Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sword Art Online II - first half

Sword Art Online II is the second season of Sword Art Online (SAO).   Like the first season of SAO, this 24-episode season is split into two halves, essentially completing one plot line midway through the series.  The first half of the season is the story arc with the two characters from these pictures, and the second half is two shorter story arcs.  In this post, I'll talk about the story in the first half of SAO II.  I talked about the first season of Sword Art Online in a post two years ago (  

This season picks up where the last season left off, with Kirito, Asuna, Kirito’s sister, Suguha, and all their various friends from both Aincrad and Elfhame Online, including Yui, Liz, Silica and Klein.  All these guys are continuing with their lives in the real world and also in the virtual world, continuing to play the virtual reality (VR) game of Elfhame Online with their full-dive gear whenever they have time. 

The series begins by adding another VR game, Gun Gale Online or GGO.  GGO is mostly played by males because it is a shoot and kill game.  Everyone is very fixated on various types of guns and shooting skills, and although I think you can hunt monsters in the game, most people hunt each other.  There is a big yearly tournament in GGO where the 30 top shooters are dropped into a VR world and the last person left alive is the winner.  This tournament is called the Ballet of Bullets, and everyone who plays GGO tries to qualify for it. 

The main character added for this story arc is Sinon.  Sinon is a girl who is terrified of guns in the real world because she killed a man with one when she was very little.  In GGO however, she’s one of the top shooters.  Her reason for playing GGO and her ultimate goal is to become strong enough in GGO to face guns in the real world, and in order to do that she’s determined to win the Ballet of Bullets.

Also at the start of the series, a mysterious GGO player begins shooting people in GGO and they die at the same time in the real world.    Investigators in the real world tap Kirito to play GGO and see if he can figure out what’s happening.   Kirito agrees, but since the bad guy only kills top players, Kirito needs to be a top player, basically needs to qualify for a place in the Ballet of Bullets.  When Kirito logs in to GGO, his avatar isn't big and muscled and burly like nearly every other guy’s avatar in GGO.  It’s more in line with his Aincrad and Elfhame avatars, being smaller and more delicate and has long hair.  So everyone, Sinon included, assumes he’s a girl.  He asks Sinon for help getting started in GGO, and because she thinks he’s a girl, she helps him out.  She helps him pick a gun, and he does use a handgun, but predominately Kirito uses a laser sword.  Yes, only Kirito would bring a sword to a gunfight.  Because his reflexes are so damn fast though, it actually works.

Sinon and Kirito fight each other in the qualifying rounds, reach an understanding, and both make it into the Ballet of Bullets.  During the qualifiers also, Kirito realizes that the GGO killer is a former member of Laughing Coffin, a guild from Aincrad that went around actually killing people.  Once the Ballet starts, Kirito and Sinon end up teaming up to figure out who the killer is, to fight him and to keep each other safe.  During the tournament, Kirito figures out that the way the GGO killer is killing people in the real world is that he has a real world accomplice.  This accomplice in the real world kills the person with a drug at the same time he is shot in GGO.  The GGO killer has been trying to kill Sinon, so his real world helper is probably at Sinon’s house, which is really creepy since Sinon lives alone.

In the end Kirito and Sinon beat the GGO killer and are the last two shooters left alive in the Ballet of Bullets.  Because the tournament won’t end unless only one of them is left alive, Sinon blows them both up and they end up both winning.  Back in the real world, Sinon’s friend who started her playing GGO turns out to be the killer’s accomplice and attacks Sinon.  Kirito shows up and helps and everything works out okay.  Kirito and Asuna then set up a meeting with Sinon and the people whose lives she saved by killing the guy when she was little, and Sinon begins to be able to live with her past.

The GGO arc takes up the first half of the second season of SAO.  I enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed the first season of SAO, although the only original SAO player that gets much screen time is Kirito.  The rest of the gang watch the Ballet of Bullets from a bar in Elfhame Online, and have a marginal presence.  They figure much more in the second half of the season, which I'll talk about in a later post.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tears to Tiara

Tears to Tiara is an anime series that was developed from a game which is based on a mishmash of Celtic legends, none of which I plan to talk about in this post.  I’m going to talk about what happens in the series, and any resemblance to Celtic legend is accidental.

The story has three main characters and a host of lesser characters.  The three main characters are Arawn, a demon lord, and Riannon and Arthur, a sister and brother.  Arthur leads their Gael tribe and Riannon is the tribe’s priestess.  The story begins with Riannon being kidnapped by a priest of the Empire to serve as a human sacrifice and used to raise the sleeping demon lord, Arawn.  Only Arawn doesn’t cooperate since Riannon turns out to be a descendant of the elf-king Pwyll, who was Arawn’s friend.  Arawn is raised, but then he kills the kidnapper-priest and frees Riannon.  Arthur, who is rushing to his sister's rescue, sees only a bad, demon-lord-figure and attacks, so Riannon throws her scarf around Arawn’s neck, symbolically marrying him and making him chief of their tribe.   Arthur's not happy, but he and Arawn then fight together to get out of the place the three are trapped.

From this point on, the rest of the series is essentially these three working to lead the tribe, meeting various people along the way and fighting off people from the Empire that want to take them over.  Along the way they collect a group of comrades to fight alongside them, who make up the rest of the cast of characters.  While running from their enemies they are also searching for a place for the tribe to live in peace. They find a kingdom/castle where Arawn used to live and begin living there.

At one point during their running from the Empire and finding new friends, Arawn must use his powers which leaves him weak and white looking, which causes Arthur to believe that Arawn was once a White Spirit who killed Arthur’s father.  Arthur attacks and stabs Arawn, leaving him for dead and running away full of guilt and grief.  Arawn falls into a coma and although his body heals, he stays in the coma.  Arthur essentially grows up after leaving the group and meets up again with Taliesen the minstrel and his people.  Taliesen has defeated him in a duel previously.  Arthur succeeds in making Taliesen and his people into allies and returns with them to the castle where Arawn-tachi are, just as it’s being attacked  by the bad guys.  Arawn wakes up and he and Arthur are reconciled.

Once they’re friends again and everyone has gathered and have defeated their attackers, we learn more of Arawn’s history.  He was once one of thirteen white spirits, who had a falling out with his fellow white spirits when he took the side of humans.  He and his current companions make a quest to the land of the ice giants in order to defeat the remaining white spirits.  Arthur recovers a magic sword which he pulls free from a stone, which is a match for Arawn’s sword and capable of killing white spirits.  Arawn uses his matching sword and together they work to defeat these beings and free the world’s people from their influence.  In the end it takes the combined power of everyone in battle to defeat the bad guys, but they manage to do it with several last minute saves by people appearing and gaining powers, etc.  Everyone lives happily ever after.

As usual, this is a bare bones plot line, without going into any side stories or character interactions, of which there are many.  It also barely skims Arawn’s history and background with Pwyll the elf king.  The warriors who join them along the way include Morgan, from the Gael tribe, Octavia from the Empire, Llyr, the sea elf maid, and Rathty, the mining elf.  Other characters include two elf girls from the castle,  Limwris and Ermin, Ogam the sorcerer/mage, and many enemies from the Empire.  All these characters have stories that cover how they join Arawn’s group or why they’re fighting Arawn’s group.

I began watching this series because Arawn’s character intrigued me, even though in general I don’t like game-derived anime series.  He was like the voice of calm reason amidst a multitude of emotional, hyperactive peoples.   At times the plot of this series seemed more convoluted than it needed to be, as if the producers were trying to get all the legends they could into the series, or perhaps trying to cover all the quests available in the game.  Also, I’m really not fond of best-friend/best-enemy sequences, which is really what happened when Arthur tried to kill Arawn.  But the plot was interesting enough to keep me watching and the animation style is nice.  In addition there are a good number of likable characters in this series.  And the biggest plus, the music from this series is really awesome.  It’s high up there on my list of favorite music.  I would say the series is worth watching.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Donten ni Warau

Donten ni Warau, or Laughing Under a Cloudy Sky, is a quirky short series (12 episodes) about three brothers who help transport prisoners to a large island prison, and who watch over it and the local village and surrounding area.  The series takes place in the early Meiji era.  The three brothers are Kumou Tenka, the oldest, Kumou Soramaru, the middle child, and Kumou Chuutaro, the youngest.

The boys’ parents were murdered before the series start and Tenka has kept the family together and raised and watched over the two younger boys, with help from a white haired former ninja named Kinjou Shirasu.  Tenka found Shirasu injured and took him in.  Shirasu keeps house and cooks and generally takes care of the Kumou brothers since his ninja clan, the Fuma, was destroyed around the time the Kumou brother’s parents were murdered.  

Tenka believes in laughing at life’s problems, even when the sky stays cloudy, which it always does at the Kumou house due to its proximity to the prison lake, which also happens to be where a demon dragon is sealed.

The main plot line of the series is that an evil dragon demon (the Orochi) is working on breaking free of its seals and being reborn into the world.  The Kumous, along with a special police force called the Yamainu, exist to prevent the Orochi’s rebirth.  The Orochi selects a human as its vessel and begins its rebirth by growing as part of and eventually taking over its human host.  Tenka was a member of the Yamainu but left them, ostensibly to raise his brothers when his parents were murdered. 

Once the characters are all introduced, the plot twists and slightly more than half way through the series, Tenka is shown to be the Orochi’s vessel and is executed by the government.  The series is tragic as hell for a couple of episodes as Soramaru and Chuutaro struggle to deal with Tenka being executed and having to take over his position while they’re really still too young for it.
Just when you’re getting used to that, it’s revealed that actually Soramaru is the Orochi’s vessel rather than Tenka.  And Shirasu is actually the head of the Fuma clan.  Not only did Shirasu murder the Kumou parents, but he has been plotting the whole time to aid in the Orochi’s rebirth.  And oh yeah, Tenka isn’t dead.  Tenka wasn't executed after all.  He looked like the Orochi's vessel because he has Orochi cells growing in him.  When his parents were murdered he was injured and he agreed to become an orochi-cell experiment in order to save his life, in order to stay alive for his brothers’ sake.
So in the end the meek and mild ex-ninja Shirasu betrays everyone to loose the Orochi on the world.  However, working together, the brothers and their various friends and compatriots manage to defeat the reborn Orochi because the Kumou family swords are spelled to be able to cut the human vessel loose from the Orochi and make him able to defeat it.  Shirasu doesn’t take well to losing, and throws himself off a cliff.  Everyone else though lives happily for as long as they have left, including the still-dying Tenka, the shikigami created to help contain the Orochi and her one-armed human lover, the various Yamainu members, the younger Kumou brothers and the half-ninja girl who betrayed her Fuma clan for the love of Soramaru.

See?  Quirky.   It also takes the time to give back story on essentially all the characters, despite only being 12 episodes long, which is quite a feat.    I began watching this because I like the manga style (and style like the manga style better) and although I’d say it’s not a great series, it was interesting enough to keep me watching.