Sword Art Online – Episodes 13-14 – “Escaping the Game Arc” – Kayaba’s Story and a Reason to Live

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   So we have now come to the end of the first arc of the series, and really the show could have ended here and it would be a favorite. I’m a little worried to see what they’ll do for the reset of the show as it could easily get bad as for what felt like the point of the series has past. We finally get to see what Kayaba’s agenda has been and who he has been in the game as well as bringing the arcs of our characters to a close in a pretty powerful ending. The series isn’t done though so I’m curious where they will go from here.

    The episodes are “Edge of Hell’s Abyss” and “The End of the World.”

    The story involves Heathcliff calling the Knights of the Blood to take on a powerful boss who took out folks from every guild. This lead to an all out assault and Kirito and Asuna being called back from their leave of absence from the Guild. From here they are reminded why beating the game is so important as all people in the game are in hospitals on life support and could die if not freed from the game. In this quest this leads to the reveal of who the final boss is and a showdown.

The Pros: Nishida – Nishida was in charge of the security company for Sword Art Online and failed big time. His way of dealing with being trapped in the game has been to fish and it is in fishing with Asuna and Kirito he finds a reason to live once more. He was a great character, it was nice seeing an older player in the game.

Klein – Klein is back and we see him and Agil doing a great job against the Skull Reaper and how much he cares about Kirito when Kirito is facing the final boss and apologizes for just leaving him when they were playing.

Agil – Agil is the character who helps all lower level players get stronger. He also does a great job against the Skull Reaper and is one of the few folks doing damage against it. Like Klein it was great seeing him again.

The Skull Reaper – This boss is awesome! It looks like a giant centipede made of skulls and bones. It is deadly too and kills most of the high level players in one it. It makes it’s defeat all the more rewarding and gives perspective to the despair the survivors feel afterword in regards to how far they have to go to beat the game. The Reaper was the boss on level 75.

Heathcliff / Kayaba – Heathcliff and Kayaba are one in the same and he sees himself as the Demon King helping level the players up so he has a worthy enemy to fight at the end. His pride and sense of justice get in the way though as he lets Kirito duel him which leads to Kirito just barely beating him, but Kayaba manages to kill Asuna in the process. Later he recounts in the game world as Sword Art Online crumbles that he’s been in the game so long he’s forgotten why he made it in the first place beyond it being something new and beautiful. He is a complex character but in no way a hero.

Asuna – Asuna risks her life for Kirito which makes it possible for Kirito to beat Heathcliff/Kayaba and free the players from the game. She dies happy though as she found a reason to live, found joy in each day in the game and in her relationship with Kirito. She also has time with him after and they swear to find each other again. It’s unclear what dying in the game means right now…but her story did feel done here, just like Kirito’s.

Kirito – Kirito defeats Kayaba! He does it just barely by willing? himself to live and make the final hit, which is alright. He also apologizes to all his friends and nearly says “I love you” to Asuna. He is a great protagonist though. He is the loner who doesn’t get people who has a great community in the game and in the end fights to free them. In the end we see him wake up after his last moments with Asuna as he says her name and leaves the hospital room.

Dying Dream – The dying dream is beautiful. Kayaba, Asuna and Kirito watch a sunset as the Sword Art Online crumbles and they have their last moments together and share how much they loved one another.

Waking Up – Kirito wakes up, his hair is long and we see that he was truly trapped in the game. Getting up he goes into the light saying the name of Asuna.

   This was a great story, though not as good as the Yui arc. At least now since the show isn’t done maybe there is a way to find Asuna and bring back Yui? I just hope things don’t end up too happy. This was such a great ending because we do lose people, people do die and you can’t save everyone. It also completed the arcs that were started at the beginning. I’ll keep watching but wonder how the story that has completed here can be beat by the story to come.

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

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Sword Art Online – Episodes 11-12 – “The Yui Arc” – A.I. Worth Fighting For

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  “The Yui Arc” is really good and shows just how messed up the creator of the game Kayaba is. In this we see one of the most sympathetic A.I.’s who is a game changer while still managing to keep stakes in the game. She changes Kirito and Asuna in ways they don’t expect and she is one of my favorite characters on this show.

    The episodes in the arc are “”The Girl of the Morning Dew” and “Yui’s Heart.”

     The story involves Asuna and Kirito getting married and living a life of peace out in the wilderness until they discover Yui. A young girl who doesn’t remember who she is but adopts them as her mother and father. Her nature is revealed when they return to the “Town of Beginnings” and are forever changed from it.

The Pros: The Family – Yui, Kirito and Asuna make a great family! There is a contrast between them all with Yui developing tastes similar to Kirito but being more attached to Asuna. Even when Yui discovers what she actually is their love for one another doesn’t change and more than anything what she wants is to be with them. It’s a powerful relationship they have.

The Cabin in the Forest – The Cabin in the Forest is Asuna and Kirito’s escape where you get to see them truly make a life together. It is wonderful as they are teenagers in love and sometimes they clash but the core love they have for another doesn’t change as they end up experiencing great loss and joy.

Yui – Yui is the mysterious girl who ends up being the A.I. in charge of looking after players well beings. Kayaba locked her out of the game and she watched everyone suffer from being trapped in it. Eventually Asuna and Kirito’s relationship lead to her seeking them out as they were building a life in the game. In the end she sacrifices herself to save them and the leader of the Army who got trapped in a dungeon by Kibaou. This leads to the GM trying to destroy her program, though Kirito manages to hack and turn her into an item, saving some part of her for he and Asuna to bring back.

Asuna – Asuna is shown to be really motherly in this as it is her drive that leads to them trying to find Yui’s parents. It is also her decision to go on the rescue mission to save the leader of the Army guild. She feels everything strongly and when they lose Yui it nearly breaks her though she finds solace with Yui’s heart and makes it a necklace, swearing to use it bring her back later.

Kirito – Kirito is the cautious one in this and a bit of a troll to Asuna (telling ghost stories) but at the core a good guy. He does all the missions Asuna does and honors the fact that they fight together. They are a team and as a loner player afraid of losing people this takes a while for to accept. It is how he grows and we see that he wants to be with Asuna in the real word, even though he has trouble accepting it.

The Ending – Yui risks her power and is deleted after she saves Asuna, Kirito and the good members of the Army from a really powerful boss. It is great seeing her story from her point of view and that in the end she just wants the joy of being the child of Kirito and Asuna. It makes her death all the sadder.

 This is one of my favorite arcs in the show as it ties everything back to the beginning and we see how the game is bigger than it appears to be. Yui is one of the most human characters and she is an A.I. Asuna and Kirito also live a real young love relationship and they question and grow as they go through the story. This arc is a joy to watch and the best in the series so far. I highly recommend it.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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Sword Art Online – Episode 12 – “Crimson Killing Intent” – Feelings Revealed

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    This was a good episode to show the complexity, danger and nature of Heathcliff, a chance for Asuna and Kirito to get closer and sadly the reveal of a once more pretty obvious villain. It was an entertaining episode though and I like where it takes the story.

The episode picks up where we left off with Heathcliff duling Kirito so he will join their guild. He defeats him and on Kirito’s first mission a member of the guild is shown to have a hidden agenda and takes his revenge against Kirito.

The Pros: The Duel – The Duel is very cool as we have a very defensive player (Heathcliff) versus a very offensive player (Kirito). Kirito nearly wins too until Heathcliff pulls off an impossible move that shows there is more to him than meets the eye.

Heathcliff – Heathcliff wins the duel and is actually shown to be pretty reasonable as after Kuradeel’s assassination attempt he lets Kirito and Asuna live their dream of getting married and buying a house together.

Kirito – Kirito finally opens up in this! After he loses he tells Asuna about the guild he was a part of who he lied about his level too who ended dying and how he blames himself. It’s a great moment and we see how Kirito losing has advanced him as a character and he is open about his feelings towards Asuna.

Asuna – Asuna has also changed as we see her voicing her concern for Kirito and in the end saves him from Kuradeel. She is willing to leave the guild too and wants to have a life with him and find him the real world. It’s really touching that she has found a way to live in the game and I really like seeing her in action.

The Cons: Kuradeel – This guy was obviously evil (how he’s drawn gives him a slightly demonic look) so his betrayal came as no surprise. He was way too overpowered too as we see him nearly kill both Kirito and Asuna when they are out level him. The only good thing about this character is that it lets Kirito and Asuna get away from the Guild.

This episode was fun though Kuradeel brought it down. He wasn’t compelling as a villain and his betrayal could be seen from miles away. For me the best parts of the episode were the love story and the duel, which made it worth watching.

Final Score: 8 / 10

The French Connection (1971): A Great Period Piece Thriller and the Drug War

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     I really enjoyed “The French Connection.” I liked very few of the characters in it, but the story itself and the the fact that it’s a slow thriller with great build up made it a lot of fun to watch. I never felt bored and whether purposeful or not, this film does a great job of showing how unfair the drug war is to communities without power. The fact that it is based off a non-fiction book by the same name also lends power to the narrative and makes me want to read it.

     The film was directed by William Friedkin, written by Ernest Tidyman produced by Philip D’Antoni and based off the book by Robin Moore.

     The story recounts the events of trying to take down the drug lord Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) during his stay in New York City by the detectives Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider). Things soon get out of their control as they discover just how high up Charnier’s influence goes and the problems “Popeye” causes during the course of the investigation.

The Pros: The Writing – Ernest Tidyman did a great job on the script. So much of it is showing rather than telling and we get to figure things out with the Detectives as we never see what Sal or Charnier do in regards to the movement of the drugs. This makes it compelling and drives the thriller, especially since they initially don’t come off as bad people.

The Cinematography – Owen Roizman did a great job on this film. The cinematography pulls you in and captures the tension really well as there is an aura of shadow about everything and the desolate areas take place with contrasted with the bustle of New York create a wonderful sense of mystery and fear.

The Soundtrack – Don Ellis took a classic approach to this soundtrack (sounds similar to any Hitchcock film with it’s own twist) and it serves the story very well. Throughout the soundtrack there is a slow build up of action leading to a finalness and ambiguity, which fits the themes and characters of the film.

Sal – Sal is working with Charnier to get the drugs to sell on the streets and he nearly succeeds even with the police around his home and tracking him everywhere. He is a cheater but we see that he isn’t a murder, at least in the events of this film. He never attacks unless he’s attacked and a lot of what he does goes towards his family. He’s complicated for a minor drug dealer. Tony Lo Bianco did a good job. He was the only memorable minor character.

Alain Charnier – Is the mastermind behind the deal going down and actually manages to escape at the end of the film. He is kind and genial but also works with monsters like his Hitman so has a disregard for those who don’t serve his purposes as “Popeye” does. Fernando Rey did a fantastic job as the antagonist who drives the story and keeps the action and questions going through the film.

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle – “Popeye” is obsessed and is cynical about everyone. We see him call all people liars and beat suspects on multiple occasions. It’s really hard to see him as any sort of heroic given that he targets people, especially African-Americans who have done nothing wrong and acts like a bully. This is contrasted with the sensitivity of Charnier. In the end it is his obsession that is his undoing as he kills someone on the force thinking they were Charnier and escapes into the dark where we here a gunshot. He was complicated, which made him fun to watch. Gene Hackman is also a wonderful actor.

Buddy “Cloudy” Russo – Roy Scheider plays the only character who is remotely sympathetic as he calls out his partner “Popeye” when he does bully. He is also the one who registers what the obsession is doing, especially at the end when “Popeye” kills one of the detectives in his obsession and fear of Charnier.

Life Under the Drug War and Abuse – The drug war disproportionately targets communities without power, largely poor and minority communities and this film does a great job portraying that as we see Russo and Doyle do random shakedowns, beat people when questioning them and never have their force questioned unless it is by one another. This is obviously still going on and is just as real in the late 60’s when it took place as it is today.

The Ending – The ending ends with Doyle shooting his boss and escaping into the dark believing he saw Charnier. A gunshot goes off and later we see in the credits that Charnier was never caught, showing that all of Doyle’s obsession was in the end, kind of empty and didn’t even help himself.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Most of the minor characters are forgettable and none of them really stand out besides Sal. Part of this might be purposeful as they are nothing to the detectives but means to an end, but I would have liked to see more with Charnier’s Hitman, girlfriend and Sal’s spouse. These characters were pretty forgettable which was a shame.

  This is a great thriller that ends up showing a lot more than it may have meant to. I don’t know what side of the story the book takes but this does a good job of showing that there aren’t really any good people in this conflict except maybe Buddy. Everyone else is driven and obsessed and has a disregard for life because of that obsession with meeting their own ends…and their obsessions get others killed. It was also powerful how this film showed how the communities without power are the ones who get the brunt of the war as we saw from the African American bar shakedown and the places were most of the police stakeouts took place. This lended power to the film beyond the very good script, cinematography and acting by the main stars. Honestly, it didn’t need a sequel.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 7 – “Brothers of Nablus” – Holding Onto Innocence

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    This episode had a theme! It didn’t necessarily do it all that well (Riley is still a character this is really annoying, as is Derek and Jesse can be at times too) that it brings down the things that work like Agent Ellison, Cameron and the Connors. It is also great seeing Chromatie again and Catherine Weaver at work.

    “Brothers of Nablus” was directed by Milan Cheylov and written by Ian Goldberg.

        The story involves Chromatie’s hunt for Cameron while also messing with Agent Ellison and framing him for the death another when a Skynet Terminator comes to kill him that looks like him. The Connor’s home is robbed and Derek, Cameron and Sarah hunt the killers while Chromatie ends up at the Connor’s home where Riley and John are.

The Pros: Chromatie – Chromatie is shown to be quite intelligent in this as he nearly finds John and we know that he’d probably win against Cameron if he had the advantage of surprise (they are both survivors). I like this character now, I think changing actors helped a lot. The other guy had nothing defining about his performance. He also finds the thief who Sarah Connor let survive.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is ruthless in this but is holding onto her humanity. When they track down the thieves she lets one live which will come back to bite her later as she didn’t become the monster that Cameron is.

Cameron – Cameron is ruthless and will go to any ends to protect the Connors and fulfill her mission, even killing innocents that know information. She is shown why she is a Terminator in this and even shown to be right within this universe, which is a scary thought.

Catherine Weaver – Weaver saves Agent Ellison after he is framed by becoming the leader of the FBI. Whether she was all along and set this all up for mind games remains to be seen but she is a cool operator.

Skynet – Sends models back that looks directly like people who already live. This is smart and I’m surprised this has never happened in the films.

Okay: Derek and Jesse – There  relationship is more rockyness and I don’t know where it’s going. They are both okay characters who are cons at times (mostly because I don’t know their purpose and they aren’t the best actors) but there is still hope there.

John Connor – John feels guilty that he was the one who killed Sarkissian (turns out Sarah did not make the kill) and blames his mother for that as her entire point is to be a protector and he’s lost his innocence and doesn’t know how to deal. This is interesting but he is still really stupid in regards to how he acts when he isn’t on the Team.

The Cons: The Thieves – Faceless teenagers who are just punks…they could have been more and felt wasted.

Riley – She saves John and shows him he can live and depend on others…and she feels like a plot device still.

Jody – Jody appears to seek revenge against Cameron but gets thrown out by Chromatie when she is talking about calling the police on him…another character who simply exists to cause conflict and advance plot without being compelling or changing. Not impressed.

  This was a decent episode but had problems. I like how the Terminators are acting and how the main cast is, but others like Derek, Jesse and side characters are bringing the story down. I hope the writers figure out what to do before the end of this season in regards to those characters.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Infinite Vulcan” – New Purpose

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  Walter Koenig (the actor who plays Chekov) is a great writer! He has a lot of big ideas he deals with in this (the survival of a dying species and how to change ideals) and does a really good job with it! This was an episode that could have been terrible. Clones generally are a bad idea, especially cloning a major character, but this episode rises above this generally bad idea.

   “The Infinite Vulcan” was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by as stated above, Walter Koenig.

      The story involves the Enterprise being ordered to a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy where a dying plant species called the Phylosians has made a deal with a man from the Eugenic Wars who has chosen Spock to clone in order to create his Master Race to bring peace to the galaxy. It is up to the crew to stop him.

The Pros: Phylos – Phylos is a really cool planet. It is entirely made of plant life with both predatory flying plants as enemies and the dying race of the Phylos as the dominant species. It is colorful, green and dangerous and I wish the planet would make appearance in other “Trek” things.

The Phylosians – This species is fascinating as they latch onto the man Dr. Stavos who almost killed them from his germs but did everything to save him. They were once a war making species but now only want to be peacekeepers…much like humanity and Dr. Stavos.

Uhura – Uhura has a minor but great role in this. She researches the Eugenic Wars and finds that Stavos fought in it and it is from her research they are able to reason with the man and Spock 2 in order to save Spock and keep Stavos’s ideals from becoming a nightmare. 

Sulu – Sulu also has an active role in this as it is the Phylosians who save him from a plant that poisons him and it is he who later defends them when they are attacked by the Phylosians by easily throwing one. He shows that he is adapt, witty and can match wits with any crewmember or alien. He’s a lot of fun in this and Takei brings his charm.

Scotty – Is the acting Captain and does a good job as we see that he is the one who tries everything to reach Kirk as he doesn’t want to cause a war during first contact. He truly is the best engineer in “Star Trek.”

Dr. Stavos – Stavos is the idealist run amok who has lost all faith in humanity so wants to create a master race to enforce peace between worlds. He ran away from the Eugenic Wars because of the ashamed he was of his people and the war and that shame rubbed off on him when he nearly wiped out the Phylosians from simply being part human. This makes it possible to reason with him though and in the end he becomes an ally of the Federation.

Spock and Spock 2 – Spock 2 is Spock’s Clone who has Stavos’s ideals but also the Vulcan logic which leads to him stopping further clones from being created and mind melding with the original Spock in order to save him. He later stays to help Stavos further his research and save the Phylosians.

Spock agrees with the Clone and calls out Kirk for his aggression while complimenting him for when he acts with a cool head.

Kirk –  This is a good Kirk episode as we see him deal with threats in a reasoned way while still using force when absolutely necessary. He is convincing too and manages to turn the Phylosians and Dr. Stavos who were once enemies into allies of the Federation.

    This was a really great episode with the only cons being the fact that what Dr. Stavos did during the Eugenic Wars is never gone into. In a way it isn’t needed but it would have made the episode perfect if we had more time. I really recommend this episode. I had no idea Walter Koenig could write, but he did a great job.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 6 – “The Tower is Tall but the Fall is Short” – The Ways We Face Trauma

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    This was an intelligent episode, though I am very confused about Catherine Weaver’s motivations now to some degree. Is she trying to be human and thinks that is the goal of the Terminators or is it something more sinister? Hopefully we get that question answered later. The thing this episode does really well is deal with trauma, which I will get into in the review further down.

     The episode was directed by Tawnia McKieman and written by Denise The.

     The story involves John and Sarah Connor investigating a psychologist who is on the machines list to kill. Over the course of the investigation though John finds he is hurting and needs healing and Sarah comes to terms with the fact that she’s finally taken a human life. A former lover returns into Derek’s life as well.

The Pros: Jesse and Derek – This mini-subplot is fascinating and Jesse was injured in an attack as we learn that John is working with “good” Terminators in the future though the Resistance disagrees and it is causing conflict. Jesse leaves the war to run away and we find that she lives by escapes as her hookup with Derek implies it won’t go anywhere even though they are lovers…partially because Derek never allows anyone close because of how hard the war has made him. He only lives for the fight.

Sarah and John – Sarah and John are like Jesse and Derek. John doesn’t allow anyone close and he doesn’t trust his mom with his feelings due to her reactions has trouble dealing with the fact that she killed and someday he will have to as well. It’s powerful seeing him talk to the psychologist about it.

Catherine Weaver – Weaver is trying to make a perfect A.I. and we see that her model was based off a woman who lived and had a child who Weaver is now raising. It’s tragic as she tries to understand her child but she doesn’t feel or get jokes so feels lost in the world she is trying to control and shape.

Cameron versus Terminator Rosie – This was a fight that happened when Rosie was sent back in time to kill Dr. Sherman. The fight is quick and fast and the Terminator terminates herself so John can’t hack the chip. They are adapting and Cameron is getting better at fighting them.

Dealing with Trauma – This episode is all about dealing with trauma. All of our characters are soldiers and that has made them hard and broken…they are Terminators trying to feel again, like Catherine’s quest for humanity. It’s presented really well too.

Dr. Sherman – Dr. Sherman is a great character. He doesn’t judge and he helps all the characters who interact with him better understand themselves or humanity. This gives him a much needed outside perspective and a character who isn’t so far adversarial.

 I would highly recommend this episode. It deals with trauma, growth and healing and how difficult that process is and there are great character moments all around, even for Derek who is my least favorite character on the show. If you like good sci. fi. so far I’d judge you’ll probably enjoy this series as much as I have been.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10