Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 08 – The Rare Item of Friendship

One morning Yuki joins Chio and Manana…in her very tight and revealing new track outfit. She has no problem walking with them to school like this, and Chio quickly comes around…but Manana can’t handle it; it’s just too sexy.

To further test whether Yuki is naive or just an exhibitionist, Manana takes her to a busy konbini, where every guy proceeds to stare at her in a not-at-all stealthy way.

Manana can’t believe Yuki doesn’t notice…and she’s right not to, because Yuki does notice; she just doesn’t mind. After all, she’s used to big crowds at track meets.

When Chio changes into her soft tennis outfit, Manana deduces the reason why: Chio’s visor enables her to keep her face hidden, while the tennis skirt simultaneously serves as a semi-disguise while making Yuki appear less of an exhibitionist, since it’s two students in their club getup rather than one.

Even so, Manana intends to foil Chio’s plan not to stand out, pointing out to Yuki that they’re exactly 1500m from school (her favorite distance) and there’s a nice tailwind. Once she pops a popper from the konbini, Yuki is off and running, and Chio is exposed as the only remaining girl in an eye-catching outfit.

Chio later gets a measure of revenge by recalling the time Manana greeted her in her school swimsuit years ago, a moment Manana would rather everyone forgot.

Another morning, Manana has her head buried in her phone looking at ways to lose weight, while Chio discovers a kind of video game world in the small space betweeen two buildings she can easily scale due to her latent athleticism.

She ends up almost getting discovered by two office workers, while Manana meets the salaryman who ran with Yuki—and is impressed by how much weight he’s lost and asks for some pointers.

Manana is so engrossed she forgets all about Chio…until the man leaves and she spots her just a few vertical feet from the roof. Manana takes the easy way up there (pretending to be the daughter of another worker delivering her dad’s lunch).

Once there, Manana runs and jumps across the gap to scold Chio, but Chio bursts into tears, worried that Manana might’ve fallen down the deceptively high height in the gap between the buildings.

Indeed, when Manana realizes how high up they are, she faints into Chio’s arms. But Chio is just glad she has a friend who would risk her own safety to make sure she was okay.

In the shorter final segment, we learn the story of how Shinozuka Momo joined the Disciplinary Committee: she was always trying to share her abundant knowledge with her classmates and trying to improve their studying methods, but everyone derided her as an annoying Goody-Two-Shoes.

In her moment of greatest frustration, she’s stopped by the student counselor at the school gate…but not because she did anything wrong. He sensed she had something she needed so say, and needed someone to listen. He gives her the idea to join the committee so her words would carry more weight and more easily reach her peers. The rest is history.

We also learn why she has a thing for the counselor: when everyone else simply wanted her to shut up and go away, he told her that they actually needed her. Not someone like her, but Shinozuka Momo herself.

Alderamin on the Sky – 02

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Alderamin continues to move along with a wonderful briskness, but not so quickly that the events that transpire don’t hold weight. Last week’s predicament is handled fairly easily by Ikuta, but only because he makes it look easy.

In reality, he’s doing something really hard, especially for someone relatively young: he realizes what he can do and what he cannot; when to act and when to let his friends act. Igsem and Torway follow his lead and thanks to their assistance, the three guards are dealt with.

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Torway is shaken by his faltering during a crucial moment, but Igsem is there to support and praise him for his role in securing the princess. As for Chamille herself, the deaths of the three Kioka soldiers weighs heavily on her, to the point she bites her finger to release the “rotten” royal blood.

While Igsem comforted Torway, it’s Ikuta who comforts Chamille, assuring her her blood “tastes just fine” and to take care of the life he and his companions have worked so hard to preserve. His words make the princess blush, but she can also clearly see there is greatness in Ikuta.

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You can see both Chamille and Ikuta sharing a distaste for bloodshed; Chamille due to her imperial status; Ikuta do to his latent ability as well as the nature of the empire he lives in. As such, Ikuta treats the fallen Kioka soldiers’ remains with respect.

The next day, now possessed of a Kioka blimp, Ikuta formulates an ingenious strategem to get the princess safely across the border without firing a shot. Donning a Kioka uniform and armed with great acting ability and balls of steel, he marches right to the Kioka garrison and threatens the commander (his career, not his life) with the errant blimp.

There are a couple issues with this plan—the lieutenant in charge doesn’t ask for any identification, and lets Ikuta escort the others across. We also cut to a full month after they return to the empire, during which much has transpired that will shape their fates.

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But the events that unfold a month later justify the rapid jump in time. During that month, the famous General Rikan is sent to a battle Ikuta knows he’ll lose, since the empire no longer wants the undeveloped territory. But Rikan, the quintessentiall badass military man, is going to do his goddamn job, even if he knows the war is rigged. Honor, loyalty, “unscientific stupidity”; Ikuta can call it what he likes; he can’t stop Rikan.

Shortly after news of Rikan’s defeat, a demoralizing blow to the people of Katjvarna, the emperor gives Ikuta, Igsem, and the others an audience. Igsem had to knock Ikuta down when he was getting in Rikan’s face, but she warns him not to try pulling any of that shit in front of the emperor, and Ikuta seems to get it. I love their relationship!

Ikuta, of course, probably has an inkling of why they’ve been summoned, and his suspicions are confirmed when the emperor bestows upon them the title of imperial knights. That means they’re going to be trained as soldiers, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

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After the ceremony, in a coach with Igsem, Chamille (who is still just a kid, after all) can’t quite control her enthusiasm for making Ikuta into a hero, one of the three things he never wanted to be (the others being a noble and a soldier). She tells him too much about what she knows about his father (disgraced famous general) or his mother (former imperial concubine awarded to his dad).

Here we see just how much trouble Ikuta can get into when his emotions run rampant: he threatens to snap the princess’ neck; Igsem takes him down and warns him she’ll have to kill him if that happens. She doesn’t want do, but you can tell she sure as shit will. She’s a vital check on the wreckless abandon a troubled Ikuta can get into. He’s got the brilliance—and the ability—of Howl.

Later, when everyone’s cooled down a bit, Igsem leaves the festivities on what may be one of the best nights of her life, to sit with her good friend who declares he’s having one of his worst. Igsem doesn’t lecture him, she just listens and sits. Because like Chamille, she sees great things in Ikuta. No doubt he sees this in himself, and it probably scares the hell out of him. But he won’t be alone on this impending journey.

This episode demonstrated Alderamin’s ability to draw in very close to its surprisingly nuanced characters, and yet still draw back to reveal the huge world they inhabit, which is bound to explode into further combat as the show progresses, and in which heroes will rise.

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