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Dated 14 July 2020: Sword Art Online is back and it's the SAO we know

Alice
I still don't actually know what "Alicization" means, unless it involves energy beams to the face.

The final cours of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld began on Saturday, picking up where it left off six months ago. First, a quick overview: Sword Art Online is the franchise. Alicization is its third major season (and once complete, will be four cours long—as long as the first two seasons combined). War of Underworld is the double-cours second half of Alicization.

Alice
I bet that sleep spell wouldn't have worked if Alice S. 30 had an N95 mask.

The original SAO cast was absent from most of the previous 12 episodes, which focused instead on Alice Sythesis Thirty, a UCLA Bruin introduced for the third season. Kirito has been present during War of Underworld, sort of, but relegated to mostly convalescing in a wheelchair while Alice S. Thirty pushed him around so he could be nearer to people who want him dead.

Kirito and Sinon
He's probably trying to figure out what's going on with your outfit.

Kirito has been showing signs that he's still awake somewhere behind his dead-fish eyes, so it's a cinch he's going to make his grand return at some point. Kirito's, uh, new best friend Eugeo also features prominently during the opening and closing credits of the new season, so maybe he's going to be back, too.

Asuna and Sinon
Somehow Asuna is the only one to recognize flying is a big deal.

Asuna and Sinon both joined the titular war at the end of the previous cours. Leafa and Klein logged in during the first episode of the current cours. So yeah, they're getting the old crew back together for the season's big finish. Fans of the original cast who have been dying for more Silica and Lisbeth deban presumably won't have to wait much longer. First-season characters are not the only thing that has returned, though. Sexual assault is also back.

Quinella
I'm including the time the pope Jedi mind fucked Eugeo.

Actually, sexual assault has never really left. Attempted rape, etc., is such a common occurrence in the Sword Art Online franchise that I'm not sure I could name all the times it appears without accidentally forgetting a scene or two. I don't even object to its inclusion on principle, necessarily—it's just always contrived and presented so poorly and obnoxiously, though.

Leafa
I can't rule out the possibility Suguha just enjoys suffering.

In the instant case, Leafa logs in, makes a new friend, and is instantly tentacle raped by an exaggerated over-the-top villain (the most common sort of villain in SAO). It goes beyond even the infamous first-season example involving Asuna. (That's specific enough to identify which one I mean, right?) Leafa suffers through it for entirely unconvincing reasons.

Gabriel Miller
You can identify SAO villains because they all make this face.

Maybe Sword Art Online includes these scenes and presents them in this way because possibly a significant majority of SAO fans enjoy and appreciate them, but I'm optimistic enough to hope it's done out of deference to Kawahara Reki's light novels. I don't know how much the SAO anime deviates from the source material, but I sort of get the feeling that it's not doing it enough.

Alice
I don't remember Alice S. XXX wearing this outfit before.

If you listen to the commentary track for Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale, it's quite obvious the production team changed or rejected a significant number of Kawahara's ideas and scenes. I can only guess at what the movie's original script might have looked like, but I think all but the most puerile viewers can identify with certainty which elements of the television show desperately needed re-working.

Dated 7 July 2020: Dokyuu Hentai HxEros and Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha demonstrate it can be better to be first than good

Retto
I bet this watch doesn't even keep time.

The Summer 2020 anime season is upon us, and the first shows I watched were Dokyuu Hentai HxEros (SUPER HXEROS) and Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha (The Misfit of Demon King Academy). These were not exactly shows I was looking forward to seeing, but they were among the ones first out the gate, so why not? As it turns out, neither are as bad as I might have feared, although I can't exactly call them good either.

Retto and Kirara
Ol' Red here is literally powered by this blonde girl's indefatigable libido.

In the case of Dokyuu Hentai HxEros, there have been multiple anime in the past that involved teenagers harnessing the power of their youth to battle various evildoers. Dakara Boku wa, Ecchi ga Dekinai. (So, I Can't Play H!) comes to mind, as does Hybrid × Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia (i.e., the other HxH anime—the one that is not Hunter x Hunter). SUPER HXEROS was actually sort of amusing thanks to its embrace of tokusatsu live-action tropes. The show is self-aware, but not to a negative extent.

Anos and Misha
Picking up The Precious Thing is apparently a big deal in Misha's eyes.

I'm expecting Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha to be light-novel rubbish, but I genuinely appreciate that the first episode skipped the backstory and setup entirely, dropping the reader straight into the reincarnated demon king's first day at Evil Hogswarth. (Okay, fine, at a slightly eviler Hogswarth.) The characters at school are entirely forgettable so far, and exist mostly so the "misfit demon king" has various assholes he can easily defeat. (They totally have it coming.) His parents seem really dumb, but in a good-natured sort of way, so I'm willing to watch more. Overall, not a great start to the Summer 2020 anime season, but good enough for its first week.

Dated 31 March 2020: I watched GeGeGe no Kitarou for two years

Kitarou
I liked the way Sawashiro Miyuki voiced Kitarou.

I knew basically nothing about GeGeGe no Kitarou before I started watching it two years ago. From the promotional material and initial surge of fan art, I at least determined that it was originally a manga from the 1960s that had five previous anime adaptions. It already had hundreds of episodes and numerous updates to its character designs. I decided to give it a chance based solely on this information, even though the NekoMusume character now had legs that went up to her neck. What I found was a modern family show with traditional ties in an anime that frequently featured thoughtful—yet entertaining—episodes.

Monroe, Pii, and NekoMusume
You would not believe how sick NekoMusume is of your shit.

I can't claim the show taught me a lot about yokai and their associated myths, but I'm at least a lot more familiar with them now. This is a sharp contrast to my first encounter with yokai, in Azumanga Daioh. They seemed perplexing and bizarre back then. I suspect this sort of familiarization was also intended for the younger viewers of GeGeGe no Kitarou. I don't know how often yokai feature in children's stories told to contemporary Japanese kids, but watching cartoons about them probably at least reinforces their understanding about old-timey lore. For little kids, it was sort of a violent and grisly show by American standards, though—about on par with what they'd see in Detective Conan.

Agnes
At least the first Backbeard arc gave us Agnes.
P.S. EINS, ZWEI, GUTEN MORGEN.

Ultimately, was it really worth watching 97 episodes of GeGeGe no Kitarou just to say I've seen it? It's not the sort of show I'd recommend for people to plow through if it doesn't immediately capture their attention (to say nothing of the hundreds of episodes that ran prior to the latest iteration), but watching it week-to-week was all right. There wasn't much of a cohesive narrative, discounting some of the longer arcs. Thankfully, the second "Backbeard" arc turned out to be much shorter than the first one, as Backbeard was not much of an antagonist. It turns out the true villains are the evils we bring forth from within ourselves. P.S. Spoilers.

Dated 24 March 2020: Four thoughts about Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia; the third one will shock you

Ana
Ana is a good girl.

Firstly, I fully expected to find Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia (Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia) mostly incomprehensible, since I was basically ignorant about its lore aside from what I managed to glean via the Twitter and from the copious amounts of fan art devoted to the franchise. This did, indeed, turn out to be the case. It certainly does not help that Fate/Baby was episode seven within its underlying Fate GO game's narrative.

Leonardo and Romani
Leonardo never pulled up a chair of her own.

Secondly, none of that mattered, since the animation in Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia was frickin' amazing. It was literally so good that the story was inconsequential. It's worth watching just because it looks so good. I know in a post-Shirobako world we're not supposed to mention the B-word, but the anime adaptation of a franchise that prints money clearly had resources available to it, that, say, Cop Craft did not. The animation in Cop Craft gave me the impression people were doing the best they could in the face of adversity they did not control. The animation in Babylonia made me think animators were showing off and trying to outdo each other week after week.

Ishtar
Believe it, baby.

Thirdly, these conditions serendipitously produced the best variant of Tohsaka Rin (Toosaka, whatever) of all time. Even better than Kaleido Ruby. I don't actually know why Ishtar looks like Rin from Fate/stay night. I literally could not break it down for you even though the show explicitly addressed it, and I've read the various summaries found in wikis for the game and whatnot. I find these explanations unsatisfactory. In any event, it doesn't matter. All you need to know is that Ishtar is a game-breaking home run. Oh, and Ereshkigal is okay, too.

Gilgamesh
It turns out Gilgamesh was a lot more chill back in the day.

Finally, Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia was a really loud show. I don't think the show streamed with a discrete LFE channel (I didn't check), but it was at least mixed in such a way that every episode got considerable use out of my subwoofer. Planet With was sort of like this too, but it was sort of unpleasant during Planet With. On the other hand the deep impacts and 'splosions in Fate/Baby were really satisfying. I keep telling people not to skimp on the audio portion when setting up their preferred viewing space, whether it be a television or a computer. Hopefully, fans of Babylonia followed this practice as well. Totally worth it.

Dated 18 February 2020: 22/7 is less Wake Up, Girls! and more I-1 Club

Reika
At least there are only three rules.

After six episodes, it looks as if Nanabun no Nijyuuni (22/7) will run the table with episodes dedicated to each character. Thus far, Miu, Sakura, Miyako, and Reika have all had episodes focused on them individually. With four idols remaining, it seems likely the series will stretch this process out through the 10th episode, leaving the final two for whatever plot develops by that time. This doesn't seem like it's leaving a lot of time left, but the cliffhanger ending at the end of episode six at least suggests episode seven will be a Jun-specific episode that also involves whatever mysterious force incapacitated the rest of the idols. (Hopefully, this mysterious force is not simply carbon monoxide.) Maybe the show will double-up on character-specific episodes within some sort of cohesive narrative. (I am assuming that 22/7 has a plot.)

Ayaka, Miyako, Miu, Sakura, Nicole, Jun, and Akane
Jun is short.

Early descriptions of the show characterized 22/7 as "dimension-crossing," although it was never clear to me what that mean. Possibly it's just a reference to the Nanabun no Nijūni real-life counterparts doing real-world idol-type things, but there are enough unusual components in the anime itself that I'm willing to accept AKB0048-inspired craziness (e.g., that CENTER NOVA jazz) if it appears later. I mean, are we just going to handwave away the fact that there's a mysterious wall issuing orders that nobody is permitted to question, and that there's a massive underground complex dedicated to idol activities? In any case, the series is entertaining enough for now, even though it hasn't really gone anywhere yet. Oh, and if you're wondering about the I-1 Club comparison, it's because Reika now has them standing in formation reciting rules they're compelled to follow under threat of physical reprisals.

Dated 14 January 2020: 22/7, In/Spectre, and Fate/Baby are my top three shows of the Winter 2020 anime season

Ishtar
Ishtar is a game-breaking home run.

If you believe in my B.S. episode ratings, Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia (Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia) is my highest-ranked show so far this season. Fate/Baby sure sounds great and looks fuckin' fantastic, but I can't exactly call it a good show. It's one of those anime where I can't quite care about what happens, and it probably only genuinely makes sense to people who are enthusiastic about the Fate/Grand Order game. But none of that presents much of an obstacle to my ability to enjoy the series. I mentioned that it sounds great, and that's not just because it features Ueda Kana yammering back and forth on a regular basis. The audio mix for the sound effects during the frequent battles makes for an entertaining experience if you've bothered with an audio setup that can take advantage of it. Visually, the animation also remains impeccable.

Sakura, Miu, and Reika
Welcome to to idol mines, suckers.

Thankfully, 22/7 (Nanabun no Nijyuuni) also looks good. I'm expecting some janky 3DCG bits once we get to the all-singing, all-dancing portions of this idol show, but the anime looks pretty good so far, at least. I've been medium-hyped for 22/7 for some time now, thanks to Sally Amaki being a bilingual goofball on the Twitter. I'm hoping her character gets some English lines that aren't complete non sequiturs, though. Each of the idols had a different character designer, but the styles got evened out so they look more uniform when they're together. (Like in the Pretty Cure team-up movies.) This is the sensible thing to do, but I sort of wish they could have remained unique for reasons not at all explained in the show.

Kotoko
Nice hat.

I wasn't sure what to expect from In/Spectre (Kyokou Suiri), but I knew fans of the manga were looking forward to the anime adaptation, and the trailer looked okay. The first episode was good, and I like Kotoko so far, even though she doesn't have any depth perception. She also seems to move pretty well, despite her prosthetic leg. It sort of seems as if her cane is mostly for show. Frankly, it's a little early yet to judge In/Spectre (or 22/7, for that matter), but my top three anime of Winter 2020 at the moment all have / in their titles, and this was a serendipitous bloggering opportunity I didn't want to pass up. I'm sure y'all understand.

Dated 24 December 2019: I didn't plan to write back-to-back Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld entries

Yui
Go on, Yui, curse the bitches out.

Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld has a mind of its own. Or at least, Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is about AIs having minds of their own. Specifically, Alice Synthesis Thirty MacGuffin is the prize AI the bad men are trying to seize because she is a real girl. Never mind that Sword Art Online has had a Real Girl AI almost from the start in the form of Yui, Kirito's and Asuna's adopted daughter. Yui isn't even a secret!

Pope
It's not easy being pope.

For that matter, I'm not sure there's any meaningful distinction between the Underworld AI yahoos and the "real world" regular-ass people. I certainly regard Alice as being every bit as much as a real character as I do, say, Asuna, even though Alice is very yellow. I definitely regarded the pope as being more of a real person than nearly every other Sword Art Online villain (including the current ones). Ultimately, this has a lot less to do with Alice and the pope being AIs than it does with Sword Art Online having lots of terribly written characters—especially when it comes to its villains.

Alice
This reminds me I need to get a new video card.

I'm inclined to believe Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld theoretically could actually have something intelligent to say about artificial intelligence and what makes someone a real person, but any chance it had got undermined by the really awful writing that has plagued the franchise from the beginning. I still find it entertaining, even though Alice is very yellow, but I do wish the franchise would move past its more egregious tropes. The Ordinal Scale movie accomplished this with some success, but it seems to be the exception, not the norm.

Dated 17 December 2019: The war in Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is not much of a war

Alice
This break in the battle has lasted so long that Alice changed into her pajamas.

It's not particularly sensible to demand accurate war-type stuff in an anime, especially something like Sword Art Online, but they did put War in the title, and they have been building up to this particular conflict for some time. What we've gotten instead is tens of thousands of random schmucks directly facing each other in a narrow canyon making no effort to do anything other than having head-to-head fights. Some people might claim that the battles at least look pretty cool, but that's a concession I'm not willing to make this season, what with Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia raising the bar to ridiculous new levels every week now.

<Divine> Maybe that's just what happens when two sides who don't know what war is given it a try

That's basically it. Now, I'm not unreasonable enough to demand "actually realistic" war in my SAO ~ War Is All Hell ~ anime, but I would have given it a pass without commenting on it had it at least aspired to, say, Strike Witches: War on Underpants levels of realism.

Asuna and Alice
This show is called Alicization, not Asunization, toots.

Now that I've got this bitching out of the way, I guess I can get around to the main point of this post: Spoiling the most recent episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld. So, Asuna finally logs into the AI world and is immediately beset upon by an extremely yellow blur. Everyone eventually calms the fuck down, though. They even listen to the batshit crazy things Asuna tells them. Frankly, I'm impressed they don't even seem irked that she's referring to her own world as the "real world." Yeah, these AIs are living in a computer, but it probably feels pretty real to them. I would be at least a little insulted. On the plus side, at least she isn't being racist about it.

Kirito
Have you tried rebooting the Kirito in the "real world"?

I'm generally pro-Asuna, even though she hasn't fared particularly well as an actual character in Sword Art Online as a franchise. It was also not encouraging to see all the latest members of Kirito's ever-expanding harem butt in for additional deban and to boast about how great their times with him have been. Hopefully, they're getting all of this out of the way now, and maybe the show can go back to leaving him in a wagon somewhere while Alice is off doing very yellow very important things. I'm okay with Asuna coming along too, providing she doesn't spend all her time talking about Kirito.