Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

If I Went Missing . . . ERASED | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Boku dake ga Inai Machi” (trans. The Town Where Only I am Missing”) or simply “ERASED,” produced by A-1 Pictures, based on the manga by Kei Sanbe.

Hearing about anime with time travel immediately make me feel two things: Exhilaration and skepticism. The rush of adrenaline is an obvious one. I mean, doesn’t finding out that trial and error will play a key part make you excited? The concept usually entails a character going through repetitive hardships to eventually overcome a goal that will better either themselves or the future or both. Often, however, shows will fail to use the gimmick to its maximum potential, either not developing a character enough to show improvement (or drastic change) or making an inconsistent story just for thrill’s sake.

ERASED executes a surprising mix of these turnouts, and depending on how you interpret the lead, Satoru, by the end, you’ll either walk away awestruck or feeling quite underwhelmed about the whole package.

Dismal 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a pizza delivery man/part-time manga artist/time traveler in modern-day Japan. Well, sort of. He just has these occasional bursts where, right as a disaster occurs, he is sent back a few moments to before the incident. He calls the unexplained phenomenon “Revival,” and he seems to be tasked with saving those facing inevitable peril.

Returning to his apartment from a seemingly normal outing, Satoru finds his mother brutally skewered on the floor and is unfairly accused of murder. Just as the adrenaline is enough to cause his heart to burst, Satoru is tossed back once again through “Revival.” But this time, a few breather minutes beforehand becomes 18 years—1988—and is enough to send him back to elementary school!

A man trapped in a boy’s body, Satoru comes to realize that his mother’s untimely death could be tied to the abduction and killing of a lone classmate of his during childhood, Kayo Hinazuki. Given a second chance at righting wrong and changing his own presently-dull fate, Satoru is challenged to save those lost in the past, protect beloved ones in the present, and ultimately expose the mastermind behind the killings.

Let’s get one thing straight: ERASED is not a good mystery anime. It has mystery elements, yes, but the identity of the killer at large is far too predictable. This mainly stems from the otherwise lack of possible suspects. A good mystery anime wouldn’t toss in a character at the end and label him the murderer—thankfully ERASED doesn’t do that. Where it fails is in the tiny toss up of possible killers. I wanted to say I was truly shocked by the end, but the abrupt change in slower pace and lack of characters to choose from left little room to ponder. Some of the animation cues are also at fault, but we’ll cover that department’s actual brilliance in a bit.

While we’re discussing the cons, I’ll add that the unexplained notion of how or why Satoru undergoes these “Revivals” really bothered me when I reached the end of the series. It’s as if they show us a preview of the power in a few beginning instances, then toss the idea once we hit the halfway point. Being a time travel fanatic, I was disappointed with how it was handled, unless . . . The gimmick doesn’t revolve around needing to save Kayo. Some otherworldly force did it so he could save himself, a man not interested in society and partially life. And where else do you meet friends and solidify family? Childhood. I see each “Revival” as a wake-up call for Satoru, like, “Get a hold of your life, man!”

At least the show’s wild predictability and faulty concept were led by memorable characters, specifically speaking, Satoru, Sachiko Fujinuma (his big-lipped, sharp-eyed momma and arguably best character of the season), and Kayo Hinazuki. The wide screen narrative for his revisited childhood days was fantastic contrast, and it fits the movie theater theme as represented by the opening and the “Revival’s” running film. While the background characters served their purpose, nothing was more entertaining than 28-year-old Satoru’s thoughts being accidently leaked from his little kid mouth. The fixed goal set by his favorite manga hero that is always referenced helps guide his character. I could go on about how smart and well-intertwined these main characters are, but my friend Rocco B laid it all out in his comprehensive review, which I urge you to check out for more depth on every layer.

As for production quality, it’s once again A-1 Pictures and Yuki Kajiura—could a guy ask for more? Honestly, the intense color palette and flowing imagery accompanied by Kajiura’s deeply-felt and haunting main melody brought the story to life. She conveys Satoru’s soliloquy with excellent intensity.

The real question is for ERASED, are you an OP or ED guy/gal. For me, the tune of the ending “Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna” by Sayuri was much addicting and romantic, albeit Sayuri’s voice being a bit on the high and nasally end. Fight me.

With a future thrown into mayhem (Satoru running from the cops and getting into house fires 24/7), ERASED only seemed fun and truly thrilling in childhood; the future seems lost in purpose. Speaking of excitement, where its mystery failed to convince me, its thriller levels were off the charts! It seems every time red flashed across the white 1988 snow, my heart skipped a beat. That is, until you reach the last episode or two.

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Satoru

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
    • Other than the fact that his father is out of the picture, not much can be said for this one.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Satoru, as we see it, is on a long journey from age 10 to 28. In the present, he lives by himself with a part-time job and a hobby he wishes to pursue. I assume he moved out not only because he was old enough, but because he wanted to get a job as a manga artist for his hero story, and his career path led him to the city where these kinds of options are more prevalent.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The death of Sachiko is the big one, obviously. Satoru lost his one and only crutch supporting him in these seemingly purposeless days.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • “Revival” anyone? This is the weakest point, as his power is truly the unexplained supernatural, but all that matters is that he is given a second chance—only he can change fate.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Protect Kayo Hinazuki. Keep Airi out of harm’s way. Prove Jun Shiratori’s innocence. Save Sugita and Nakanishi. Find the murderer. These and many more challenges await Satoru on his rugged journey.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • Coming in episode 9, Satoru is drowned by the killer, thus becoming ‘erased.’ Though the story proceeds to save his rear with the ‘sudden coma treatment,’ this imprisons Satoru for several years. When he reawakens, he is a changed man—he suffers brief amnesia, but then quickly marks the line between good and evil by pointing out the killer on the cold hospital rooftop. He won’t be able to regain these lost years, but they have changed him for the better, as he is able to see the wonderful lives that have sprouted from those he saved.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • Upon her sudden death, Satoru melts at being with his mom once again in the past. He uses her passing as a motivator (avengement) for seeking Kayo’s safety, watching over her and struggling against the inevitable.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • THIS is the key one, and tends to affect people’s enjoyment. Clearly Satoru didn’t die at the end, but the part of him that revisited the past and was able to undergo “Revivals” is no longer with him. The traumatic event in episode 9 caused the split in spirit. For his work, Satoru is rewarded with a new start at middle-aged life rife with opportunity and good fortune, contrasting the beginning. But unlike most heroes, Satoru loses his special power, leaving us to assume that his journey wasn’t about a kid saving the lives of many, one about a man seeking redemption through experiencing loss. Because he mentions in the epilogue that he never experienced another “Revival,” we are led to believe that his mission is complete, which somewhat defies the typical hero. He ACTUALLY gets to relive his life, while most retire to death following their journey.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Good things have been said about ERASED for a reason: Its intense thriller fantasy atmosphere is awesome, the music and animation are top-notch, and Satoru is an exciting main character (voiced by an incredible actor, mind you). Fair enough. The end also gets a lot of slack for being anticlimactic. That I really also agree with. It all comes down to how you interpret the hero’s journey—Was the enemy too easily identifiable, or was Satoru’s reward too gracious? All that can be surely said is that we tend to notice how much we have only once we’ve lost it. In a town where only you went missing, I’m sure I would realize the impact you’ve made.

“Kayo, my fate is my own. There’s no need for you to feel responsible. I’m sure that what’s become of me was a result of something I wanted.” – Satoru Fujinuma

Being entertaining is not the same as being well-written. A solid “Cake (4/5),” ERASED was definitely my favorite from the winter 2016 season, then again I only watched two anime. What did you think of the show? How did you interpret the same issues everyone had with it? FEEL FREE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, or how you thought Satoru was a good/bad hero! I want to celebrate the cause with all of you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Just look at how happy momma Fujinuma is. Best mom 2016!

 

30-Day Song Challenge Day 21: Songs You Want To Dance To At Your Wedding

Gosh, how I hope I’ll be just as happy as Asuna and Kirito when I get married. I mean, wouldn’t that just be a dream come true? This picture might come across a bit strong, but, umm, I like it a lot. Look at them, they’re so happy! Wait . . . 

MY WEDDING?? Woah, slow down there, I’m fine with rockin’ the bachelor status for now (the fandom, it’s too strong)! Oh, but celebratory dancing? Yeah, I can do that. Let’s see, I’ve already used the Log Horizon waltz, so that’s a no; I think I’ve mentioned “Continued Story” like five times on this blog because it’s so incredible, so let’s do something new. OOH, I think I’ve got a couple!

From Sword Art Online’s OST, “Dance With Me” by Yuki Kajiura

You all know I’m a sucker for a good waltz 😉 In fact, I used this song for an English project because I thought it matched the tone of a poem I once read. Anyway, I think this is one of those sweet waltzes you could dance with your loved one. Just set your arms in theirs, and move – move freely and elegantly together , just like the graceful strings singing to the 3/4 time signature.

From Neon Genesis Evangelion, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi

CAUTION: Spoilers for the TV series in both videos

I swore to myself before the challenge commenced that I would include this song in somewhere. I think I found a hit.

So you know how wedding parties always seem to have some throwback music playing from the DJ or whatever? C’mon, the “Chicken Dance,” “YMCA,” we’ve all forced ourselves to groove to them, but why not jam out to something that you actually like? That’s why I chose this 1995 baby and decided to put the ring on her! Upbeat, catchy as all hell, and fitting for the style IMO – it’s the ideal party song! Yep, I’m totally playing this at my wedding. It’s official. Call me trash for picking a classic, but I honestly can’t get enough of this song – I never have. The English fandub is, by the way, nearly as phenomenal, so I’ll leave it to you to do the right thing and give it a listen. Trust me, “Geeky McGeekstein” does one of the best covers EVER! Lyrics are absolutely perfect for the show’s story, and her vocal recording has that vintage quality this old song carries 😀

BUUUUUTT, if I for some reason don’t acquire these songs for my wedding, then “Pachelbel’s Canon” will suffice XD There are too many great songs out there, I swear! Until tomorrow everyone (ooh, it’s Friday! *does a little jig), this has been – Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 19: A Song You Are Currently Obsessed With

Evening all, I have a night full of studying dreadfully planned ahead, so today’s log will have to be a quickie. Thankfully, I know just the song! But first, how long does it take for you to obsess over something – specifically anime? For me, you can recommend and rant all you want about a show, but it I won’t be hooked until I either A) see the artwork, promotional poster or whatnot, or B) hear the opening/music from the anime. I have heard oodles of fans gawk about how pleasant this cute little show is, but it wasn’t until after I heard the opening – bestowed to us by the Goddesses of Kalafina themselves – that I truly met my love ~

From Sound of the Sky, “Hikari no Senritsu” by Kalafina

I found this, what two days ago, and I love it so much that the words are literally bubbling and foaming at my mouth! I CANNOT stop listening to this elegant song. Such poise, free spirit, and sense of adventure; apparently, the anime has these elements, so straight after Hyouka you all know what I’ll be chasing after! But yes, what an enchanting melody – definitely one of Kalafina and Kajiura’s finest works to ever grace my ears. All I want to do is lay down under a tree, a breeze fluttering in the air, my knees propped up on one another, arms thrown behind my head, and chill. I just want to take a terminal break from school work and taste the liberation I seek that’s found nowhere near this wretched thing we call an “agenda.” But this’ll have to do for now, and it’s one hell of a substitute 🙂

So what are you currently raving over? Did the fire erupt overnight or has it been a week-long curse to have it stuck in your head 😉 Also, what did you think of Sound of the Sky? Ya’ll need to let me know in the comments! Have a fantastic day, and milk all that you can out of the few seconds of free breath you can manage, because they’ll fly by in an flash. Till tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 17: Songs You Like Hearing Live

So I’ve never been to a J-pop concert in person before (sad, I know). But it is one of my goals, so I’m tryin’! In the meantime, however, YouTube recordings of performances will have to suffice. And at this moment, there’s only two bands I can think of that I especially love to hear live:

Anything by fripSide: “only my railgun,” “sister’s noise,” “LEVEL5 -judgelight-,” “black bullet,” “HesitationSnow,” “fortissimo -from insanity affection-,” “late in autumn,” and more

Today, fripSide at the AFA Singapore 2014 x MVR series with “sister’s noise”

I found the most recent one that I could, but doesn’t Yoshino Nanjo look like she’s having a blast? I love the Misaka clone and Kuroko that lurk around the stage dancing! Gah, so adorable :> But I love fripSide’s live performances because A) they go all out with the light show, B) Nanjo always has on the coolest outfits (see America, you don’t have to wear a swimsuit to rock a good music video), and C) everyone is so full of energy! The band members, the crowd – you can practically feel the sweat dripping it’s so intense.

Anything by Yuki Kajiura, performed by Kalafina: “To the Beginning,” Heavenly Blue,” “Hikari no Senritsu,” “ring your bell,” “Magia,” and more

Today, Kalafina with “ring your bell” LIVE 2015

Gosh, these three are always so beautiful, so graceful. In contrast to fripSide’s flashy performances, Kalafina opts in for heavenly, majestic, powerful, sometimes somber performances (harmony to die for). Yes, their style is completely different besides there being three of them and only Nanjo for fripSide, but it feels more personal with them – more like a professional concert rather than a pop one. Both are incredible to watch, and I wish I could see both of them in concert one of these days 🙂

So there are two of the best bands EVER – GO WATCH FROM THEM AND ENJOY! I honestly love them both so much! What I’d give to go to a performance . . . Tune in tomorrow for more awesome songs and bands, till then, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Sword Art Online II (Phantom Bullet) Review

It’s funny that I do this review before the prequel, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the first season and I didn’t want to half-ass a review. Enjoy ~

It’s been one year since Kirito escaped the deadly game that is Sword Art Online. Meanwhile, ALfheim Online has gained much popularity, for it serves as a peaceful outlet for Kirito and his friends to escape from real world troubles.

Evil doesn’t die so easily, though. Roaming around another famous VRMMORPG by the name of “Gun Gale Online” (GGO) is “Death Gun,” a cloaked man rumored to kill individuals in real life through the game’s avatars. Kirito once again risks life and limb through virtual means to apprehend the mysterious assassin, but he’s not alone – the best sniper in the game, Sinon, with her highly destructive PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate II, proves worthy of battle herself in this world of guns. As the world tournament Bullet of Bullets commences, Sinon, Kirito, saber in hand, and Death Gun enter the arena among many other foes, guns locked and loaded.

After the events of last series, SAO had a little repairing to do, and GGO was the best tool to do so. This arc in the light novel series by Reki Kawahara made up for the lack of action and strength in the first season’s Fairy Dance arc. Phantom Bullet reminds us of the quality characters and themes that the SAO series was famous for; a powerful sequel that matches the strong will and survival feel of the first arc, Aincrad. Sword Art Online II is engaging and thrillingly eerie through to the end of the arc.

Kirito logs into GGO as a . . . girl? Yep, and it’s just great. His particular model possesses long dark hair, and his breastplate, well, yeah, adds emphasis. While he continues his unwavering badass style, he crumbles when he finds out that Death Gun must be a member of the “Laughing Coffin” guild, a player-killing group from SAO. The vibe from the first season returns as Kirito realizes that he could actually die in this harsh, cold, foreign world. He starts to recall haunting memories of the PK-ing he committed himself when fending off the Laughing Coffin members. This new revelation builds on past his one dimensional superb fighting skills.

Asada Shino is weak, quiet, and had shot someone when she was very young, and that terrifies her. She can’t even hold a weapon without trembling and then vomiting. But in GGO – a virtual world, she’s not actually killing anyone, so she masks her fears through Sinon, the cerulean-haired, lime-armored heroine. In the gun world, she’s stronger, faster – better. She doesn’t have to worry anymore, because Sinon protects her and fights for her. Sinon puts a new spin on “the will to fight” that makes her my favorite character. When she meets Kirito, she thinks they are both girls, and acts in a friendly manner, but quickly goes tsundere when she finds out the truth.

Kirito and Sinon balance each other out very well – I couldn’t have asked for better pairing besides maybe Asuna, who supports Kirigaya Kazuto on the other side of the amusphere. Sinon does, however, fall to Kirito’s irresistible charm when she becomes weak, but hey, that’s just her real-world self breaking through, not a whole new and sudden change.

I would tell anyone to watch SAO for the character costume designs alone because holy sh*t this is where it’s at! Match these colorfully crafty armor and weapon designs with fluid visuals pumped with action and A-1 Pictures really has something going on! As mentioned previously, there are many more battle scenes in this sequel, and quality never dipped once. The landscape of GGO is give a desolate color palette to that of a ruined desert city. Graphically and artistically, the anime does take me to the mature and virtual world of GGO.

Yuki Kajiura adds to this unique universe by providing an adventurous soundtrack. There’s not really much to say, as it is still just as amazing as the first season’s. She did, however, take the “Survive the Swordland” track, the epic main theme, put it on flute, and up the tempo to add a new sense of glory to the Kirito and Sinon action. Nice 🙂

While the opening “Ignite” by Eir Aoi was befitting for a show with this quality of animation, the true delight is in the lovely ending, “Startear” by Luna Haruna. It features Asada Shino young and old along with her avatar, Sinon, providing a reminiscent feel of childhood and maturation.

Sword Art Online II is a strong follow up to its first season, as it contains much action, brilliant music along with fluid animation, and reminds us of the themes the very first arc held. I recommend all of the SAO series to young viewers because of its genuine romance and characters. While more mature viewers might get bored of the concept , I still recommend this season for its high quality animation and soundtrack. This second series definitely lives up to the hype, so I’d get aboard the SAO train before it’s long gone.

You can watch all of the anime for free at Crunchyroll! Sword Art Online II continues to cross the bridge between the virtual and real worlds, proving to us that they might not be as different as people think. “The virtual world is just a different form of reality.” – Asada Shino
It has been tons of fun following this thrilling adventure! Till next time ~

– Takuto, your host

Ufotable Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works Episode 0 Impression

The fall season starts strong by throwing us back into the godly and epic Holy Grail War! The hype for this episode 0 could not be contained, oh my goodness!
In this first episode we return to Fuyuki City through the eyes of mage Rin Tohsaka. Rin was one of my favorite characters in F/s N, so it is a treat to review the rules and premise of the Holy Grail War in her stead rather than Emiya’s.

I’m gonna be honest, Archer in F/s N pissed me off. He was rude, annoying and disrespectful to his master at times. Here however, he was witty and a gentleman. The banter between Tohsaka and Archer was just awesome. I now withdraw any negative thoughts on him. It was that good. One of the best scenes regarding characters was seeing him recognize Rin as a powerful master. Their realizations between each other clicked so perfectly, and the bond they share now has purpose, unlike the 2006 anime.

Animation – holy freakin’ crap! Ufotable, you got me in Fate/Zero, and you pull out all of the stops in the new anime – and it’s only episode 0! The gradients on the faces, streets, buildings, everything was beautiful. I didn’t even realize how pretty Rin’s eyes were. The Archer vs Lancer battle was brilliant. Like wow. Sparks fly and asphalt cracks with articulate force. The sounds that went along with the scene were just so crisp and high def that I felt like I was there watching the thrilling fight. Plus, there were so many different view points, never leaving a dull moment.

Yuki Kajiura returns with her heavenly scores to deliver the most moving music. I love all of her work, she is just so amazing!😄 It truly feels like we never left Fate/Zero thanks to her. By the way, the ending theme, which I believe is the new opening, is so so awesome! I think it’s by Lisa, which means of course it’ll be good.

As you can tell, I am just off the wall with this new anime. I am totally stoked for the next episode because, friends, it’s going to be a great anime season. Anyway, I just had to vent this epic episode 0 review. I hope you liked it as much as I did! What was your favorite part – leave a comment below! Mine was definitely when Saber showed up at the end, nearly wiping out Rin. Saber is a goddesses! 😍 Definitely looking forward to more of her and Rin’s fierce fighting and beauty. This has been such a strong kickoff to fans of the Fate series!

I’ll talk to you all later!

– Takuto, your host