Sword Art Online – Episodes 5-6 – “Death in the Safe Zone Arc” – Empowerment and Control

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     This was an arc that started out slow in “Murder in the Safe Zone” but really pics up in the part “Illusionary Avenger.” Like prior episodes it gives more of the dynamics of how the world and game work and shows how the game has changed people for better and for worse. We also get some great moments between Kirito and Asuna.

      The story involves a murder in the Safe Zone which leads to Asuna and Kirito’s search to find the killer. They soon find themselves pulled into a greater conspiracy that revolves around the drama of the Golden Apple Guild whose leader was killed after recovering a rare item that the majority had agreed on to sale.

The Pros: The Premise – The mystery is very cool, how can someone die in an area where codewise no one should be able to die? This mystery drives the plot as we soon find out that appearances can be deceiving.

Agil – Agil returns! As he is the one who is able to figure that Grimlock made the weapon that Caynz “died” on. It was great seeing him and the fact that he’s a merchant who makes his own items is really cool. He has a pretty good life within the game and a good friendship with Kirito.

Asuna – Asuna is the leader of the Knights of the Blood and has become driven at getting out of the game but after moments of enjoyment and rest with Kirito she soon finds reason within the game and builds a great friendship with Kirito. She is also the one who captures Grimlock.

Kirito – Kirito is great in this as he is pulled out from being a solo player to interacting with the wider world. He makes a good team with Asuna too and ends up saving Yolko and Caynz from the Laughing Coffin Guild.

Schmitt – Schmitt is a member of the Holy Dragon Alliance and is actually an interesting character. He betrays Griselda because he fears for his life but he lived in regret with it ever since. This leads to Yolko and Caynz sparing him and him growing and finding the courage to stand and not betray again.

Grimlock – Grimlock is a messed up guy who loved the idea of a submissive wife so when when Griselda because a leader he killed her to hold onto the wife he had once had in the real world. It is sad how this still applies to folks too and we still it often where the family or husband will kill their spouse for being independent. It is super messed up.

Griselda – Griselda’s story is about empowerment as in the game she becomes a leader and is respected by her guild who see her like family.

The Reveal – The reveal is cool with the attempt to kill Yolko and Caynz, Shmitt’s confession and the arrest of Grimlock along with him being called out on his sexism and evil. This was the best part of the episode. It is also revealed that when hitpoints go down gear or items vanished and that was when Yolko and Caynz had used their stones to warp out to make it look like they had died.

How the Game Changes People – The game changes people for better and for worse. Grimlock might have been a nice guy before but the game made him feel powerless and he became a monster, Griselda felt powerless before but the game empowered her. In a way this illustrates the power of second chances.

Okay: Yolko and Caynz – It is their gambit to reveal Shmitt as the killer and they do a good job at it but almost end up dead from being used by Grimlock. I wanted more on why they like Griselda and their relationship to her, which is why they are okay and not a pro.

The Cons: The Laughing Coffin – Great design but they are just kind of there as another player killer guild. No individual was distinct so there wasn’t much to go off of with them.

The Ending – Griselda’s ghost appeared, really? It broke the game and made no sense. Only makes sense if other dead characters have echoes too or another world was designed for dead players to go.

This is a good two-parter that I would recommend. It has great minor character and solving the mystery is fun.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Finale – Season 1, Episode 12 – “My Best Friend” – The God of Hope

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      What a Finale. I got to say, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” is one of my favorite animes after this and I’m grateful to all my friends who recommended the series to me. This episode tied all the timelines together and really defined all the characters in different ways and get glimpses into their souls after the Universe changing event that unfolds.

     The episode was directed by Jun’ichirō Taniguchi, Mika Takahashi and Yukihiro Miyamoto and written by Gen Urobuchi who clearly knew what he planned for the overaching arc of the series.

    The episode begins with Madoka making a wish to stop all Witches before they were born and to give hope to all those who had lost hope, doing away with the existence of Witches in all and every timeline. We see what this does to her as she becomes a God and how it affects the lives of each of the Magical Girls including Homura and Madoka’s family.

The Pros: Madoka’s Transformation into The God of Hope – Madoka’s wish is to end all Witches before they begin in order to give people a life. We see a scene with her talking with Mami and Kyoko about it. Mami warns her over her loss of identity and Kyoko tells her to go for it. From here we see Madoka begin her transformation into a God as she absorbs all the despair from Magical Girls throughout time, turns into a giant Witch which she then destroys which in turn creates an entirely new Universe and now in our Universe Madoka and Witches no longer exist. It’s a powerful sequences and transformation as you see Madoka rise in power and become large and later transparent, omnipresent and Omnipotent.

The Magical Girls of the Past – Joan of Arc receives peace, and countless others throughout time who were ready to give up and despair. It’s a powerful sequences as their deaths may not change (see Joan of Arc) but they receive hope again and are at peace.

Madoka’s Friends – None of them remember her outside of Homura but Sayaka’s spirit gets to see the boy she loves become successful and is happy for Hitomi. Kyoko misses Sayaka and we see that she loved her as much more than a friend and Mami mourns the loss of Sayaka too. Homura mentions Madoka’s name, but no one knows who she’s talking about.

How the Universe Changed – The new Universe is one where the Incubators made a deal to eat the remains of the Soul Gems that break and where they create Magical Girls to hunt Wraiths who are giant spirits who haunt the city. Madoka is gone but Homura remembers her as does Madoka’s little brother and even Madoka’s mother feels nostalgia in the name and feels like she would have named her daughter that and used the ribbon (Madoka gives Homura the ribbons from her hair) that she would have made her daughter wear. We see there is hope but still challenges and that the world is not perfect, it is changed though because of Madoka’s wish.

Homura – Homura has the hardest time letting go but in the end she finds peace too knowing Madoka is always with her and that she remembers even though the Incubators don’t. It’s really cool that Homura is the one carrying all the timelines and it’s made her Guardian of the World because she sees it as worth protecting because Madoka believed it to be. Her love for Madoka is truly what defines her in the end, even in a world where Madoka is no more. But now, Homura uses a weapon similar to Madoka’s bow and arrow.

The Message – It is never worth holding onto hate and despair, they only destroy you and those around you (the Witches as a living example of this). Madoka was that answer. Another one is that any girl can be extraordinary and make a difference. Madoka was just a kind school girl but in the end she saves the world and we see how any girl can transform the world in the actions and wishes of every Magical Girl and their roles as Guardians in the Universe before and after Madoka.

   This is one of the best animes I have ever watched, which this episode cemented. Things change but there are always challenges and always the darker side of human nature to face even if certain systems are changed. In this episode we see consequences and Madoka’s core good as she empowers all the girls to live and to live. It’s done really well and shows that hope and love are no small things, and that it’s our ability to feel those things that make us human.

I’ll be doing an assessment of the series as a whole later. Until than, it has been an amazing journey.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Perfect episode.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 6 – “Imprisoned” – Empowerment

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    The theme of this episode was resistance, solidarity and empowerment and it was a lot of fun. This was an episode where we got to see more of the Earth Kingdom culture and the brilliance and cruelty of the Fire Nation.

    “Imprisoned” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Matthew Hubbard and Aaron Ehasz.

    The story begins with Katara, Sokka and Aang stumbling upon Haru, an Earthbender kid who they soon learn has had all the Earthbenders in his village kidnapped by the Fire Nation who are milking the village for all of it’s value and using it’s coal mines to run their ships. The story unfolds as Katara speaks of resistance and fighting back and shares the loss of her Mother to the Fire Nation with Haru. After he is captured she purposely gets captured in order to inspire the Earthbenders to fight back.

The Pros: The Warden – George Takei is the voice of the Warden he plays an awesome character! His character is a cruel and cowardly, but also a really good Firebender. He also has a personality that is quick to anger and is great at instilling fear. When he is beaten it is quite rewarding.

Haru – Haru is a great minor character who wants to fight back until his parent’s fears keep him from doing so as he fears them getting killed. It isn’t until Team Avatar creates enough coal on the ship that he uses it to throw the first punch using the coal at the Warden which inspires them all to fight back.

Sokka – Sokka is the most fearful of them all too and wants to focus on the mission. He is quick to give up on people too as we see him ask Katara to give up but gives in when she puts her foot down about staying. He had a point too about leaving, but I’m glad Katara won the argument.

Aang – Aang is the one supporting Katara through this episode and is a great friend as his Airbending is essential to every plan they use…the first to show Katara Earthbending and the second to get the coal to the trapped Earthbenders. He also doesn’t show any jealousy even though it seems like Katara might be interested in Haru and he is interested in Katara.

Katara – Katara is the driving force of this episode and she is awesome! We see her give some pretty awesome speeches glorifying Earthbenders as defenders of the Earth Nation and that she’d heard stories about them growing up. She never gives up on them and in the end it pays off.

The Message – Don’t give up on people and when it comes to resistance, solidarity is important. It is when all of them stand together, Team Avatar and the prisoners that the Fire Nation Warriors are finally defeated.

Okay: The Fire Nation Ship – Looked cool and the Warden had personality, but that’s about it. Not bad, but not a pro.

The Earth Nation Village – It was a fearful subjugated place but it didn’t have personality the way some past Earth Nation cities did.

  This was a great episode and one that really explores the pain that has been done by the Fire Nation through Haru and Katara’s stories. We also see how fear can break people as well as how hope can inspire action and sometimes all it takes is one person having the courage to stand to inspire others to fight. Also, George Takei as a voice actor, one can’t go wrong with that.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.