Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 05 – A Rousing Royal Road Trip

King Gilgamesh comes to Ritsuka and Mash’s dwelling in person because he intends for them to serve as his escorts on a journey to the Persian Gulf to inspect the quality of the water keeping his people alive. Watching Gilgamesh, er, mesh with ordinary citizens on the streets of Uruk softens the pompous bastard a bit.

I also found the streamlining of both the cast and plot effective. Aside from occasional check-ins from Romani and Leo, it’s just Ritsuka, Mash, and Gilgamesh on a road trip with a simple objective. I just wish we could have heard (or seen) some of the adventures with which Ritsuka and Mash regale Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh has enough personality for the three of them, which is good, because aside from being generally kind, agreeable, and brave, there’s simply not much to Mash, and even less to Ritsuka (which is, of course, by design). The scenes in which Mash voices her doubts and Ritsuka reassures her have become a bit repetitive.

At least this time we actually catch a glimpse of one Francis Drake from the Okeanos Singularity mission, while the gulf coast makes for a very picturesque setting for their little break. It’s a break rudely interrupted by Enkidu screaming in low and hot like a cruise missile from the ocean horizon.

Annoyed that Ritsuka and Mash are taking it so easy, he unleashes a very Gilgamesh-esque attack upon them, with dozens of mini-dimensional portals opening and launching a torrent of blade-tipped chains. Mash is able to block and dodge a few, but eventually ends up a sitting duck, and Ritsuka just manages to shove her away from a killing blow.

Things look grim for a duo, but thankfully they’re not alone, and Gilgamesh has concluded whatever additional business of which they weren’t aware. He’s able to match Enkidu’s frighteningly powerful attacks with some of his own, opening up his treasury to produce a weapon for each of his opponent’s chain-blades.

The two put on quite a show, but ultimately Enkidu misses and hesitates before retreating, as if some of the old Enkidu were still within him. Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash that if that fake Enkidu truly wanted him dead, he’d be so. Later, Enkidu has to convince himself compulsively that yes, he can indeed kill Gilgamesh…he just couldn’t do it today.

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

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.

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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 21 – Love Isn’t Control, But Friendship Is Power

One would think a duel as significant and built-up as the one between Kirito and Eugeo would last an entire episode, but that assumption gives Administrator too much credit. Eugeo’s hasty synthesis was willing, not by force, and it happened in a profound moment of weakness for Eugeo.

He and Kirito cross swords and give each other matching cuts, but once Kirito asks Eugeo to recall who gave him his Baltio-style moves, not to mention all of the people waiting for them to return home with Alice, Eugeo’s piety module is quickly exposed.

But while Eugeo wakes up and even says Alice’s name, there’s still something off about him, and I dreaded Kirito dropping his guard, and with good reason: Eugeo uses Enhance Armament to bury both Kirito and Alice in ice before returning to the top level.

There, a skeptical Chudelkin asks if Eugeo eliminated the rebels, to which Eugeo responds the Pontifex only ordered him to stop them, and stop them he did. That’s not sufficient for the Prime Senator, who heads down below to finish them off, thereby playing right into Eugeo’s hands.

Without Chudelkin, Eugeo is all alone with Administrator, who assumes that while his piety module was compromised, he’s still loyal to her. But when she removes it outright in order to recalibrate it, she’s only freeing him to recall more memories, which motivate him to break free of her emotional and magical hold and attack her with the dagger provided by Cardinal.

Administrator is taken aback, but her shielding is close to perfect, and tells Eugeo that no blade, even one fashioned by Cardinal, can pierce her skin. As we know from the OP and flashbacks, Administrator prefers to hang around in the nude, and once her “loving partner” gig is up, she dispenses with the clothes and provokes Eugeo by mocking Alice’s ordeal (her synthesis was forced over many agonizing days).

That’s when Chudelkin returns all beat up to warn his Pontifex that the other two are free, and Kirito and Alice arrive on the top floor. Eugeo intended to make up for his initial betrayal by taking care of Administrator alone, but she’s too strong. In fact, it will be a miracle if the three of them working in perfect harmony can overcome her knowledge of nearly every cheat code in the world.

Still, Administrator isn’t interested in fighting the three directly; not while she has one last subordinate standing in Chudelkin. She fires him up by agreeing to let him have every inch of her body for one night if he can eliminate the rebels, and he uses his fingers, toes, and eyes to summon his trump card: a monstrous fire genie.

Chudelkin has always been a wild card since his first appearance (which is only fitting as he looks like a Joker), so I honestly don’t know how Eugeo’s ice, Kirito’s black sword, and Alice’s scattering blades will hold up against this boss, but the important thing is that the three are finally fighting on the same side.

P.S. We get new OP visuals (same theme) as we’ve completed Alicization “Rising” and begun Alicization “Uniting” – featuring Kirito trying to hold his own against a very capable (and very nude) Administrator.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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