Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

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Amagi Brilliant Park – 13 (Fin)

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Zane here, first-time ABP writer, long-time watcher (I’m actually watching it a second time around, it’s so good), just sticking my head in to offer some thoughts on the final episode. Oigakkosan will be along with his assessment.

I can sum up this episode with the phrase “Tricen makes a PV (promotional video) for the park.” No evil wizard redux; no new park crisis. It’s essentially a means for the excellent sprawling cast to take a curtain call.

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As both Kanie and Moffle note verbatim (proving that like minds often spar), Tricen can’t help but project his own bland personality onto the initial video. Kanie puts Sento in charge of helping Tri spice the video up, which they attempt to do by asking for everyone’s suggestions about what to put in the video.

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Moffle wants more explosions and action, Macaron wants better music, Tiramie wants more female skin (from his collection of covert skinpics), Koboli wants more male skin, Muse wants water, and Salama offers footage of Salama sleeping.

Tricen throws all this stuff into the video without any effort to mesh the wildly varying themes. Even as an art film, it’s a bit awkward. Then Latifah suggests he add video of the lower-tier cast members’ hobbies…and things get a bit weird:

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Whoa. (For the record, I couldn’t stop laughing at this scene. Who would’ve thought the mute dogu would be the most visionary of the bunch?)

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From Ashe’s skydive ironing, to Dornell’s dam enthusiast club video (and there are pictures of dams on the wall of his hideout way back in episode 5; nice continuity!), to Adachi’s footage of a horse giving birth, everything Tricen is given is put in, with no regard whatsoever for coherence.

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Predictably, Kanie is appalled by the resulting ‘masterpiece’ even as Sento weeps from the emotional impact. Frankly, Kanie should have remembered that while he’s softened her edges somewhat, Sento is still an imperial guard, and the wrong choice to assist Tricen. Not that there was a better alternative!

Kanie goes with Tricen’s original milquetoast cut, which underwhelms the cast, who is miffed their suggestions weren’t included. But Tricen gets the last laugh when he tells Kanie he uploaded the ‘unofficial remix’ to the web, where it went viral.

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There was thankfully no more Evil Wizard this week, but the possible negative fallout from the PV can’t be considered real conflict in this, the final episode. ABP seems to be running smoothly with Kanie at the helm and Sento by his side.

No, this was more a final check-in with the characters, who brought us to the table in the first place and kept us there with rapt attention as they worked their way through various dilemmas. I personally enjoyed this inconsequential but still entertaining epilogue.

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Amagi Brilliant Park – 12

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ABP comes to a satisfying, if not a fairly typical storybook ending this week. Except I don’t believe this is the final episode, which means next week is going to be an interesting experiment in how to end a show, after you’ve ended a show…

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The Summary: with time running out, everyone at the park whips out their phones and calls everyone they can think of. Muse gets her grandmother, Tiramie gets a ton of angry husbands and wives, Sylphy gets her weird internet fans and Kanie-kun gets the girls who are still angry at him from the previous high school fiasco. Even a pizza guy is called, just to get him through the turnstile. With the three little boys who hunger fiercely for Sento, the park crosses the 500,000 mark and the day is won!

Then love wins out (or something) and Latifah doesn’t forget who she is and Kanie-kun decides to stay. We even learn the evil Developer was actually the evil wizard in disguise all this time!

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The GoodABP knows we wanted a happy ending and it gave it to us. And it gave it to us clean, without any magic tricks our nonsense pulled out of the hat. Everyone has friends and, in a pinch, those friends came through. It was a good feeling.

Moreover, the reveal that the parcel of land that the park must sell to the south is going to a major grocery chain (‘Moll Mart’) that will provide great synergy to the park for years to come was a lovely, un-silly cherry on top.

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The episode doesn’t forget any of the small details either. The three pervert boys are an obvious addition, but I love that the boy who always asks his mom about adult content and gets told to ignore it was in the background too.

And that’s nothing compared to the delightfully silly mute-statue that some how moves around the park. When the going got tough, even he called someone on the phone…except he doesn’t talk so they keep asking who’s called them!

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The not as goods – Well… that evil wizard plot came out of nowhere a few weeks back and the sudden reveal that the blonde developer was the wizard all along felt even more out of left field. Underdeveloped, abrupt, and poorly integrated with the story.

I guess ABP avoids a major problem with it only because the story is so tangential and on the sidelines. So, at least his evil laugh (and plot) was mere seconds long and then we were done with it.

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The Verdict – This was a lovely feel-good resolution that felt earned by a big cast of characters I’ve fallen in love with. Yes, I don’t care about the princess nor the wizard and yes, her love triangle with Sento hasn’t gone anywhere, but none of those elements were really the point of the show.

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My only concern is for next week. Next week will either focus on the evil wizard, who’s plot was never part of the story in a meaningful way OR it will just be happy after the facts and no conflict.

In either case, it risks feeling tacked on and irrelevant. Who knows though, ABP is a fantastic show and I look forward to being proved wrong.

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Amagi Brilliant Park – 11

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ABP is a little gem of a show that doesn’t quite make it into my book of best-ever anime. However, it remains the most consistent and (consistently excellent) show of the season.

This week is no exception and gave us a text-book perfect final push before next week’s conclusion. No time was wasted, the characters we love and know double their efforts, and a final kink blocks their path to victory.

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The Summary: Kanie-kun’s final play is to invite a real-world soccer team to use the abandoned stadium on the final day of the season. It’s a near guaranteed 50,000 bump to the park’s guests counter and, with the help of some magic and mole people, it’s well within their grasp to get it done.

The lines are long, the guests are constant and, exhausted or not, the cast pounds through show after show. But, as the last bus of soccer fans walks through the gates, the park is short a few hundred of their goal. With three hours to go, it’s panic time!

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The Good – while Kanie-kun’s psychic power has gone a bit under utilized this season, I appreciate that it didn’t get over used either and this week uses it just enough to bend the rules in the park’s favor.

I also appreciated that 500,000 guests may not be practical for the park even at the best of times. Sweat by the bucket and fatigue aside, the high volume of guests bring with them long and slow moving lines. Amagi just doesn’t have enough content for that many people all at the same time.

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However, the single best element of the episode was the closing, where the cast is so close yet we have no idea (and they have no idea) how the gap will get closed. This is exactly what the lead up to a finally needs.

No new threats from left field, no distractions, just hard work from your cast and the thrill of seeing how they defeat the long challenge they’ve faced all season.

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The not as goods – I have no real gripes this week. Rather, season-long issues. I remain …tepid?… about Latifah. She’s not a very interesting character and I think the show runners know this. (since they haven’t given her all that much screen time, relatively speaking)

Likewise, it’s been weeks since we’ve seen the dream-girl-trio. They were so well integrated for the two episodes immediately after their mid-season introduction but now? If they turn into a fix-all at the end, it will feel too hand-wavy and if they don’t appear at all? Well… then why were they introduced in the first place?

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The Verdict – Another 9. Honestly, if you liked what this show has done leading up to now, you will like what it did here. It’s ramped up the tension, without losing its focus.

It remains to be seen if it can pull it all off in the finale. I’m confident it can — even confident that it may finally land a perfect 10 but, there’s always a potential for surprise… in the other direction!

9_ogk

Amagi Brilliant Park – 10

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Late season episodes always run the risk of dragging out the pre-finale tension too much and, while no major revelations came to ABP this week, its tenth episode was way more successful than most other shows’.

This shouldn’t be that surprising, really. ABP’s brightly colored, wacky characters of many shapes and sizes, its lush environment, and it’s finely crafted sense of humor are naturally a pleasure to watch. That said, I was a little nervous after the faerie quartet’s rather silly, plot unproductive outing last week…

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The Summary: The park’s cast and attractions have hit their stride. Some cast members are even trying new things to make themselves more interactive: Macaron has a head-banging rock show, Tirame’s flowers try to eat people, and Moffle’s old light gun challenge has been replaced by airsoft and mech fighting. The park is even open at night now.

Attendance is not only up but everyone is happy and excited about what is going on. Everyone except Seiya Kanie-kun, who’s losing his pleasant edge over the stress of doing so well, but falling short of their goal.

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Unfortunately, the princess is still barely holding herself together and Kanie-kun is finally told why: she was cursed when her father betrayed a mage and she requires a large quantity of human joy to survive. Worse, even if she survives, Latifah loses her memory (and physical growth) of the previous 12 months at the beginning of August each year.

Kanie also remembers that he met her before and tried to cheer her up, but failed. It’s safe to assume he hasn’t remembered everything yet, either, since the show has implied his fear of heights and falling also stem from that same encounter…

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The GoodABP knows how to keep it’s characters developing. Kanie and Moffle have grown closer (maybe even to a point where they respect each other now) over their mutual support of the princess. The side cast too continues to shine and the double-whammy of the princess dying if the park closes AND not remembering anyone even if she survives sets the stakes quite nicely.

As for smaller details, the whole opening segment with Macaron’s rock show and the schoolgirls being super-happy to play-fight the Orcs in the dungeon attraction were super cute. It does what all the best fantasy shows do: it makes you wish you could go there and join in on the fun.

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The not as goods – my only notable criticism is that Latifah’s story isn’t that interesting. Rather, she’s been a side character for most of the show, with no episode-to-episode presence. It certainly works as a second binder to hold the ‘save the park’ plot together, but, as cute and lovely a little girl as Latifah is, and as much as we’ve seen Kanie come to care for her, all the other relationships are more interesting.

The only other item of note is the lack of Kanie’s fake-harem trio. I appreciated that they were integrated in the Pirate and Body Swap episodes, and not really forced into the foreground but… they need to be in the show at least a little or risk becoming extraneous.

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The Verdict – I really enjoy this show and I’ve even broken the will of my fellow reviewers to the point where they not only excitedly watch the show too but aggressively hunt me down when I’ve been slow to review it each week. It’s surprisingly good, each and every week and even more so when you compare it to the rest of the top 5.

Sure, with one exception, I don’t see ABP as a perfect score kinda show but it’s so very reliable, I may well consider it my favorite show of the fall season regardless. Episode 10 just continues that… so you should probably be watching this show?

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We’re entering the final run. Next week will pick up with the Triceratops telling Kanie that he found The Thing, and finally let us know what that thing is and how it will save the park from being closed.

I have my guesses but this isn’t the kind of show where narrative surprises do the heavy lifting. That’s done by the characters themselves, their drama, and a witty (and very Western) sense of comedic timing. Kudos!

9_ogk

Sword Art Online II – 10

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On the one hand, I watched a good deal of this episode with a firm frown on my face, bitterly annoyed and disappointed that Sinon is, for lack of a better word, comprehensively emasculated from the in-game bad-ass we liked so much since her first episode, and put into the position where the steady, reliable Kirito has to rescue her, even if she’s not even sure she wants to be rescued.

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“It’s all good Sinon. We all have our days when we’re not at our best.”

On the other hand, that Sinon we liked never really existed. She was only a front; a shell Asada Shino created when she started GGO as a form of therapy. In other words, when it was just a game. When suddenly confronted with a trigger for her PTSD—namely, the gun she used to kill someone—she crumbles and can no longer pull the trigger, but there’s nothing out of left field about that; it makes sense, when taking all her circumstances into account.

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THERE…That wasn’t so hard, was it?! (It was.)

The flaw in Sinon’s goal, as laudable as it sounded in theory, was that even if she was recognized as the strongest player in GGO, it wouldn’t have any effect on the Asada Shino in the real world. Sinon was a persona, and a fragile one, that the reality of her psychological issues was simply too much for. So while we’re disappointed Shino had to hit rock bottom, it’s better for her illusion of strength to be broken now, not quite halfway through, so she can begin the process of becoming stronger the right way (whatever that is).

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You may ask yourself: “But Hannah, if Sinon gets so worked up around Death Gun and her past, why is Kirito such a cool cucumber?” Well, I have a few answers to that. Sinon had to kill when she was just eleven years old; she killed in the real world, getting literal blood on her hands; she was ostracized by her peers. Shino got the shorter end of the stick all around, and had a far weaker support system. Long before Kirito was trapped in SAO, Shino was trapped in a prison of guilt and self-loathing.

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For the record: the “Circle of Chanting Mean Kids” trope should really be retired.

She’s still not completely out of that prison, and Kirito is still in one of his own. As cool and composed as he was this week, he still can’t guarantee he won’t abandon her, turn tail and run when that Death Gun is pointed at him again. Storms of fear and doubt rage beneath his calm exterior, Sinon just hasn’t seen it’s full extent, while we (and Nurse Aki) have.

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So…when does he break it to her he’s spoken for?

I’ll be honest: the show is currently breaking zero ground in having the girl rely on the guy so much thus far, but I can accept this setback provisionally if it represents the first step towards her properly dealing with her past (Wishful thinking? We’ll see!), which could lead to a stronger, more stable self. That’s a greater possibility now that she knows Kirito shares the burden of having killed for real. She’s been working so hard to forget about what she did, but Kirito did forget, and can speak from experience: forgetting and plowing ahead will never be as effective as acceptance and forgiveness.

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Sword Art Online II – 09

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There are only a few cases in entertainment where watching people watching something within the show is tolerable. MST3k is certainly one of them. SAOII is not. There’s something a bit silly about Asuna, Yui, Rika, Suguha, Keiko, and…er…what’s-his-name watching the BoB from within ALO. Why lie in bed alone when you could get together in the real world and watch in person?

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In any case, these scenes were part of a larger over-arching problem with this episode: it lagged. I was a little more tolerant of the pace when things were still building up, and I realize this arc will probably be over in three episode’s time, but the stalling was a bit too over-apparent here, and there wasn’t really anything we haven’t seen before (Kirito’s bullet-dodging is kind of one-note, for example). At this late stage, I was left wanting.

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Worse still, despite how little happened in this episode, it has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger, with Sinon being paralyzed by Death Gun (who has more super powers than a State Farm agent) and is about to be shot (and killed for real) when the ep cuts to credits. This means Sinon is either dead (doubtful) or has become yet another damsel in distress for Kirito to swoop in and save.

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There are other possibilities (another player could save her), but it’s frustrating how much being around Kirito has sapped her of her agency. He’s pawing her constantly and calling all the shots. The fact that Death Gun’s Death Gun (which is the same kind she used to kill as a child) turns her into a basketcase doesn’t help matters.

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Sword Art Online II – 08

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No more setup or qualifying; Ballet of Bullets 3 officially kicks off this week; a 30-man battle royale with only one victor (at least, there was only one in the previous two BoBs) taking place in a 10 square kilometer stage filled with several different terrains. One of SAO II’s challenges is to make the game look like a lot of fun, and it doesn’t have any trouble with that: the pre-BoB betting; the drinking and carousing; the countdown and the fireworks all conspire to make this a grand, exciting event.

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Before it starts, Sinon allows Kirito to keep hanging around her asking for information, likely because she felt a connection between them in the qualifying finals. Unlike us, she doesn’t know exactly what Kirito’s deal is, but in exchange for letting him stick by her, she gets a lot more information in this regard, and even realizes that Kirito could well be an SAO survivor, something he doesn’t admit for sure (though we thought he would).

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In a nice moment of levity, Kirito capitalizes on his new-found celebrity in GGO, which has all but equaled Sinon’s overnight. Of course, that would evaporate almost instantly if everyone finds out he’s really a guy. But he wants all eyes on him because that’s what all of Death Gun’s victims had when he murdered them: it was done out in the open, with an audience. And there’s no greater audience in GGO than BoB.

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After Sinon reiterates the promise Kirito made her to stay alive so they could fight, they jump into BoB. Nine of the thirty players drop almost immediately, and surprisingly, Sinon and Kirito aren’t apart for long. Kirito makes another deal with her: they’ll watch the battle unfold until there’s only one player left and them; that person is sure to be Death Gun, if he’s the threat Kirito believes him to be, after all.

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Sinon agrees (as long as she gets to fight him seriously at some point in the future), but Death Gun surprises them both by showing up out of nowhere, hitting “Pale Rider” (whom Kirito thought could be Death Gun) with a stun round super-rare silencing sniper rifle then aiming his handgun at him. Fearful Death Gun’s shot will kill the player, Kirito orders Sinon to shoot Death Gun first. Cliffhanger and roll credits. Rats!

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All in all, nice episode. Certainly all the pieces seem to be in place for the final confrontation with Death Gun, including the reveal of who he actually is. Like the 75th Hunger Games, the BoB will probably fade into the background in light of Kirito’s more pressing mission, and again, Sinon should prove a valuable ally. While she may exhibit tsundere-ty on occasion, I’m loving Sinon’s interactions with Kirito, wanting to learn more about him as her trust in him gradually grows.

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Sword Art Online II – 07

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In this calm-before-the-storm episode, SAOII puts the action on hold and takes the time to reflect on the present emotional states of Kazuto and Shino, painting the coming rematch as must-win for both of them. If Kirito loses, his chances of facing off with Death Gun diminish greatly, now that Death Gun is far more than the target he was hired to investigate.

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While outside of the MMO where he gets to shoot and slash and take his mind off things, in the real world Kazuto is haunted by his titular “crimson memories,” or rather the lack of detail in them. After putting on a brave, reassuring face for both Asuna and Sugu (a face they don’t quite believe), it’s Nurse Aki who finally gets to the heart of his torment: because he forgot two of the faces of the men he killed, he believes he’s a monster who doesn’t deserve to be saved.

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Aki can’t do much more than offer hugs of increasing intensity, but hugs can be immensely effective in moments such as this. I particularly like how Aki admitted she had no idea what it must’ve been like to kill in SAO, but as a medical professional she deals in life and death all the time, and sometimes someone has to die for someone else to live, and someone else has to choose, and live with that choice.

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Neither I nor Aki can believe that Kazuto is the monster he claims, simply because a monster wouldn’t suffer like he is. And as Aki says, people have a right to save themselves by balancing their guilt for the people they killed by remembering the people they saved and protected. It’s a burden to be acknowledged and carried, not a pyre upon which to immolate oneself.

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Shino is in a bit of a tough spot as well. Her time spent with Kirito in GGO has changed her; she’s even making a gun shape with her hand in the real world, something she never could do. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, he’s helping her become stronger. Meanwhile, Kyouji confesses to her in both worlds, wanting her to go back to the way she was; a selfish notion, considering how much we know Shino didn’t like the way she was.

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Continuing his campaign of acting like a very suspicious motherfucker, Shinkawa Kyouji makes Sinon even more uneasy—not the best thing to be when you’re in the tournament of your life—but Kirito is just as uneasy. These are two people whose souls have been wounded by the lives they’ve taken, and both have chosen the BoB as the venue of their redemption, if there’s any to be had. But only one of them will move on.

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Sword Art Online II – 06

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One of the nice things about SAO is that the previews are simply a static screen with the title of the next episode, as Kirito says “Next Time: [Episode Title]” It doesn’t spoil what’s to come, so we had no idea the show was about to hit fast forward on the BoB preliminaries and deliver what we’ve been waiting for: the first battle between Kirito and Sinon.

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By SAOII standards, that came in a hurry, but a welcome one. The second episode showed us how a GGO battle works and how good Sinon is, but fell down on both stakes and emotional resonance, since we hadn’t yet learned about Sinon’s troubled past, and the parties in the battle were fairly inconsequential, beyond reminding Sinon she has to get stronger.

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This episode improves on all of that one’s shortcomings, and while the vistas were cooler in that one, the quality and pace of the combat is maintained, only this time we care more about the outcome, which ends with Sinon conceiting defeat and surrendering. It also repairs the rift caused by a misundrstanding last week that drew Sinon away, and also turned her idea of the “strength” she seeks on its head. For all those reasons, I think this was SAOII’s best episode to date.

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Up until now Sinon had fathomed strength as the thing that allowed her to slay the most powerful foes with ease, and which allows Kirito to stand still and still dodge her sniper fire, or slice her final bullet in two in their final duel. Kirito sees all that as merely skill, not strength. He also relies on luck and circumstance; his interaction with Sinon after the first round wasn’t a calculation on his part, but it affected her aim from then on regardless.

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No, to Kirito, strength is the thing that allows you to continue living with yourself after having chosen to kill, and kill more than once. Even if it was to defend his comrades and the woman he loved, he still took their lives. Sinon also killed to protect herself and her mother, but both of them have the same problem: Sinon has been unable to move on from that event, and now that Death Gun has reawakened his crimson memories, neither can Kirito.

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Kirito and Sinon, sittin’ in a tree…A-N-G-S-T-I-N-G…so now Sinon may well belive that she’s found her soulmate, but Kirito is, not surprisingly, unaware of the connection, since he doesn’t really know about her past. He also already has Asuna. But in any case, he and Sinon are now no longer enemies, which means she could prove a valuable ally in the coming fight with Death Gun, should he choose to involve others. Of course, he’s said he’s done with killing, but up against a killer, he may have no choice.

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Stray Observations:

  • I really dug the GGO victory fanfare that plays when the battles are one. I counted at least three instances of it here.
  • Particular kudos are in order for Sawashiro Miyuki on her voice-acting in this episode. It’s always nice to hear her voice a leading lady, though her villains are pretty great too.
  • Notable Kirito and Sinon contrasts: she’s primarily in white, he’s black; he charges his opponents in a mad rush, she hangs way back and snipes.
  • I dug the flashback to when Asuna was still rocking her Knights of the Blood garb. Too bad we didn’t get to see her fight much. She remains a tragically underused character.

Sword Art Online II – 05

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Ah, Kirito…so good with a sword and at dodging bullets…not so good at avoiding unfortunate situations. To whit: he follows Sinon into the girl’s locker room, forgetting he’s a guy. She’s already in her underwear, so all he can do is tell her the truth and apologize right then and there. Perhaps not undeservedly, Sinon sours on him at once.

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She’s mad not just because he misrepresented himself and got a free show, but every bit as much (if not more) because she let herself get fooled; let herself believe she’d finally met another strong girl in GGO; someone she could trust. While it wasn’t Kirito’s intention, he did make a fool of her, and that’s not something she’ll easily forgive.

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Still, even before the revelation, Sinon warned Kirito that she wouldn’t go easy on him if they meet in the finals; there can one be one BoB champion, after all. Now considering him her enemy, she makes him promise to meet her there so she can personally teach him “the taste of the bullet that means defeat.”

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It’s a harsh position, but like I said, Kirito made her remember how much stronger she needs to become. Meanwhile, Sinon, while declaring she’ll “beat all the strong ones” with a slightly twisted smirk on her face, reminds Kirito of Death Gun, the whole reason he’s here. He’ll know for sure when he gets to fight her who she is, but first he’ll have to win five battles to reach the finals.

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The first battle, set in an ancient ruin at dusk, is a bit hairy at first until Kirito catches on to the way GGO informs you of bullet trajectories. He dodges his opponent’s bullets with acrobatics, speed, and his light sword, which he uses to run him through. One down, four to go. It’s tiring, but it’s doable.

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Then, back in the staging area, where Shinkawa Kyouji (our candidate for Death Gun), is watching Sinon fight on the monitors, Death Gun himself suddenly sidles up to Kirito, asking if he’s “the real thing.” Kirito gets the vibe from the guy that they know each other, and his tattoo confirms it: he’s a fellow SAO survivor and former member of PK guild Laughing Coffin.

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It’s not surprising that Kirito wouldn’t be the only SAO player in GGO, and that some of those other players might not be all right in the head. Since Kirito was a thorn in Coffin’s side, there’s no doubt at this point that he is now on his list of strong ones to eliminate. So much for a low profile!

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Sword Art Online II – 04

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After three weeks of setting the stage, Kirito is finally in Gun Gale Online…and he looks like a friggin’ girl! Though he isn’t a girl in the places that count, his clothes hide that fact. The extremely low female player population of GGO means he sticks out like a sore thumb, and I like how uncomfortable being ogled makes him. HA! Now you know how all your many lady friends feel, KK!

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His looks work in his favor when he runs into Sinon, who’d likely be a lot more standoffish if he was a guy, even the willowy Kirito of ALO or SAO. As it is, she’s glad to be hanging out and talking with another girl, considering she has no friends of any gender in the real world. Their walk to the gun store gives us a better look at GGO’s whimsical cyberpunk capital. At the store she unleashes a hail of gun geekery on Kirito…but with a thin wallet his choices are limited.

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Enter Untouchable!, a goofy minigame within GGO that’s deceptively primitive but requires that you anticipate the animatronic gunman’s bullet trajectories. Most people just try to dodge them when their HUDs warn them, but he inevitably gets them. Kirito takes the game on and clears it easily, netting him a cool 300K and the dropped jaws of Sinon and everyone else who watched.

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Then he goes and blows half of it on…well, there isn’t an easier way to say this, so I’ll just say it….on Mace Windu’s lightsaber. The darn thing has the exact same on-off swooshing and woom-woom sounds. I’m guessing these sound effects, originally created by Ben Burtt, are used under some kind of license. At any rate, it’s quite fitting that Kirito is bringing a sword to a gun fight. Stick with what you know!

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As for guns, he knows nothing, but Sinon is a walking Gunipedia and is willing and happy to help him out. When they lose track of time and have only ten minutes to get to the Governor’s office to register for the Ballet of Bullets, Kirito shows off his racing game skills, giving Sinon an exhilarating 3-wheeled buggy ride. We’ll see what she thinks of him when she finds out he’s a guy, but for now, it’s all smiles and figurative sunshine.

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Sword Art Online II – 03

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After her great victory over Behemoth in GGO, Asada Shino logs off to find herself back in her lonely, tenuous, pitiable existence in the real world. Bullies shaking her down for fare in a dark alley threaten to show her a model gun, and we learn why that’s such a big deal: having put three bullets into a bank robber to save her mom as a small child, Shino now gets intense panic attacks every time she sees or touches a gun.

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Shino’s guy friend Shinkawa, who saves her from the bullies, suggested she dive into GGO as “immersive therapy”, and she found she could handle the guns in the virtual world without any issues. In fact, her entire motivation for rising in GGO is so the strength she’s gaining as Sinon will somehow “rub off” into the real world. But that seems like wishful thinking even she can’t always maintain, as she sinks into her bed thinking “Someone, please save me.” The real world is the real world, and GGO is GGO.

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Thanks to Death Gun, whom Kirito still hopes is just an urban legend but whom we know exists, those worlds are becoming intertwined. Those he targets in GGO die in the real world. Kirito and Shino’s paths have yet to cross, but now that he’s in GGO it’s only a matter of time, especially since we learn in the end that Sinon needs saving too: she’s Death Gun’s next target, no doubt having gained enough esteem to catch his attention.

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Kirito has a nice setup thanks to Kikuoka: a hospital room; the same saucy nurse Aki who took care of him when he was trapped in SAO; constant observation and instrumental monitoring. He’s not going in half-cocked, except for the fact he’s still not convinced the Big Bad is real. So…who is he? Well, we only see part of his face in the end as he strokes a picture of Sinon, but my guess would be Shinkawa. (Note that this is just a guess; no spoilers in the comments, please!)

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Their awkward tea revealed some of the inadequacies that could fuel a villain, from daddy issues and being on a path not on his making, to his friend surpassing him in the thing he introduced her to. It’s still unsettling to think he’d resort to murder; perhaps he bears deep psychological scars as Shino does, only his are expressed in violence towards others, particularly those who make him feel inferior, and he can’t stop any more than Shino can keep herself from vomiting. We’ll certainly see.

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