launching a dozen or more Lightning Spears into his nape, blowing it open so another volley can take out the vulnerable Braun within. The likes of Sasha and Connie momentarily hesitate at the prospect of killing their former friend and comrade, but Jean snaps them out of it, and the…apparently? fatal blows to Braun are delivered.

Mind you, I’m pretty damn skeptical Braun is 100% dead yet…more likely he’s just hurt and has another ace or two of his sleeve. And the absence of Bertholdt is very suspicious. Irwin and the Scouts can’t afford to revel in small victories. This battle’s for all the marbles.

Dororo – 15 – Moths to a Flame

The longer Dororo and Hyakkimaru stay at Lord Sabame’s village, the fishier things get. Dororo finds an almost ideal village full of simple but happy folk who have more than enough to eat. But when he questions an old lady about the nuns and children, she wanders off without answering. The villagers are hiding something, and the ghoul they fought last night was a big part of that something—as well as the reason Sabame insists they stay as long as they like.

Hyakkimaru follows Sabame, but isn’t that good at staying hidden. Sabame shows him the best vantage point of the village, which he would do anything to protect. That includes ghouls, as it happens, and if Hyakki is there to kill them, Sabame intends to stop him. As for Dororo, the villagers trap him under a rice storehouse where he’s to be caterpillar food, but the big baby rescues him as thanks for his earlier kindness, and out of the baby’s head sprout the ghosts of the children who were killed in the fire with the nun.

The fire was set intentionally by Sabame and the villagers as a sacrifice to the demon Maimai-onba, whom he took as his wife. In exchange, they have peace, prosperity, and don’t want for anything. But that butts up against Hyakkimaru’s zero tolerance policy on demons and ghouls, and he attacks Maimai-onba. Almost immediately it’s as if the deal struck with Sabame is called off, as the village is engulfed by flames. When Dororo meets up with Hyakkimaru, the latter’s left leg is shattered.

That night Hyakkimaru, with a makeshift peg leg with a bladder of oil, takes a boat out to a lake where Maimai-onba dwells, enticing it to pluck him up with a flame, then shooting the oil bladder at its body, torching it into ash. In exchange, another statue in the Hall of Hell cracks, and Hyakkimaru gets his real spine back, with his body expelling the artificial one.

But unlike previous demon-slayings, Dororo doesn’t feel right about this. It’s true the villagers got their peace and prosperity through ill-gotten means, but it’s not like the children had any say, and they’re the ones who will suffer most in the conflict that immediately flares up once they realize they no longer have enough food.

Hyakkimaru is utterly dismissive of Dororo’s concerns, and has no sympathy for anyone—not Sabame, not his father Daigo—who makes deals with demons. By the time he realizes Dororo isn’t still right behind him, the kid is suddenly in the clutches of Itashi, who already has one half of the map and wants the rest that’s etched on Dororo’s back. Talk about the wrong time to split up.

Suddenly throwing Itashi into the mix at the end of a monster-of-the-week (spread across two weeks with mixed results), basically immediately after Dororo lagged behind Hyakki out of anger, definitely upped the stakes for next week. On the other hand, Itashi’s appearance felt almost too abrupt and coincidental here. We’ll see how next week pans out.

Dororo – 14 – Kids (With or Without Wings) to Feed

The markings on Dororo’s back, which are only visible when his skin is warm (and he’s never had a warm bath before) form half of the map to his father’s “ambition”—a hoard of stolen samurai gold meant to finance a peasant uprising.

In the event of his death, his wife insisted he engrave half of the map upon her so that she’d never be tempted to draw from it, not even to feed herself or Dororo (these guys were zealots to the last). The other half is on Dororo’s back, though his memory of what was on his mom’s can’t be that clear.

And so while Hyakkimaru is cursed with missing limbs he must fight to get back from demons, Dororo is cursed with the legacy of two parents who could have given him a much better life had they had swallowed their honor pride for his sake.

He also now has a choice of what to do next: find the gold and use it as his folks intended, or use it to life a comfortable life. Biwamaru lays out the choices Dororo has, but he’s not leaving Hyakkimaru’s side, and Hyakkimaru is focused on the here and now and the remaining demons.

Hyakkimaru ignores Dororo’s questions about “what comes next”, and is “saved by the bell” in the form of the approach of two bizarre monsters: an emaciated woman and a giant, demanding baby who grabs Dororo. Hyakki takes no action since they’re “not demons,” and they eventually come upon the ruins of a temple that was apparently burned down intentionally (judging from all the oil).

The big baby vanishes before a well-dressed man with a very odd stare appears: he introduces himself as Sabame, lord of a village and its surrounding lands. Dororo doesn’t exactly trust those weird eyes, but he’s not turning down the offer of a meal and a roof over his head, now is he?

And what a meal and roof! The pair probably enjoy the most sumptuous meal they’ve ever been served, and they eat in front of a traditional band and synchronized dancers. Lord Sabame, who claims to have never left his own domain, is always eager to hear the stories of travelers, and so is more than happy to give them food and room to stay in exchange.

Sabame begins with the tale of an evil nun who abused, enslaved, and sold off orphans. She was killed when the heavens apparently “saw enough” and burned the temple down with lightning. Neither Dororo nor Hyakki quite believe this story, since they saw evidence of arson.

That night, with a huge room all to themselves, Dororo blames the “draftiness” of the house, and not fear, for his adjusting his futon so he sleeps closer to Hyakkimaru (who sleeps with his eyes open). Then a giant caterpillar with four human arms drops from the rafters, and Hyakki wakes up in a flash, blades drawn.

The caterpillar has silk that momentarily immobilizes Hyakkimaru, but he’s able to do enough damage to force the monster to flee, which it does with the help of a giant, poison mist-spewing moth. Dororo and Hyakki prepare wash themselves off in a nearby bath.

Then we check in with Lord Sabame, who has not only not turned in for the night, but is actually facilitating the moth demon, who takes the form of a woman. The “travelers” Sabame hosts apparently become food for the moth’s children, the survival of whom Sabame places the utmost importance.

While Sabame’s methods are fundamentally immoral, he has made the choice to value the moth and its offspring above the lives of innocent guests, just as Dororo’s parents chose to keep the grand cause alive over their only child’s well-being. Just as Hyakkimaru’s victories will continue to threaten Daigo’s lands and his people, how they chose to deal with Sabame could also have larger-scale consequences. For an imperfect world is full of fragile, imperfect solutions.

Dororo – 13 – Face/Off

Since leaving Daigo’s lands Hyakkimaru has barely slept, as he seeks out any and all demons to kill until all of his parts have been returned, and Dororo is worried about him. He suggests they head to a hot spring for some rest and recovery, but has to lie about there being a monster there to get Hyakkimaru to go along.

Turns out Dororo’s only half-wrong: there is a monster in these parts, but it can be found under a waterfall. A great stone statue possessed by a demon cleanly cleaves the faces off victims. A woman with long black hair is delivering these fools to be de-faced, and she in turn can look and sound like anyone.

When Dororo encounters the statue while collecting firewood, the woman appears as his mama, and the resemblance and sound of her voice are so familiar he can’t help but want to call her Mama, which she allows (her real name is Okaka).

As Hyakkimaru dozes, Okaka tells Dororo the story of the statue, a giant Fudo that was to be a scorned carver’s masterpiece and thumb in the eye of his detractors. But he never completed the face, working himself to death but never satisfied with the results.

As Dororo starts to nod off, Okaka reveals that she drugged the both of them, and that she is in fact the carver, revived by a demon to complete the Fudo’s face. And Okaka thinks she’s finally found the perfect face in Hyakkimaru’s.

When Dororo comes to, he’s just in time to slow Okaka down before she can place Hyakkimaru in the path of the Fudo’s giant sword; that buys enough time for Hyakkimaru to wake up, cut himself free, and start hacking at the Fudo, much to Okaka’s chagrin.

Dororo, whose guileless kindness has clearly had an effect on Okaka to this point, manages to convince the carver of the madness she has wrought. Okaka doesn’t know how her obsession with artistic perfection has turned him into a murderer.

The demon within the Fudo isn’t so contrite, however, and it slashes Okaka nearly in half with its sword. Hyakkimaru finishes it off, and the demon disperses, but before Okaka dies and turns to ash, she asks if she can feel Dororo’s smiling face—like the kind face of the Buddha statues she once carved.

Dororo apologizes to Hyakkimaru for getting tricked by his mama’s face, but Hyakkimaru tells him out loud that he’s fine, and that they should proceed to the hot spring to rest. Once they get there, they find Biwamaru is already there (and he believes they were fated to keep meeting like this).

They also encounter a father and two rugrats who jump into the spring and splash about, disturbing the tranquility. But they also notice something on the annoyed Dororo’s back: an elaborate red tattoo that looks like some kind of map. That just may indicate where they should head next, as they’re currently lacking a set destination.

Dororo returns with a new OP (not as good as the first but still nice), ED (wonderful vocals with somewhat muddled visuals, though that’s probably the point), and demon-of-the-week. We also learn Hyakkimaru’s mom is still alive (though not in good shape) and that Daigo believes his deal with the demons is still in effect, but who knows for how long.

Domestic na Kanojo – 12 (Fin) – Turning Pain Into Art

When Hina is caught, she doesn’t hesitate to be the adult and put herself at the mercy of her superiors. Sure, it probably wasn’t a good idea to sleep with a student in front of a window while on a school trip, but she doesn’t want that to affect her stepbrother’s future.

So she leaves the school, accepting a transfer far away, and then moves out of her apartment, all without telling Natsuo—who would have obviously tried to stop her and likely made things worse. That’s the second good move Hina made: not letting him have a say in the equation.

After reading a note in which Hina pours her heart out onto the page, Natsuo goes into a state of deep anguish, holing up in his room and not leaving. When Fumiya reads the note, he castigates Natsuo for basically wasting all of the pain and trouble Hina went through for his sake.

On a bathhouse trip with Kobayashi, the former yakuza and cafe owner tells him from experience that you can’t turn back time, and moving forward and continuing to live while shouldering his pain is the only way. But Natsuo manages to find an outlet for all that pain he’s shouldering: writing.

He stops his weekly short stories and instead starts pouring his heart onto the page, as Hina did with her farewell letter. At first it’s such a compulsive thing he doesn’t eat or sleep, but after his talk with Kobayashi he starts accepting Rui’s kindness in the form of cocoa, late night snacks, and other food to keep his health up.

On New Year’s Day, Natsuo finishes his novel, though he also lost track of the days. Rui takes him out where he meets with his friends from the lit club who were silently supporting him as he worked his shit out. Then they go to Kiriya-sensei’s house to deliver the first draft.

Some time later Natsuo is invited back to Kiriya’s on a Sunday, wondering what’s up. Kiriya has him meet Tsutaya, an editorial staff member with Shinkosha, and they go to a ceemony celebrating Natsuo’s first-place amateur award for his novel, which Kiriya secretly submitted.

Just as Hina had hoped, her quick action secured Natsuo’s future and ability to achieve his dream of becoming a novelist, even if it also broke both their hearts, those wounds heal, while a public school sex scandal…notsomuch!

When he gets home, Natsuo is shocked to find Hina waiting there for him…or at least he thinks it’s Hina. Turns out it’s Rui in a wig. She runs to her room to cry, because now she knows how Natsuo’s loving embrace felt to Hina. After congratulating him for his award, Rui has a proposition.

She’s done pretending to hate Natsuo, and she’s done “holding back” for Hina’s sake. When she and Natsuo made love for the first time, she didn’t think much of it, but she seems reasonably sure a second time will feel different to her, now that she has feelings for him and all.

Natsuo looks a bit overwhelmed, but if Hina truly is gone from his life forever, it’s a good idea to move on. Probably not with Rui…but I like Rui so, ah, well there it is. As Picasso said, “Art is born of your dad marrying the mother of the first girl you slept with and your longtime teacher crush.” Or something like that.

Dororo – 12 – The Consequences Of Sacrifice

Father and discarded son finally meet face to face, and all Daigo can say is “Why aren’t you dead?” and call Hyakkimaru a “half-born demon child.” It’s pretty harsh, but not at all surprising considering those words are coming from the man who fed his firstborn to demons.

As long as Hyakkimaru is alive, Daigo cannot have confidence in the future of his domain. The mere fact he is alive is proof that the deal is in the process of being destroyed, as evidenced by all the lord’s misfortune of late. Of course, he deserves all the misfortune coming to him.

Hyakkimaru skitters off when Daigo’s men launch arrows at him, while elsewhere Dororo and Sukeroku are taken prisoner and stashed in a cave. After trying to comfort Sukeroku (who found his village only to find it destroyed and his mom likely dead), Dororo slips out of a Dororo-sized hole, promising to find Hyakkimaru so they can save everyone.

Tahoumaru, having received testimony from the midwife, confronts his mother, who does not dispute the terrible accusations, and indeed has never for one day forgotten what was done. Tahoumaru can’t believe his parents would do something so monstrous, but that just goes to show you how much he idolizes his great lord father.

Daigo tells Tahoumaru of the hellish times before he was born, and how sacrificing his first son was the only way to stave off the utter ruin of his domain. Tahoumaru rightly rejects the notion his dad’s motivation was anything other than the desire for power and prosperity. He notes the appalling amorality of the action.

His protestations fall on deaf ears. Lord Daigo believes he is a lord because he was given choices and made the decisions that he made. The ends justify the means, and in any case, it’s too late to undo what he did because to do so would mean sacrificing the welfare of the domain for one person: Hyakkimaru.

Daigo made a terrible choice, and he knew it was terrible, but to him not sacrificing his son would have been more terrible. Thus, if he had the choice, he’d likely do it again. He tells Tahoumaru if he wishes to cancel the deal with the demons, he can go to the Hall of Hell to do so, but rightly assumes his son won’t do anything (in any case the hall spits him and his aides out with a gust of wind).

Dororo reunites with Hyakkimaru and connects the dots that Daigo and Tahoumaru are Hyakkimaru’s father and brother, something he’s actually cheerful about because he doesn’t know the truth, but also because Dororo’s family was so loving and he longs to have them back.

By the time they find Sukeroku, the kid is already tied to the Banmon with other hostages as an overture to a battle between Daigo’s armies and those of Asakura. Among the combatants is one of the men who burned killed Mio and burned her orphanage; Dororo has to hold him back to stop him from proving to all assembled that he truly is a demon.

Tahoumaru arrives on the battlefield, and while he acknowledges what was done to his brother is wrong, the preservation of the domain and its people takes precedence over one life, even if it is his brother. So, the two fight, as the Banmon ghouls gather, picking off soldiers and eventually combining to form Kyubi.

Hyakkimaru eventually slices Tahoumaru’s eye, but then their mother Oku arrives, to ask forgiveness of Hyakkimaru; not just for herself, but on behalf of her husband, her other son, and all the people of the domain who owe each day of their prosperity to Hyakkimaru’s long suffering. If no one else will take responsibility, she will, and does—by stabbing herself.

It would seem the demons accept her as a sacrifice to their appetites, as their power seems to increase immediately after Oku’s stabbing, to the point the Banmon crumbles to the ground, forcing Daigo and his men to retreat with Tahoumaru and Oku.

Things calm down from there, and there’s even a happy note to an otherwise ominous ending, as Sukeroku reunites with his mother and other villagers who had been hiding. Dororo notes that even Sukeroku and his mom are only alive thanks to Daigo’s cruel, heinous deed.

Dororo then reiterates his intention to stick with Hyakkimaru no matter what, even if his blood relations continue to reject him. In a world full of moral shades of gray, their bond as brothers-from-another-mother (though one is actually a sister) is thankfully absolute. Will they be enough to stand against the relentlessly turning wheels of destiny?

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.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

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.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 10 – Keep Calm and Scary On

Boogiepop and Others is hard enough to follow without having surplus episodes piled atop one another, but the day after last week’s conclusion to the Imaginator arc, that’s just what happened: four episodes dropping at once, comprising an entire arc. Because this first of the four had its own OP, ED, and self-contained story, I’ve decided to watch and review them each separately, as if they aired on different days.

This is the story of how Boogiepop got her admittedly bizarre name. She’s responding to a question from our favorite benevolent alien, Echoes, while the two are wandering a ruined, post-apocalyptic landscape. A stuffed animal that crumbles in his hand suggests it’s Earth of the distant (or not-too-distant) future. Wherever and whenever it is, it’s super creepy.

Boogiepop’s name origin story starts with a detective named Kuroda, AKA Scarecrow. Like Orihata Aya/Camille, he’s a synthetic human working for the Towa Organization. His colleague Pigeon gives him his next mission: checking up on fellow member Teratsuki Kyouichirou, suspected of betraying Towa. We learn from Kuroda that Towa is a vast network primarily dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of human evolution; both how we got to where we are, and what comes next.

Teratsuki kinda fades into the background as Kuroda finds someone more intriguing at one of his sprawling medical facilities: a young Kirima Nagi (younger than the previous episodes in which we’ve seen her). She notes that her somewhat unusual first name is based on the sentiment of “keeping calm no matter the situation”, and her personal situation is not optimal: diagnosed as “growing pains,” she has fits of pain so intense she can’t even describe it.

Nagi is also very much like the young woman we’ve seen in the present thus far: gorgeous, upbeat, direct, intensely curious, and dedicated to the truth: a natural detective in larval form. Once Kuroda gets past her guard (Naoko), he presents the results of her request for him to investigate her: he discovered her agent was embezzling her money and got him fired.

But despite all the qualities that make our Nagi Nagi in the present, this past Nagi is deeply uncertain and apprehensive about who and what she should become, if and when her condition is healed. Kuroda asserts that everyone feels that way on the road to coming into themselves. He himself dreamed of becoming a superhero who, unlike a detective, didn’t have to worry about all of the peripheral crap that comes with solving crimes. Just rush in, get the job done, and call it a day.

This perks Nagi up, and she says Kuroda should definitely become a superhero. Their visit is cut short when she starts having fits of pain, but when she grabs him, it leaves a raw mark, almost like a burn. That clinches it for Kuroda: Nagi is one of the “NPSLs” its his usual mission to locate. She’s evolving to the next stage…but it’s a rough gestation, which is keeping her in a hospital bed, unable to realize her own dreams.

Thus Kuroda—”Scarecrow”—decides to make a grand, superheroic gesture to Nagi, whom he’s decided to be the recipient of his heroism. He ransacks a Towa facilities to find a serum that would normally act as a catalyst for human evolution. Because Nagi is already evolving without it, administering it offsets the “possibility” that is tearing her apart from within. With one injection, he enables her to live the (relatively) normal human life she enjoys in the present.

While his act was both heroic and kind from the perspective of those of us rooting for Nagi to survive and thrive, it also broke a lot of Towa rules, and they send an assassin to eliminate him for his treachery against the organization. That assassin, Sasaki, is lightning quick of foot and deadly with a knife, but Kuroda demonstrates he can be pretty fast himself. While the two may look like a couple of regular-looking schlubs, they move like superheroes.

While Kuroda gets away, it isn’t before Sasaki gives him a wound from which he knows he won’t recover. That’s when a “reaper” appears, in the form of Touka, offering a chance to judge him favorably for doing something heroic for someone, even if it led to his demise.

Kuroda wonders if he’s speaking to a near-death delusion, but we know she’s really there. He calls her “creepy bubble”—like a boogieman that pops into and out of existence. Thus the title “Boogiepop”. When Sasaki finds Kuroda’s body, the Scarecrow is smiling, and why not? It may have cost his life, but he saved Kishima Nagi. For one night, he was a superhero. And one night was enough.