Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 03 – Getting Situated

It doesn’t take long for Gilgamesh to determine that Mash, Ana are a waste of his time, as he easily deflects their attacks. He also reveals that the Holy Grail is already among his treasures, which is why the Three Goddess Alliance is attacking Uruk. But as it’s one of his treasures, Gil is unwilling to give it to anyone; not the goddesses (including Ishtar, who makes a brief appearance) and not to Chaldea.

Merlin suggests they stop asking for now; Gil is a moody man, and leaving him alone could bear fruit later. Gil’s attendant Siduri suggests Mash and Ritsuka gain his favor through achievements not in battle, but simply in soaking up the capital and its people, rhythms, and work. If they play ball and show due deference to the king and his city, maye he’ll be more receptive.

To that end, Siduri shows them their modest but adequate new base of operations, where three additional Servants in Benkei, Ushiwakamaru, and Leonidas come to visit, eat, drink, and be merry with Mash, Ritsuka, Merlin and Ana as part of the larger “Uruk Experience.” Siduri also confirms that Enkidu is indeed dead and has been replaced by a fake who answers to the Alliance; but Gilgamesth has yet to meet him in person.

From there Mash, Ritsuka and Ana make themselves useful performing all manner of tasks that while generally menial and perhaps “above” time travelling warriors, are nevertheless tasks that are crucial to Uruk’s survival.

That means not just making mud bricks, harvesting wheat, shearing sheep, and tending to the children and the sick, but also joining Ana in the caverns below Uruk to dispose of evil spirits she believes are contributing to a wasting epidemic among the populace.

Ana doesn’t initially get why Ritsuka and Mash are interacting so closely with that populace, but Ritsuka very logically explains that getting to actually know the human beings he seeks to save helps to motivate him, as well as to more fully empathize with their fate should they fail. And Fake Enkidu and his goddess mother very much want them to fail.

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BokuBen 2 – 03 – Lifesaving Bangs

Rizu, feeling like her bangs are getting a bit long, aims to trim them…a bit, but thanks to her dad surprising her, she cuts off a bit more than a bit. Fumino and Uruka’s mixed reaction doesn’t help matters, but it’s around Nariyuki whom Rizu feels most self-conscious, and so takes great pains to hide her face so he won’t notice.

When Fumino sees that Nariyuki is taking Rizu’s face-hiding as a sign she hates him, she removes her ridiculous mask, only for Nariyuki not to notice any change whatsoever. Rizu hates the contradiction of being upset that he didn’t, but he’s determined to figure out what the change is, and eventually redeems himself.

In addition to keeping his promise to call her by her given name, he tells her how her facial expressions have changed since they first started studying together. While she once looked sullen and detached, now her face is more bright animated, even joyful. Not even caring about her bangs anymore, Rizu deems him correct…just not in the way she expected.

We stay with Rizu as the episode’s focus, but the POV shifts to her self-appointed rival (and not-so-secret admirer), Sekijo Sawako. Earlier, their soulmate status was confirmed when they changed hairstyles on the same day (even though Rizu’s was an accident), and when Sawako notices Rizu’s pen case getting a little tatty, she offers to take her shopping for a new one.

The next day, after obsessive minute-to-minute preparation and anticipation that kept her up all night, requiring at least nine cans of coffee, the two meet up for their long-awaited date. But after plying Rizu with at least 2,000 calories in snacks, Sawako spots Nariyuki, and determines she needs to put “Rizu’s happiness first” by cutting their date short and letting Rizu go with Nariyuki.

Both Rizu and Nariyuki are confused by this move, and Sawako ends up sulking at a claw machine, remembering her middle school days when her high test scores would annoy her less brainy classmates.

It wasn’t until she took an exam beside her that Sawako met Rizu and became absolutely enthralled and inspired by her “cool beauty” attitude, calmly calling out the dumb boys. From that point on Sawako gained more confidence in herself and started to care less and less about what they thought…all thanks to Rizu.

Sawako explains all this to Nariyuki when he comes looking for her, and that she believes Rizu “saved her life” with her inspirational attitude. Rizu, who was also looking for Sawako, hears the tail end of this, but rather than being insulted, she’s actually glad that something she considered a weakness—not being great at reading people’s feelings—was seen as a strength and inspiration by Sawako.

Sawako’s tsundere antics can be tiresome, and I’m not sure we needed her to fall on Rizu, grabbing her boob and exposing her own underwear in the process, but I was glad to get her backstory and motivations for why she treats Rizu as both a rival and kind of soul mate and lodestar. I also appreciate that like Fumino she’s aware of the potential of a Rizu x Nariyuki, even if those two remain as clueless as ever.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Kabukichou Sherlock – 02 – A Star Isn’t Born

Another day, another case for Detective Row, a loose collective of private dicks like Sherlock who compete for jobs. Sherlock doesn’t let the fractured leg he suffered when Watson hit him with a car slow him down—though he does exploit Watson’s guilt (and need for his services, though the exact nature of his personal case is still not known) by essentially making him his servant.

This time it’s not murder-most-foul, but a case of a florist named Fujiko who fell victim to an apparent scam. She was convinced she was scouted by an idol agency for her distinctive symmetrical beauty marks, but after a week of strenuous training, the agent vanished without a trace on the day of her big audition.

Upon taking the case, Sherlock puts Watson to work cleaning his house, then puts on a disguise (that doesn’t fool any of his fellow detectives) and heads to the florist’s to meet Saori the part-timer who was watching the store while she was practicing for the idol audition.

There is loud music playing when he comes in, which he abruptly cuts off, after which there are strange banging noises. Saori comes out from the back room, her skirt covered in a strange powder. Sherlock later declares he’s found the culprit, but is furious when he learns one of his rivals, Mary Morstan, also knows…thanks to Watson.

Being from the West Side of Shinjuku, Watson is an easy mark, as evidenced when his wallet was stolen last week. But when he chats with the pretty Mary, she puts a bug in his clothes. That’s how she learns what Sherlock learns…and Sherlock tosses Watson out, warning him never to return.

Watson is almost victimized once again by a gang of little kids who know how to turn on the charm (and turn it right back off at the drop of a hat). He’s saved by the same high school-age lad who recovered his wallet, and a frequent visitor of Sherlock’s.

As for Sherlock, he manages to catch Saori and her accomplice, and when they ask how he knew, he has another one of his wonderful impromptu rakugo sessions, explaining how when Fujiko was off practicing for a non-existent audition, Saori hacked away at the wall between the florist…and the vault of pawn shop containing gold bars.

Sherlock didn’t account for a third thief in The Cobra showing up, but he’s bailed out thanks to the high school lad—whose name we later learn is none other than James Moriarty—telling Watson where Sherlock was. The bank rewards Sherlock a cool 20 million, on top of the million he got for uncovering Fujiko’s scammers. I’d say Watson earned a cut of that this week!

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 02 – The Bushido of Filleting

Mimasaka Subaru is revealed as a major secret weapon of the rebels, as his unique tracing ability not only perfectly mimics his opponent Saitou Soumei, but his own ally, Kuga Terunori. As a result, Tsukasa Eishi is, in a way, up against two chefs at once, without the rebels breaking the rules of the Team Shokugeki.

Subaru’s preparation went further than that: he traced all of the Elite Ten (including their look and mannerisms). By perfectly copying all of Saitou’s moves in real time, Subaru is able to dish out the exact same plate of ten succulent-looking maguro sushi bites, plus an eleventh that Saitou didn’t make.

A skeptical Urara (still in full Central Punk-Fangirl Mode) has a taste, resulting what she claims to be her first foodgasm reaction shot in the whole series—that of a geisha being seduced by a purple snake with ruby eyes.

But when all’s said and done, Subaru wasn’t entirely perfect in his trace; he was tripped up by the size of the sushi, applying the same number of “invisible cuts” as he would a normal-sized piece of fish, resulting in premature melting in the mouth that doesn’t give the flavor time to reach its peak.

The Bookmen noticed that, and they also found Rindou’s spicy alligator dish surpassed Megishima’s African Ramen, so Central wins the second and third bouts, inviting shameless gloating by Urara. That means the rebels are in deep trouble if Kuga can’t defeat First Seat Tsukasa, the White Knight of the Table.

Then again, defeating Azami’s oppressive regime always meant beating their Number One. If that can’t be managed, the rebels never had a chance of winning in the first place.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 03 – Having It Rough

Of the Hero Club members, the aloof and apathetic Tsukumo Rei remains the most mysterious and enigmatic. This week’s episode draws the curtain back on Rei and shows that while he may talk and act like serious or ominous things are going on or about to happen, the reality of the situation is a lot more…ordinary. In that regard, he’s not that different from the others—especially when he runs into a flock of pigeons and laughs!

After a cryptic phone call, Rei rushes off somewhere, and Mizuki and the others follow him, curious what might be up. Noda, Nakamura and Takashima all buy in to the fact that Rei can control walk signals and make merchants sell him things on sale, but Mizuki can tell the signals were a coincidence and Rei just…knows when to shop.

Then they encounter Rei with his three little siblings, who have lost their beloved pet cat in the forest, and accompany him onto the grounds of a shrine to track him down. Takashima jumps at the sight of anything from a fluttering banner to a rusty sign, but he’s so emphatic in his fear that Mizuki starts getting the creeps; it is dark after all.

After “Touga” ends up “sacrificing” himself to save the others from the “monster”, Takashima slips and falls down a hill into a ditch, leaving just Noda, Rei and Mizuki when the “monster” approaches. Turns out it’s just a very burly monk, carrying Takashima and Nakamura…and the cat. The mission is accomplished, but with a lot of completely unnecessary rigmarole along the way.

When Rei returns the cat to his little siblings, the club learns he has three older siblings—the proverbial Cerberus—who demand he make dinner immediately or else. It’s clear Rei’s too-cool demeanor at school and in club is merely a means of compensating for how trod-upon he is at home, having to shop for and feed six siblings despite three of them being older than him.

The others can’t hide their pity for Rei’s situation which is precisely the last thing Rei wants from there. Embarrassed, he’d much prefer to remain slightly threatening and inscrutable as before, but now that they know more about him and how he operates, it require “memory erasure” for that to be possible.

And there you have it: the chuuni kid who believes he’s above all the other chuuni kids, leading them on as a small escape from his put-upon position in his family.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

Hoshiai no Sora – 02 (Second Impressions)

A sport’a anime’s second episode typically has three goals: introduce each character on the team, demonstrate the protagonist’s value to that team, and explain how the sport works to the viewer. In this regard, Hoshiai no Sora sticks to the script by showing Maki dominate the twenty lap test and rapidly pick pick up the basic tennis swings. And those swings are demonstrated with delicate slow animation. It’s informative, engrossing, high quality fair.

But Stars Align earns another must watch rating because it tackles bullying, homosexuality, child abuse (and how everyone can be oblivious to the warning signs), and the desperate situation an abused spouse must deal with behind the scenes. It tackles each of these points without pretension or being over the top and just wow. This show does not disappoint!

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 02

Why not devote 12+ minutes of airtime to Rin and Misa’s first jet ski race? Why not break the fourth wall nearly as often as the commentator’s and exposition break the momentum of said race? Why not swap awkwardly between hand drawn and 3D rendered versions of the girls while they race? Why not follow the race with balloon-bewbs!, more exposition, and some fat shaming?

Because boring, boring, boring, awkward, boring, boring, awkward? (in that order)

Well… that didn’t take long did it? Where last week featured many puzzling design choices, which worked to elevate the material from slop to creepy psychodrama, this week couldn’t reach ‘slop.’ If you are earnestly excited by the made up rules to a water-gun shooting + jet ski racing sports anime, I guess you got something from it. Otherwise, not so much.

Kemono Michi: Rise Up – 03

Runaway Dragon-Girl and her attendant (vampire?) Carmilla join Rise Up!’s main cast this week. One of them gets a body slam and the other tries to eat Genzo’s dog Hiroyuki… before declaring she wants to spend the rest of her life with him. (the dog, not Genzo)

Beyond that, Genzo’s farm/petshop is coming along but he’s gonna run into money trouble sooner than later. (That dry petfood is expensive!) and there are only so many heroes that can call GenzoDemon Beast Killer” and get knocked out, so Shigure can ‘discover’ and pawn the equipment they leave behind. Yes that’s still happening and it’s still hilarious!

If you are familiar with Rabujoi, you know I run out of review-steam when I run out of new things to say about a show. Rise Up! is one of the first good shows to reach that mark this season — it exudes charm and it’s comedic timing is masterful and I love watching it. However, that masterful timing and formulaic comedy sensibility is the only thing I have to say about it?

To that end, I will probably wait until episode VI to give a mid season review, and maybe an end of season wrap up after that. It is absolutely worth watching each week, and looks on track for the top 15 of my Isekai Ranked list. No need to ramble on about it in the mean time.

Ascendance of a Bookworm – 03

Bookworm Here! I’m just making nice baskets during the winter, failing at papyrus, inventing pancakes and crochet to make my older sister a pre-baptism hair ornament, and correcting math errors at the guard house! Everyone around me is starting to notice… how this is different from the Myne I was before but what evs? At least there was some character building around me this episode…

As generic Isekai go, Bookworm’s choice to show things being made, and explain process, elevates it from the mayonnaise-eaters at the bottom, but not by much? Coupled with Myne’s father’s miss-reading Myne’s feelings for Otto and the awkward conversation about marriage that followed, and the episode gets a pass. The framing and scene blocking were good too.

Better than Prodigies in a 6/10 sort of way.

High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World! – 02 and 03

In need of money, the prodigies deploy their merchant and ninja to the neighboring city. No surprise, the city happens to be squeezed by an evil merchant who’s monopoly does not provide $200 when you pass GO. No surprise, this presents no obstacle to Merchant, who’s use of mayonnaise and consignment-based trade deals quickly turns the tides in team genius’ favor. Though it takes an unnecessary cliffhanger and loli-cat-slave-girl purchase to complete!

Meanwhile, Elm village now has aluminum tools, plumbing, and even a public bath. BEWBES! Also the mayor and his hunting party are attacked by ‘the Chief,’ who looks something like a bear and a pile of rocks. Then evil knights show up and burn down the village. BUT NO ONE IS HURT!

If Choyoyu! were an office lunch, it would be 7 sandwiches from a corporate food service fulfillment center. Like each sandwich, the each cast member is different, theoretically adding variety. However, I have never witnessed anyone willingly eat the tuna-salad option, nor does anyone really enjoy soggy bread and from the factory meat slices. Samurai and Doctor-chan are like tuna-sandwiches, having no impact beyond ‘I am also soggy and sitting on this plate’ and the rest of the cast does not fare better.

While I was momentarily interested by the idea that all religion has been banned in this alternative world, by a survival of the fittest empire and possibly in response to the last time 7 heroes visited… that same empire is stocked with generically pure evil, shallow villains. Peasants commit treason simply by acquiring gold, for example, is just beyond silly as evil excuses go.

Also, liquid oxygen is typically-361.8°F. So yeah. Not a good idea to inject into an injured person’s body. Great job on the medical science side of things too.