Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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My Hero Academia – 13 (Fin)

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Sorry My Hero Academia, but I’m breaking up with you. But take solace in the fact it’s not you, it’s me. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit you.

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There is definitely an audience for this kind of shounen hero anime, and I’m not here to look down on anyone who has had an absolute gas watching MHA and can’t wait for the second season.

I myself enjoyed it quite a bit, and there were some truly inspired moments I don’t regret not missing.

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But my enthusiasm for MHA, and for following the show for a second season, has steadily plummeted throughout the season-closing USJ arc.

Once the pace slowed to a crawl and every last movement started to be pored over monologue, the jumbled, clunky aesthetic that had charmed me earlier in the show’s run started to become a liability.

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I totally get the notion that the villains were dumb to give the students so much battle experience, thus making them realize how much more they have to learn, and getting that much more motivated to become great heroes.

While it was a real battle and not training, it still feltlike training, because no matter how many threats Generic Villain #5 or Poorly-drawn Baddie #6 dished out, in the end they never felt like more than half-baked stepping stones in Deku & Co.’s academia.

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The show also failed to show any guts by killing off or even exposing an All Might who, let’s face it, shouldn’t have even stayed in his chunky form as long as he did at the end of the battle.

It would have been tragic for Deku to have lost his idol and mentor so soon, but it would also have meant a definite passing of the torch to Deku, who with the help of his friends (and frenemy) would have to learn to move forward with the gifts Might gave him.

It could have been the most devastating yet motivating lessons for Deku to learn in this season. Instead, All Might’s still around, and thanks to more magic healing by Recovery Girl Deku is quickly on the mend again.

Both visually and thematically, the show’s still got kids gloves on, and is too in love with keeping bigger things looming mysteriously on the horizon, at the cost of stakes in the present. So yeah, MHA. It’s been real. There were some good times. Take care of yourself!

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My Hero Academia – 11

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I’m not going to complain this week: this episode kept bringing the action, more awesome hero combinations, clever applications of their powers, some genuine dread of defeat, and a moment of righteous victory. Plus, a briefly-topless Momo!

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After their big combo play last week, Midoriya, Asui and Mineta mostly hang back and watch with horror as Aizawa is smashed by the “anti-All Might”, Nomu, whose exposed brain you’d think would be a pretty serious weak spot.

It’s pretty intense what the touch of hand-man Shigaraki Tomura does to Aizawa’s arm, and Kurogiri exposes Thirteen’s lack of fighting experience by opening another warp gate behind him, making him susceptible to his own shop-vac quirk.

He and Aizawa have bought the students time, but it’s all for naught if no one can get word to reinforcement heroes. So Iida has to get the hell out of USJ, and without his teachers’ help.

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One by one, students in Iida’s path help him out with their quirks, including Ochako lifting Kurogiri off the ground by touching the only physical part of him. It’s quite satisfying when Iida bursts through those doors. He’s not running away: he’s running to save everyone.

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Midoriya & Co. stick around Tomura and Nomu too long, as it’s not long before he realizes they’re there and attacks them. Before that, Mineta executes a shameless Asui boob-grab, which actually turns her dead eyes white, but doesn’t awaken any other powers.

No, in this pinch, Midoriya has to put his body on the line to save Asui and Mineta, which means using (instert American place name here) Smash on Tomura. But not only does his arm not break, the punch does nothing, as Nomu came in to block at the last moment.

It’s bad news if Nomu can’t be beaten by Midoriya, because that probably means even when All Might arrives (to the elation of all the students), he won’t be able to beat Nomu either. Not alone, and not in the short amount of time before he turns back into Heroin Might.

The answer, it would seem, is to fight one anti-All Might with two All Mights. AM and Midoriya’s first joint battle? Maybe more heroes joining the fray? We shall see.

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My Hero Academia – 10

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Aizawa shows his students what he can do when pitted against far superior numbers of villains, shutting down the quirks of those form long range and beating up those up close. But he lets the most concerning villain, who has an amorphous body of black mist, outflank him, surround the kids, and warp them in groups to various areas of USJ…which is just the thing if you want to show how those various groups of kids combine their quirks to defeat the baddies.

Midoriya ends up saved from being eaten by various water-strong villains by Tsuyu, who, as we know, is basically a human-frog hybrid. His trio is rounded out by Mineta. Both Tsuyu and Mineta in particular have very goofy and unattractive (IMO) character designs, and Mineta’s constant whining doesn’t help matters.

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That being said, the three manage to overpower the water villains surrounding their rapidly sinking ship when Midoriya uses One for All from just two fingers to create a giant whirlpool, while Mineta’s sticky balls gather all the villains up together in a bigger, helpless ball. Tsuyu performs the role of keeping Mineta and Midoriya out of the vortex with her long tongue and leaping ability.

All in all it’s a neat little vignette that shows the teamwork that’s possible if one forgets about how scared one is and stops and thinks about how to use the quirks at hand. But like I said, I’m just not the biggest fan of Midoriya’s two teammates, who look like crudely-drawn caricatures next to Midoriya.

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As for All Might, whom all the villains want to kill and are trying to use the kids to get to, he ends up chilling in the teacher’s lounge with UA High’s principal, who is some kind of inconclusive anthropomorphic mammal named Nezu, to which I can’t help asking…why?

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 13

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Asterisk doesn’t waste too much time getting back into the swing of things: Ayato and Julis’ next win puts them in the quarterfinals. Of course, now Ayato’s secret isn’t a secret anymore; both the physical strain of his trump card and its time limit are common knowledge among the rival schools, including Jie Long, the one that fields their latest pair of opponents, Luo and Song.

Jie Long’s pint-sized prez is excited about Ayato despite learning his potential weaknesses, to the point she warns her two students, the arrogant, smirking Li twins, that Luo and Song may not make it to the next round.

For what it’s worth, Luo and Song are neither arrogant nor smirking, but honorable fighters who lament before the match begins that they can’t fight Ayato at 100%.

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The primary draw of this show (unlike RKC, which had a far better central romance) is the matches, and this latest one doesn’t disappoint, with Julis cleveing the stage in half to split Luo and Song apart so they can’t collaborate on attacks or gang up on Ayato.

It’s still a tough fight, however, so Julis executes stage two of her strategy (the firewall was stage one): suddenly switching places with Ayato without warning, throwing the opponents timing off.

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Ayato and Julis strike fast and defeat Song and Luo, who are gracious in defeat but are still compelled to warn them later that the same tricks won’t work on the Li twins, Shenyun and Shenhua.

Song and Luo respect that Ayato and Julis treat their opponents as equals, but the Li twinslook down on everyone and pull out all the dirty tricks they can to stay a step ahead. It’s no surprise that Luo and Song are from the school of wood—rigid and unbending—while the Li twins are from the school of water—flexible and slippery.

Ayato and Julis’ next match will be one of only three matches left to decide the winner. With so many episodes, I, like Julis, wonder what Ayato wants to get out of this, though she appreciates him fighting for her. His sister, for instance, is someone who’s been on the sidelines/in the shadows all this time, and is likely not really dead, so I would think she’ll come into play at some point this season.

As for the introduction of Flora…I wasn’t aware the show was starved for another cute moe character, but…sigh…here we are. That being said, like the battle and Ayato and Julis’ increasingly mature relationship, the Rasmus Faber soundtrack—including the pumping new OP and ED—continues to impress.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 09

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Okay, no more messing around: the long-awaited Phoenix Festa is finally upon us; that is, after the introduction of Irene Urzaiz, a student so badass she’s in school prison. The head of the “Steering Committee” also announces the controversial decision to allow contestants to field alternates (AKA puppets), bringing a grin to Ernesta’s face.

Before Ayato and Julis’ first match, a light lunch is indicated, which is provided in the form of various over-sized rice balls made by Kirin with Saya’s help. Saya is able to glom onto Ayato briefly, and even get her head patted by Ayato like Kirin. Julis, however, does not request to have her head patted, and lets the silver and blue have their fun.

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When lunch is over, it’s Showtime, and Julis has Ayato all to herself. I liked how confidently Julis, used to distant adoration, strutted out to the arena, while Ayato was a lot more nervous, and how she actually flaunted that confidence by acknowledging the cheering masses. She is a famous princess, after all.

Going in, Ayato is hyped as the only Rank #1 fighter in the Festa, and he decides to waste no time demonstrating that, breaking out Ser Veresta and putting on a little show of powering up before dispatching the two opponents (who weren’t even introduced) all by himself, with one swipe.

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But it’s not just a convincing win; everything went according to plan. Ayato’s chains were presented as showmanship rather than a hindrance to his abilities, and his battle time limit was kept secret by keeping the battle short, with the assumption that Julis would step in once he can no longer fight.

Julis also makes sure Ayato knows to be evasive to the press lest they give anything away. This isn’t Julis’ first rodeo; she knows ignorance is their best weapon, while any info their opponents glean is ammunition against them.

That brings us to the next battle, one between two Le Wolfe brothers who each look at least 35 years of age (Why?) and the two combat puppets built by Allekant’s Ernesta and Camilla, a male-female pair named “Aldy” and “Rimsy”, whose dynamic and banter resembles that of their human creators.

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Le Wolfe dudes flash their skills with wind magic and marksmanship, but even with one minute period in which the puppets don’t attack, they can’t put a dent in ’em. The minute is up, and it’s Game Over for the over-aged brothers, as expected.

Those puppets will definitely potentially pose a challenge to our Seidokan pals; I’m thinking Kirin and Saya will face them at some point, while Irene Urzaiz is gunning for Ayato, with orders not to necessarily win her match, but simply to destroy him.

In any case, we’ll see if the show takes us to those faced, named challengers or if Ayato & Co. will have to carve their way through more nobodies before they reach the “bosses.”

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OverLord – 13 (Fin)

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In a battle so epic it needed two parts, Momonga—sorry, Ains Ooal Gown—turns the tables for good. Having told Shalltear that everything has gone according to plan, he transforms into “Perfect Warrior”, the armor of Lord Touch Me, a former playmate. He then proceeds to summon superweapon after superweapon, so fast and unpredictably is the onslaught that Shalltear must abandon defense altogether and focus on offense, losing an arm in the process.

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But Shalltear wasted all her skills and most of her MP in the first half of the battle, when she thought the two participants were a lot more evenly matched. Turns out, Ains was simply lying to her, as well as failing to correct her incorrect assumptions about his weaknesses. The only weaknesses Ains had against Shalltear were dealt with in that first half, which is why he thanks her so profusely before Part Two begins.

Once a timer goes off, Ains dispenses altogether with the fiction that Shalltear had the slightest chance against him and casts “Fallen Down.” As she utterly disintegrates in the light of her overlord’s power, a smile marks Shalltear’s face. He was every bit as great as she thought, and then some. Of course she couldn’t win against him.

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The same reason Ains had all those cool weapons is the same reason he’s able to ultimately resurrect Shalltear, albeit, unexpectedly, without her ample bosom (something she laments once she notices). That reason is cold hard cash. I’ve played my fair share of RPGs long after the main quest is complete and amassed fortunes so large I could buy everything there was to buy, which is what Ains does. And while it costs a cool 500 million to resurrect Shalltear, it isn’t as if there was anything else for him to buy.

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It’s all too common for villains to simply disappear into oblivion, cursing the name of the hero who defeated them. OverLord is different. Not only is Ains not a hero but an antihero, but Shalltear isn’t a villain either; she was under mind control, which we learn was only partial, but it still did the trick in terms of having her rebel against Ains. And she comes right back, mostly the same as she was, and certainly just as in love with the adorable Ainsy-Winesy.

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With Shalltear returned to the fold and Nazarick back at full strength, Ains gets back to work, learning all there is to be learned about this new world he finds himself in. He’s awarded Orichalcum Plate, and plots to fortify Nazarick and discover the entities who tried to steal Shalltear’s Mind—we learn they’re from the Slane Theocracy, and they’re not done yet. We also learn that Brain Unglaus is still alive, as Stronoff finds him in an alley.

There’s no official indication at the end of this extended epilogue that there will be a second season OverLord, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was, whether it’s in Winter or next Spring or Summer. There’s certainly plenty of material left to explore, lots of awesome one-sided battles to be fought (and perhaps some not so one-sided), and, of course, the central mystery of What Exactly Happened to the human MMORPG player inside Lord Ains. Though, at the same time, I’m kind of glad weren’t spoon-fed all the answers.

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OverLord – 12

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As it did so marvelously with the Clementine fight (which was nowhere near as technically challenging as this one), OverLord once again delivers with an extremely fun and satisfying payoff to all of the buildup surrounding Ains’ duel with Shalltear. The battle that took up most of this episode’s running time got my adrenaline pumping and didn’t let up, right up to the delicious ending.

And yet it still gave us some time to check in on Ains’ guardians back at Nazarick. Albedo admits she let Ains go based on emotion rather than logic—a decision she likely wouldn’t have made had Ains not altered her personality to love him deeply. Demiurge, who he didn’t alter, thinks they’re being derelict in their duty to protect the one remaining supreme being by fighting in his place, but Cocytus considers it blasphemy that Demiurge would question Lord Ains’ orders or question his ability to win.

The bottom line: No one is going to interfere in this fight. So, like us, they sit back and watch. And let me tell you: they’re treated to quite a show.

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When Ains confronts Shalltear once more, she’s still inert and unresponsive, allowing him to cast a variety of high-level buffs that will prove crucial in surviving her attacks as well as doling out his own. Here’s the full list of pre-battle spells:

  • Body of Effulgent Beryl
  • Fly
  • Bless of Magic Caster
  • Infinity Wall
  • Magic Ward, Holy
  • Life Essence
  • Greater Full Potential
  • Freedom
  • False Data, Life
  • See Through
  • Paranormal Intuition
  • Greater Resistance
  • Mantle of Chaos
  • Indomitability
  • Sensor Boost
  • Greater Luck
  • Magic Boost
  • Draconic Power
  • Greater Hardening
  • Heavenly Aura
  • Absorption
  • Penetrate Up
  • Greater Magic Shield
  • Mana Essence
  • Triplet Maximize Magic, Explode Mine
  • Triplet Magic, Greater Magic Seal
  • Triplet Maximize Boosted Magic, Magic Arrow

That’s a lot of buffs, but it’s exactly what one expects of such a high-level fight. And while there’s some fun to be had in having your way with lesser enemies, squaring off against an opponent that will actually put up a fight—an optional super-boss, for instance— is one of the unique joys of RPG play. Watching Ain buff himself took me back to my own preparation for Yiazmat, the strongest foe in FFXII who has 50,112,254 HP in fifty separate million-HP bars.

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That level of preparation amplifies the sense of occasion, and Ains’ internal monologue establishes that even he doesn’t know exactly how this is going to go down. Then the fight begins, and a red battle armor-donning Shalltear cuts loose, matching Ains blow for blow. He surprises her with a few traps and attacks (and bluffs about more, knowing he must preserve his MP), but she has a few skills he’s not aware of, which he’s never witnessed her using but which she assures him her creator Peroroncino built into her.

Most intriguing of all, there are moments when Shalltear realizes she has no idea why she’s even fighting her former master, but then whatever parameters were overwritten to make her rebel (or which activated after a timer went off) kick in, and she presses her attack.

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Reality, Lightning, Fire, Dark, Holy; elemental and non-elemental magic flies in both directions, with moves and counter-moves coming as quickly as the two combatants can call out the enchantments. Indeed, the one thing I think the battle could have benefitted from was more of an enchantment “shorthand”. Sure, it’s impressive that all Ains and Shally have to do to cast ridiculously powerful spells is say the name of that spell, but the lengthy English spell names are a double-edged sword, giving the spells weight but also slowing the casting pace.

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But who cares about long spell names, when we’re treated to Lord Ains conjures an effing Sharknado. (He calls it a “Shark Cyclone”, but still, pretty sweet). I also enjoyed the seemingly mono-directional stream of light-spears that suddenly change direction and hit Shalltear, surprising both her and us. The two just keep pulling out of their bags of tricks.

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But Ains is slowly draining his MP, and Shalltear knows it. Hoping to break the stalemate, she summons her trump card (but probably not her only one), an ethereal doppelganger, Einherjar, as well as her “household” of lesser beasts. Ein lunges at Ains while Shalltear kills her own beasts in order to heal herself. But Ains is ready, activating the skill “The Goal of All Life is Death”; a giant clock counts down, and when the hands reach twelve, both Einherjar and the household disappear, leaving Ains and Shalltear alone again in the midst of a sandy desert where the forest glade once stood.

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Their surroundings thus drastically transformed, the two combatants assess their present state. Both are nearly out of MP, and Shalltear is almost out of skills, but she has all of her HP, and she believes the battle is all but wrapped up. But it would seem Ains was coy even in his internal thoughts, as he expresses to Shally how grateful he is she went all out and fought him with everything she had to this point, believing draining his MP would be the key to defeating him.

But that’s not the case: by not fighting him cautiously, she allowed him to arrange an even larger plan beyond the battle plan executed thus far. And next week, it will be time to show her just how badly she miscalculated. I can’t wait.

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No Game No Life – 11

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Last week ended with Sora and Shiro totally unable to function, but that cliffhanger is resolved rather quickly, as it’s merely a simulation of Tokyo where they’re playing, which turns out to be just fine with them. Of course, that realization came after a very random title sequence for the game they’re in, entitled Living or Dead Series Side Story: Love or Loved 2: Hit Her With Your Bullet of Love!

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As random as all that sounds, the title is a nice send up of…this kind of stuff, and ends up making more and more sense as details of game—essentially a gussied-up FPS—comes into focus. The hair dryer-like pistols assigned to everyone are used to reject NPCs (which charges “love power”) turn into “love slaves” and have them fight for you, and make allies fall in love too. This leads to combat that’s patently ridiculous (e.g. shounen-style analysis of pantsu thickness), but also exciting and lots of fun. The game moves at a nice brisk clip, too.

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What also becomes apparent to Blank as the game rolls on is that despite their early dominance thanks in large part to Shiro’s literally otherworldly FPC skills, Izuna is able to evade every attack they throw at her, which means she’s cheating. They need proof to accuse her, but have none, so Blank finds themselves in the rare position of underdog, with an opponent that doesn’t have to play by the same rules.

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This isn’t a game where they’ve already thought sixty-four moves ahead; they can’t, because they’re not sure what’s coming. So they have to resort to winging it. They may not know everything they need to about the game and Izuna’s abilities, but they do know and trust each other. Sora trusted Shiro to “find him” in his game with Kurami; this time Shiro returns the favor, getting shot by Izuna and trusting he’ll handle the rest.

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He does, by realizing it was her clothes, not her body, that got hit by Izuna’s bullet, and that she conserved her energy by not running (like he told her earlier) so she’d still have attack power when she reunited with Sora. This time, however, Sora and Shiro depended on more than just themselves to get this far: Kurami and Fil are still outside, looking out for evidence of cheating, while Jibril stalls Izuna at a crucial juncture. Steph, alas, is useless throughout.

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Blank may not have defeated Izuna by the end of this episode, their exemplary play and convivial attitude is making Izuna actually enjoy playing games again. Blank isn’t desperately fighting like their race is on the line; they’re having a blast. This is something she hasn’t done for some time, since gaming has been more about duty to her country than leisure. And the more they corner the she-warbeast, the fiercer—and, seemingly, happier—she becomes.

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No Game No Life – 10

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After its most exciting, mind-pretzeling game to date, NGNL backs off a bit, giving its characters a respite in preparation for what’s looking like the closing battle of the series. A couple of those characters, namely Kurami (I don’t like spelling her name Clammy) and Fil (or Feel, however you feel you need to spell it is fine); now solid allies of Team Blank.

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Some restless viewers could be forgiven for saying “Hey…Let’s get on with [the Warbeast battle] already!”, but I happen to be in a patient mood at this stage of No Game, and the leisurely contents of 9/10ths of this episode served a key purpose: exploring the very new bond between Sora and Kurami, as well as exploring more about what her deal is with Fil (turns out, her family is basically “owned” by the Nilvalens, of which Fil is presently the de facto ruler).

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We were less interested in Elven sociology and more intrigued by the new, far less confrontational attitudes between Sora and Kurami. With his memories still clear in her head—and his in hers—they’re now essentially at a level of trust and intimacy normally reserved for lifelong fiends. That intrigues us, because coming from a NEET/hikikomori background, Sora (and Shiro) aren’t good at making friends…like, at all, back home.

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But here in Disboard, they’ve made friends essentially by defeating them at games, something they’d neither be willing or able to do as shut-ins with the anonymous [-blank-] handle. Kurami and Sora had some nice moments, moments that might not have been possible had the show jumped straight into the Warbeast game. And now, as the next game begins, Kurami and Fil are on the sidelines, making sure the Warbeasts don’t cheat Imanity, whose potential they now believe in.

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“Dissapointment”, then, is what we’re sure marks Kurami’s face in reaction to Blank’s arrival in the game world, which happens to be Tokyo, the world they came from, where their potential was only good for topping Hi-Score lists while staying out of the sunlight. This makes me suspect the Warbeasts read their minds and found the venue where they’d be least effective. Will they be able to snap out of the dural ectasia brought by their surprise “return” home, or will Steph and Jibril have to step up to the plate?

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truckP.S. We’re sure most of you are aware, but there are trucks like this all over Tokyo. IMO, there aren’t enough trucks like that in America!

No Game No Life – 09

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It’s rare for me to be as royally stumped as I was at the beginning of this episode, with regards to how things were going to sort themselves out. Sure, I had an inkling some kind of game was being played, but the manner and result of the game escaped me completely, disoriented as I was, like Shiro, by the sudden upheaval of reality.

Steph and Jibril quite reasonably assume Shiro lost and had her memories altered. But there was a very good reason why Sora spoke so clearly and deliberately to Shiro before vanishing into thin air a day and a half ago: he was providing her—and me—all the clues we would need to figure out what was going on and how to proceed. Slowly, but surely, we piece this impeccably-structured mystery back together.

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“I believe in you.” Upon first meeting him, the young Shiro told the young Sora how “empty” he was. She didn’t mean it with malice, but because she made connections no one else could (or would). But there also happened to be some truth to it: there was indeed an emptiness in Sora’s existence, one that was filled upon meeting his sister.

“The two of us are always one.” But that void-filling went both ways: just as Sora’s name suggests an empty sky, Shiro’s denotes a similarly vast expanse of whiteness. Upon meeting each other, everything turns to the vivid color we’re used to when this show is in normal operations. What they have is beyond trust; beyond faith. So Sora knows he’ll be able to count on her not to let Steph and Jibril cut the game short with another.

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“We’re bound by a promise.” Shiro thinks hard, even if she “blows out”, for while the pledges of Disboard are almost infinitely interpretative, there’s a canny inexpungibility to her bond with Sora, one the pledges can never completely overcome. Shiro searches her vast repository of memory, and recovers the knowledge that a day and a half ago, Sora challenged Kurami Zell to a perilous game of “Existence Othello.” Yikes!

“We’re not the heroes of a shounen manga.” In another memory Shiro recalls, Sora tells her “you don’t change yourself. You change how you do things.” This conundrum won’t be solved with brute force, or yelling, or by changing herself, but by looking things differently, which she achieves by having Jibril scan her room for magic and finding…lots.

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“We always win a game before we start.” The game is still in progress, in that very room; Sora’s existence hasn’t disappeared. And it’s a game he would not have started had defeat been possible. Even when he’s on the cusp of defeat, he has faith Shiro will take over, using the last three white (=Shiro) stones he left her to turn the tide and soundly beat Kurami, returning Sora into physical being and ending the illusion.

“I’m going to get the last piece we need to bring over the Eastern Federation.” What’s most amazing about this whole epic ordeal is that it didn’t involve the Warbeasts at all, nor was the primary purpose of winning to defeat the adversary (again, this isn’t shounen). The “piece” he spoke of was Kurami Zell, along with her elf associate Feel.

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She would never trust him the way Shiro did unless he could unpack the entire width ad breadth of his existence, which he did by intentionally losing right up until the end. The two demands of his choice he asked for as the reward for victory gives him his piece: restoring each others’ memories, but keeping copies of the ones they took from one another. I’m very much looking forward to the new Kurami he made.

When the “sky walk” is over and the dust settles, Sora and Shiro and Kurami and Feel collapse into two bawling heaps of exhaustion. The extreme nature of this game served to underline how important a united front against the Warbeasts was to Sora, and how seriously he takes them as an opponent. And all of this was hidden in his monologue last week.

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No Game No Life – 08

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Last week revealed the means by which Sora and Shiro could study the Warbeasts in preparation for their challenge, and this week shows their strategy in motion, but there’s no in between. I think that was a very gutsy but shrewed decision. It’s been clear for some time now that this is a show that’s not so concerned with whether Blank will prevail, but how.

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That the show can belt out an episode that remains entertaining throughout while withholding even that “how” is an accomplishment in and of itself. Because the fact of the matter is, we’re as stumped as the Warbeasts about what exactly Sora has planned. All we know is that he enters their embassy and entreats with the adorable Hatsuse Izuna (Sawashiro Miyuki in Full Chibi Mode) as a mere formality.

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By forgoing the precise manner in which Sora aims to defeat the Warbeasts, the show is asking us to have faith and trust it will show us, and it’s earned that trust these last seven weeks. That doesn’t mean this episode is bereft of juicy logical deconstruction. Clearly, Sora has carefully studied the old king’s notes and devised an intricate plan. We only see the opening moves of that plan, but as I said, that’s sufficient to build up enticement.

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Even in the way he informally invites himself to the embassy—using his smartphone’s camera zoom to locate Hatsuse’s gramps and gesture his intention to visit—provides Sora with ammunition to fuel his case that the Warbeasts aren’t as implacable as Imanity believes. He even proves that they can’t read minds, by acting in ways they’d surely have responded to if they truly could.

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He also deduces that the Warbeasts have been defeating their adversaries with video games, a medium at which Blank excels. When he stakes the Imanity Race Piece against all of the Warbeasts’ territory, Dora thinks him mad, and many of his people protest. But neither he nor Shiro care what they think: they’re not going to lose at video games.

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But even Shiro doesn’t see all of what Sora has planned when the episode’s transitions grow more distorted and Sora vanishes from her sight. Do you usually skip the ending sequence? If so, you missed the fact that Sora was totally erased from it; a very nice touch that raps against the fourth wall. In the cold close, Shiro is curled up in a fretful ball, and Dora has no idea who Sora is. I thought I knew, but he keeps surprising me.

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No Game No Life – 07

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Following up the best outing of the show so far is no easy task, yet this episode succeeded admirably, in part by changing gears: No game this No Game. The Warbeasts continue to be built up as an exceedingly formidable enemy, so it wouldn’t have made sense for Sora and Shiro to rush headlong into battle without knowing anything about them. The Elves challenged them four times and lost all four, and even defeated Jibril’s Flugel. Worse still, when they lost the games they also lost all memories of said games.

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Sora and Shiro value information above all else, so the prospect of facing an opponent that has absolute control over it is immensely frustrating. When Jibril shows them that Dora’s grandfather inexplicably challenged them eight times and decimated Elkia’s territory, he grows even more irate: How could a king be so foolish? In the heat of the moment, he spews harsh things he shouldn’t have, causing Steph to flee in tears. Lest we forget, Sora and his sis aren’t the most sociable or tactful creatures.

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After much harmless teasing and messing with Steph, Sora’s crossing the line makes her question whether she should give him the “Key of Hope” her gramps entrusted to her, to give to the person who shows up later in her life to whom she can entrust Elkia. But how can she trusts someone who calls all humanity “crap?” Jibril rustles her from her brooding to return to the library, where Sora and Shiro are still hitting the books hard. There, without knowing Steph is listening, Sora gradually changes her mind.

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Once he calms down and tries to find a method to the old king’s seemingly foolish actions…he finds one: the king knew he couldn’t win all along, but fought the Warbeasts again and again anyway to gather information, wagering strategically marginal resources each time. Certain the king would never beat them, the Warbeasts didn’t bother wiping his memories, but made him pledge never to tell anyone as long as he lived. The king used that loophole to fill a journal with precious info on the Warbeast games, then locked it away with his porn stash in a hidden chamber, for a future king to use.

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It’s an awesome unraveling of a mystery and causes an immediate reversal in Sora’s opinion of Steph’s grandfather: he was a great man who created a legacy of foolishness so that his successors could defeat the enemies he couldn’t. And that will be Sora, because his moving speech—about the mankind’s potential and the rare “real deals” like Shiro (and Steph) who embody that potential and propel all humanity—convinces Steph to give him the key. I’ll tell you what else was the real deal: this episode.

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Stray Observations:

  • Jibril is a great addition to the cast. Steph can be a bit much in too-large quantities, but Jibril’s presense naturally breaks those quantities up.
  • We also like how her arrogant consdescention of humanity is softening in Sora and Shiro’s presence, and how she realizes Steph likes Sora, even though her love spell wore off.
  • Lots of anime references in this one, including Sora as that finger-tenting bastard Ikari Gendo; the Giant Warriors of Nausicaä, and Sora as Mr. Despair. The king’s secret room also resembled Nausicaä’s. 
  • We enjoyed the brief time when Steph thought the key was to her gramps’ porn stash after all, thus rendering her life a mistake!
  • When Sora first met Shiro when she was three, her first words to him were “You really are empty”, a play on his name “sky” and the fact he was fake-smiling. Sharp gal.
  • As you can tell from the shots above, this was yet another sumptuous-colored episode in a sumptuously-colored show. The environments are consistently gorgeous and imaginative.