TenSura – 47 – Good Times Had By All (But One)

Veldora didn’t show up because he sensed Rimuru was in danger—he wasn’t—but because he wanted Rimuru to give him the next volume of a manga he was really getting into. That’s kind of the lazy otaku energy I’m here for.

While he’s there, he’s all too happy to spar with his older brother’s only child, Milim (while pulling off Street Fighter and Dragon Ball moves!). When Rimuru tells him not to hurt her as she’s being controlled by Clayman, Veldora tries to correct him, but Rimuru is in to much of a hurry to listen.

After dealing with the magical beasts by freeing Nine Tails (who was suffering under Clayman’s Demon Dominate, a spell removed with Raphael’s help) Rimuru checks in on how Beretta’s fight against Viola is doing, only to find Beretta happily humming as she neatly arranges Viola’s parts around her.

After shit got super-serious last week, it’s good to see that playful humor return, along with easy but still cool-looking wins. The pieces are meant as an offering to Rimuru in hopes he’ll find a place for her new master Ramiris and her to live in Tempest.

Speaking of cool, Shion may have the best moves of anyone this week, easily freeing herself of Clayman’s bonds and pummeling the shit out of him. When he transforms into his apparent final boss form, he’s just as easily dealt with, showing just how large the gap is between Rimuru’s most trusted lieutenants and everyone else who isn’t a Demon Lord.

It’s when Clayman is on his back and bloodied when he calls for Milim to get over there and bail him out that Milim reveals to all that still didn’t know it that she’s acting of her own free will. I complained last week that we were basically getting a Milim devoid of personality, and this episode gave me exactly what I wanted: the regular sweet, joyful, and completely chaotic Milim Nava. Plus, Hidaka Rina finally gets to say words!

We learn that Milim was pretending all along in order to get Clayman where she wanted him: in a place where he couldn’t win, and where he’d reveal the person hiding in the shadows: Yuuki (apparently).

This calls into question why she had to destroy Carrion’s kingdom in service of that lie, but since none of its denizens were harmed and Rimuru has ample treasure and labor to rebuild the kingdom, all’s good in the hood!

That is, until we get what is supposed to be Clayman’s sadsack story about being the weakest member of the Moderate Harlequin Alliance, calling out to the heavens to give him more power, and the heavens rather curiously answering his call.

As he converts his soul and the souls of all he’s had killed into energy and power, we learn this was Rimuru’s plan all along: awaken this next-level Clayman so that he can be defeated once and for all and free all those souls. And after getting his warmup in with Milim, Rimuru chooses himself for the task of taking out Clayman—to demonstrate that he has arrived as a genuine Demon Lord.

TenSura – 35 – The Conditions Have Been Met

Once he began eliminating soldiers of Falmuth by the thousands in service of his goal to evolve into a Demon Lord, it marked the official end of the “happy-go-lucky” Rimuru Tempest…or at least it should, if we the audience are to feel any sympathy at all for the scores of human beings he’s coldly murdering.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Reyheim—the mastermind behind this whole invasion—is spared, along with Falmuth’s King Edomalis. Folgen and Razen aren’t so lucky, getting headshotted just when the king feels like they have a shot at retreating. Even when Rimuru looms high above them with their literal lives in his fingers, Edomalis can’t help but look down on the slime.

With his soul quota at just over halfway met, Rimuru makes use of his new unique skill “Merciless”, which uses the remaining soldiers’ own lost will to fight to kill them all at once. With the requisite number achieved, the “Harvest Festival” begins. It cannot be stopped, and when it ends, Rimuru will emerge a Demon Lord.

The process also makes him extremely sleepy, so before he passes out he summons an archdemon and two underlings to fight and capture the one survivor the Great Sage detected amongst the dead, then has Ranga take him, the king, and the archbishop back to the capital, so the festival can continue in safety.

Shuna places the unconscious Rimuru atop a dais in the center of the plaza, and the Great Sage, which Shuna refers to as “Words of the World”, proceeds to give updates on the process. Benimaru hopes the Rimuru who emerges won’t “become a different person”, but…he kinda already did that when he chose this path, didn’t he?

Rimuru evolves into a Demon Slime, with vastly improved physical abilities. All of the skills he’s acquired in the past carry over or are evolved into even more powerful skills. The Great Sage also attempts to evolve, failing hundreds of times before sacrificing “Degenerate” and eventually becoming the ultimate skill “Raphael – Lord of Wisdom”.

Despite getting shot in the head by Megiddo, Razen’s “Survivor” served as an Auto-Life spell, keeping him alive. Unfortunately, he is immediately approached by the archdemon, whom he unwisely assumes is no match for him. His Nuclear Cannon is literally blown away by the archdemon as one blows a stray hair out of one’s face.

When Razen summons a spirit knight, the archdemon casually sidles up and smashes its core, destroying it in the blink of an eye. Turns out while spirits are typically superior to demons, the age and experience of the summoner matters, and Razen is still “far too young”. When Razen realizes nothing he can do will put a scratch on the “primordial” archdemon, he passes out in fear.

Meanwhile, in the plaza, the evolution is complete, and Rimuru’s closest companions are bestowed with a “gift”—which they can sense makes their connection to him even stronger. Like Rimuru when the Festival began, they all pass out from the process, but Rimuru regains his familiar human body, only now he features scarlet eyes.

Speaking with what sounds like a combination of his voice and that of the Great Sage (sorry, Raphael), he uses his new skill Beelzebub (basically Gluttony on steroids) to collect all the magicules within the anti-magic barrier, then separate them into individual souls which hang over all of the corpses.

When the archdemon returns to his side with Razen, and says there are still insufficient magicules to revive everyone, Rimuru is prepared to expend his own life energy to make up the difference. The archdemon informs him that such a sacrifice is not needed; his two underlings will gladly sacrifice themselves instead.

Rimuru accepts the offer, and the ultimate secret art of Spirit Resurrection commences. Mjurran is amazed by what she’s witnessing. Grucius knows Lord Carrion could never match this power. The archdemon is determined to become Rimuru’s subordinate “at any cost”.

Rimuru/Raphael then repeats the “3.14%” chance of successfully reviving the dead, estimating that number should be revised quite a bit upward since the probability was calculated before he attained Demon Lordship. Sure enough, the wounds of the corpses are healed, Shion’s hand moves, and her eyes open.

Rimuru has achieved everything he set out to do in this operation. With the exception of the archdemon’s fight with Razen the action in the episode was minimal, replaced by the procedural formalities inherent in such a momentous evolution. And all it took was for Rimuru to become the very thing the humans of Falmuth feared he would. Will it be back to business as usual in Tempest, or will there be any ethical or karmic blowback?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 34 – The Turn of the Tide

No more talking or planning…it’s time for action! As I’d hoped, Tensura delivers with a crowd-pleasing sequence of pulse-pounding duels and battles that all pack a punch in different ways. Free of the anti-magic and demon-weakening barriers, Rimuru’s generals can really cut loose, and they do.

Working alone, it takes no more than sixty seconds for Benimaru to eliminate the entire unit guarding the device to the east. Gabiru’s unit’s aerial attack makes similarly quick work in the south while Souei’s underlings apologize for defeating the troops around the northern device so quickly and easily.

With three of the four devices destroyed, all that’s left is the west, where Rigur and Gobta handle the knights while Hakurou and Geld deal with the otherworlders Kyouya and Shougo, respectively. These two thrilling duels form the backbone of the episode, and they do not disappoint.

Hakurou, normally a pretty chill guy, is still steaming from having been jobbed in his last scrap with Kyouya, who conveniently forgets that the barriers made life much easier for him, and prevented him from experiencing anywhere near Hakurou’s true power.

Hakurou is all too happy to demonstrate that things will be a little different this time around, giving as much trash talk as he’s getting from the young cocky pup.

Again Kyouya tries to trick Hakurou by turning his sword into dozens of flying blades, but this only further disappoints Hakurou for having to deal with a “less than second-rate” opponent resorting to tricks to try to defeat him. Each of Kyouya’s blades are turned to dust, and not one lands a single scratch on the old man.

Kyouya seals his doom by relying on his All-Seeing Eye to detect Hakurou’s movements while yelling out the incredibly lame line “Rest in pieces!” Hakurou, who appears to be standing still, warns Kyouya “you can’t see nothin’ yet”, then everything goes white and blue as he unleashes Crestwater Slash.

Not only can Kyouya not dodge the strike that separates his head from his body, but his All-Seeing Eye keeps working normally even after he’s been beheaded, until his vision finally catches up with Hakurou’s movements. That means Kyouya gets to experience the singular horror of being aware his head was chopped off. Tensura is not fuckin’ around here!

Next up: Geld vs. Shougo. Shougo starts warming up by trying to get Geld to remove his armor for the sake of a “fair fight”, but Geld doesn’t take the bait; he knows more than anyone that in war you use every weapon at your disposal. Shougo thinks he’s got an easy fight when he busts out Berserker and Diamond Skin, but like Kyouya, he’s soon exposed for the overconfident,  second-rate novice he is.

Shougo’s skin may be diamond-hard, but it’s also extremely susceptible to Geld’s Rot, which attacks Shougo’s limbs and forces him to retreat. He runs into Kirara’s tent, where she’s just chilling out wondering what all the noise is…and strangles her to death. Kirara: we hardly knew ye.

Shougo uses her soul to acquire the Survivor skill, which he believes when combined with the Berserker skill will make him virtually invincible. The operative word there being “virtually”, Geld catches up to him and starts beating the ever-loving crap out of him while going heavy on the Rot.

Shougo continually heals, but he still feels the pain and horror of Geld’s attacks. Confident he’s suffered enough, Geld prepares to deliver a finishing blow, but it is blocked by Shougo’s ally, Lord Razen, who recognizes the power of both the Orc Lord and a Kijin and decides to teleport away. Hakurou reveals that had they killed Razen, it would have triggered “nuclear strike magic” that would have wiped everyone and everything in and around the city.

With the fourth of four devices destroyed, the anti-magic barrier falls, which is the signal both for Shuna and Mjurran to initiate their own barrier to replace it, and for Rimuru to begin nourishing his Demon Lord seed. Razen ends up killing Shougo’s soul with a spell and then possesses his body, which is still equipped with both Berserker and Survivor. Just like that, the three otherworlders are off the board. They were assholes, and will not be missed!

Razen believes he’s now powerful enough to face a Demon Lord, but you’d think he’d no better than to write checks he’s not sure he can cash. Just then, Rimuru places an anti-magic barrier around Falmuth’s army and activates Megiddo, AKA Armageddon.

Thousands of tiny drops of liquid spread forth from dozens of larger balls, and then a net-work of glowing white magical strings pelts the soldiers below, insta-killing them with incredible speed. By the time the episode ends, over 5,500 have been killed—more than halfway to Rimuru’s goal.

There’s no going back now. These humans and their actions convinced Rimuru beyond any doubt that there can be no peace without war, overriding his past human form’s aversion to killing. Falmuth and the church started this war, but Rimuru intends to finish it more powerful than ever. In a way, this episode marked the beginning of the end of the Old Rimuru.

TenSura – 33 – A Different Kind of Demon Lord

After a string of absolute bangers that just screamed SHIT GOT REAL, this episode brings all that built-up the momentum to a screeching halt. It starts by repeating, verbatim, Eren’s story about Milim becoming the Demon Lord, as Rimuru is relaying it to his senior staff. It was a very pretty sequence, but I didn’t need to see it twice in as many weeks.

From there, Rimuru puts the plan he’s about to announce in context by taking a look back. While it was nice to see how far he and everyone else has come, from Veldora to Geld, it felt a little indulgent what with a literal army marching on the city. Then again, maybe this was Rimuru’s way of flexing: no need to panic or be in a rush.

After a few minutes of everyone else trying to accept the blame for what happened (ultimately there’s plenty of blame to spread around, even if Rimuru claims all of it) we get down to the planning stage. He’s going to take on the approaching force by himself, in order to assure he’s able to secure sufficient nourishment to Demon Lord-ify himself.

While he still wishes for a future in which humans and monsters can coexist peacefully across the world, the more pressing issue is getting the humans to acknowledge their existence, and the fact they’re not going away. When he becomes a Demon Lord, he plans to protect humanity from the other Demon Lords, thus hopefully earning goodwill.

While Rimuru goes after that Lordship, he has important roles for everyone else. For one thing, there are still four devices around the city maintaining the barrier as they speak, each guarded by a company of knights; the one to the west likely supplemented by the Otherworlders. Rimuru’s orders are simple: take them all out at once.

Benimaru will handle the eastern device by himself; Hakurou, Rigur, Gobta and Geld the west; Gabiru and his men the south, and Souei and Soka the north. Everyone in those groups it itching to atone for letting their guards down. Rimuru also asks Mjurran to join Shuna at the town center to keep the barrier raised after the devices are taken out, while Youm, Grucius, and Eren and her party will guard them.

So! Everyone has their assignments; all that’s left is to execute. Sadly, there isn’t any time to show any of that. We’re left with an episode that tries to keep things fresh by switching up the angle of the meeting table, with limited success. And is it just me, or shouldn’t the bodies of Shion and the others be, i dunno, kept somewhere cool and dry? Leaving corpses out in the sun doesn’t seem like the best idea.

The one upside to having this kind of episode is that with the emotional stakes established and the table thoroughly set, the next episode can go 100% all-out with the action and ownage. If that’s what transpires, I may just go back and add a half-star to episode…for taking one for the team!

TenSura – 32 – A Seed of Hope

Rimuru learns that Mjurran’s heart was stolen by Demon Lord Clayman, which ensured she’d have to obey him to live. As part of his ongoing quest to make things as “interesting” as possible, he sent her to spy on Tempest cast the anti-magic barrier within the capital to make things easier for the alliance of Falmuth and the Church.

Rimuru orders Mjurran detained until he has time to think of a punishment. He visits with and heals Hakurou and Gobta, whose spatial wounds couldn’t be closed by Shuna’s skills. Then he asks what I’ve been asking since her battle with Shougo: Where is Shion? Rather than say, Benimaru escorts Rimuru to the plaza to see for himself: Shion, along with Gobzo, are among the dead.

That’s right, Shion’s dead dead. He’s the first of his ragtag group of loyal companions to die, and she was killed protecting a child. Rimuru asks for time alone, re-creates Shizu’s mask and asks the Great Sage questions like “Why did this happen?”, “What should I have done?” “Was it a mistake to get involved with humans?”, and “Was I wrong?” The Sage has no answers.

Rimuru can’t understand why he can be so calm when such a torrent of emotions are surging and seething within him. He decides it’s because he too has become “a monster at heart.” As such, he’ll do what a monster like him can do and at least absorb Shion and the others as he did Shizu, with Gluttony.

But before he can, he’s interrupted by Eren and her party, who were the very first adventurers he encountered after being reincarnated as a slime. Eren comes bearing hope, if only the slightest sliver: it comes in the form of a fairy tale that has a basis in fact. She goes on to tell that tale, which we the audience recognize as the origin story of Demon Lord Milim Nava—lovingly rendered in a gorgeous watercolor/woodcut style.

Milim didn’t mean to become a Demon Lord, but when the king killed her only companion—a baby dragon her father created for her—she killed the king and wiped out his entire nation, killing tens of thousands. As a result, the baby dragon came back to life—but lost its soul when it died, thus becoming the became the Chaos Dragon, which Milim had to seal away.

While souls escape in all directions immediately after death, it dawns on Rimuru that the souls of Shion and the others cannot penetrate the barriers enveloping the capital. The souls are there, ready to be reunited with their  resurrected bodies, thus preventing what befell Milim’s dragon friend. The Great Sage confirms there’s a roughly 3% chance of reviving everyone.

Naturally, Rimuru takes those odds, which while small are not zero. He thanks Eren, who turns out to be a damn princess, Eryune Grimwald! All this time she’s been disguised as an ordinary human so she could adventure freely; her party-mates are her royal guard. As the princess of the Sorcerous Dynasty Sarion, she pledges to help Rimuru with anything other help he might require.

First things first: Rimuru needs to get started on becoming a Demon Lord so he can revive everyone. First, he sets up his own barrier in case the other two go down. Then, he asks the Sage for the requisites of becoming a Demon Lord. Turns out he already acquired the Demon Lord “seed’ when he predated the Orc Disaster.

The seed requires nourishment to grow and sprout, in the form of a minimum of ten thousand human lives. Double that number from Falmuth/Church alliance just happen to be descending on the capital, so it looks like Rimuru is ready to go. But first, he returns to the reception hall, insisting that Mjurran “must die”, then killing her…though she doesn’t die!

The reason is simple: Rimuru never intended to kill her permanently, only for three seconds. That was enough time to destroy the artificial heart Clayman had placed within her—which doubled as a bug—and replace that with a new artificial heart. Mjurran is no longer tied down by Clayman, and free to be tied down (via marriage) by Youm.

She in turn immediately swears fealty to Rimuru as thanks for his mercy. Rimuru asks her and Youm for help with his crazy new plan. In a short while, he’ll wipe out the entire force of Falmuth and Church soldiers and mages, including Falmuth’s king. That means Falmuth will need a new king, and Rimuru picks Youm for the task. Once Rimuru is a Demon King, Shion and the others should resurrect, badda-bing badda-bang!

I’m all for this sequence of events unfolding. Sure, keeping someone like Shion dead would cement the consequences of Rimuru’s poor leadership. It would also crest palpable stakes, since if she could die, anyone could. On the other hand, Shion staying dead would be really lame. She got on my nerves at times with the drinking and violence, but like our blue friend I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I want her back! Also, that Milim and Shion-heavy end sequence hit different this week.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 13 – What Is a Proper Death?

Yuuji is in the fight of his life, but he’s also in the middle of a lecture. Nanami may not be a teacher, but he’s still going to coach up the young buck so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yuuji, for his part, pays attention. He’s not the kind of hero who’s going to defy his sensei because he thinks he knows better or thinks he’s strong enough.

Nanami’s plan with Mahito is simple: wait for an opening, then rain blows upon him with Yuuji. It takes a little under four minutes, but the two jujutsu sorcerers eventually get the timing right, and then it’s open season. That’s when Mahito plays dirty, unleashing a trio of deformed humans on Yuuji, knowing he doesn’t have the heart to kill them.

Only, to Mahito’ surprise, he does. It happens offscreen, but Yuuji deals with the humans before they kill him. That’s when Mahito decides to push all his chips into the pot with Domain Expansion, engulfing only Nanami while Yuuji is trapped outside. Nanami, all but certain this is the end for him, looks back on how he got back into sorcery in the first place.

We watch him live his life in a pinstripe suit stealing money from wealthy people in order to make other people wealthier. It’s a job he’s good at but gives him no joy, and he believes no one would miss him if he simply ceased to exist. Then, when a cute young woman at the bakery has a low-level curse on her shoulder, he exorcises it, she thanks him profusely, and he decides right then and there to give Gojou a call.

Of course, while more rewarding and a better use of his time and talents, jujutsu sorcery was always going to be a higher-risk proposition. Mahito thanks Nanami for getting him to unleash his domain, but Mahito isn’t interested in the gratitude of a curse. He’s gotten enough thanks from people like the bakery lady that he has no regrets.

Only before Mahito can do Nanami in, Yuuji successfully busts through the domain from the outside, which is far easier than trying to break out. Because Yuuji is the vessel for Sukuna’s soul and Yuuji is now within Mahito’s domain, Mahito touches Sukuna’s soul a second time, and Sukuna punishes him—a flick of his hand puts a gaping gash across Mahito’s chest.

With his cursed energy depleted from summoning the domain, Mahito puts everything he’s got left into making himself as big and fat as possible. Yuuji proceeds to put everything he has into a Divergent Fist, which pops Mahito like a balloon, but crucially does not kill him. He’s able to slip back into the sewers. Nanami has his colleague Ito try to track him down, while Yuuji passes out from exertion and his many wounds.

When Yuuji wakes up he’s back at the school, specifically the morgue, where he reflects on the human life he was forced to take, and how it led to the realization that while he’s been trying to ensure everyone gets a “proper death”, he has no idea what that is. Nanami has news for him: no one does. All he knows is there will be many more people like him who will need him, so he’d better not die improperly himself.

Back at the late Yoshino Junpei’s high school, the lead bully Itou is called out by his peers filling out surveys, and the ineffectual teacher who looked the other way for so long develops a spine. He knows both he and Itou bear the crime of killing Yoshino’s heart, and will have to keep bearing it the rest of their lives. While Junpei died far too early, his death wasn’t without purpose.

Meanwhile, Yuuji is back on his feet and above ground at Jujutsu High, meeting Nanami and Gojou in the hall as a full-fledged jujutsu sorcerer. While Mahito & Co. will surely go after him in hopes of releasing Sukuna (who Mahito believes can singlehandedly usher in the “Age of Curses”), his more immediate concerns are reuniting with Megumi and Nobara (at last!) and participation in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event.

As for this episode, I consider it the best of Jujutsu Kaisen yet, an absolute tour-de-force of combat animation and sakuga, staging, pacing, atmosphere, peril, and sweet, sweet near-victory. Nanami’s backstory was well-timed, efficient, and effective at giving the guy some dimension, while Mahito remained an entertaining adversary to the bitter near-end.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 10 – Working Overtime

It’s pretty bold to spend the first three episodes of your anime introducing your core trio, only for them to be together in part of just one episode, then keep them separated for the next six episodes, and likely more. It’s a risk a two-cour series can afford to take, and while part of me is miffed by the withheld gratification of watching the trio reunite at last, I can’t say I dislike what the show is doing in the meantime.

To live a day in Yoshino Junpei’s shoes, you have to take a look at the whole Jujutsu sorcery profession and say to yourself “So what?” He encounters cursed creatures just as fearsome as the sorcerers, only his are fully human. It’s what makes him such a good fit for Mahito’s mentorship: Mahito is among those cursed spirits who believe his kind to be the true humans, because at least they’re honest.

Human monsters like Yoshino’s peers who disguise themselves as high school students doesn’t fly for Mahito, who makes both study and sport of disfiguring the bodies that surround their souls. He’s made one human two stories tall, while another fits in the palm of Yoshino’s hand. But again, Mahito’s experiments are no sweat for the already horrror-attuned Yoshino.

When Yuuji and Ijichi track down Yoshino, the kid has just been given sanction by Mahito to kill someone he hates as if he were eating because he was hungry; life is meaningless, so you might as well do what you want. This is another form of the fundamental “honesty” Mahito and the other cursed spirits believe makes them more human than humans.

One of Yoshino’s teachers also tracks him down, and scolds him for not attending the funerals of his tormentors. This teacher saw Yoshino being bullied by those same three students, but seemingly chose to see it as four friends just messing around. For this, Yoshino is on the cusp of killing him as Mahito gave him leave to do, but Yuuji interrupts, using the low-level curse to test whether Yoshino can see and fight curses.

Meanwhile, Nanami encounters Mahito in the sewers and the two face off. The former severs the latter’s wrist with his weak-spot technique, but Mahito quickly heals by using his soul to maintain the original shape of his body. Mahito’s “Idle Transformation” is a bad matchup for Nanami, who relies on his technique to create debilitating wounds that last.

It appears that Yoshino can see the curse (which tracks, since he can also see Mahito), but the teacher doesn’t think Yuuji can possibly have anything to say to Yoshino that’s more important than what he’s saying. So Yuuji steals the teacher’s pants and runs off them. The teacher gives chase, but Yuuji is fast enough to loop around back to Yoshino.

Yoshino is willing and even intrigued to have a chat with Yuuji, who intrinsically sensed that Yoshino hated the teacher he was talking to. I’m still holding out hope Yuuji can save this kid before he goes too far down the cursed rabbit hole with Mahito, whom I can’t imagine truly has Yoshino’s best interests at heart.

As for Mahito, he starts getting confident that if he simply makes physical contact with Nanami enough, he’ll eventually be able to control his soul and transform him into one of this living sculptures. He also uses disfigured humans as weapons, extending the battle.

But lest we forget, Nanami is a former salaryman, and thus religiously sticks to the 10-to-6 business day model. Once his watch hits six, he goes into “overtime”, which means the kid gloves come off. The next stage of their battle should be pretty cool—as all battles in this show have been so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 04 – Seeking the Surface

Hestia Familia’s Xenos hosts provide food and beverage to celebrate the meeting of humans who will accept them. As Bell and the others drink, eat, and dance, they learn a lot more about these intelligent monsters. Like them, they collect loot from the enemies they defeat, be they adventurers or “dumb” monsters.

We also learn that while Lyd is presently the Xenos’ de facto leader, a stronger Xenos has awakened who could challenge his claim as the strongest of them. On top of that, there’s a faction of the Xenos who want no part of the humans, distrusting them every bit as much as the townsfolk on the surface.

Like last week once they reach the Xenos’ hideout, this episode spends most of its time explaining the bigger picture, with “former human” and sage, now skeleton Fels being a useful font of information while Ouranos tells Hestia a lot of the same stuff.

Just as Ouranos hopes Bell and Hestia’s Familia will be the bridge to make people acknowledge the existence of intelligent and peaceful monsters, Dix Perdix and the Ikelos Familia is working to maintain the status quo, killing, capturing, and smuggling the monsters without a moment’s thought to their intelligence.

But neither Fels nor Lyd brough Bell & Co. here to ask for their help, so much as to lay out their plight, as well as their most common desire: to reach the surface and see the sky (and in the Siren Ray’s case, fly in it). Ouranos even posits that it could be the Will of the Dungeon itself (which the Xenos call their “mother”) for Xenos to emerge and yearn to reach the surface.

This is because just as humans die, go to heaven, and are reborn in the lower world, monsters also have a cycle of death and rebirth that starts and ends in the Dungeon. This means someone like Wiene, who learned to speak and act like a human so fast, could have died and been reborn hundreds if not thousands of times.

It’s a lot of fascinating food for thought, but if there’s one demerit to this episode it’s that it is, a the end of the day, one in which everyone is sitting around either talking or listening to people talk about things, rather than watching much in the way of action. The information may be fascinating, but the manner in which it is relayed is somewhat rote.

That aside, the smaller but no less significant immediate ramification of Bell & Co. meeting the Xenos is that Wiene won’t—and shouldn’t—return to the surface to their home. This comes as a surprise to poor Wiene, who cries and screams for Bell not to leave her even though he must, with only a promise he and the others will return at some point.

As Bell & Co. return to the surface and meet up with Hestia to pool share what they’ve learned, the group of Xenos caring for Wiene fall into a trap set by the Dix and the Ikelos Familia, using a brutally tortured Ray as bait. What looks like the strongest of the Xenos charges Dix, and is swiftly killed.

Dix has a huge host of humans and demis under his command, and he clearly relishes the monster hunt to come. He and his ilk represent the extreme challenge any attempt at human-Xenos co-existence, as it will be everything the Xenos can do to simply continue existing period!

There’s also the matter of Hestia being reluctant to risk her children and Familia being branded enemies of their own kind and in league with monsters, thus destroying all the progress the Familia has made and resigning them to ostracization and worse. But if they don’t do anything to help Wiene and the Xenos, who will?

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 13 – Don’t Get it Twisted

Putting on a tough front, Ereshkigal pummels Mash and Ritsuka with stone projectiles, but Gilgamesh, despite being dead, can still launch attacks from his Divine Treasury under his Royal Authority. His assist enables Ritsuka to start a dialogue of reconciliation; of asking Ereshkigal straight-up if she’ll leave the Alliance and join their fight to protect Uruk.

Ereshkigal is initially stubborn and won’t put her duties aside. Ishtar provides some griping for psychological effect. All Ereshkigal claims to want is “commendation” for all of the hard work she’s done in the Underworld while her other half flew freely through the heavens.

Ritsuka tells her he can’t praise her for work she clearly hates doing but does anyway out of divine obligation. Instead, he spends a Command Seal so Mash can activate Camelot, tearing down Ereshkigal’s hostile front (expressed through Gulganna) while protecting her pride and dignity as a goddess.

The scary skeleton monster disappears, leaving only a chastened, yet also relieved Ereshkigal in human form. She exhibits far more dere than tsun in this state, as Ritsuka takes her hand with both of his and welcomes her to their side if she’s willing. Ereshkigal is surprised he knew it was her coming to visit him during those chats, which is why he knew deep down she wasn’t an evil goddess like Gorgon.

The old cloaked dude severs Ereshkigal’s connection to the Alliance, but she holds back on becoming an official servant of Ritsuka. Before that, she wants to be of help to Ritsuka of her own free will rather than by contract, when he and the others are in a bind.

Until then, as Gilgamesh ascends back to the living world, his soul freed and returned to him by Ereshkigal, Ritsuka, Mash, and Ishtar trudge back to the surface to meet him back at his ziggurat in Uruk. Siduri is over the moon to have her king back, but Gilgamesh reports that while in the Underworld he failed to find Enkidu’s body, which means while his soul was destroyed, Kingu may be the present occupant of that body.

Before dying, the real Enkidu assured Gilgamesh that he’d “encounter more valuable treasures than me” in time. Perhaps those treasures have revealed themselves as Ritsuka and his growing alliance of servants and goddesses, all dedicated to saving Uruk and the human world, even if it ultimately means the end of the age of gods.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 11 – Protecting The World They Built

When Vecta sends his remaining troops across the chasm Asuna created a few at a time, it goes predictably badly, gaining the ire of the leader of the Pugilists. Asuna, Bercouli, and the other knights mop up the relatively defenseless forces, but Vecta isn’t surprised; the Human Empire has superior AI for its grunts and generals. But he has another ace up his sleeve, where his tech Critter is hard at work back on Rath.

The first thing Critter does is synch the Underworld’s clock to the real worlds, so an hour here is an hour there. Then he sends out a massive invite blast to an Underworld “beta test” in America. The resulting montage of people speaking horrific English made me wonder why they bothered, as it almost pulled me right out of the episode, but the end result is that Vecta is able to amass a reserve army of seasoned American MMO gamers, thus potentially turning the tables.

From the realm where she’s on standby, observing the digital world, Yui notices the implementation of the fake beta test, and notifies both Suguha and Shino. Following Yui’s instructions, the girls head to the Roppongi branch of Rath, ask to speak to Kikuoka, and are given access to STL beds. Looks like Asuna will soon be getting reinforcements.

Finally, Yui rouses the rest of the SAO/AFO crew: Lisbeth, Silica, Klein, and Agil, and brings them up to speed. Needless to say, all of them are fully on board with helping Kirito and Asuna any way they can, but the four of them plus Suguha and Shino won’t be enough.

They need numbers to counter the American invasion. A similar beta test blast in Japan won’t give them those numbers, as it’s the middle of the night when perhaps a tenth of the active users. Definitely a clever use of time zones as an obstacle to gaining parity with Vecta’s forces by the same methods.

It falls to Lisbeth & Co. to gather what members of the various tribes of AFO are awake and deliver to them a heartfelt speech that will convince them to undertake all of the risks that come with diving into the Underworld. Those risks include the lack of admin control, UI interfaces, and pain absorbers, and the potential for character degradation or even total loss.

It’s a tough sell, and many of the assembled players believe SAO survivors look down on them, but Lisbeth digs deep and gives an impassioned call for everyone who loves MMOs to come to the aid and defense of a world all of them helped create, and an AI in Alice who is the culmination of their shared experiences and emotions.

As we all know, War of Underworld is being split into two cours, the first of which will end with the next episode. And while it will be hard to wait for the ultimate conclusion to this arc, this first half looks primed to end on a very satisfying note as the titular Underword War enters its next phase.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 10 – The Turn of the Tide

After a quick look at Asuna utilizing the STL to enter the Underworld, she makes her appearance and saved Bercouli, Ronie and Tiese. The latter two are the first she meets, and she corrects their assumption that she’s the actual Goddess of Creation Stacia. When they thank her for saving everyone, including Kirito, Asuna asks to see him at once.

Their reunion is powerful but muted on the surface, like Kirito himself, but he still manages to shed a good number of tears upon hearing his girlfriend’s voice, seeing her face, and feeling her embrace him. It’s also clear to the pages that these two definitely know each other. But when Asuna leaves the tent, she is attacked by Alice, and the two spar magnificently until Bercouli breaks it up.

A good deal of exposition follows, as Asuna explains who she is, where she and Kirito come from (in terms they’ll understand), and the forces at work beyond the Underworld. Her mission as a representative of Rath is to bring Alice to the real world before the enemy, or the entirety of the Underworld will be erased. Bercouli figures out for himself that the enemy Asuna seeks is Emperor Vecta.

Despite all the sitting/standing around and talking, this is still an episode I enjoyed immensely. Not only did Asuna finally reunite with Kirito, but she and Kirito’s Underworld allies finally get on the same page. Alice is reluctant to “run away” to the real world with her, but the alternative is much worse, she agrees to do so, but only after the Dark Territory is defeated, or a peace negotiated.

Asuna agrees to join them in that fight. Now, at least, Alice is aware of the stakes of having a target on her back; merely sacrificing herself will be pointless, as it will spell the end of Underworld’s usefulness to the enemy. Once everything is laid out, the various parties head to bed…but it isn’t long before Asuna goes to Kirito’s tent, which Alice previously had forbade her to enter without her permission.

The two women reach a compromise: in exchange for access to Kirito, Alice wants to learn more about Kirito from Asuna, who is happy to agree (though she warns it’s “a very long story”; a nice meta quip). The two start by listing all the weeks, months, and years they’ve known Kirito, and in what capacity. His page Ronie joins in the “information sharing”, as does his former master Sortiliena Serlut.

Even in his present vegetative state, Kirito was able to bring together four strong, talented, kind people together to share stories about their time with him. The “competition” never strays into the realm of the absurd (watching the four tug at his arms and legs, for instance just wouldn’t do). I also appreciated the show didn’t throw in a cliffhanger introducing the latest threat, but ended on an earned, calm, and optimistic note.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 09 – Slash & Flash

Getting impatient, Vecta orders his main force of Pugilists and Dark Mages to advance with orders to capture Alice unscathed at all costs. Now that his prey/soul-snack is in sight, it won’t be long before he takes a more active role in the battle.

Another new Integrity Knight in Sheyta Synthesis Twelve volunteers to meet the Pugs and slow them down. Her specialty is impossibly fast slashes from an elegant and flexible épée-like sword skinnier than she is (the Pugs mock her lack of muscle tone on several occasions).

Sheyta has no problem carving up the Pug leader Champion’s forces with brutal efficiency, but Champion himself is literally made of harder stuff, which intrigues her. She draws the battle out longer for two reasons—she’s buying time for Bercouli, Alice, and the others, but once all of her armor has been sheared away and Champ is at full power, she’s actually having fun.

She’s about to finish things when Champ’s lieutenants snatches him away. The match ends in a draw, but put a rare smile on Sheyta’s face. She and Champion gained a mutual warrior respect, the kind of two-sided badass brawl I prefer to simply obliterating the masses of boring evil monsters.

Vecta sends Vassago to harass the Humans’ supply corps, and ends up crossing swords with Ronie (never any luck, that girl). However, she’s able to sound the alarm, and Alice and Bercouli are also there, having anticipated their supplies would be targeted. Even so, Ronie is in big trouble against the far stronger Vassago…until a miracle occurs.

At least, Ronie considers it a miracle, because the God of Creation Stacia appears above her and rends great fissures in the earth that swallow up Vassago and his minions. Stacia, of course, is merely an Underworld avatar being inhabited by our good friend Yuuki Asuna, who makes one hell of a divine entrance that simply gave me goosebumps.

On his way down his own personal size abyss, Vassago recognizes “Lightning Flash” from Knights of the Blood in SAO. The hero(ine) is finally, finally on the scene, in a powerful avatar poised to rescue the damsel-in-distress—in this case Kirito in a welcome inversion of SAO II. I can’t wait to see her fighting beside Alice.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 08 – Sacrifice on Both Sides

Alice just continues to be the biggest badass in SAOA, as it should be, since her name’s in the title. Fresh off of obliterating a sizable chunk of the enemy’s forces, Alice comes down to earth exhausted, but there’s no rest for the weary as she gets right back up.

When the chief of the Ogres emerges from the carnage, Alice learns that she’s the primary target of Emperor Vecta before sending him to the grasslands to where he wants his people to return.

Meanwhile, Eldrie comes before her consumed with shame and self-pity for not being able to live up to the standards of her disciple, but she’s just happy he’s still alive.

After a brief war council, Alice proposes and Bercouli agrees to split up their forces. Being the “Goddess of Light” the Dark Emperor seeks, she’ll gain the attention of a sizable chunk of his remaining forces, evening the odds for the Human Empire. She’s essentially bait.

On the other side, a discouraged Dee Eye Ell gets her second wind when Vecta offers her the lives of the 3,000 orcs in order to provide the energy necessary for a large-scale counterattack.

Like the Ogre Chief who simply wanted his people to return home, the orcs are painted in a sympathetic light, and the show is unblinking in their suffering as they give up their lives for a larger cause than themselves.

Alice doesn’t see the attack coming until it’s too late, but Eldrie is there to divert and absorb it with his Recollection, resulting in severe injuries that ultimately claim his life. While Alice is beside herself and orders/begs him not to die and leave her, promising to do anything for him, Eldrie couldn’t ask for a happier death, in the arms of the mentor he protected, valued and loved above all else.

Thanks to Eldrie, Alice can fight on, decimating the Dark Mages to the point Dee Eye Ell just starts sacrificing her own underlings in order to stay alive. Dee dreams of becoming Empress, meaning at some point she’d have to betray Vecta.

But Alice intends to skip over her entirely and go after Vecta directly. She knows at some point she must reach the World’s End Altar, she just has more immediate matters to attend to—not to mention a full head of steam after losing Eldrie.