Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 07 – A Formidable Foe; an Erratic Ally

Miyu enters GGO as “Fukaziroh”, and immediately takes to the game, exhibiting a jaunty joie de vivre in testing how many guys chat her up and jumping at the chance to avail herself of their “sugar daddy” Goushi’s ten million credits.

Fukaziroh ends up blowing over half of that on twin MGL-140 grenade revolvers, which are actually a real thing, as well as being bonkers. She doesn’t hesitate to use them against LLENN, since SJ2 will be far scarier than any training for it they undertake.

The diminutive members of team SHINC are excited by the prospect of LLENN changing her mind and entering SJ2, which will be different from SJ1 because the team names will be on display for all to see, making it easier for LLENN and Fukaziroh to locate their primary target, Team PM4, containing both Pito and M.

Karen, while initially worried about what should happen should she fail, is encouraged by Miyu not to worry to much about it and focus on the mission. By the time the day of the start of SJ2 comes, she’s fully determined to kill, and thus save, Pitohui. And when they do, Miyu wants prime tickets to an Elsa show.

Two of the stronger teams in SHINC and Memento Mori come face to face and exchange cordial salutations and hope for a good fight. But when Pito and M arrive with a team of masked comrades, Memento Mori’s leader tells one of his current teammates about his past experience being Pito’s teammate.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t great. Pitohui, named for a poison Polynesian bird that kills anyone who touches it, apparently treats her allies like shields and pawns, and will abandon or kill them at the drop of a hat if it means she’ll survive and win…and smile about it in the process. Similarly, she has no qualms about dying (and smiling while doing that too).

Whoa, watch where you’re pointing that thing, LLENN

He saw Pitohui as having a “death wish”; wanting to forget life while he wanted to remember (and respect) death. This is just one guy’s analysis of her, but it certainly sounds like the Pito LLENN has met, and considering the conditions of Goushi’s appeal to her, she hasn’t changed much.

But as SJ2 begins, LLENN gets no answers from Pito, who claims not to know what she’s talking about when she voices her commitment to doing her best. But this isn’t just about killing/saving Pito; it’s about a repeat victory, this time with a rough-hewn new partner in Fuka.

She doesn’t get off to the best start when she gets the runs after consuming nine pints of ice cream, almost making them late. She can either only improve from that, or reach an even lower nadir; say by accidentally grenading LLENN. We shall see.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 06 – Karen Meets a Crazy Person

We’re back to the time when Saki and her teammates visit Karen, watch her win the SJ on her enormous TV and introduce themselves. As a rhythmic gymnastics team, they had a hard time operating as a cohesive unit due to personal differences. Playing GGO changed all that; now they’re a well-oiled machine, and care more about progressing in the game than with their real-life team!

The girls voice their hope Karen will face off against them in the next Squad Jam, and when Karen says she has no firm plans to do so, they’re both happy that they won’t have to face one more strong opponent, and sad they won’t get to have a rematch and the opportunity to beat her next time. Karen heads home to Hokkaido and hangs out with her friend Miyu; on the plane back to Tokyo she learns Squad Jam 2 is officially on.

Karen is then confronted by M’s player, the extremely odd Goushi Asougi, who tells her that Pitohui is planning to commit suicide IRL if she loses SJ2, which means Goushi will kill himself soon thereafter, since he is utterly devoted to her and always defers to Pito’s will, no matter how crazy. That, in turn, pretty much makes him crazy as well.

They say love makes you crazy, but there’s a strange superficiality to Goushi’s behavior; like he’s trying too hard to be extra-kooky. Then there’s the whole idea of recruiting Karen to beat them, and in exchange he can guarantee Pito won’t kill herself, which means he won’t die either.

Considering the suddenness of all this information, it simply doesn’t carry that much weight for me, even though it’s clear Karen’s favorite musician is the one with these psychological problems. It seems like a very random and not-at-all emotionally earned excuse to raise the stakes to live-and-death, like SAO.

Karen agrees to participate in SJ2, even if that means validating and facilitating the questionable behavior of two mentally unstable strangers. Both Goushi and Pito’s player seem like they need actual help, help that’s beyond Karen’s abilities. And Goushi doesn’t bother explaining why Pito losing to anyone else means suicide, but losing to Karen doesn’t. I dunno about this…

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 04 – The Game is the Game

Back to the “present” of Squad Jam (though not far enough into the present where Karen is entertaining her diminutive friends IRL). I tell ya, this show can give one temporal whiplash like nobody’s business.

Having defeated the pros and after another scan, LLENN and M determine they’re one of only three squads remaining. One of them ambushes them from hovercraft in the lake, forcing the huge M to set up his “space battleship armor” shielding, while the tiny LLENN remains just plain hard to hit.

Safe behind his shield, M is able to pick off the hovercraft gunners one by one and takes out the last one with a well-placed grenade that detonates underwater, sending the craft and its occupant flying and vulnerable to LLENN’s killshot.

M was able to kill all of those enemies without creating bullet lines, because he learned to aim without his finger on the trigger or using Bullet Circle assist. But when the next scan comes, the last team is not only right on top of them, but in position to take a shot at LLENN, not missing a fatal spot by much.

M grabs LLENN and races out of there with one of the hovercraft, getting shot in the process, but LLENN heals the two and they prepare for a counterattack. But first, LLENN lets M read a letter he was going to read before they were ambushed.

Immediately after reading the letter, he pulls a gun…on LLENN, saying he’s “sorry” before pulling the trigger. His shot misses; LLENN’s agility wins out again, and moments later his safety is on and she has her gun trained on him, demanding to know why he betrayed her.

M merely responds with streams of tears, begging the Pink Devil not to kill him, because he doesn’t want to die. It’s a 180 in M’s character, though he did mention he prefers fighting from a distance and from the safest possible position.

In this instance, with LLENN’s P90 at his throat, he’s suddenly way out of his comfort zone, so it’s understandable we’d see a new side of him. But it doesn’t explain why he suddenly pulled his gun on her. I suspect there’s a real-world reason for it. All I know is, LLENN’s reaction to his sudden change in character was priceless.

Golden Kamuy – 03 – An Ainu Girl for a New Era

We begin this week with another demonstration of Ainu field cuisine, with Asirpa whipping up a sumptuous soup out of rabbit meatballs, mushrooms and leeks. All it needs, in Sugimoto’s opinion, is a bit of miso paste, but when he takes it out Asirpa mistakes it for poop—a perfectly reasonable reaction considering she’s never seen it before!

After that light fare, the morning brings heavier troubles: Asirpa spots something else she’s unfamiliar with—the glint of binocular lenses—and she and Sugimoto find themselves on the run from the 7th Division, who close in on them quickly thanks to their skis. Sugimoto decides he and Asirpa will split up, and if caught she’ll not resist and pretend to know nothing.

Asirpa is caught, and as Sugimoto assumed, the soldier isn’t interested in harming a little Ainu girl…until he learns she was hiding treasure maps and can understand Japanese (her initial dialogue with him involved telling the soldier in Ainu that the man she was with puts poop in his soup and eats it). Fortunately, Asirpa’s Ezo wolf buddy Retar comes to her rescue.

Meanwhile, three men surround Sugimoto, who has no choice but to bet on his Immortal status and believe Asirpa’s assertion that a bear won’t kill a man who enters its den by diving right in. When the soldiers fire into the opening, the bear pops out and mortally wounds them all before dying.

While both the bear and wolf CGI stand out in a not-so-good way, it’s not enough to pull me out of the action; both seem very much ferocious threats to the humans.

Sugimoto emerges unscathed and reunites with Asirpa (giving Retar a nice belly rub for his assistance), but he’s worried she won’t let him keep the orphaned bear cub he carried out of the den. Rather than eat it like he fears, she decides they’ll take it to her village, or kotan, where they often raise orphan bears.

There, Sugimoto finally steps out of the wilderness and into a different world entirely—the world of the Ainu. Asirpa’s grandmother is the most venerable member of the kotan, and the villagers are more curious about Sugimoto than scared of him.

Granny promptly asks him to take Asirpa for his wife so she can die happy…but she says it in Ainu, and her interpreter, Asirpa herself, does not translate for him.

Asirpa further explains the way of life of her people, which is largely shaped by their belief in kamuy, or gods, coming to them in various forms, including animals. If they come across a baby bear, for instance, they take it as a sign that the bear should be loved and cared for, and eventually “sent back” to where the kamuy reside.

In exchange for the sending, they get the bear’s meat and pelt, while the care they gave the bear prior to the ceremony is to convince the kamuy to keep returning and providing resources. In this way, it’s not a matter of offerings or sacrifice, but of merely assisting the kamuy in their travels back and forth between the two planes. It’s all quite fascinating and engrossing.

I just hope that Asirpa’s village will survive what could well be a good deal of collateral fallout from her and Sugimoto’s dealings with the 7th Division, as well as the prisoners themselves who seek the treasure of gold.

There’s a lot of competing interests in play, and among their rivals are characters with colorful personalities, from Tsurumi (missing the front of his skull, but otherwise a picture of health) to Hijikata (still a boy with a sword at heart, with no qualms about interrupting his comrade’s, er…lovemaking). Sugimoto and Asirpa will certainly have their hands full.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 01 – The Girl with the Pink P90 (First Impressions)

SAOA:GGO (rolls right off the tongue) gets right down to it, dropping us into a Gun Gale Online battle royale called Squad Jam beside teammates LLENN and M. Thanks to the patient tactical mind of M, much their time in the Jam is spent not getting shot at, and when they are, it’s to draw dumb enemies into getting shot by smarter ones, all while LM stays clean.

LLENN resents having to play the decoy, but can’t argue that it works, and you have to go with what works in a battle where the team that’s dominating are professional fighters IRL, likely in the game for the training. They show off their skills so blithely, M is convinced that winning isn’t their main objective.

LLENN and M’s is, however, so once the field has been thinned from 23 starting teams to 8, they head somewhere isolated where the pro team will come for them (uninterested as they are in ambushing their opponents).

The pros work like a well-oiled, by-the-book machine, precise and practiced in movement and speech. But because they’re so damn orthodox and true-to-life in their tactics, and since winning isn’t their goal, M thinks he knows how to beat them, and prepares a tiny surprise.

That surprise is the unbelievably diminutive LLENN popping out of a suitcase, previously just another unremarkable piece of the garbage strewn across the street that the pro team leader realizes is a hiding place a beat too late.

A beat is all LLENN needs to go off with her pinkP90, using her super-human speed and agility to take the pros down one by one until only two remain. M wasn’t under-utilizing LLENN before, he was saving her for when it was the right time for her to shine; when it mattered most.

The remaining two pros could probably have made a fight of it, but LLENN’s superhuman abilities render their training program contaminated, as M suspected…so they both resign. We pull back from LLENN on a TV as six school friends watch, then turn to their host, the very tall Karen, for whom LLENN is her avatar.

And there you have it. If you’re a hopeless SAO consumer as I apparently am, you were likely satisfied with this start, which had a nice pared-down feel to it despite the scope of the Squad Jam, easing us back into its world without piling on new faces or places.

Until the reveal of LLENN’s player, we were in-game the whole time. We followed just two gunners in a relatively compact location as they talked strategy, let things unfold and waited for pieces to get into optimal position before striking with all available force. And we learn Karen plays as a chibi in a kind of negative size-compensation.

Darling in the FranXX – 06

Dawn rises on the day of a battle that will decide whether everyone gets to see another sunrise. A massive horned cubic klaxosaur trundles over the horizon with a retinue of foot soldiers, throwing some serious Ramiel vibes—bizarre, mysterious, merciless. Ichigo tries to wash away her troubles with a refreshing bath; Gorou continues to worry about Hiro.

Gorou tries to get Ichigo to talk to Hiro, and Ichigo uses the opportunity to try to confess her feelings, but Zero Two appears, and says what she isn’t feeling instead—that she thinks of Hiro as a sibling—and is devastated when he says he feels the same. Ichinose Kana is killing it so far, even if it’s extremely hard to forget she’s not Hanazawa Kana.

With things needed to be said left unsaid, Zero Hour approaches, and the two Squads and Strelitzia take their positions. The effects of Ichigo’s unrequited love on her performance and Hiro’s ability to survive his third sortie with Two aren’t the only concerns: Squad 13 wants to prove to 26 they’re not just a bunch of in-the-way misfits.

The sheer scale of the boss before them, and the dramatic staging and lighting really lend this battle a sense of occasion and urgency; it’s all or nothing; either these ten comparatively tiny FranXX stop the enemy, or both Plantations will be destroyed.

The only mark against these stakes (which often applied to the populace in Eva as well) is that we never really see any of the people the parasites are protecting, aside from their two adult handlers and Dr. FranXX himself. That’s a small mark, and it’s easily forgiven in light of the pandemonium that ensues.

The contrast between the coordination and discipline of the five identical gray Squad 26 FranXX (also female in form) and those of Squad 13 (or lack thereof) is more stark than Arya, as Ichigo can barely keep her squad hanging in there when some lesser Klax get get through the front lines.

Zero Two observes this contrast, and the dire state of the 13th, and thinks she and Hiro should join the battle sooner rather than later before there isn’t a 13th left. Hiro asks Two why she fights the Klax; she opines it may be because “she’s a monster.”

Two asks him the same, and he says its because his only purpose in life is to protect Papa and the adults. They sortie, against orders, and mop up the Klax harassing the 13th with ease…but Hiro immediately starts to have trouble staying in sync, and the blue veins on his chest start to spread to his entire body and face.

Ichigo lays down the law, ordering Strelitzia to fall back, as she’ll be providing the coup-de-grace. That’s after the 26th, even with their perfectly coordinated tactics, utterly fail to destroy the giant “Gutenberg-class” Klaxosaur. Instead, it shapeshifts from a cube to a humanoid form.

Their leader 090 is almost crushed, but is saved in the nick of time by Argentea, and Zorome and Miku instantly earn his respect. The 13th gets their shit together and Ichigo orders everyone to create an opening for Strelitzia. Hiro uses everything he has left to help Two deliver the killing blow, and with an Eva-esque cross flare, they cause an explosion within the boss.

…But everything Hiro had wasn’t enough. The Gutenberg shifts again into a massive battering ram, and in another nod to Shinji’s first mission in Eva 01, that ram begins repeatedly smashing into Strelitzia. Hiro loses consciousness and Strelitzia shuts down.

Things look bad from Delphinium’s POV; indeed, when Ichigo fears she’s lost Hiro (without telling him what she actually has to say, to boot), Delph shuts down too, and Gorou can’t console Ichigo.

Hiro enters a dream-state, where he assumes he’s dead. Naomi chastises him for giving up. He says he didn’t give up, he just gave all he had. Unlike with Naomi, he still thinks Zero Two can carry on fighting without him. He’s content to go out being as useful as he could be, without regrets.

But that’s not quite right; and he’s not quite being truthful. Zero Two gave him a place to belong and a purpose again; he can’t simply lie down and die while she’s still in the cockpit suffering, slowly reverting to her baser Klaxosaur side.

Zero Two is on the verge of completely Losing It when Hiro hugs her from behind and tells her she should never have to fight—or be—alone again. The blue growth disappears. What is that stuff? I’d like to think it represents the lingering fear and doubt he carried; the belief that he was expendable to Zero Two when the opposite was the case.

With that gone, he gets his second wind, and he and Zero Two finish off the Gutenberg in grand, madcap fashion, with a nice assist from his fellow parasites in the 13th. His doubts and fears are gone now, because he’s found another reason to pilot a FranXX: to be Two’s wings.

And it’s wings we see spreading over the airborne Gutenberg before crushing it and releasing a titanic cloud of blue blood. Mission Accomplished. Casualties: Surprisingly, Zero.

As we watch him and Zero emerge from the cockpit to come together and celebrate with the other parasites from both squads, Hiro recounts the tale of the “Jian”, a bird with one wing, necessitating a male and female pair to lean on one another to achieve flight. That’s the case with Hiro and Zero Two, so he resolves to keep leaning on her that they might fly as high and far as they want.

Halfway into its first half, FranXX delivers a rousing powerhouse resolution to the “Can Hiro Cut It” arc. Now that we know he can, and that he won’t be dying from creepy blue growths anytime soon, we can move on to other matters, like if or when Ichigo will ever tell Hiro how she feels (if she still feels that way after the battle; I’m guessing yeah) and the identity of those new parasites we got a glimpse of in the ep’s final moments.

Whatever comes next, a solid foundation has been laid.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 16

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While the last couple weeks were a bit of a rest going into the Li Twins battle, this is definitely all battles—the end of one and the beginning of another—with the slightest of breaks in between.

While that makes it a bit disjointed (I prefer episodes that start and end with one battle), the action, taunting, and over-the-top explosive tactics were all there, and the fact I knew the Li Twins battle would end this week (this show doesn’t spend long chains of episodes on single battles after all) I felt I could kick back and enjoy the carnage.

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Until the climax of the Li Twins battle, Ayato is simply meditating in the corner whil Julis acts as his shield, enduring attacks from both twins, who seem more interested in torturing her than snapping her badge and ending things quickly. One look at Shenyun’s increasingly twisted face and you know the guy’s a sadist dick. Shenhua, less so, since she’s not shown piling on the way her brother is.

But all of Julis’ suffering isn’t for naught: Ayato finds the key to unlocking the next level of his sister’s seal, enabling him to store far greater amounts of prana and go longer in battles. He says it doesn’t result in any significant powering up, but I’ve gotta wonder, after the destruction he unleashes with ease on the twin’s carefully constructed web of traps, talisman bombs, and invisible strikes.

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Ayato basically takes a bi ol’ Ser Veresta to all that, blasting Shenhua then delivering a well-deserved bone-crushing fist to the face of Shenyun, ending the fight. Julis gives the thumbs-up (the fanservice on her torn uni is kept to a minimum), while the Twins’ tiny prez looks approvingly at Ayato’s performance, and looks forward to meeting him (i.e. fighting him, probably) someday.

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With that, Ayato and Julis are in for some well-deserved rest before heading to the semifinals. Claudia, making a rare appearance this season, wants to not only offer her thanks to the partners on their great win for the school, but also thank Ayato personally, in her room, at night. Hmm…could she be talking about sex???

Julis doesn’t stand by and let Ayato be dragged off; insisting he stay with her to “go over strategy.” C’mon Julis. You don’t want the kid sleeping with Claudia. Simple as that.

That leads to the week’s second match: Saya and Kirin versus the Allekant robots. Aldy and Rimsy give another one-minute grace period, but both girls are tired of being mocked and looked down on for being weak and organic.

Kirin uses a bit of old-fashioned samurai sword skills to show Aldy he’s wrong about his defense being perfect, because he cannot hope to reach the sensitivity necessary to fight Kirin. For that, you have to be human.

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Her attacks make Aldy pull out his weapon before the grace period is over, which combined with scoring several strikes on him, are all first in the Festa. Meanwhile, Saya stands by during the minute, choosing not to attack Rimsy until she’s coming at her with everything she’s got.

When she does, Saya breaks out some badass-looking flying battle armor that suddenly makes her a good match for Rimsy. And like Kirin, she scores the first hits of the Festa on Rimsy. Things are looking good, but while watching the match in the stands, Flora gets kidnapped…probably by someone working for Dirk at Le Wolfe.

I guess the Festa fights aren’t the only thing our guy and gals will have to contend with…not that I doubted that would be the case!

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