Kemono Jihen – 12 (Fin) – How to Melt a Frozen Heart

Nobimaru presses his attack on Yui, but learns he can’t even touch the nullstone without freezing and cracking his arm, as the thing literally feeds on life. Nobimaru, who is unquestionably loyal to Inari despite knowing full he’s nothing but a tool to her, allows himself a moment to stew in the knowledge that Inari knew about the damage the stone would do to him…and didn’t care.

But if Inari left him on his own to succeed or perish, Kabane won’t have it, and he steps in as Nobimaru’s flaming champion. The nullstone grabs still more power from Yui to give him an ice suit of armor, and just like that we’ve got a dazzling Ice Boy vs. Fire Lad duel. Kabane’s constantly burning and regenerating body provides some of the cooler images this vibrant series has yet offered.

Akira manages to use all the fog and steam the battle is creating to smash his ice cage and wastes no time coming between Kabane and Yui before either of them do any permanent damage. And it’s here where I must declare my undying love for any show whose MC crumbles into flaming pile of burning flesh and bones without anyone batting an eye.

Moments later, the nullstone has nearly sucked Yui’s life dry, and his own body begins to become brittle and crack. Fortunately, Kabane has regenerated enough to give Akira a hand pulling the nullstone out of Yui’s chest. Kabane then coughs up his lifestone, which merges with the other stone on contact, releasing it from Yui.

Right on cue, Inari arrives on the scene to snatch up the stone, but Inugami is right there to remind her that neither half of the stone is hers, so she an Nobimaru slink off. In yet another demonstration of empathy and fellow feeling, Kabane asks Nobimaru to go with them to the Ohana clinic where Aya can surely heal his ruined hand…only for Nobimaru to politely decline, intending to bear the wound as a warning not to get careless again.

As Yui recovers at the clinic (and Aya calculates the exorbitant bill), Kabane hangs around outside his door, waiting for him to wake up so he can ask him about his parents. Akira sees him out there and immediately apologizing for saying he hated him, which he obviously only did because he was afraid Yui would kill him. On the contrary, Akira reiterates his love for Kabane, and their little making-up dance in the hall is just precious as all get-out.

Yui eventually wakes up, and is ready to talk with Kabane, starting with the “Kemono Incidents”, a period of history forgotten by most humanity when kabane and humans were in devastating open warfare. An agreement was made to end the hostilities, and all the kabane higher-ups had stones like Kabane’s to maintain balance through the threat of force—the only way a group as fractured and ungainly as kemono could be controlled).

While this is a lot of exposition for a final episode, it provides welcome setup for a second season that, while not yet announced, seems likely due to strong manga sales and a studio that often produces sequels. It also includes Akira’s inner voice worrying about falling asleep during all this talking, which is a wonderful little moment.

As for the question of what’s to become of Yui, he’s content to shuffle off into the shadows and bear all of the horrible things he did. Akira won’t hear of it, and it takes a slap to Yui’s face to get him to listen when Akira says they’re brothers and twins and should share the burdens together. Yui is also heartened when Kabane forgives him, though the others know that’s just who Kabane is. He gives and forgives.

The gist of Yui’s stories (as well as Inugami’s contribution to the discussion) is that for Kabane’s parents to have had the lifestone meant they were either kemono chiefs themselves or found it themselves. The best way to learn more about his stone and all the others that are out there is to track down their owners, some of whom Inugami knows.

Meanwhile, Inari, in her appropriately noir-ish office at the police HQ, assures Nobimaru she’s not done trying to get her hands on either stone (now that they’re merged, which one she’d rather have is irrelevant). But she knows she can’t take from those the tanuki is protecting by force. So he tells Nobimaru to relay Kon’s next mission: to seduce Kabane and get him to give her the stone willingly.

While there’s nothing Inugami can do about that scenario, asking Kon to seduce anyone—particularly Kabane—seems doomed to failure. Neither Kon nor Kabane quite grasp the concept of love or romance quite yet, and Kabane clearly knows more since he now has more of it in his life.

But there’s no denying Kon is smitten on one level with Kabane, so it’s just as likely he’d seduce her to his side than she’d get him to give up the stone that—lest we forget—is crucial to keep him under control. As Akira goes on a trip with Yui and Shiki minds the shop, Kabane and Inugami prepare to head to Shikoku to meet the first of many stone-keepers.

Kon super-awkwardly inserts herself into their trip, and Kabane urges her to join them, which is fine with Inugami. He’s no fool, and so knows full well Inari sent Kon to try to steal the stone. But he also knows Kabane isn’t half as guileless and manipulative as he once was, and so he’ll probably do fine against Kon’s inept attempts.

The three board the shinkansen, bound for more adventures in search of answers to the mystery of Kabane’s folks. That should make for a heckuva second season, the announcement of which I eagerly await. Even if for some reason it never comes, I had a lot of fun watching this eclectic and lovable bunch of characters work through their dark pasts, and differences, grow closer as a family…and kick some monster ass together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

Let it be said that the system the yuki-onna employ to keep the Snowy Village arrive is patently awful, not to mention extremely inefficient. And yet, with many a human tribe throughout history relied on the suffering and sacrifice of a “special few” in order to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity survival, it’s certainly nothing new, on either side of the human-kemono spectrum.

We take a look back at Yui and Akira’s past in the village throughout this episode, as Yui becomes the chief and is studded out to all of the 200 women of the village, a duty he keeps secret from Akira. Akira assumes he has to deal with difficult paperwork, and cheers him up with sasanqua camellia blooms when they’re able to talk to each other in the night.

Until a woman produces a male heir, his duties will continue; no mention is made of what happens to any new female children produced in the meantime. But Yui’s burden goes beyond simply being the physical tool with which to keep the village going. He has to deal with the constant competition for his favor, which adds to his emotional toll.

Back in the ice castle Yui built for his pure brother, Akira’s plushie informs him the others are frozen, but they are still alive. Kabane even manages to burst half of his body out of the ice. And while his bottom half grows back, the fact remains he, along with the still-frozen Shiki and Inugami, are still at Yui’s mercy.

Not sure what else he can do to protect them, Akira decides to scorn Kabane, saying he hates them and wants nothing more to do with them. When Yui returns, Akira shields Kabane from his frozen wrath and, knowing Yui will do whatever he asks, says he wants to move with him to a new place.

Kabane is left in a state of shock, thinking Akira really means what he said. Then Inari shows up in all her saxophone leitmotif-having glory. She assures him she’s not here for the Lifestone, but the Nullstone, which among other things could provide answers about his parents.

Seeing Inugami sealed up like a Thermos and reduced to communicating through the plushie (which can read his mind waves), Inari remarks that he’s gotten weaker…probably due to how he “makes too much” of “those useless children.”

Inari, meanwhile, uses her children like tools and discards them when they’re no longer of use. But like Kon, Nobimaru is all too happy to serve his mistress in all things, including going toe-to-toe with Yui, who encases Akira in a protective ice cage while he fights an ice-vs.-fire battle with the kitsune.

As the circumstances of Akira’s banishment are revealed—he had his first wet dream, so Yui sent him away before any of the women found out—Yui will do anything to preserve Akira’s perceived “purity”. And while both Nobimaru is hanging in there and the unkillable Kabane is on his way, it’s still looking like Akira will have to be the one to stop his twin brother from causing more harm.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 10 – Good for Something

When born in their snowy village far to the north, Akira and his twin brother Yui were the first male yuki-onoko born in a century. While they were treated like princes with every need tended to, they were also prisoners in a guilded cage, their mother dead and their father imprisoned and mad. Akira was weak and a crybaby, always being led around by Yui.

One day they found some supplies left behind by humans, including a magazine that teaches them about life in Tokyo. Fast-forward to the present, Yui is in Tokyo searching for his brother. When a drunk tries to extort him he demonstrates his immensely powerful ice manipulation. Immediately, we’re not quite sure we want this guy to find our kind, gentle Akira!

Unfortunately in an ongoing effort to be more useful, Akira ends up only making more work for Shiki and Kabane. Kon and Aya take the week off so that the focus stays on the core three lads and their dynamic. Akira writes a note and takes off on a jourey to find his brother, taking with him his plushie to which Mihei added AI when he repaired its stuffing. Sure, why not?

There must be some unseen force that draws the twin brothers together, because Akira finds Yui in his first five minutes of his “journey.” Akira buys him a crepe like the kind they saw in that magazine…but Yui doesn’t want it. Akira has shown that despite being a snow boy he’s the warmest of the lads. Even for a yuki-onoko Yui is oddly cold.

Still, when his brother mentions a certain frozen castle from a certain popular American film in which ice plays an important role, Yui instantaneously builds him a massive Japanese-style castle in the middle of a park. It’s a gorgeous and glorious thing, but also very unnerving, because it again demonstrates how powerful Yui is. Then he smashes Akira’s phone and locks him away.

Unaware their princess has been taken captive and locked away in a castle, Shiki and Kabane start clashing immediately in Akira’s absence. Kabane realizes, as Inugami hoped they would, that Akira is the glue that holds their little misfit group together. They decide to go find Akira, and his sole posting of the ice castle helpfully points them in the right direction.

As the post is now trending, a large crowd and even a reporter have arrived to investigate this strange ice castle that appeared out of nowhere. Leaving Inari to the inevitable cover-up, Inugami, Kabane, and Shiki confront Yui, who isn’t really interested in talking. Inugami also notices Yui has a “nullstone” lodged in his heart: basically the opposite of Kabane’s lifestone. which is keeping Yui’s heart well-chilled.

Akira learns that his plushie has Wi-Fi, but only just when Yui returns to tell him the claw-foot bath, four-poster bed and chandelier he requested are ready. Yui leads Akira downstairs, where he learns his brother has also decided to decorate a bit…with Akira’s frozen friends.

It’s pretty clear by now that the strength, precision, and control of his ice manipulation far exceeds Yui’s, and and that Yui isn’t the brother Akira knew, due to that nullstone. But assuming some combination of Kon, Aya, Inari, Nobimaru, and Mihei won’t drop in to save the day, it’ll all be up to our favorite useless scaredy-cat snow boy to set his twin straight and thaw his peeps.

Bofuri – 11 – Maple’s Inferno

BOFURI shifts seemlessly to Shounen Battle Mode as Maple sends May and Yui off on MegaSyrup and fights Mii, Misery and Markus. At first it’s largely a stalemate, with the Emperors’ attacks unable to do much damage and Maple unable to go on offense. Mii forces the issue with her Noble Phantasm ultimate attack [Prison of Flame], forcing Maple to bust out [Machine God] earlier than she wanted.

Overmatched by Maple’s firepower and with her support KO’d, Mii uses [Self-Destruct] while riding Maple’s back, only to learn upon re-spawning that Maple wasn’t harmed by her suicide attack, leading to another patented Mii-Tantrum. Both the tough and crybaby sides of Mii were well-performed by Satou Rina. As for the Emperors’ orb, it was snatched away by a grunt in the midst of the chaos, so Maple Tree comes away empty-handed.

That proves strategically costly, as Maple Tree couldn’t afford to spend that much effort on one foe with no payoff. Both small and medium guilds are dwindling as Maple Tree barely hangs on to the bottom of the Top 10. While that feat is impressive, it only intensifies the target on their back as one of the last remaining small guilds. Subsequent raids prove fruitless, and Sally senses an attack from one of the big guilds coming, so prepares to move their orb off-base.

Those plans come too late, as Sally miscalculates that a big guild like Holy Sword would take forever to mobilize. Instead Holy Sword only sends four, led by Payne, perhaps the game’s most powerful player. Maple stands ready to test that title as the other three Holy Swords battle the rest of Maple Tree.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Payne, ultra-buffed by his comrades, does critical HP damage to Maple. If she’s KO’d it’s probably all over. Can Maple recover and can her guild snatch some kind of consolatory victory from the jaws of certain defeat? We’ll find out in the finale.

Bofuri – 10 – The Little Guild that Could

Maple Tree’s haul totals ten orbs, but that’s only good enough for 17th place. To reach the Top 10 they’ll need more, and the easy pickens from smaller guilds like theirs will be gobbled up quick. That means an already tired Sally must sally forth into the night, where her style of attacking is most effective. Kasumi, Kuromu, Iz and Kanade also strike out to gather more orbs, confident Maple can hold the fort with May and Yui.

But the pitfalls of a tiny guild like theirs trying to compete with the big dogs becomes clear when a nearly gassed Sally bites off more than she can chew and is surrounded by Frederica’s Holy Sword soldiers. She messages Maple that she “might die, sorry”, and Maple rushes to her rescue in Angel Mode and mows the Holy Sword columns away with her Hydras and mech beams.

Maple saves Sally (and her haul of orbs), but leaves the base defense to just May and Yui, who are ambushed by Shin of the Flame Emperors Dread of the Holy Sword, who was watching the guild’s movements. Though he picked the perfect time to strike, the twins manage to avoid KO just long enough for Maple to return with Sally.

Maple KOs Dread, who promises he’ll be back with friends. Frankly, Kanade leaving the base for a mere handful of orbs wasn’t worth it. Had the twins died just a few minutes sooner, Dread would have made off like…well, like a bandit! Kanade, with her insta-spells, would have been ideal backup.

Still, everything turns out fine this time. Sally unveils Maple Tree’s “Plan B”, which essentially swaps who’s on offense and defense. Maple, May and Yui are a three-boss demolition team that mercilessly carves through the guilds Sally mapped out, while the rest of the guild stands by at the base. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the interplay of their cute appearance and mild manners with the utter ruin they dole out.

It’s not long until the next victim on Maple’s list are the vaunted Flame Emperors, led by the legendary Mii. Neither Markus nor Misery—neither of them exactly pushovers—can do much more than slow her down a little. Anything that traps Maple in her tracks is quickly reduced to rubble by the twin hammer girls.

In fact, once they’ve thrown everything they can at Maple to no avail, Misery and Markus resign themselves to death and defeat…until their commander Mii arrives in a streak of flames, just as Maple came to Sally’s aid. Thus the stage is set for the biggest showdown of NWO so far, something everyone watching on the sidelines has been waiting for.

Will Mii’s presence enable Markus and Misery to regroup and keep the twins busy, leaving Maple more vulnerable? Or will Mii fall to Mega-Maple’s might just as so many others before her, and have a big ol’ whiny tantrum about it? We shall see!

Bofuri – 09 – Capture the Orb

On the eve of the fourth event, a guild competition, the members of Maple Tree train, level up, and in the case of Maple, the twins, and Sally, relax a bit on the water. The competition is essentially a five-day capture-the-flag battle, which means small guilds like theirs will have little time to rest.

Just before the event begins, Sally catches Fredrica of the Order of the Holy Sword scouting them, and challenges her to a duel. Freddie yields before the battle gets too serious, but both she and Sally gain valuable information about each others’ skills, or Freddie would, if Sally wasn’t using her “coax” ability to send inaccurate information.

Once the event starts, 5/8ths of the guild remains in their base to defend the orb, while Kasumi, Kuromu, and Sally go on the offense. Sally in particular proves adept at both obvious frontal attacks and sneaky stealth attacks in capturing multiple enemy orbs. She also faces off with a Holy Sword member who, like her, is essentially a super-ninja.

At least this week, Sally is the busiest member of Maple Tree, as she darts from one base to another snatching orbs, including right out from under the Flame Emperor’s leader, Mii (voiced by Satou Rina, AKA Railgun’s Misaka Mikoto!). Mii is able to catch up, but Sally uses Vanish to escape. Mii spams Flame and Flame Lance to no avail, and with no one around to see, she drops the facade of steely confidence and sobs about not wanting to be leader anymore—immediately rendering her more interesting!

When a guild attempts to get their stolen orb back from Maple Tree, everyone is under Angel Maple’s ultimate defense, so the poor intruders can do nothing but get slaughtered by the might of Maple’s comrades. Maple doesn’t have to lift a finger, and the direct strike of a sword bounces right off her cloak.

In all, it’s a good start for Maple Tree, but as the small fry are weeded out the tougher players will turn their focus on her. There’s a well-struck balance between total ownage and the challenge of making the top ten with such a tiny guild.

Bofuri – 08 – Maple Ex Machina

In preparation for NWO’s third event, a cow-hunting expedition, Iz kits out Maple, Sally, and Kasumi in some adorably warm wool outfits. But this is event that values high agility, so Maple doesn’t contribute as much as she could to the final cow count. Rather, she stumbles and falls off a mountain and into a fierce battle with an increasingly gross demon boss. She’s swallowed up, but eats her way free.

For defeating the demon Maple gains some frightening new skills, including the ability to transform into Atrocity, complete with a deep and demonic version of her own voice. At the gate to the Third Level, the rest of the party just stands back with sweat drops and lets their adora-monstrous friend do her work against a tree monster that never had a chance.

The third level turns out to be a distinctly cyberpunk world full of whimsical machinery and flying vehicles (she’s no longer alone in the skies with her giant Syrup). The party splits up to get a sense of the place, and Maple ends up feeding an old man on the street who gives her a rare quest that leads to an encounter with what I believe to be the first generation Machine King.

The former king is malfunctioning and changes its form and demeanor several times, but Maple is quick enough to keep up with those changes, and in one of the king’s lucid moments, he bestows upon her the skill [Machine God], which enables her to transform into a powerful, midriff-bearing cyborg killing machine straight out of Gurren Lagann.

An intense robo-duel ensues until Maple is the last one standing, packed with some really nice smooth and dynamic animation and lighting effects. Once things have died down and Maple gets a look at herself, she not unreasonably wonders what the heck just happened. Will she be able to change back to normal, as with [Atrocity]?

One hopes so; she’s going to have trouble fitting through the guild hall door with all that paraphernalia! Whatever happens, the paradigm of NWO has shifted once more as the scale of its world has expanded and evolved. As she collects more ridiculous skills, her ability to surprise us with fun combinations increases. As Kanade puts it: “Watching Maple never gets old.”

Bofuri – 07 – Kinda Immortal

As they roll—literally, in the case of her poison ball—with Maple, it’s not long before Yui and May are up to Level 20, have double strength, and are able to dual-wield normally two-handed warhammers. They go at the Hydra boss over and over until they can defeat it in under two minutes and thirty seconds…not bad for three girls with no agility!

The members of Maple Tree branch out (heh heh) on their own little mini-quests once Iz gives the sisters new crystal hammers. They monster hunt with Sally as she teaches them low-speed agility, Kuromu finds a hidden undead dungeon with Syrup and gains awesome new armor, Kanade upgrades her Akashic Records, and Kasumi…shears sheep for wool, until Maple demonstrates a new skill that lets her grow a huge ball of wool around her, and even add poison to it. Talk about hogging—er, sheeping?—all the glory…

While everyone else is off leveling up, Maple ends up falling down a rabbit hole of sidequests involving an NPC mother and ill child. These quests would be difficult if she wasn’t a massively OP’d tank with a giant flying turtle, but she completes them all in the space of a few hours.

Due to the unnatural speed with which she clears the chain of quests, the NPC mom’s dialogue is unnecessarily dramatic. Instead of being happy to be thanked, Maple feels like she owes the mom an apology!

The final reward of the sidequest chain is “Loving Sacrifice.” Maple commissions an angelic new white suit of armor and gathers her guild-mates in the overworld to demonstrate. After shedding a slice of her HP (she has over 1,000, so plenty to spare), she dons wings and a halo and creates a barrier around the entire party of eight that no enemy can penetrate as long as she’s alive.

Rather than jump for joy at this development, her guild-mates are…a little nervous. After all, isn’t this just a bit much? Maple became the target of the gamemasters before when she spammed Devour; no doubt they’ll step in to de-power her again in an effort to restore game balance.

At the same time, a much larger guild has set its sights on Maple Tree as a potential rival, and will be watching them very carefully in the third event preceding the guild competition. So while Maple was on easy street throughout this episode, that may not be the case next week.

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.

Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sisters Yui and Rena live a peaceful life in the kingdom of Enastoria, but they become involved in a vortex of destiny when a giant robot challenges Rena, who must reveal her true nature as the non-human core of the Regalia Magna Alecto. Yui stays by her side and together the sisters defeat the bad guy.

After watching Regalia’s first effort, my quest to find original Summer 2016 action/sci-fi/mecha shows continues to be unfruitful (Zestiria aside).

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While the strong sisterly bond is appealing, the motivations of Rena in this first episode—i.e. so quickly abandoning Yui to fight on her own—felt a bit forced.

The mecha designs are bland and chunky, the overall animation is merely average, and the bad-guy-of-the-week is laughably subpar, simply yelling a bunch of stuff before being taken down.

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More than anything, there’s the strong scent of the familiar all over Regalia, from the fact one character is an empress and the other the product of science/mysticism, to the extremely uninspiring mecha battle. Even the title of the show sounds generic.

Regalia doesn’t do anything offensively bad, but it doesn’t offer anything exciting or new that would hook me. And so, with a handful of new shows left to watch, my search continues.

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Sword Art Online II – 24 (Fin)

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SAO completed the Sleeping Knights’ mission and resolved Asuna’s family problems to my satisfaction, leaving one episode to do, well, whatever it wanted as a curtain call. Preston seemed pretty miffed that she watched so much Chaika only to get a rudely rushed finale, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case here.

The episode opens with a barbecue at Asuna and Kirito’s cabin; an opportunity for her new friends to meet her old friends. A montage follows, showing how they go on to fight more battles and go on missions as a united super-party, along with Asuna hanging out with her friends in the real world.

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But this isn’t just a goodbye to SAO, it’s a goodbye for Yuuki as well, who takes a turn for the worst. There’s nothing out of left field about this, though Asuna is still distraught that so soon after meeting Yuuki the universe means to rip her away.

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The Yuuki of the real world is too weak to talk, so Asuna grabs an Amusphere and meets her where they first met, on the isle with the great tree. Seeing the hale, healthy, and alert Yuuki there is a sight for sore eyes, but we know it won’t last long. This is her last full dive, and this time when she logs out, she won’t be waking up.

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There’s not much to say about Yuuki’s sendoff, except that it was pretty much perfectly done. Yes, it got pretty mushy there (even my roommate, who was watching SAO for the first time, teared up a little bit) but the emotions that let loose here were earned a long time ago. Asuna summons not only the other Sleeping Knights to say goodbye to Yuuki properly, but hundreds if not thousands of fellow players gather to pray for her safe journey to the hereafter, a fitting farewell to the finest swordsperson in the game.

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Yuuki could not have imagined a better way to go either; surrounded by friends and admirees alike; closing her eyes for the last time in the arms of someone she’s come to love like a sister. At her memorial service in the real world, those same masses from the game come to pay their respects, and Asuna is surprised to be able to meet Siune (An Si-eun), who took a turn for the better when her leukemia went into full remission not long after saying goodbye to Yuuki.

She also reports that at least one other Sleeping Knight seems to be on the mend as well. These aren’t taken as miracles endowed upon them by the departed Yuuki, but her love and strength, as well as Asuna’s, obviously helped their spirits and mindsets. And it’s understood that not all of the Knights will get better.

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Asuna also learns that Kirito knows Kurahashi too, and Kurahashi tells them that the original designs that led to the creation of the medical full-dive technology that’s now in development (and vastly helped by Yuuki’s cooperation in her last days) were created by none other than the late Kayaba Akihito AKA Heathcliff, the creator of SAO; an interesting (if sudden and oddly-timed) callback.

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We close with Asuna and Kirito enjoying a picnic with Sugu, Shino, Klein and the others in a park in Shinjuku. Yui is on Asuna’s shoulder, with eyes and ears to the real world, and probably more in the near future. Kirito and Asuna reiterate their desire to never leave each others’ sides, and as long as she keeps her grades up, she’ll be able to honor that desire. So Kirito…where’s the ring?

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Sword Art Online II – 23

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With the Sleeping Knight’s final victory sealed and her friendship with Yuuki forged and galvanized, Asuna still has a battle to fight; one that will define the rest of her life. And yet, here she is, setting her own problems aside and working feverishly with Kirito to help Yuuki ‘come to school’ via a remote-controlled A/V interface. It cannot be said enough: Asuna is The Best.

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It occurs to me that this like the first time in the whole two-season run of the anime (that I can remember anyway) where we sit down with Asuna’s class and just go through the normal school motions, without any other distractions (the virtual Yuuki on Asuna’s shoulder excepted). That, and the almost eerie, dreamlike way the classroom is lit, along with the enthusiasm of the class itself, gives this ordinarily mundane scene so much more weight and significance.

We’re seeing things, like Yuuki, for the first time. The cut to Yuuki in the school uniform as she gives a tremendously moving reading of “The Truck” — a story that starts with somebody looking from afar at something and wishing they could be there — so beautiful. I’m not surprised the class is enthralled by the reading, and Asuna, who can hear Yuuki’s experiences and feelings beyond the words of the book, even gets teary-eyed, as did I.

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Beautiful, contemplative, and tremendously moving — all are great adjectives to describe this episode, which I think is SAO’s best ever, despite not having one sword in it and only spending a small portion of its time in the virtual world. The first half of the episode is all about Asuna showing Yuuki both the world as it is that she’d never seen, and her life that was, in her hometown and abandoned family home.

Their entire walk, like the school scene, is filmed and lit extra-beautifully so as to underscore what a special occasion it is for Yuuki. Asuna (and Kirito) literally gave her the ability to exist in the real world again, if only in a limited way. Asuna doesn’t know it, but she’s about to be rewarded for her immense kindness.

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Yuuki talks about her mother, and how being here and now finally allows her to understand what her mother meant when she said: “God does not give us more suffering than we can bear”. She thought at first it was only another recited bible verse, but realized that her mother was surrounding and infusing those words with her own feelings and experience, as Yuuki herself did with her class reading.

Asuna tells Yuuki about own problems with her mother, and Yuuki gives her the advice she needs, borne out of the experience Asuna made possible for her, and burnished by the fact that every day Yuuki lives—be it in the real or virtual world—is to be treasured, and not wasted hiding one’s true feelings, or running away.

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Again, look how dark the room Asuna’s mother Kyouko is sitting in when she comes to her that night. They have been talking at each other rather than actually communicating, and the darkness represents their present impasse. Yet SAO II is smart and I daresay bold considering its past problems with bad guys to not portray Kyouko as just another unreasonable, irredeemable villain to be defeated and shamed.

There is hope for Asuna to connect with her mother; she just needs to figure out how to get her feelings to reach her, and how to reach her mom’s feelings as well. It’s clear to her that that can’t be done in the real world, face-to-face. Instead, she brings her mother a headset and begs her to join her in the virtual world so she can say what she has to say properly.

The office is dark, but it is also warm. There’s still hope and love in there somewhere.

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Kyouko, always driving the hard bargain, grudgingly agrees, but only for five minutes, and Asuna must first understand that she won’t be changing her mind about her having to transfer. She also demands Asuna fill out the necessary paperwork as soon as her five minutes are up.

The scene when Asuna logs in and finds Kyouko in her cabin, checking out the Sylph sub-account avatar Asuna assigned to her, is just so funny and charming, particularly when she and Asuna get in a little mini-spat about each others’ weights, which is such a mom-daughter thing to do…especially if both are lookers, which they are.

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The cabin is oddly cool in color and lighting, but like the school, the change gives what had been a routine locale for Asuna and Kirito’s crew much more of a sense of occasion and ‘special-ness’, because her mom is there for the first time. When she opens the window and the cold hush of the snowy forest fills the speakers, things get even more immersive.

Then we learn another reason why the cabin has so much sentimental value to Asuna, beyond her time there with Kirito and the others: it’s not at all unlike the real world cabin where Asuna’s grandparents – Kyouko’s parents – used to live. And one Obon when Asuna was there with them alone, and they told her how much their daughter Kyouko was a treasure to them, rising so fast and touching so many lives as a result of working so tirelessly to become great.

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Here, in that cabin, Asuna can tell her mother that while there’s nothing particularly wrong with putting the betterment of oneself above all else, it can’t be her way of life. She wants to support others, protect them, and improve their lives, while improving her own in the process. I’m not putting it nearly as eloquently or beautifully as Asuna, obviously, but it was a phenomenal exchange, perhaps one of the best in the show’s run.

T_T *Sniffle*…oh gosh, it’s so dusty in here. Does anyone have any Kleenex?

Heck, even Asuna’s mom tears up…a lot. While in the real world she can stifle her tears with her ‘armor’; here she can’t, and they come flowing out from the power of Asuna’s words. Her mom’s response to this: “What an inconvenient world”, is just such a perfect thing her character would say under such circumstances. Just one of so many great lines in this episode.

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The next morning, to Asuna’s relief, the dining room is full of light; her words and feelings reached her mother, no matter how stiff and stern she looks sitting there. She lauds her daughter’s desire to help and support others, but insists she do what is necessary to become strong enough to do that stuff, which means studying her fanny off, keeping her grades up, and getting into university.

If she can do those things, it’s fine for her to stay in the school she wants. It’s a transaction, a comrpomise; but it’s one arranged after the two parties had properly communicated, not one foisted upon the other, and so it’s one Asuna can live with.

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Aww, just look how goshdarn happy Asuna is. And she deserves it. She didn’t trick her mother or plunge a sword through her heart; she merely found a way to get what she needed to say through to her. That way was the virtual world, but in this case its trappings were that of Asuna’s memories and emotions, and not a wholly artificial fantasy world. SAO wasn’t just a game because lives were at stake; here Asuna uses ALO to fight for her life in a very different way, but it’s just as vital. And it’s all thanks to Yuuki’s moving, motivating words.

It’s a far better resolution to her conflict with her mother than I could have possibly hoped for. The writing really has soared in the Rosario Arc, as has the emotional resonance. This episode didn’t have a single sword fight or magic spell or crotch shot. Instead, it kept its characters shining even in the midst of considerable plot movements; and it moved me to tears more than once (though I’m told I’m a bit of a crybaby). For those reasons and far more, it is SAO’s best episode and masterpiece.

10_bravRABUJOI World Heritage List

Sword Art Online II – 22

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Asuna is troubled and confused after Yuuki suddenly disappeared and didn’t come back, and Siune doesn’t make things better by meeting with her and not answering any questions before quickly logging out herself. She did assure Asuna that it wasn’t because of anything she did…just that this has to be goodbye.

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While it would have continued her own dependence and time spent using a device her mother has threatened to take away if it makes her late one more time, Asuna was still excited at the possibility of continuing her friendship with the Sleeping Knights, even after they disbanded. But all the while she thought she was opening a book, they recruited her with the intent of closing a book, at the time and in at way of their choosing.

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Thanks to Kirito’s involvement with full-dive tech, he finds out where Asuna may be able to find Yuuki. Again, Kirito plays a small but crucial role, not only being a shoulder to lean into, but the source of the information that could give Asuna the answers she desires so badly. But unlike the previous episodes, where there was a battle to be fought and victory was achieved, those answers show Asuna that Yuuki can’t win the real-world battle she’s fighting.

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Now I finally understand why Kirito thought there was something “long-term full divey” about Zekken/Yuuki. Reinforcing the idea that you truly know someone by fighting them, he saw the same tendencies he himself has in VR combat as a result of his two years there fighting for his life. The real Konno Yuuki has been in full dive continuously for three years, because in the real world she’s bedridden in a hospital clean room, suffering from incurable, drug-resistant AIDS.

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The reveal of the rail-thin Yuuki surrounded by machinery, as well as the tragic story of how she ended up there, is desperately sad and tough to watch, yet also calls to mind the kind of reveal a mad scientist-type villain would pull to show Asuna he means business. Refreshingly, that isn’t the case here; Dr. Kurahashi is a good man and this is simply the future of medicine, though it’s more than a little strange and frightening to contemporary eyes.

On the other hand, considering Yuuki’s irreversible condition, being able to escape the body that failed her to new virtual worlds is a tremendous gift, and that’s how Yuuki sees it and how she saw her time with Yuuki on the Sleeping Knights’ final mission.

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Throughout Kurahashi’s discussion with Asuna, Yuuki is listening, but once she sees Asuna only wants to see and talk to her again, she invites her to dive into ALO to meet her. There, she explains that the Sleeping Knights are all hospice patients (hence the ‘sleeping’) with terminal illnesses. They decided as a group that the next time two of them were told they didn’t have long to live, they’d disband.

Thanks to Asuna, they were able to do so on their terms, and even leave their mark on the memorial wall. They wanted Asuna to forget them to spare her the pain of knowing the sad truth of the Knights, but Asuna isn’t that kind of person, and Yuuki knows that now.

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It was great enough that SAO finally got around to using my favorite character, and give her something important and exciting to do. It’s even better that they gave Asuna something she couldn’t do, no matter how strong she became: save Yuuki’s life. It also puts into perspective just how trivial her own problems with her mother and her life direction really are. After all, she haslife ahead of her, period. That alone makes her blessed.

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But while Asuna can’t save Yuuki’s life, she asks her what else she wants to do before it ends. When Yuuki says she simply would like to go to school, suddenly Asuna has something she can do for her, for the same reason she was able to find and speak with Yuuki at all this week. Kirito. His research on trying to give Yui a real-world experience could be used to let Yuuki experience school.

9_brav