The Infinite Zenith

Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more.

Three Year Anniversary!

“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” —John Mayer

Perhaps it bears testament to just how insane my schedule is when I was not able to even write a short post about how it’s been three years since I started this blog. The official anniversary of this blog is October 17, 2011, but as I spent that time grading Python exercises and working on various assignments, the blog’s anniversary somehow fell from my mind. Curiously enough, today provided a respite from all of that, and as I look back on this blog’s past year, the statistics tell a story of a blog that’s grown. I’m now nearing my 500th post (I think I’ll be seven away with this one), and the traffic here now is around 25 times what it was when I first started three years ago, when I was still an undergraduate student. Posts recall stories of my academic year, some of the projects and challenges I’ve faced, the different things each summer has seen. Even though my schedule is busier than it’s ever been, I’ve managed to find enough time to write here and there. The Infinite Zenith is but one of the countless blogs out there about anime and gaming, intended to provide my insights on anime and games for the readers as much as it is a diary of sorts for myself: when I read through older entries, I recall vividly what was happening when I wrote those posts.

  • In my previous two anniversary posts, I showcased images of well-drawn anime girls in beach attire, but this post is a little more reflective, so I’ve opted to go with slightly different images. When I read through different posts in the archive, I’m reminded of things I did long ago; it’s equivalent to reading a diary, albeit one that I don’t mind showing to the world because it doesn’t hold all of my secrets and talks about things ranging from themes in anime to random tips for pwning shooters.

  • I suppose the images were chosen to represent the scope and scale that the future holds: adventure into the future is simultaneously exciting and frightening, filled with unknown possibility. For the present, though, I return my mind to the present and will hopefully finish my simulation’s prototype before the month is over, then turn my attention to either learning Maya or adding further functionality, depending on my supervisor’s recommendations.

It’s hardly a surprise that blogging is a substantial time commitment, and in spite of my schedule (even now), I’ve managed to continue writing posts. I sometimes wonder if the blog should have another author, but recalling that I write here for my own posterity as much as I do with the intent of exploring anime and games, I think Infinite Zenith will remain a one-man army for the present. While the specifics behind the blog’s future is uncertain, I can say for certain that I will stick around long enough to talk about the upcoming Girls und Panzer Movie (whose release date is still unknown), as well as the Tamayura movies, and Strike Witches OVAs. This past year was an incredible ride for the blog, and although I doubt I’ll be able to blog with the same commitment for the upcoming year, I’ll definitely continue blogging, and inform readers of what the blog’s fate is as it happens. The upcoming year is definitely going to be big, as I (will strive to) get further into my graduate thesis, learning any tool I may need with my fullest effort and, hopefully, turn out another journal publication or conference paper. As well, I will strive to turn my dreams of travelling Japan (the precise destination is still under consideration) into a reality.

The Infinite Zenith’s Firing Range: Sabagebu!-style

“Maybe some arm shots or leg shots. Maybe, you know, try to stay away from that head.” —FPS_Doug, Pure Pwnage

For this Firing Range, I’ll be doing a talk on Maya Kyoudou’s preferred loadout from Sabagebu!, and in keeping with Maya’s lack of sidearms and other equipment, I’ve just rolled with the M4A1 with a random assortment of squad specialisations. In Sabagebu!, Maya runs with the M4A1 with Close Quarters Battle Receiver and an XPS variant of an EOTech holographic sight. The shortened barrel makes the weapons more compact and allows it to excel at close quarters, so for gathering footage here, I’ve stuck primarily with close-quarters engagements. To mirror Maya’s loadout, I’ve equipped my M4A1 with the holo sight and a flash suppressor. In Battlefield 3, the M4A1 is considered to be the best all-around carbine for the engineer class, with a high rate of fire (800 RPM), low recoil and fast reload time (1.85 seconds if there’s a round chambered, or 2.48 seconds from empty). In close quarters, this weapon is roughly the same as an assault rifle with regards to damage output, but thanks to the low recoil, the M4A1 remains useful at longer ranges, allowing one to perform reasonably well in a variety of situations. Outfitted with the flash suppressor and the holographic sight, I found that the flash suppressor did not do too much for the weapon, as the vertical recoil is already quite low. The holographic sight, on the other hand, helps with longer range aiming, affording a bit more magnification while retaining the same aiming speed as the red dot sights. At close quarters, the weapon is quite accurate even when fired from the hip, and allowed me to hold my own against assault rifles and even shotguns.

  • My typical setup for the M4A1 is a red dot sight, foregrip and heavy barrel for longer range combat, or a laser sight for close-quarters death match battles. The laser sight helps improve hip-firing; in older games like Halo and Half-Life 2, hip firing is the norm, and aiming down sights is only used for weapons with optics; when I go back and play classics, I have to remind myself not to keep trying to aim down sights.

  • It’s been more than half a year since I bought Battlefield 3 Premium, and it was only recently where i was able to play a match on Wake Island, a classic Battlefield map. I wound up joining the losing team, but somehow managed to make my way into first place on my team in the scoreboard on the virtue of capturing many flags and, on top of that, maintaining a positive KD ratio all the while. This stands contrary to my typical performance in Conquest matches, where I wind up dying a lot but score many points for my team.

  • Because the M4A1 is a carbine, this post will feature a lot of carbine ribbons. I recall that, back when I first started playing Battlefield 3, my KD ratio was roughly 0.65, but I’ve managed to raise it. Because I’m an objectives-focused player, my KD ratio tends to be quite low, but my score per minute remains quite good. These metrics are fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, although I have experienced several cases where there were people using aimbots (it’s easy to tell when someone’s killing me from across the map with a G17, which does 13 points of damage past 50 meters).

  • I admit that a lot of my headshots with automatic weapons happen without me thinking about them too much. As of late, the setup on Kharg Island means that it’s become one of my favourite places to go and play around with different loadouts. In team DM, The map consists of a large building on one end and containers on the other. Some players immediately parachute onto the roof, which overlooks the entire map and proceed to snipe players, but I’m familiar enough with the containers’ layout so I know where to counter-snipe without being too open a target. During this particular match, I went on a short killstreak and got another combat efficiency ribbon, but died shortly after.

  • I’m quite comfortable with the M4A1 now, and up next in the Firing Range series will probably be a talk on Upotte‘s L85A2, or “Elle-chan”. I’ll roll out talks on Sora no Method and Amagi Brilliant Park this Friday, and as I’m a ways into Shirobako, so a talk on that should be out by Hallow’s Eve at the very latest. I’m pushing back the Aldnoah.Zero talk indefinitely, as I’ve encountered some difficulties with the post and will work on it only if time permits. I also noticed that my feed at some anime aggregators have stopped working, probably because I have too many gaming posts; it’s their loss, since I offer unusual discussions not found anywhere else.

What is the verdict in Maya’s loadout? One would be inclined to say that Maya probably is just really unlucky, because the M4A1 performs quite well. Except at extreme ranges meant for sniper rifles, I was able to perform quite consistently at close and medium ranges, scoring headshots on targets up to 50 meters away and holding out at close ranges against even shotguns. Through this loadout, I warmed up to the holographic sight, as well. The flash suppressor was chosen to best mimic the Close Quarters Battle Receiver; the M4A1 in Battlefield 3 has the standard barrel. Flash suppressors are intended to reduce muzzle flash and make one less visible on a map; as well, they reduce the vertical recoil. The already low recoil means that typically, I would probably prefer a heavy barrel to improve long-range engagements (the hip-fire accuracy can be supplemented with a laser sight, which I did not equip for this discussion). Ultimately, the M4A1 is an immensely versatile weapon, and Maya’s loadout is effective in and of itself: her infamous propensity to get shot down first is a part of the humour in Sabagebu! and does not suggest that her weapon and customisation was a poor choice.

Distant Wishes: The school rooftop in Madoka Magica as a visual metaphor for the implications of being a magical girl

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” —Alan Turing

While it may be a subtle component within Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the architecture and interior design aspects within the anime have a substantial role in setting the mood. Previously, the architecture within Tari Tari was the central focus, and Madoka Magica was briefly mentioned as another example of where architecture is able to impact the atmospherics within an anime. In Madoka Magica, however, the architectural elements are used to both deceive the viewers and alienate the characters from their settings to emphasise the anime’s point: that magical girls become highly detached from their surroundings. Beginning from the warm, brightly-coloured settings in the series’ openings and the girls’ frequent hangout spots, to the mechanised, predominantly metal construction in the industrial areas, the settings serve to draw a juxtaposition between the girls and their environment. This use of architecture and interior design is nowhere as apparent as in Mitakihara’s school rooftop, which Madoka and her friends frequent during lunch hour. The unusual combination of familiarity and distance come together at this unique location, acting as a visual metaphor for the intermediate stage of doubt and mystery that Madoka and Sayaka experience after befriending Mami and learning of the existence of magical girls.

  • I have an inkling that readers often do not read the main paragraphs and choose to stick with reading the figure captions. They aren’t the entire post! Returning back to the image itself, Mitakihara is a relatively modern city, featuring buildings of a relatively modern design. Despite being similar to that of the Mega City in The Matrix, the Mega City was intended to create a sort of hyper-reality with its massive urban build-ups such that the inhabitants did not challenge their living environments. In Madoka Magica, the city’s size allows the writers to constantly alter the mood as things gradually worsen, presenting different sides of the city as the story calls for it.

  • In the series’ beginning, Mitakihara is presented with predominantly blue lighting to emphasise that, contrasting the greys and greens of the Mega City within The Matrix, Mitakihara is set in the real world. At this point in time, things are reasonably normal, and the characters (Madoka and Sayaka) lead normal lives as ordinary middle school students.

  • The Neo-Classical design found at the school rooftop bears some resemblence to Pietro Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys; the keys are supposed to represent the power of forgiveness and the right to enter heaven. The original painting gives the sense of an infinite world that stretches across the horizon, giving the sense that everything in their world is visible from their perspective as responsibility changes hands.

  • Madoka Magica probably drew inspiration from this painting to give the series a similar feeling: the keys depicted in Perugino’s painting are represented by contracts and magic, while the sense of space is conveyed by a vast cityscape rather than hills and trees. Here, Madoka and Sayaka wonder whether or not they could make a meaningful wish because their lives have been reasonably trouble-free insofar.

  • The deliberate inclusion of vast fences reminiscent of Renaissance architectural forms suggests that Mitakihara Middle School’s rooftop was deliberately intended to be a gathering place for students; the fences prevent any students from accidentally falling off the roof. The general architecture brings to mind the forms that Renaissance-era cathedrals took. Associated with the Church and the sort of mysterious higher powers, cathedrals were grand places of worship.

Given that the school rooftop is a highly prevalent location in anime, it is not unreasonable to surmise that the location might hold some significance. In typical anime, the school rooftops are used as a location for solitude by students; in Kanon, Yuichi and Mai train using bamboo swords on the school rooftops, while CLANNAD has Nagisa asking Ryou about joining the drama club. Students hang out on the school rooftops for lunch in Azumanga Daioh, go out there to vent off steam (K-On! Movie), or even discuss what it means to be idols (Locodol). Why the school rooftops are chosen is probably to confer some solitude, offering a tranquil spot amidst the hustle of an urban locale for individuals to relax or look back on things. In densely built areas, especially in Japan, the skyline might be visible, providing a distant backdrop for the events that occur in the school rooftop. This forms a juxtaposition; the school is a well-traversed, familiar location, but beyond their world is another, one that is perceived to be more unfeeling and detached. In Madoka Magica, when Madoka and Sayaka discuss their wishes up there, the locale immediately gives the impression that the girls are considering things that are equally as distant in a relatively friendly setting, subtly mirroring the fact that individuals become a part of that “distant” world once their education is complete. It would therefore be logical to be discussing the future (in this case, wishes) in a location where the familiar and the unknown are simultaneously visible and become things that must be considered.

  • Mitakihara Middle School is probably composed of multiple structures: the student classrooms, main entrance and other areas of the school take on a Neo-Futurist design, and the rooftopis nowhere to be seen from the main entrance. In the original TV series and Blu-Ray release, the school rooftop had significantly less detail, having a pure white surface. In the movie, the environments are far more detailed, although for the most part, the dialogue and flow of events have remained unchanged.

  • Sayaka and Madoka find their world has completely changed following Mami’s death. With its impact still sinking in, they remark that their school feels completely foreign to them. The school’s interior, with its minimalistic glass classrooms are highly modern, although this sort of minimalism serves to distance Madoka from her surroundings even earlier on in Madoka Magica, before she becomes entangled in the world of magical girls.

  • This image captures the level of detail in the fences that enclose the school rooftop. I’ve actually been meaning to do this talk for quite some time now: when I first watched Madoka Magicathe school rooftop immediately struck me as something worth mentioning, although for the longest time, I could not put my finger on why it was worth mentioning. Thoughts of this topic fell from my mind, but upon visiting a similar part of my campus, I soon found an answer, and this post began taking shape.

  • After Sayaka takes a day’s absence, Homura confronts Madoka. The school rooftop is shrouded in shadow, darkening the atmosphere and sharply juxtaposing Madoka’s comfort level when she speaks with Homura with how she feels when speaking with Sayaka; typically, Madoka and Sayaka’s conversations are under sunlight, even if their topics are darker, showing how Madoka may trust Sayaka to a greater extent before Homura reveals the truth to her.

  • Readers are probably wondering if I would make a contract and wish, provided I had the same level of knowledge as Madoka and Sayaka by episode two: the answer would be no. I do not make decisions until I am reasonably satisfied that I have enough information to make an informed, rational choice. Given the limited information Kyubey and Mami have provided, I would probably inquire for more details and make my decision from there. Given Madoka Magica‘s outcome, I would imagine that deciding against making a wish is probably the best course of action.

Ultimately, Madoka and Sayaka do not come to a final conclusion here, as Homura interrupts their conversation. The next time Madoka and Sayaka spend time together up on the school rooftop is after Mami’s death by Charlotte’s hands, and it is here that the setting truly becomes disjoint: as Madoka later learns, no one else will know of Mami’s death. The world is indifferent, apathetic to Mami’s fate, and this sense of detachment is reflected in the architecture, which coldly adjourns the scene. It is from here that Madoka Magica steps away from a traditional magical girl series and begins to depict the magical girl’s role as one of tireless, thankless effort, rather than the idealistic, optimistic approaches taken by more traditional anime. This element is subtly enhanced by the choice of architecture within Madoka Magica; locations gradually become more industrial and minimalistic as the series progresses to emphasise that the girls are alone. Their settings (and the people that inhabit them) will only observe without compassion, leaving the magical girls alone as they struggle to come to terms with what their decisions led to. These visual elements are seamlessly integrated with Yuki Kajiura’s “Sis Puella Magica!” (Let’s become magical girls!) in several scenes. “Sis Puella Magica!” is a cold piece that accompanies scenes explaining details behind the magical girls, to give the sense that being a magical girl entails much more than is immediately apparent, and like the song, is a role filled with enigma that, paired with the visual elements, produces an atmosphere that leads even the viewers to ask themselves: is there something you want so badly that it’s worth putting your life in danger for?

The Infinite Zenith’s Firing Range: Sword Art Online II-style

“There’s a maniac out there! He’s shooting everyone in the head!” —Pure_Pwnage

This is the first post in The Infinite Zenith’s Firing Range, a new series inspired by LevelCapGaming’s Loadout series. The difference here is I’ll be running with various Battlefield 3 weapons that are seen in some anime (or approximate the loadout the best I can), rather than taking on a kit and customisation readers will choose, and instead of videos, I’ll be doing a talk as per my usual format. Unlike Loudout, I’ll only consider the gadgets and specialisations if required. Today, I’m running the M98B with the 8x rifle scope, straight-pull bolt and a laser sight, and my sidearm is the Glock G18C. To mimic Sinon’s speed, I’ve chosen to go with the sprint specialisation. This deviates slightly from Sinon’s Hecate II, which has bipod in place of the straight-pull bolt and no other attachments. In general, I’ll try to set up my weapon as close as possible to the loadouts seen within the anime, but because I captured the footage on short order, I forgot to set the customisations up properly in the images. With that said, Sinon’s choice of weapons is logical and doable: optimised for extremely long range combat, a bipod helps stablise the rifle and minimises scope sway. The rifle scope is well suited for long range engagements far away from the front lines. In Gun Gale Online, Sinon typically engages enemies from great distances, so high-powered optics make sense. However, in both cases, the optics obscures one’s field-of-view and leaves players without a good sense of their surroundings. Moreover, scope glint gives the player’s position away, forcing snipers to move from place to place to avoid being hunted down. For close-quarters combat, the G18C automatic pistol is an ideal weapon. As with Sinon, I’m going with the non-suppressed version, which deals more damage and has a slightly better range compared to the suppressed G18C. The weapon is remarkably effective in some cases: with a firing rate of 900 rounds per minute, it out-powers the 93R at close ranges, but is still woefully underpowered compared to the primary weapons.

  • In the few months after I had picked up Battlefield 3, I was downright terrible with the recon class. Bullet drop and scope sway meant that I was constantly missing targets, and my typical preference for close-quarters combat meant I was not doing well at all with the recon class in its intended role. However, that changed somewhat after I unlocked the SV-98, which performed quite admirably. My fondest memory was using it to take down an enemy sniper camped out on the crane.

  • Just a few days ago, in my Sabagebu! talk, I mentioned that I have no combat efficiency ribbons because I still play Battlefield 3 as I did Halo 2. However, the sniper loadout forced me to hang back, far from the front lines. I also happen to have Noshahr Canals’ entire layout memorised: there’s a corner of the map where the enemy team will sometimes spawn in large groups, and over a very short period of time, I managed to get a killstreak going, landing me my first-ever combat efficiency ribbon (to earn it, one must get eight kills without dying).

  • Bullet drop, though intimidating to beginners, isn’t actually that difficult to master. It will take practise, but making use of the sights (and understanding what the different markings mean) helps considerably. The M98B has the smallest bullet drop of any sniper rifle in Battlefield 3 owing to its muzzle velocity, and paired with some practise, getting headshots is reasonably straightforward.

  • During a chaotic match on Kharg Island, I encountered several snipers at close range, and proceeded to wreck them using the G18C. Some players will try to perform either no-scopes or quick-scopes in close quarters with bolt-action rifles, a range where firing rate matters more than any other statistic. They’ll fire, usually miss in a panic and be taken out without too much difficulty. Against the other weapons, I got wrecked when using the G18C.

  • I think Sinon’s loadout is quite viable in Battlefield 3. Compared to my usual play-style, it requires more patience and excellent decision-making skills to ensure that every shot counts. That’s it for the first post in The Infinite Zenith’s Firing Range. Next up in the series will be Maya’s M4A1: she uses the Close Quarters Battle Receiver, which isn’t available in Battlefield 3, but the EOTech holosight is. The timeline for this is going to have to be “whenever my schedule allows”.

In practise, equipping a bolt action rifle, automatic pistol and sprint specialisation is somewhat unusual: one would preferably go with the ammunition, suppression or anti-suppression specialisations (to carry more rounds, suppress enemies downrange more efficiently or prevent enemies from doing the same). There is little question that, at long ranges, nothing else matches Battlefield 3‘s premier bolt-action rifle. Easier to unlock that Gun Gale Online‘s Hecate II, the M98B is one of the most powerful weapons, dealing 95 points of damage and trailing out to 59 points at 120 metres, much greater than other sniper rifles. At closer ranges, players will sustain massive damage if hit, and even at long ranges, two shots will dispose of any opponent. The M98B also has the greatest bullet velocity, so one does not have to compensate for bullet drop or lead their targets quite to the same extent. To balance it out, the weapon has a slower firing rate of 40 rounds per minute and is limited to a five-round magazine (and an extra round in the chamber), although the limitations don’t impede the M98B’s overall performance, making it an excellent weapon at long ranges. For short range engagements, the G18C’s rate of fire allows one to hold out reasonably well, although in general, having the M98B in one’s loadout will leave one with a serious disadvantage in close quarters. When equipped with the M98B, players in Battlefield 3 will do well to follow a similar pattern as Sinon, having squadmates provide cover and moving from place to place to avoid being out-gunned, making use of the G18C as a last resort.

Sword Art Online II- First Arc Reflection

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

With the Gun Gale Online (GGO) arc now over in Sword Art Online II, it seems appropriate to take a step back and look back on how the first half has fared thus far. The impressions for the GGO arc are positive; this arc manages to keep things exciting throughout its run through a fine balance between combat and exposition. After the setup we’ve seen in Sword Art Online II‘s first half, the second half concerns the Battle of Bullets tournament. Sinon and Kirito form a tentative alliance to stop Death Gun, and as the tournament progresses, Kirito deduces how Death Gun is committing the murders, as well as recalling which Laughing Coffin members might have been the perpetrators. Kirito and Sinon open up to one another, and after formulating a meticulous plan, move to engage Death Gun. The confrontation between Death Gun and Kirito is a thrilling one; despite initially having an edge, Kirito manages to overcome him, although Death Gun, or “Sterben” (derived from Old High German “sterban”, “to lose force; lose sensibility, become numb; be dead, be motionless”), claims that their fight is far from over. Even so, with Death Gun temprorarily defeated, Kirito helps Sinon come to terms with her past, learning that she saved the postal worker, who happened to be pregnant with her daughter at the time.

  • In keeping with tradition, I will have twenty images here and a figure caption that deals with the themes in the first arc. Besides exploration of the difference between a virtual and the real world, Sword Art Online also aims to depict individuals as drawing strength from knowing what they need to do, and that different individuals will choose different ways to face fears from their past.

  • Kirito finds himself getting hit on by the other players prior to the Battle of Bullets tournament, much to Sinon’s irritation. What do I make of virtual reality and reality? This has been an ancient discussion I’ve been interested in since The Matrix, and my beliefs are quite simple. Because reality might be considered to be what our brains interpret to be real, our only obligations is to make the most of our main reality and do better for this main reality.

  • In this context, I define main reality to be the perceived root level where we can no longer positively identify whether or not our perceptions are imagined or not. In other words, Gun Gale Online, Alfheim Online and Sword Art Online are at the children level, since the inhabitants know that their world is a simulation. In The Matrix, perception makes it difficult for the Matrix’s inhabitants to know whether their world is real or not, and as such, the Matrix is seen to be at the root level. The Red Pills realise that the Matrix is not real, and as a result, are able to perform suprehuman feats within that world.

  • In our current context, it is impossible to determine whether our entire existence is not some simulation fabricated by some higher power, or if our world is genuinely real. Even if humanity could attain the power to ascertain our existence’s “realness”, it is quite possible that we existed in an infinitely nested simulation. A part of my interest in computer modelling and simulations lie in building rules for virtual worlds, as well as seeing whether or not artificial worlds (specifically, biological systems) can mimic real-world systems even if they are simply defined by interaction rules, rather than differential equations.

  • Death Gun’s sidearm is the Type 54 “Black Star” pistol, the Chinese copy of the Soviet Tokarev TT-33. Produced after the Korean War, the weapons is chambered for the 7.62x25mm caliber and is no longer common amongst the PLA, but in Japan, it’s a popular weapon criminals use. The selection of a Chinese weapon for the antagonist may have subtle implications, but that requires reading between the lines, and the fact that the weapon is widely used by the Yakuza is probably why it was chosen to be Death Gun’s signature sidearm.

  • Kirito’s skill with a lightsabre is not dissimilar to those of Jedi Swordmasters. Kirito’s skill at cutting down bullets as a self-defense technique is similar to Form III, or Soresu. For combat with another swordsman, Kirito generally makes use of Shii-Cho, or Form I; this form is characterised by broad, sweeping motions. Jedi prefer to use this as a fallback technique and to disarm their opponents, but Kirito capitalises on the form’s unpredictability to overcome his opponents.

  • While trying to narrow down the number of active players that could be Death Gun, Kirito encounters an attractive sniper (inspect the image closely and wonder if GGO simulates air temperature) and promptly defeats her. While some viewers wonder why such a character would only have a few seconds of screentime, the logical answer is to give someone who Kirito will immediately identify as not being Death Gun.

  • After eleven episodes’ worth of progress, Sinon finally begins to trust Kirito and promises to help him end Death Gun’s serial murders. Their specialties occupy opposite niches, with Kirito excelling at close quarters combat and Sinon having unmatched skill at extremely long ranges. This diversity allows the two to do what no other GGO player has done.

  • Sinon’s Hecate II is equipped with a 40x ballistic scope and bipod, allowing her to place headshots on targets as far away as a kilometer. The gun customisation options are not explored fully in GGO, but one images that for balance, players only have modification options for their optics, barrel and auxillary, meaning that Sinon won’t be able to equip both a bipod and straight-pull bolt simultaneously.

  • During the confrontation with Death Gun, Sinon’s optics are destroyed, leaving her with just her rifle’s iron sights. Despite having augmentations for long-range engagements, Sinon finds that she cannot do much more without her rifle in top condition, and must watch as Kirito does battle with Death Gun.

If Sword Art Online excelled with its first arc and was overall stymied by its weak second half, Sword Art Online II has, like its predecessor, impressed with the GGO Arc. The pacing of the episodes stand out, building anticipation and leaving the audience with a strong inclination to watch the next episode. In particular, what stood out was how Kirito was able to deduce Death Gun’s modus operandi just from watching his actions in-game. The cloak Death Gun carries is used to obtain players’ real world information (recall an earlier episode when Sinon informs Kirito that players must use their information if they wish to earn money in-game), and Death Gun’s signals can be captured by cameras, which would signal to an accomplice in the real world to inject the victim with a drug. Careful timing subsequently gives the illusion that Death Gun can kill players from in-game. While the anime does not explicitly mention the name of the compound used, the light novels identify the drug as succinylcholine. Typically used as a muscle relaxant to induce paralysis, a sufficient dose succinylcholine stops the heart. Succinylcholine is better known for its usage as an untraceable agent The Campus used to assassinate high value targets in Tom Clancy’s Teeth of the Tiger, the Sword Art Online variant probably was also intended to be broken down by esterases into acetylcholine, making it difficult to prove the drug was used as a murder weapon. In reality, succinylcholine decomposition would produce distinct, detectable products (and the fact that the drug is difficult to obtain); this is of little object for The Campus, and in Sword Art Online, it appears to be of little consequence and is the likely agent the murderers used. This sort of detail, though subtle, does add to the sense of urgency in Kirito’s mission.

  • The stress of engaging Death Gun causes Kirito’s heartrate to jump. Fearful of what could happen to Kirito, Asuna decides to visit the hospital where Kirito is held. Given that Kirito’s theory is true, he is in no danger of dying both in game and real life, as there are staff on hand to keep an eye on him. Players who were “killed” by Death Gun were those who lived alone, with poorly-secured apartment rooms: if virtual reality technology ever becomes a reality in the near future, I imagine there will be tight regulations to ensure that players cannot be trapped in-game or killed by their devices’ emissions.

  • Channeling the sort of willpower we’ve seen in Kirito in the original Sword Art Online, Kirito manages to bisect Death Gun’s avatar to defeat him. Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul in a similar manner in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, being the first Jedi to fight against and best a Sith lord for over a thousand years. However, the expanded universe takes things a little too far, resurrecting Darth Maul.

  • As the last two surviving Battle of Bullets participants, Sinon decides to end the game by a draw. She’s clearly warmed up to Kirito at this point, and embraces him happily before her grenade goes off to end the match.

  • Back in the real world, relief at having finished the Battle of Bullets tournament soon gives way to horror when Kyōji reveals himself to be a part of the Death Gun murders and attempts to force himself upon Sinon. These moments were unsettling, and one must wonder what’s going through Kyōji’s mind as all of this is happening. Despite Kirito arriving to try and help her, he is temporarily dispatched, but Sinon manages to overcome her fear and winds up saving Kirito.

  • Sinon expertly handles her bullies without resorting to force. Although she’s visibly shaken afterwards, she manages to contain her fear and calmly defuses the situation without escalating it.

  • In a meeting with Kikuoka Seijirō, Kirito and Sinon learn more about Death Gun. Sinon’s comments here are sympathetic to Kyōji’s situation, and unlike another, more high-profile talk out there, I’m of the same mind. While there is no doubting that Kyōji’s actions are horrifying, it appears that stress has induced mental problems in him, leaving him unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. These situations do occur in reality, and by the time things like murders happen, intervention is already too late. Such individuals in reality should be tried fairly, with their mental conditions assessed to determine if they could stand trial. As a preventative measure, perhaps people in general ought to look out for their friends and family to help them out when all the lights go out.

  • One thing I’ve not mentioned yet was how expertly character dynamics were handled here: it’s clear that Sinon holds a small crush on Kirito, but the matter is not pressed any further, as her other challenges are explored with the most detail. Without any additional romances to bog things down, the GGO arc is able to make the most of its time to build solid background for everything that happens.

  • It turns out that, in accidentally taking a life, Sinon manages to save two: that of an employee’s and her unborn daughter. Earlier in the series, viewers only get a glimpse of what happens at the post office, and the woman only makes an appearance for a split second; we consider that people we are not familiar with “are someone else”, but, as per Calvin and Hobbes, “we’re all someone else to someone else”.

  • Sinon finds herself overwhelmed with emotion after learning of the impacts her actions had, and again, I find myself disagreeing with the sentiments expressed at the aforementioned blog, which state that this scene was merely an afterthought: this moment was well-placed as the ending to the GGO arc, illustrating that Sinon’s actions wound up saving someone and that no one really supported her until now, helping her become aware of saving someone. Coupled with her handling of the bullies from earlier, Sinon has made considerable progress since the GGO Arc began.

  • Thus ends another post, written with a Thanksgiving dinner in me, which included turkey, ham, large prawns, steamed vegetables and a fully-loaded baked potato. I’ve still a day off tomorrow on account of it being the Thanksgiving long weekend, and will spend the time doing some review of data mining concepts (clustering and distances). This weekend has been quite productive thus far: I’ve mostly finished the data mining assignment, grading my TA section’s assignments, prepared a bit of the poster for my research methodologies course, prepared my lesson plan for this week’s only tutorial and have a working, rudimentary algorithm for random motion of molecules in a cellular environment.

Shōichi and Kyōji, the two known participants in Death Gun, are institutionalised, after Kirito defeats them in GGO. The story behind their motives is tragic, reflecting on the sort of outcome that may arise from a family with high expectations. Shōichi was physically weak and was a member of Laughing Coffin, while Kyōji, already burdened with entering medical school, saw Shōichi as a hero and no longer wished to be a part of the real world. These sorts of backstories add a bit of realism to the antagonists; while their actions are despicable, it’s not difficult to imagine individuals succumbing to academic and career expectations, especially in a culture as driven as Japan’s. Thus, when all of the parts come together, Sword Art Online II‘s GGO arc winds up being an excellent watch that brings back memories of everything that was well-executed in Sword Art Online. The second half is set to begin in less than a week (this week was a recap episode), and it is with anticipation that I look forwards to seeing what will happen next in what is expected to be the UnderWorld Arc, the latest instalment in Sword Art Online.