Dimension W – 05

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Part 2 of the Lake Yadogami Mystery was a little better than Part 1, with both fun and moving moments to be had, but to be honest it did not assuage my original concern that the mini-arc was simply too overstuffed and complex, making it hard to get properly invested.

One character I am invested in is Mira, who found a way out of her chain bondage by simply thinking it out and deciding even if she is a robot who can be repaired like nothing ever happened, she doesn’t think she’d be quite the same Mira that she is now, and she doesn’t want that.

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So she overrides the logic of the Numbers-maintained alternate world and frees herself. The show doesn’t miss out on another opportunity to show her nude when Ellie and the maid find her. As for Kyouma, he’s too quick to think she was doing nothing.

I don’t want to belabor this issue, but can’t say I approve of him punching her in the head. It only ended up hurting him, but it’s the principle: Mira is clearly more than just some robot, having just done something another robot wouldn’t have – not settle for being repaired and restarted. Can’t she also say something to the effect of “Please don’t hit me”?

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The show itself seemed to concur that it had too much going on at once, so it systematically started stripping characters and dilemmas out of the episode entirely, never to be bothered with again. Even if she becomes more important in later episodes, I just don’t see what Ellie was doing here. She leaves when her “papa” orders her to, since apparently Albert is there because of her. So if she wasn’t in the episode, Al wouldn’t have had to be either.

As for the trio of mercs who kidnapped the pixie-cut lady, they have so little presence except for that one action scene last week and are dispatched off-camera so easily, I also wonder why the episode bothered including them. I also thought eliminating all the flan-like ghosts attacking the mansion at once with a simple switch of the sprinklers was some weak sauce.

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Those were all instances of the episode doing some overdue pruning, only to replace them with yet more plot and characters. We’re taken back to 21 years ago where this business all began. The flashback introduces us to a cameraman who likes filming Sakai’s sister Enomori, only to try to assault/rape her in a shed not a minute later!

Many more unfortunate events occur, leading to a final act with so much multi-dimensional technobabble being thrown around it made me feel for Kyouma being stuck in the middle of such a convoluted mess, even though he smacks Mira again once they secure the Numbers. The denouement was so hard to follow I could only emotionally connect to it on the most basic level; that of a man relieved his sister didn’t die after all, but in the meantime still killed his alternate self to protect her.

When our two Collectors drove away in the Toyota all I could do was shrug and say “Well…at least they got the coil.” I respect this show’s ambition to tell an sprawling tragic tale that transcends dimensions. I’m not opposed to complexity, but I need more structure and focus and less stuffing in order to find a way in.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 05

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After effectively portraying the immediate effect of having a huge Manato-shaped hole in the party and its surviving member’s hearts (along with the quiet outrage of Manato’s funeral expenses totaling one measly silver), this week deals with the aftermath. Surrounded on all sides by reminders of what they’ve lost, Ranta is the first to peace out, and the other two boys follow him into the tavern where they try to drink away their sorrows…shutting the girls out of what should be a shared grieving process.

Haru and Ranta are about to come to blows when Moguzo shouts them down in a rare display of anger. When Kikkawa hears they’ve lost their priest, he recommends a new one, which Haruhiro, by default the new leader of the party, hires without consulting Yume or Shihoru, simply because, well, they need a darned healer! Mary is a very no-bullshit kinda gal who doesn’t like messing around, which is to say she’s immediately a bad fit in our (usually) tight-knit band of misfits.

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They continue their battles against the goblins in Demuro, but Haruhiro can tell Mary is throwing off what little cohesion the team had prior to losing Manato. She even refuses Haru’s field order to heal Ranta because she deems the wound not serious (which it isn’t). Her uncooperative attitude isn’t helping matters, but she’s under no obligation to help out. It’s up to her “leader” to get his shit together.

Back in the tavern with just Ranta and Moguzo, Haru is approached by Renji, who started in the same place as their party but has done a lot more in the time they’ve had since. He offers a gold coin (worth 100 silvers) as a “gift” after hearing of Manato’s death. It’s charity, plain and simple, and Haru doesn’t take it. Buying their volunteer army badges with alms won’t help the underlying problems with their party. And it’s up to him to start fixing those problems.

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He begins by waiting for Yume after her evening bath and asking if she’s angry because he hired Mary so quickly without asking her and Shihoru. Yume is troubled for a far more basic reason: they’ve been shut out altogether. Haru, Ranta, and Moguzo were at the tavern when the party of five should have been together. What Yume is upset about is the possibility Haru & Co. weren’t the friends she thought she had, who would be there for each other when things went bad.

Yume grabs Haru and the two embrace for a long time, and soon both are crying in each others’ arms, then calm down and feel more at peace, having finally shared in each other’s grief. Yume points out how good it feels to be held by Haru, which is obviously welcome red meat for shippers like me.

But I like how the two of them confronting the fact they’re not great at expressing their feelings led to doing just that. It’s the kind of scene we see a lot in romantic anime, but that doesn’t change the fact it was lovely. The show refused to ignore the lasting impact of their mutual loss or the fact that this is a boy and a girl who are attracted to each other.

It helped Haru to realize that while Manato was integral to the party and will be impossible to fully replace, it was Manato himself who pointed how how he alone would never have been able to do anything without the rest of the party. That means the party, as it is now, with Mary, will be able to move forward, survive, and maybe even thrive.

Of course, when Shihoru spots Haru and Yume in a deeply compromising position, it kinda kills the moment. I would have been fine with the episode simply ending with their embrace, but adding Shihoru and her “misunderstanding” underscores the fact that these five friends need to be honest and open with each other if they’re ever going to find success on the battlefield.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 18

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This is largely an episode that is doing the practical work of moving pieces on the master game board, as well as introducing a few new faces. But it also has some of the most powerful scenes of the entire series, and one of those new faces happens to be the face of the Maiden of Revolution, Kudelia Aina Bernstein.

Wounded by the loss of Fumitan but now hardened by the wider plight of the people who believe in her, she takes up the baton of destiny. While before she was wide-eyed and often seemed lost, here her stare has grown a lot more resolved and aware.

But this episode is called “Voice”, so it’s not just a new face she’s found in herself, but her voice as well. It’s a voice that’s powerful enough to inspire the larger revolution she didn’t know she was the idol of, and strong enough to stop the Gjallarhorn fleet without firing a shot. Mika is understandably impressed, as am I.

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So is McMask (who continues to have Mustachirato around). He contacts Tekkadan with a business proposal on behalf of the “Montag Company.” It looks like he’s decides to enlist Kudelia’s aid on his crusade to reform Gjallarhorn.

McGillis’ long game has gotten so long, it makes thinking about a potential Gundam rematch with Mika seem like a dinky whim. They’re for all intents and purposes on the same side, due to his and Kudelia’s shared desire for change.

On the other hand, there are some who aren’t so inspired by Kudelia’s voice, like the Gjallarhorn fleet that only stopped because they were ordered to; Gaelio, who’s only looking for a piece of the action, and most notably Ein, who is actually half-Martian and thus mercilessly discriminated against for being “less than human”, which is what Gaelio warns him he’ll become if he undergoes the A-V procedure.

Ein is still inspired by the voice of his late mentor Crank, who for all his toughness was someone who didn’t believe in judging people by lumping them into ordered groups (they chat in a brief but strong flashback scene). He treated everyone equally, and encouraged Ein not to worry about what others think of him. If the A-V can help Ein defeat Tekkadan, so be it.

In terms of wild cards, Ein’s not as flashy as McMask, but he could still exert some influence before the end. In another Gundam, he indeed might be the protagonist, and we can actually empathize with his desire for revenge. However much I like and support Tekkadan and Mika, Mika did kill Crank.

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Another great scene is after McMask’s introductory meeting with Kudelia, Orga, and Naze, in which Orga and Biscuit learn that McMurdo and Nobliss were in cahoots without their knowledge. Biscuit is somewhat miffed by being left out, but Orga isn’t the slightest bit surprised, nor does he feel betrayed

His aniki simply hasn’t deemed him or Tekkadan quite ready for that kind of information, that’s all. His “scurrying at the feet” of greater men who are in the business of outwitting each other. And while Tekkadan are largely now a means to an end – protecting Kudelia – Orga’s talk reminds us they’re not done changing.

In one of the funniest moments of the series, and a very knowing one from the production staff, Mika immediately recognizes McMask as the Chocolate Guy. Yet McGillis doesn’t even skip a beat; after all, he’s not wearing the mask to conceal himself from them, but from his peers.

McMask cannot yet show his hand to the world, but there’s no harm in letting Orga, Biscuit, and Mika (but only them for now) in on his secret, and tell them of his plans to transform Gjallarhorn, and how his goals align with Kudelia.

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But realistically speaking, this has been an extraordinarily rough, draining few days for Kudelia, and she’s continuing to push herself, not sleeping or eating while furiously preparing for negotiations. Atra noticed her legs shaking during her televised speech – something I’m glad we learned through her rather than when it happened. At the time, the show itself, like us, was focused on the voice of Kudelia the Revolutionary; Atra was focused on Kudelia the flesh-and-blood human being.

We’re briefly introduced to the charismatic female commander of the Outer Earth Orbit Regulatory Fleet, who digs traditional asian makeup and may be afflicted with the Gundam equivalent of Chuunibyou, though with the firepower to back up her theatricality. She looks to be a fun and formidable foil to Gaelio as well as Tekkadan. We also meet a female politician and an old whitebeard who considers Kudelia his “Prince Charming.”

Finally, as Akihito trains Shino in the simulators on the Hammerhead, Laffter seems to be throwing out restless vibes that suggest she may have a thing for Akihito. I could totally see her dumping Naze for someone who can give her their full attention…but this could all be just wishful thinking on my part.

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But what puts this episode over the top for me is the final scene, which would at this point definitely be in my Top 5 of the series. It’s a scene that may not resonate with everyone, but it had just about had me in tears needing to be held and consoled by Mika. It’s a scene that indicates that Atra’s strange, beautiful, adorable dream to be one of three isn’t as dead in the water as many thought.

The burden of her responsibility literally pounding at her head, a lonely Kudelia is joined by Atra, who came to deliver her some lunch, but also comfort and solidarity. Atra wants Kudelia and her to talk more, so that they can share the burden she’s carrying alone. Atra forgot the lunch, but Mika brings it, hears their conversation, and joins in. Kudelia may think herself powerless, but that’s the strain of her burden speaking.

Mika thinks she’s amazing, having stopped an attacking fleet in its tracks with her voice. No one can overstate how rare a gift that is, no matter how much luck may have played a role. Mika admits even Orga couldn’t have done what Kudelia did. Mika knows he’s out of the loop about a lot of things and knows he can only do so much, but he also knows what he can do, which is support Kudelia with everything he’s got (which, as we know, is a lot).

Atra concurs with his amazing label, and Kudelia is moved to tears, prompting Atra to order Mika to take her in his arms and console her. She’s surprised at first, then leans into the hug. When Atra starts to cry, Mika suprises her by bringing her into the hug as well, simply going by the rules Atra herself laid out regarding consoling ladies.

The three just float there Atra and Kudelia crying it out, and you can feel Kudelia’s burden lessoning somewhat as it’s shared among the trio. It’s a beautiful moment, full stop. When she later informs Naze of her approval of the McMask deal, her eyes are still raw, but they’ve never looked more strong or determined.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 05 (29)

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I misread Kasane’s intent last week: she didn’t come to Shinra’s intending to make a deal. Instead, she’s only implementing the next step in her comprehensive Celty research. She takes control of Shinra with a long kiss, plucks him out of his wheelchair and jumps out the window into the night.

Celty goes berserk, transforming into a big black ball of rage and gives chase just as Kasane intended. We see a lot of emotions going through the darkness of Celty’s mind, but the one that stands out the most is Shinra, Shinra, Shinra. And so her body moves instinctively to retrieve him.

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As Varona stands by a car with Celty’s head inside, Kasane leads Berserk Celty through the skies of Ikebukuro, periodically firing blades to slow her down. Meanwhile, Chikage accompanies Masaomi to his Yellow Scarves hideout after saving him from Izumii earlier in the day, putting their fight on hold for now.

Masaomi, for his part, is shocked to hear Izumii is fighting on Mikado’s behalf as a member of the Dollars, while Chikage wonders what version of the Dollars he’s encountered truly represents them.

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Kasane eventually meets up with Varona, who is this week’s narrator, and unlike everyone else running around this week has a lot of time to think about things. She admits she felt the euphoria that comes from gaining power when she stole the head; but it didn’t last long, and she realizes that it’s because her cover was blown instantly, and by Shizuo, no less.

Varona remains a deeply wounded and scarred young woman, but Ikebukuro and Shizuo have definitely had a profound – and I believe positive – effect on how she looks at the world and her role and values in it. She isn’t denying her feelings, only trying to figure out what they are and why she has them, and it all comes back to Shizuo and the peaceful daily life she enjoyed. She concludes it’s too late to go back now; that life is gone. But is it?

As chance would have it, after teaching some punk kids a lesson, Shizuo ends up with another bike on his shoulder when he encounters Celty’s horse. In the funniest and coolest scene of this entire Ketsu arc, the horse goes through various forms of transportation for Shizuo to ride it until settling on the bike, which he mounts and is then propelled at very un-bike-like speed.

While I’m unsure how interconnected Celty and her horse are, or whether they’re one and the same, it did seem like the horse was acting more reasonably than the mindless black ball of rage being messed with by Kasane. Whatever the case, it’s a given that the horse and Shizuo are on a direct course to the car with both Shinra and her head in it, which just so happens to be driven by his former adoptive protege.

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Dagashi Kashi – 05

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“Don’t get high on your own supply.” It’s a useful saying for both drug and candy dealers, apparently, because You started doing so with his bottle ramune, and has ended up consistently eating all his inventory, causing Kokonotsu to assume they don’t have it in stock.

Hotaru and You using peer pressure on Koko was pretty funny, along with the way the two kinda feed off each other’s chaotic energy, even leaving the store together in the middle of the night, promising to come back “clean.”

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This is one of the rare cases where I’ve had a candy vaguely similar to one in the show: those little wax soda bottles that contain sugary liquid you bite the tops (or bottoms) off. I don’t remember them being that addictive, however.

Anyway, all mention of You’s addiction disappears in the next bit, which starts later that night, as Koko walks in on You recording a truly terrible dagashi review of Baby-Star Ramen, a “by-product” dagashi born from the desire not to waste anything.

Koko gives a far more impassioned presentaion, unaware You is recording him in a video that gets a lot more hits than he ever did, as well as impressing Saya (who only has one brief appearance this week).

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Next up, Yatta! Men, another ramen-based snack that comes in little tiny cups with peel-off lids. When Koko and Tou lament their lack of spending money, Hotaru suggests they attempt to win said funds by trying their luck at Yatta! Men.

It’s here where we discover that, like Aqua in KonoSuba, Hotaru has dreadful luck, and seems incapable of selecting a winning cup, even as she collects enough ramen for Tou to make a bowl and slurp it up. No doubt some of that ramen contains Hotaru’s tears of defeat and frustration.

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Finally, Hotaru tries to rally back with more gambling; not a great strategy considering her luck thus far. She chooses a candy called “Watch Out for the Sour Grape!”. She entered into the game believing she could tell which of the three candies in each package was the super sour one from the sunglasses of one grape on the packaging (which Tou’s sunglasses reminded her of).

However, she’s thinking of the old packaging; there’s no such “hints” on he new design, and even if it was the old design, it was just a rumor and not true. In any case, Hotaru loses again, and is unable to mask her sour-face.

And there you have it: another serviceable tour of Japanese confectionery stocked with, shall we say, sporadic laughs. Five episodes in, despite the diversity of the candy, Hotaru and You’s shtick is beginning to lose its luster.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

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Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

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Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

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Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

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He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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