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Summer 2020 Catch-Up Guide

by Theron Martin,

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on anime scheduling, to the point that the Summer 2020 season has (by far) the least number of scheduled debuts for a summer season since 2012. One interesting consequence is that the season will have an unusually high concentration of titles that are either sequels or continuations of series which have been off-air for two or more seasons. Hence a bit of recap seems appropriate. I have selected four titles that are in this situation to highlight.

Note: Each entry contains considerable spoilers for earlier content in the franchise.

What's Come Before
Diminutive Muhyo is a prodigy as an executor, an expert in using Magical Law to exorcise and punish misbehaving spirits. However, using such potent magic takes a toll on him, so he is looked after by Roji, an assistant who specializes in using talismans. The photographer NANA is initially one of their clients but winds up hanging around them a lot afterwards and often getting mixed up in their affairs. Muhyo is most directly opposed by former friend and classmate Madoka, (aka Enchu), who turned towards dark magic in a fit of jealousy over Muhyo's talent and now represents the biggest threat to the Magical Law community. They directly oppose each other when Muhyo and Roji returned to the hometown of Magical Law in Japan, and then again when Enchu proves to be behind some sabotage at a magic prison. Both sides eventually retreat with major figures badly injured, but Enchu follows up by gathering the forbidden magic law workers together and essentially declaring war on the Magical Law community. The first series ends with an image of a talisman-wrapped egg.

What To Expect
An English dub and a move to Funimation. Crunchyroll streamed the first season, but Funimation has announced that it has the second season and intends to both dub it and go back and dub the first season as well. Otherwise the trailer suggests that more of what we saw in the first season is coming, albeit with perhaps a greater emphasis on plot. (About half of the first season was “monster of the week” tales.) Looks like NANA should also be involved again after mostly sitting out the second half of the first season.

What's Come Before
Hachiman is one of the most cynical of all high school students, with a firm belief (based in part on past rejection) that everything is better off done solo. Knowing his character, a teacher forces him to join his school's Service Club, whose only other initial member is Yukino, a girl whose beauty and blunt demeanor have also isolated her. They are soon also joined by the more sociable Yui, a girl who hangs on the fringes of the popular group and normally seems chipper but is unsure who the real “her” actually is. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, they tackle problems that their fellow students bring to them as well as their own issues. That includes dealing with Yukino's too-perfect elder sister, who's also a consummate meddler; a popular guy in Hachiman and Yui's class who privately confesses that he's not at all the good guy that everyone thinks he is; and a number of other students whose true motives are often much more selfish than they let on.

Their efforts have not come without cost. Frictions developed within the Service Club, especially over Hachiman being all-too-willing to use methods harmful to himself, even if they usually do work. Underlying problems build during a class trip to Kyoto, a student council election, and an inter-school effort to put on a Christmas show. Eventually the trio come to an understanding, though that puts romantic tensions on the rise, and Yukino is now increasingly getting pressure from her family about making decisions. An aquarium “date” for the trio ends with Yukino finally declaring that she has a request of her own to put out alongside the requests that Hachiman and Yui have previously made.

What to Expect
Yukino's request, for one. The 2015 sequel series, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!, cruelly ended on that note and only now, five years later, are we going learn what she wants for herself, something she has always struggled before to assert. And while other romantic relationships that the trio had dealt with mostly remained in a certain comfort zone, the same cannot be said for the central trio. Both Yukino and Yui seem to want to make a move, but all of them know that doing so means someone loses. With this season being labeled the “climax,” perhaps we'll see some resolution here as well, along with Yukino straightening out her family problems. And we can't forget about Hachiman's sister Komachi's test results, either!

What's Come Before
Kirito had been working with a company called Rath on their development of a revolutionary new VR interface called an STL, which he used to access a virtual setting called Underworld, which was attempting to develop the world's first “bottom-up” AIs. However, a real-world attack from former Laughing Coffin member Johnny Black left him comatose and potentially brain-damaged, so he was brought to Rath's floating facility, the Ocean Turtle, in the hopes that the STL unit could repair the damage. Asuna eventually caught up to him there and learned the truth of what Rath was planning, and also that the AI they had been seeking to develop had emerged but had been lost among the hundreds of thousands of AIs in the artificial world. Thanks to a mole, certain elements in the U.S. found out about this and sent a strike team, led by one Gabriel Miller, to invade the Ocean Turtle. They seized control of the Turtle's main operations room, with Asuna and the Rath personnel holed up in a sub-control room, and two of their number entered into Underworld using super-accounts to seek out the AI.

Meanwhile Kirito has been active in Underworld for more than two years due to the accelerated time flow. He realized that he would have to get to the command console in the top level of the Human Empire's Central Cathedral to contact someone on the outside. To do that he teamed up with a boy his age named Eugeo, who also wanted to go there to seek out his childhood friend Alice, who was carried away years earlier for violating the Taboo Index of the world – a top-level offense that no one should even be capable of doing. After time spent traveling and training, they finally encounter Alice, but she is now grown up, one of the Church's enforcers called an Integrity Knight, and doesn't remember Eugeo. Over the course of many battles, Kirito and Eugeo ascend the Central Cathedral, defeat many Integrity Knights, and convince Alice to break her conditioning and come to their side to oppose the church's pontifex, who has wicked plans for the human inhabitants of Underworld. An epic battle against the pontifex ends in her defeat but at the cost of Eugeo's life. Upon finally making outside contact, Kirito learns that he must take Alice to the World's End Altar in the Dark Territory (outside the Human Empire) to get her out of Underworld, but a shock resulting from events on the Ocean Turtle renders him comatose.

Months pass in Underworld, and the Dark Territory forces have been marshalled for an attack on the human lands by the return of the legendary Emperor Vecta (aka Gabriel Miller's super-account), who seeks the Priestess of Light – in other words, Alice, who is the long-sought bottom-up AI and thus effectively the ultimate product of the Seed program and everything linked to it. During a massive battle at the eastern gate into human lands, the defending forces learn that Vecta seeks Alice, so Alice, the still-comatose Kirito, and a sizable entourage break through into Dark Territory lands and head for the World's End Altar in hopes of drawing most of the Dark Territory forces away from Human Empire lands. The plan works almost too well, and the human forces in the entourage are left in dire straits until Asuna arrives on the scene using the super-account of the goddess Stacia. Her reuniting with Kirito does not awaken him, but she does reveal some of the truth of what's going on to those around him and pledges to help save Underworld.

However, the Ocean Turtle invaders have a slick trick of their own up their sleeves: convincing tens of thousands of American players that this is a beta test and throwing them into the fray to overwhelm with sheer numbers. Yui gets wind of this and gathers Kirito and Asuna's closest friends to martial Japanese VRMMO players, including Lisbeth giving an impassioned speech. The first sign of their arrival comes with the entrance of Sinon onto the scene using another divine super-account, which helps offset the second wave of American players arriving. Some of the Dark Territory forces have also rejected Emperor Vecta upon learning of his goals and fight the newcomers as well, but Alice has been plucked off the battlefield and is now being carried by Vecta towards the World's End Altar. Also, one of the Ocean Turtle attackers, who died upon Asuna's arrival in Underworld but not before recognizing her from Aincrad, seeks to return using his original account. The fate of Underworld is now very precariously at stake.

What To Expect
The eventual return to action of Kirito, the wrapping up of one of the bigger loose ends from Aincrad, and the finale of the entire Alicization story arc. Also expect a lot of other familiar faces to show up before everything is done and multiple epic battles. I am also curious to see how the What Happens After part is handled, as it is crucial to truly rounding out the story but could constitute two or more full episodes at the end. Promo trailers have provided no hints on that.

What's Come Before
Subaru Natsuki is a bit more fit than your typical NEET. That serves him well when, while walking home from a convenience store one day/night, he suddenly finds himself in a fantasy world city. He soon encounters a pretty, silver-haired half-elf who initially introduces herself as Satella (and whom he later learns is actually Emilia) and winds up helping her find a stolen signet which is very important to her. When that endeavor ends in him and Emilia getting killed, he discovers that he has a disconcerting ability he calls Return By Death, which forces him to return to a previous point in his timeline if he dies, presumably so he can try things over again. Even stranger, he cannot even attempt to tell anyone about it without suffering painful consequences. Multiple deaths lead to him eventually finding a way for both he and Emilia to survive, though he is badly wounded in the process.

When he awakens again, Subaru is at the residence of Emilia's sponsor, the wizard Roswaal, and learns that she is both a candidate to become a Dragon Priestess (and thus the ruler of the land) and widely-regarded as being a reincarnation of the infamous Witch of Envy because of her race and appearance. Dangers leading to multiple Subaru deaths are also afoot at the mansion, where he also gets involved with twin maids Ram and Rem, who are not as human as they look. Eventually he solves the puzzle of the curses and plots against Emilia and wins the loyalty of Rem in the process, essentially for saving her from herself. He then follows Emilia to the capital for the selection ceremony, where he gets badly injured in an ill-advised duel against a knight he offended. Emilia can be patient with Subaru's antics and sense of entitlement no longer, leading to Subaru's descent into bitterness as his attempts to rectify the matter and save Emilia from the threat of the witch's cult fail over and over.

With Rem's help, Subaru eventually resolves to start over “from zero” and approach things a new way. Using the lessons he learned from his failures, he convinces some of the other Dragon Priestess candidate factions to undertake an expedition to defeat the dreaded flying White Whale, which has long been a threat to trade because it can erase people from existence. Upon its defeat after a harrowing battle, he and his new allies move to confront the witch's cult to save Emilia, though not without some cost to himself. By personally eliminating the final threat to Emilia, he finally becomes the hero he imagined himself to be and makes up with Emilia as well.

What to Expect
An exploration of the reasons for the jaw-dropping final line of the extra scene added the Winter 2020 season's re-airing of the series: Emilia asking Subaru, “who's Rem?” With those two words the feel-good ending of the 2016 smash hit is totally upended and an immediate new crisis arises, as there is no apparent good explanation for how Rem could have been erased when the creature who could do that is now dead. Promos have also shown that Satella, the Witch of Envy, who is presumed to be behind Subaru's Return by Death ability, will also finally make an appearance.

What series sequel are you most looking forward to this season? Let us know in the comments!

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