Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Steins;Gate 0 – 07 – Mr. Braun (and Wikipedia) to the Rescue

The standoff with what is apparently the “Rounders” of SERN mercifully ends without any tragic deaths, thanks to the sudden arrival of Tennouji, who makes quick work of the masked bandits, while Suzu frees their quarry Kagari from their clutches.

Their leader in black has a female figure, but Okabe almost immediately doubts it was Kiryuu Moeka again because the Akiba boss from the other world line was Braun; it would  make no sense for him to hinder the Rounders here. Something else is clearly up.

The first priority is ensuring Kagari’s safety going forward now that they know she’s particularly susceptible to capture. She continues to stay at Ruka’s place, which Daru fortifies with motion sensors while Suzuha keeps a sleepless watch.

Ruka can tell something’s up, and wants Suzuha to explain why she uses the family-based honorifics she uses…but Suzuha isn’t talking. She (rightly) believes Okabe wants to keep Ruka from learning anything about other worlds, so that he can stay in the one he’s in.

The next day Okabe visits Tennouji at the shop to explain the disturbance he had to break up (not the kind of landlord duties he likes undertaking, even if he’s more than capable). Okabe first confirms that Tennouji is indeed Ferdinand Braun, affiliated with the Rounders.

Braun concedes that Okabe is disturbingly accurate about things he has no business knowing, and in the absence of more credible explanations is willing to at least hear him out about time travel and world lines. He agrees to keep Kagari under his protection, hiring her and Suzuha as part-timers, but insists Okabe get to work discovering the identity and goals of Kagari’s would-be captors.

One clue is the alphanumeric code uttered by two of the Rounders: K6205, whom Mayushii’s friend Kaede is able to identify as possibly a Köchel number; those used to catalog the works of Mozart. Specifically, K. 620, his opera The Magic Flute, which is packed with Masonic elements.

Scene 5 of Act 2 involves a man being ordered to marry an elderly woman or he’ll be imprisoned forever. When he does, she’s transformed into a young and beautiful young woman, only for priests to hold him back, warning that he’s not yet worthy of her.

I learned all of this on Wikipedia, as Daru and the others’ primary source of research (always a good place to start, anyways). But one can’t think of the Mozart connection without also thinking about his middle name: Amadeus; ‘loved by God’.

Amadeus is still offline and when Okabe calls Hiyajou, she expresses her fear the server has been taken over. But moments after Hiyajou hangs up Okabe gets a call from Amadeus. It’s highly distorted and garbled, but Amakurisu pleads for help clearly enough.

That’s when Okabe enters Reading Steiner, the Divergence Meter’s Nixie Tube numbers flutter furiously. He ends up alone in the lab, the TV no longer shot through, and the Amadeus app gone from his phone’s home screen. It’s a World Line Change, people, and what do you know, Kurisu is alive in this one.

Just like the first Steins;Gate series, S;G 0 started off slow, but there was always the possibility, even probability that one big event after another was bound to go down soon. Now we’re there, with Okabe, in a totally different world than the one in which started, with no knowledge of how he got there, whether he’s been there before, or if he’ll ever get back.

Not to mention the fact that without even trying he’s been reunited with the only woman he’s ever loved. Depending on how things go, he may not even want to leave…but where Steins;Gate is concerned, getting something you want almost always means losing something you need.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 07 – If You Give Up, Then That’s That

Nyanko Big, Pillar of the Tada family since the loss of its mom and dad, is missing. Mitsuyoshi’s little sister Yui takes center stage in the search for him, riffing off of her favorite manga that chronicle the cases of Hercule Poirot’s half-Japanese granddaughter…which doesn’t sound like a half-bad anime!

Everyone joins in the search, even Sir Charles, who was the one who saw him last with his “girlfriend” (a raggedy foxtail toy). During the search, Yui is happy to be partnered with Yamashita Dog, on whom she’s been maintaining a crush. (Hinako and Hajime sit this one out).

When we first see Charles reacting to something earlier on, and Yui’s gramps mentions how pets “take a trip” when their “time has come”, the episode is trying to tint the proceedings with foreboding, but while the thought briefly occurred to me they might kill off the cat, that thought didn’t last due to the search’s lighthearted tone.

Sure enough, they find Nyanko attempting to woo the disinterested Cherry, who happens to be the pet of “Chia-nee”, a lovely woman who knows Yamashita and pats him on the head as he coos. The joy of finding her cat is replaced by the revelation the guy she likes likes someone else, and says as much later when they’re enjoying celebratory festival snacks.

Teresa knows something’s up, and when asked what’s up, Yui cannot hide her tears of frustration, asking Teresa if falling in love with someone is always so painful. Like Nyanko Big, Yui is meowing up the wrong awning, but Charles later confides in Nyanko that he senses he may be doing the same with Teresa.

That aside, Teresa is the one who once told him “if you give up, then that’s that!”, when he tried to give up looking for his cherished gold bracelet (perhaps given to him by Teresa). She didn’t give up, ended up finding it, and he still wears it to this day. He, in turn, won’t give up, and neither will Nyanko and Yui.

As for Mitsuyoshi? Well, once again he’s a non-factor, only managing a momentary awkward meeting of eyes with Teresa. You can’t give up something you haven’t started, and with only five episodes left, he’s running out of time to do so.

Steins;Gate 0 – 06 – New Year, Same Old Problems

“Kana” is definitely Shiina Kagari—even if the Oopa were a copy, there are certain things (the sound of her name, words from her future adoptvie mother) that give her an odd sense of nostalgia. And Suzu would recognize the girl who pulled a gun on her a mile away.

Okabe contacts Kiryuu to tell her Kagari has been found, but to request she continue investigating the group that was after her. After Kiryuu hangs up, we get our first sense that something is going to come to a head this week.

Little did I know when watching her teasing Maho that Judy Reyes of all people could also be involved.

It’s New Years, so the whole gang goes to the shrine, both to pray and give offerings and see Mayushii, Rukako, and Feyris in shrine maiden garb.

Everyone has lots of fun, but Judy shows up with Leskinen to say a quick ‘Hi’, while turning to leave she spots Kagari and gives her one hell of a sidelong glance.

There are more foreboding doings as Tennouji acts particularly shifty and a man in black lurks behind a wall, all while Mayushii & Co. bring the party to the lab and continue enjoying themselves.

Maho is among those having a good time, but gets a sudden video call from Amadeus, and answers the phone without leaving the room. Before long she’s surrounded by everyone curious about who her caller is, and Maho has no choice but to reveal the AI with Kurisu’s memories to them.

She apologizes to Okabe as the others talk with Amakurisu, but Okabe isn’t mad; he knows he has to start thinking of Kurisu, Amadeus, and Kagari as three distinct individual entities. He also needs to keep protecting the world Kurisu sacrificed herself to protect, no matter how much it might hurt or how easy it is to look back.

Unfortunately, Okabe is caught quite off guard when an armed gang once again infiltrates the lab and points their guns at Mayushii, Kagari, and the other guests. Suzuha is also caught off-guard, so it’s not like Okabe was alone in being lulled into a false sense of security. They weren’t direct witnesses to all of the strange things going on on the periphery of this episode like we did, after all.

When Kiryuu’s SERN assault team raided the lab back in the first season’s twelfth episode, it marked the official end of “fun and games.” That moment arrives six episodes earlier in S;G 0, and it also has the burden of trying to top that devastating, show-defining moment. Suffice it to say the ending of this episode wasn’t nearly as shocking, for the simple reason that we’ve seen it before.

History would seem to be repeating itself, and his loved ones apparently aren’t safe even here, in this Kurisu-less World Line. Then again, Mayushii wasn’t shot…yet. Perhaps, like Kagari and Kurisu, events only resemble what happened before, but may in reality be something completely different. But whatever that ends up being, it probably won’t be pleasant.

Steins;Gate 0 – 05 – Time Goes On

Needless to say, the sudden appearance of Moeka Kiryuu puts Okabe on edge, and even if this is not the same world line in which she killed Mayushii, he suspects she’s still a “Rounder”, and cannot fully trust her. Suzu can tell almost immediately that Moeka is someone Okabe knows (or knew), even if he won’t come out and say it. Nevertheless, Okabe assents to Daru’s hiring of Moeka in order to find the lost girl.

Meanwhile, Hiyajou can tell that Okabe hasn’t been answering Amakurisu’s calls, and feels partially responsible for telling him that Kurisu he knows is dead, even if a part of her is jealous that he was so much closer to her. With Leskinen’s unsolicited blessing she strikes out into Akiba to meet with Okabe, but suddenly feels extremely paranoid about being followed.

The camera angles, editing, and music all conspire to make us really feel that paranoia, initially brought on by the sudden appearance of Moeka and only intensified here. By the time Hiyajou is calling Okabe in a near-panic, and he runs out to find her dropped bag, I truly feared for the worst, as he did.

Mercifully (though also a bit disappointingly) the person initiating contact with Hiyajou turns out to be Professor Judy Reyes, a colleague at her university. While communicating in English Okabe fails to correct Reyes’ assertion that he’s Hiyajou’s boyfriend (though the prospect makes Hiyajou blush).

Once they’re alone, Hiyajou brings up Okabe’s lack of responding to Amakurisu. She’s no dummy (obviously), and can tell Kurisu had an incredibly “large presence” in Okabe’s life; far larger than he lets on.

When she reminds him that Amadeus is merely a system, Okabe tells her he simply needs more time. He’s confused, but that’s because he’s not willing to dismiss Amakurisu out of hand, at least not yet (and with no other alternative).

Okabe (and the episode) finally remember the somewhat urgent call Rukako made to him about a guest of his family’s…he comes to the lab with that guest in tow, and Okabe is shocked to find that guest is a dead ringer for Kurisu. However, he later chalks it up as a coincidence (plenty of blue-eyed redheads with bangs out there, after all).

Rukako informs Okabe that the girl has amnesia, and they’ve simply been calling her “Kana” in lieu of her name. She’s hoping Okabe with all his brainy sciency know-how can find a way to help Kana find her real name, where she came from, and how she lost her memory.

While flattered, Okabe is honest about not being an expert in any of that stuff (even if he knows people who are), but Kana’s identity is quite surreptitiously revealed by Mayushii, who recognizes the oopa that is the only possession of Kana’s that might be a clue.

What’s odd is that the oopa is from a very recent movie, but looks like it’s much older than that. Upon the pointing out of that fact, Kana suddenly collapses, just as Suzuha shows up, and instantly recognizes the girl for Kagari, the girl she lost. Well, now she’s found. What’s next; and is it merely a coincidence that she so closely resembles Kurisu?

Steins;Gate 0 – 04 – Another Girl Lost in Time

Okabe experiences a number of strange flashes in various world lines before waking up in bed, only to eventually return to the roof of the lab with Maho. They include running from enemy forces (likely in the bad future) and answering a mysterious phone call. He wonders if he somehow experienced Reading Steiner, and fears for the worst.

Thankfully, both Mayushii and everyone else are fine, so if there was a world line change, it was a subtle one, at least in terms of how it affected his life. Later, Amakurisu suggests Okabe give his mismatched present (a sexy red dress) to Maho, saying she’d likely be “surprisingly happy.”

Okabe doesn’t do that, but both Maho and Leskinen can tell he’s gotten close to Amadeus in not much time at all, feeding Leskinen’s hope that the AI will be able to fall in love, which would obviously be a huge breakthrough.

It seems like fate that they’d find the person who just happened to be in love with the real Kurisu. Maho just wants to know more about the side of her good friend and colleague that she never knew, lamenting that she “knows nothing”, despite the fact she is not Jon Snow.

Meanwhile, as Suzuha tries to get her eventual dad to go on a date with her eventual mother, Daru senses Suzu is hiding something, and isn’t thrown off by Suzu’s weak “it’s nothing.” What Daru learns is that Suzu did not board the Time Machine alone, but took Future Mayushii’s adopted war orphan daughter, Kagari.

In 1998, Suzuha and the 11-year-old Kagari were separated in Akiba, meaning in the present she’s a 22-year-old woman. Suzuha has been busy searching for her, with no success. Daru relays this information to Okabe, along with a request to help with the search.

Okabe quickly agrees, and when Amakurisu gets word of his task, she offers to search the vast networks she has access to in order to assist him. He pockets that offer for now, not wanting himself or Amakurisu to get into any unnecessary trouble (doing what she proposed may not be legal, strictly speaking).

After a flashback to 1998 when Kagari pulled a gun on Suzu in order to stop her from changing the future (the one in which her mother Mayushii lived), we’re back in the present, where Okabe asks Rukako and Feyris (who both grew up in Akiba) to put feelers out about a girl.

Feyris gets back to him about a “ghost with braids” asking people about a lost little girl (obviously Suzuha), but nothing concrete about Kagari. As Okabe is receiving Feyris’ call, he spots Dr. Leskinen turning a corner, but when he follows him he hits a dead end of boxes. Weird.

When Okabe returns to the lab, Daru has called someone he apparently knows who may have information for them. While waiting for this person to arrive, Okabe gets a call from Rukako with an urgent request to come meet him at his house, and no other time will do.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and who should be on the other end but Kiryuu Moeka, the sight of whom triggers all of the awful dealings Okabe had with her in other world lines. Oddly, I knew with some certainty that it would be her, partly because there was just something off about the suddenness of Daru’s connection.

Of course, this may not be a Killer Kiryuu…but from the glimpse of the hair of Rukako’s guest, it’s pretty clear her assistance isn’t needed to find Kagari…Kagari is that guest. All Okabe has to do is go to Rukako’s and he’s found her. The question is, will he be able to?

Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 00 (Prologue)

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This is officially a prequel/prologue of the forthcoming ufotable fantasy epic based upon a game I’ve never played, so most of the faces we see we won’t see again, aside from Princess Alisha, who is part of the main party in the OP that follows the end credits.

This prologue chronicles Alisha, and humanity in general, just having a really crummy week. A dark and foreboding mist is growing in the sky, and she rides out to search for her subordinate and friend Clemm, whom she originally sent to determine if the cloud is the cause of any health problems among the people.

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While on her journey, Alisha and her escorts are ambushed by ninja-like warriors who fight her to a draw before one of them reveals themself as, well, let’s say “not human.” The battle not only shows that Alisha can handle herself, but that the combat in the show is going to be very slick and pretty, a la Fate stay/night UBW.

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Before long, swords, spears, armor and horses are of absolutely no avail, as mere moments after locating Clemm (while Professor Drake lurks far below the earth, inspecting “ley lines”, tendrils of smoke and ash emit from the dark mist and start rending the land. All Alisha & Co. can do is run like hell.

In the midst of all this chaos, another non-human being appears, eager to open the Gate of…well, Chaos. There were moments it seemed like this being, dressed for the club, was somehow protecting Alisha, but events don’t bear that out.

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Indeed, once both the female being and the male being who ambushed Alisha before are done, the entire landscape has been consimed with smoke and fire, and Alisha is all alone, with Clemm and the others all swept up in the chaos, never to be seen again.

Alisha limps back to the ill-looking town to find it a smoking ruin, and even the one last child survivor gets swept up just when she arrives, to twist the proverbial knife. Finally, a gigantic flame dragon emerges from the clouds and seems to come at Alisha.

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So there you have it: not a swell couple of days for Princess Alisha, presented as part in parcel of the introduction to a world that seems to be paying humanity back for the pride they’ve developed after forgetting that other beings coexist with them, though they do not see them, and that nature itself has been thrown out of balance.

Surely, the episodes to come will gather the members of a fellowship tasked with saving the world, or something to that effect. For now, the production values are above reproach; an elaborate but far more approachable style than, say, Berserk (at least to me). This prologue has definitely piqued my interest in ufotable’s latest effort.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 17

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Well, it’s happened: Shirayuki has been whisked away once more, just when I was content with all the easygoing slice-of-court life and looking forward to the ball. But hey, sometimes you gotta let a show take you out of its comfort zone. This isn’t just about romance and daily life, it’s about action and adventure, and for some reason the bishounen Kazuki thinks he knows better where Shirayuki “belongs.”

The entire capture scene is fraught with danger and unpredictability, in the brief period when one could suspend the notion that the abductors would definitely succeed. That’s due to Obi showing us his stuff; to Kazuki’s shock he can fight evenly with his partner Itoya, who is clearly no slouch in the combat department.

But Itoya manages to land a knockout blow to Obi, and he and Kazuki make off with Shirayuki, whom they sedated for easier transport. In the process, Zen’s watch comes loose and falls to the floor, breaking it. Not a good omen for what’s to come at all.

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Obi arguably loses because he’s distracted when Eugena and Rona enter Shirayuki’s room in the middle of the fracas, and Itoya takes advantage of his momentary distraction. But when they come to apologize, Obi doesn’t blame them. From his perspective, they alone shouldn’t have been enough to let Itoya get one over on him.

As Zen races to Tanbarun, and a very lost and distraught Raj plays the song he was to dance to with Shirayuki, a furious Obi decides to hunt down the kidnappers alone. He’s pissed, just as much at himself as the at the kidnappers. After all, he had one job to do: keep Shirayuki safe. He doesn’t want to look at Zen until he gets her back. But beyond all that, Shirayuki is important to him. This cannot stand.

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Raj fully expects to be chewed out or worse by Zen when he arrives, but to his shock, Zen is apologetic for not keeping him informed of the threats against Shirayuki’s safety. Raj apologizes anyway, since it was his duty to protect his guest. When Zen learns Shirayuki was enjoying her stay, he’s glad. Good to see there’s no prince-on-prince bickering holding back the rescue.

Zen does have to report to Raj’s father, the King of Tanbarun, however, to be given leave to move freely within his kingdom for the purpose of retrieving Shirayuki. The king gives him permission, as long as he’s discrete. This is similar to Izana’s warning to Zen that he’d better not draw him or sully his position, or Shirayuki, even if he gets her back, is out.

When Zen, Mitsu, and Kiki prepare to go, Raj sheepishly, then firmly asks that he accompany them; after all. He remember’s Shirayuki’s words about wanting to hear from his people that he’s a good prince, and a good prince doesn’t hide in his castle while others fix problems that occurred on his watch. His valor surprises even his father, but I knew he’d tag along, adding a neat dynamic to the rescue party.

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As two of the three lads who like Shirayuki just starting their mission, the third had a big head start, and is able to catch up to Itoya and Kazuki thanks to his Mad Ninja-Equivalent Skillz. With no distractions and a full head of steam, he has no trouble neutralizing Itoya, but he’s too late: Kazuki and Shirayuki are gone (we knew it wasn’t Obi Kazuki saw, since there were horse hooves, not footsteps).

That’s right: in an interesting twist, Shirayuki is kidnapped from her kidnappers. It sounds ridiculous on its surface, but when considering Kazuki was acting independently after defecting from the Claw of the Sea, and simply got re-captured by them, it’s not that strange. He had “the goods”, now they do. And by “they”, I mean the badass pirate captain Umihebi.

With cooly merciless eyes, she stares right at Shirayuki and tells her straight up “You can’t go home anymore.” Whatever she has in store for her (using her as a bargaining chip for some men in the mountains), it just can’t be good. So now her former kidnapper Kazuki and her are in the same boat: prisoners needing to escape before they’re taken out to sea, just as Itoya and Obi now have the same objective: find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Things are looking good.

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