Just Kato Megumi

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Bonus: Tomoya’s Shelffigs

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 02

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To say ‘too much is going on’ in Durarara!! doesn’t adequately express why it frustrates me, nor is it entirely accurate.

In fact, there are several sequences during Durarara!!’s second episode where the story flows nicely and we experience the new characters, learn their lovely quirks, guess at their inner mysteries, and the story moves forward through their interaction.

So why am I dropping Durarara!! this week?

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Summing it up: Sexy/Psycho Twins Orihara and Kuru Mairu, and Dollars-fan/member Kuronuma Aoba “Wakaba Mark” are the newest additions to Mikado’s school. Each twin is bullied initially but quickly DESTROYS the opposition through brute force or fire. Kuronuma, on the other hand, has his eyes on Mikado, who he’s rightfully identified as a Dollar — a top brass Dollar.

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Kuronuma convinces Mikado to give him a tour of Ikebukuro, Mikado convinces the otaku duo of Erika and Walker to help (because he doesn’t even know it that well) and all is going very well, except a tall and intimidatingly evil American guy sets off Anri-chan’s spidey-senses as he passes her karaoke booth, there’s a zombie fight in a park, the twins find Celty’s money, the tall guy is gravely injured and asks if the twins can take him to the Russian Sushi place, and a million other things happen.

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What irritated the hell out of me: was this episode is half of what I really want Durarara!! to be. The moments with the twins and Aoba were great. The moments with Aoba, Mikado, and then Mikado and the Otakus too.

But the everything else part was a total drag. Shinra’s Dad, forced and awkward backstory explanation, and Shinra being stuck in a sphere continually dragged us away from the new moments and broke any attachment as soon as I was making it.

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However, the biggest issue was Shinra and his inexplicable break through the fourth wall. Not only is Shinra a less interesting character than most, not only should he not know any of the scenes he’s ‘setting up,’ the very fact that he stares into the ‘camera’ and narrates multiple time frames to us is absurd.

It completely rips the viewer out of the experience, which destroys all of Durarara!!’s wonderful world-building.

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Verdict: This is the Fate/stay night of winter season. It has unquestionably stupendous production value, a great world, and many interesting characters, including a zombie.

Sadly, a bloated, shambling corpse wandering around in a confused haze is the most appropriate metaphor I can think of for Durarara!! x2. I used to love it, and I still enjoy the moments where my chainsaw and it’s flesh meet and I get clarity.

But there’s no gleam in its dead eyes. It’s dead and it’s on me to put it down now…

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Hannah’s Take

I don’t have a lot to say that differs greatly from Franklin’s take, but I will say I am going to continue to watch and review the show on my own, despite two episodes that filled me with glee on some points greatly disappointed on others.

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I agree that Shinra and his family simply didn’t deserve as much time as the show dedicated to them, and in both episodes they kind of drag everything down. I was about as mad as Frank that we got so much good content about Izaya’s awesome twins (Kitamura Eri and Hanemoto Kisato are money), who might have stolen the show if Shinra hadn’t already hijacked it with his overly-omniscient narration.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually like the mischievous Shinra. Many of the show’s more tender moments have been between him and his supernatural love interest. But the (over)use of him here doesn’t serve him, it doesn’t serve the show, and it didn’t serve me in quite the way I expected.

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In past episodes, I’ve even enjoyed the slight whiplash one gets by the sudden shifts in time, but in all those cases it was handled more cleverly. It felt more like a forced gimmick this week.

That aside, I will be staying aboard the Durarara!! train to see where it takes us next. Aoba and the twins are a most welcome addition, though the preview indicates the guy they both idolize—Shizuo’s celebrity brother Kasuka—will be next week’s focus.

UPDATE: I re-watched the episode and liked it a lot more, hence my uptick in rating below.

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Rolling Girls – 02

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Alright, I’m calling it: Rolling Girls’s second episode is the Best Episode of the Winter so far; beating Saekano – 01 by a hair. So it’s fitting that it’s called “The Center of the World”, because that’s where it felt like I was for nearly twenty-five minutes.

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It was, quite simply, The Complete Package: an addictive blend of Kill la Kill’s hypercaffinated, escalating battles and back-stories; One Off’s motorcycles and attractive character design; Zvezda’s ‘Power of Youth’ element; and finally, Amagi Brilliant Park’s eclectic collection of lovable characters, punchy dialogue, and a story that’s equal parts Swiss watch and Rube Goldberg machine.

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All of those shows I listed that remind me of this had their flaws, but RG manages to avoid most or all of them. Frankly, if there were any, they’d bee quickly lost in dizzying yet controlled pace of the action. Things seem on the edge of flying completely off the rails, like the roller coaster of non-combatant hostages.

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But rather than do that, RG rearranges the coaster’s track and keeps the ride going. Considering just how much was thrown at my eyes and ears, it’s a wonder I can tease out a simple synopsis, but that’s the beauty of controlled, well-organized chaos.

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So here goes: Nozomi learns Maccha Green is Masami, and Masami created the persona so Nozomi wouldn’t risk her life trying to save her like she did in the past.

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Only this week Nozomi and Shigyo end up dueling so fiercely, they end up taking each other right out of the peacebrokering game for two months. But while the battles get more and more intense and ridiculous as the episode progreses, they also gain more and more thematic resonance.

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The shit that goes on is simply unreal, but nothing comes out of left field, even what seem to be the most absurd occurances. Masami’s secret weapon is the Ramen Vomit Stream (from their eating contest earlier) that comes up after Shigyo beats her up, and a man wearing a croccodile mask gets accidentally punched. How do you confuse that face for Nozomis?!

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Particularly impressive is when Masami gets some shots in on Shigyo, it seems to conjure up long-lost memories for Shigyo, about how she once idolized and trained to become a superhero she learned was a fraud when he appeared in a magazine unmasked. The amount of visual information is stunning, and while it sure looks like a mess in these many many screencaps, it just wasn’t.

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The show also making use of every cubic inch of the space the two are fighting in, with the Giant Maccha Robot (which was only a giant inflatable dummy, but still fooled Shigyo last week), springs a leak when a big bird tries to steal octopus balls from smaller birds perched on it.

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Masami seems to have more pure dumb luck on her side, both with the vomit and with the blimp crash landing right where Shigyo stands. Masami’s toughness is also on full display, as she’s able to shield Nozomi from the blimp in the nick of time, despite having just taken a crushing blow from Shigyo.

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Getting back to that full use of 3D space, when the duel reaches the level in which all the non-combatants on both sides are simply blown away by the sheer force of the Bests’ attacks, we get to see it from Nozomi’s POV.

But as we said, the battle eventually does end—off-camera, ironically—with the two combatants laid up in the hospital for a couple months. As Masami can’t protect her in there, Nozomi figures it’s time to protect her, and decides to be a peacebroker-for-hire in her place.

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From the way her cool dad convinces her mom to agree to it, to Nozomi mounting her super-cool motorcycle in super-cool light and then hurting her leg on the starter, this progression from battle to Nozomi’s next move is as heartwarming as it is hilarious.

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I thought, then, that the next few episodes would be spent gathering the other three members of the titular Rolling Girls. Nope! She gathers them all up (both intentionally and by chance) in the final minute of the episode, as she’s riding out of town! After a maximalist battle, a minimalist team-build. I loved it. rg215

And these weren’t random people, either: Nozomi and Yukina had already bonded (and gone through hell together) and Yukina simply likes the idea of going for a ride, Hibiki Ai was the enemy Rest who was kicked out and needs a ride, and Misono Chiaya was a customer at Nozomi’s fam’s restaruant. So off they go, to settle disputes and hunt for the rare Moonlight Stones that give Bests their powers. I for one am PUMPED.

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Death Parade – 02

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This week’s Death Parade poses a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, focusing on the people who are behind the scenes in this wacky world, gave us a glimpse of the season-long mysteries we will… be seeing all season long. We don’t learn much about the characters in this outing, which was good for the mystery.

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On the other hand, the episode repeats the events of the first, now from the perspective of the behind-the-scenes-staff. Even though the reused footage was kept to a minimum, The “Black Haired Girl” being a new assistant seeing her first game was obvious last week.

Considering how predictable last week was, and how surprise-free storytelling saps all emotion and excitement out of mystery and drama, Death Parade has a steep climb to convince me to keep up with it.

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To sum up: The Black Haired girl we met at the end of last week’s episode wakes up on top of a flowery-table-thing and Nona, the white haired hex-eye girl who was with her last week is sitting next to her.

The girls introduce and exchange pleasantries, though the Black Hair girl has no memory of a name and Nona says she doesn’t even have one. I’m going to call her Shadow for simplicity sake.

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Nona and Shadow ride a train to an elevator, which is set in a rock-wall under a carved archway featuring a Vishnu or Buddha like multi-arm figure. The elevator is modern but old-fashioned in that it has an operator named Clavis, who is also pail skinned and wacky-hair-colored like Dequim and Nona.

Getting off at Dequim’s on the 15th floor, Nona introduces Shadow to Dequim and sets about telling Shadow things that Shadow repeats back in the form of a question. This, the stupidest trope of anime/jrpg dialog conventions, made my blood boil with hateful rage.

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Then, as Nona walks Shadow into the back and we get snippets of last week’s saps being emotionally destroyed by the death game. It wasn’t not-well-done, but it wasn’t especially interesting. Certainly not enough to warrant 1/3 of the episode’s run time.

Then we cross past where last week left off and Shadow questions Dequim’s rational for what actually happened. It’s pretty clear that Dequim has limited emotional understanding and a flawed sense of logic because Shadow’s perception that the wife was lying to save her husband’s soul by the end (that the baby really was his) was intensely obvious from her expressions, tone, and the situation.

At least it was to me. Not to Dequim though, and Nona, who seems to have known this would happen chastises him for it before we transition to bar-tending pron and other ham fisted ‘Shadow is special’ foreshadowing, and no one actually telling Shadow straight up what she’s doing there and why.

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Good: Death Parade is a pretty show and takes advantage of solid, unobtrusive CGI to make it more so. It probably reads as subtle to people who haven’t studied film, art, or storytelling, and in so far as that is a caveat, Death Parade’s use of facial expressions, quick looks, and hidden hand gestures is commendable.

Similarly, the ‘back stage’ access to last week’s episode was interesting. However, I don’t think it was necessary, as the fact that the ‘bodies’ were mannequins and all of the Nona/Shadow context was either easy enough to figure out last time.

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No good: Death Parade sells itself and the audience way too short. Everything, and I mean everything, is mercilessly spelled out for the viewer every step of the way. Shadow is obviously an emotional/human check on the Arbiter’s system, and the white-stripe in her hair either means she will eventually become a full Arbiter (and gain all white hair) or is their due to the Arbiter’s meddling.

Whatever the end game, I just. don’t. care.

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At the end of the day, Death Parade reminds me of all the gothy black clothes I liked to wear in high school. (and the gothy girls I preferred not to be wearing anything) Sure, it’s a so seductively pleasant to look at, fun for macabre’ sake, but it’s equally simplistic. Juvenile.

I can respect a lot of the work that went into this but honestly, I’m no longer the audience for it. Not anymore than I am for the Blade movies, vampire the mascaraed, or whatever contemporary equivalent exists to their dreary pretentious self indulgence.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 14

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I don’t usually pay much attention to episode titles, but “The Beautiful and Damned” is pretty damned apropos. Beautiful, damned people are fighting for their respective beautiful, damned worlds.

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Let’s start with Inaho. His new eye (flawed though it still is), has greatly increased his ability to measure and assess situations and formulate tweaks to existing resources and strategy in realtime. It also allows him to determine not only that Inko has put on weight, but whose words are accompanied by a vocal “tell” indicating she’s not being entirely honest with him (due to her feelings for him).

Using Inko as a test subject for his new eye is a dick move, sure, but it’s Pure Inaho. Rayet rightly calls him a dick (well, an idiot, at least), but this is how Inaho flirts. He detects a similar tell in the “Princess Asseylum’s” speech. If he survives the war, he’d make a badass detective.

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To my relief, it turns out Asseylum is in a persistent coma, not intentionally imprisoned in that tube, which makes sense considering her injuries last season (I can see either she or Inaho surviving relatively unscathed, but both? Nah-ah). Eddelrittuo isn’t strictly allowed to see her, but Slaine’s a nice guy so he won’t tell anyone, and promises her the princess will wake up someday.

Listening from the other side of the heavy metal door (she must have really good ears) is Princess Lemrina, who doesn’t seem to like Slaine’s regular visits to Asseylum one bit. To the point she deactivates Tharsis’ Aldnoah drive just when Slaine is about to embark on a mission.

Slaine and Lemrina stand out among all the beautiful, damned people in the world of A/Z. Up to this point, many people were asking ‘Hey, where the heck did this chick come from?”…turns out, that was the point. All her life, Lemrina has been the ignored and forgotten princess; Asseylum’s sister by another mother; the Kato Megumi of the Vers Royal Family.

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No one ever had any cause to admire or love or even take notice of her, until Asseylum was out of the picture. Only then is she unique and indispensable to Count Saazbaum and Slaine. In this context, it’s perfectly understandable that we’ve never seen hide nor tail of her.

When she calls Slaine out on this bullshit, he’s ready, showing her he’s dealt with hardship and isolation as well (and still has the back scars to prove it), getting on one knee, and earning a kiss that gives him the power to activate Tharsis once by himself.

There’s so much good stuff going on in this exchange: Slaine is either being extremely manipulative or extremely sincere (or both), and Lemrina either totally believes him or is willing to let the display appease her. Regardless of whether either or both harbor deceit, the fact is they need one another: Lemrina wants to take over everything her sister once had, and Slaine needs his kat to move.

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Speaking of beautiful and damned, how ’bout that view of Earth from the Satellite Belt? I haven’t mentioned the fact that this week we get a space battle, and a damned good one, at that. The setup is simple: like two ships passing in the night, UE and Vers bases are about to cross paths along their orbits.

The largest UE space force since the very beginning of the war (which didn’t go well for Earth) has been amassed at Trident, while a similarly large force is making the trip to Marineros. When those forces meet, there are lovely fireworks, but the build-up is handled nicely, particularly the logistics of transporting Slaine, Saazbaum, and the Stygis Platoon where it needs to be.

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The tension also builds on the EU side, allowing Darzana to get another little dig in on her uncharacteristically nervous XO. Not surprisingly, Inaho isn’t the slightest bit flustered at the prospect of his first space battle. He simply floats over to his by now highly-modded but still orange trainer, steps into his office and gets to work.

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There are few backdrops to a space battle more attractive than the big ol’ Blue Marble itself, partially obscured by clusters of satellites, which we learn create a gravity gradient that must be compensated for in order for weapon shots to hit their targets (gravity gradient=”wind”).

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Inevitably, Orange and Bat encounter one another, but between Inaho’s mad skillz and Tharsis’ superior stats, neither Inaho nor Slaine are even able to land a love tap on the other. Their brief skirmish this week was a stalemate, but now Slaine knows Inaho is alive, and Inaho knows what’s become of Slaine.

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I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d truly like to see these two not only at each others’ throats on the battlefield, but trading dry insults in person. We’ll see how and when the show decides to bring them back together in either setting, and when Chekhov’s Comatose Princess wakes up and puts the kibosh on both Saazbaum and Lemrina’s ambitions.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 02

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Two episodes in, and KG is definitely my cup of tea…and my tamagoyaki, and my grilled squid, and my corn on the cob…and my Russian Roulette sandwiches. This week is bursting with gorgeous sights, smells, and tastes, but while last week Ryou learned that her food tastes infinitely better when she shares it with someone, this week the food is a medium for Ryou and Kirin to learn more about each other and grow closer as both family and friends.

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Like last week, the joy is all in the delectable culinary details. Ryou carefully, lovingly prepares lunches for the sakura festival (damn, I wish it was Spring already), and Kirin contributes her own bento: one that at first seems to be a pure white void, but then the seams of delicious-looking sandwiches become visible. The fact that Kirin’s mom helped her shows that the two have made up, in part thanks to Ryou’s hot pot recipe.

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Food doesn’t just taste better depending on the company you keep, but the environs. And what better place to eat than in a city park exploding with cherry blossoms?

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Kirin meets Ryou’s Aunt Akira for the first time, and while she’s initially shy, Akira’s wild, laid-back, but friendly demeanor puts her at ease. However, Ryou is a bit cross that Akira brought plenty of Asahi Super Dry for herself, but contributed no food. Akira makes up for it by presenting the girls with cash and sending them out into the fair.

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It turns out to be the first real fair Kirin’s ever been too, and thus encounters several different and wonderful fair treats for the first time. Ryou tells Kirin she used to look forward to Spring like no other because she got to enjoy a picnic with her mom, dad, grandma, and Akira. Now only Akira is here…and Kirin.  It may not be exactly the same, but it’s still good.

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We formally meet Ryou and Kirin’s fellow cram schooler Shiina (Komatsu Mikako), who has come to the festival with very clear goals in mind: “sketch it all (including drunk salarymen) and eat it all”. Her encounter is marked by a classic slo-mo Shaft Head-Tilt™, followed by an impatient Akira doing the same thing in short succession.

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Kirin, exhibiting a child’s weariness to strangers to match her small stature, seems to see Shiina as a rival for Ryou’s affection, but more than anything she’s envious that Shiina knows a side of Ryou (the super-focused side she shows in class) she doesn’t. Shiina apologizes for assuming she’s a grade-schooler with a candy apple—a somewhat juvenile food—but the thought is what counts, and though she may not know it yet, Kirin has made another friend just like that.

Back at the picnic blanket, Akira jumped the gun and paid dearly, having gotten the sandwich with gobs of hot mustard; Kirin’s mom’s contribution to the meal.

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Ryou and Kirin return, and a three-way FOODGASM ensues, complete with very specific food sound effects, extreme close-ups, and precise yet flowery descriptions of the mouth-watering food being scarfed down. I wanted to jump into the TV and scoop of a dollop of that cold, crisp potato salad, or crunch into that perfectly-charred corn.

At this point I feel I point out I make a clear distinction between highly enthusiastic consumption of food and any potential sexual acts either the act of eating or description of the food might conjure. KG dances on the edge with these fetishy sequences, but never crosses the line into ‘ew, gross’ territory, IMO. Don’t be like George Costanza: There is sex, and there is food. This is food.

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When the two set up another blanket under the blooming cherry tree outside Ryou’s place so Kirin can sketch, Ryou surprises her with the steamy, sweet and fluffy tamagoyaki we saw her enjoying in the cold open, it’s obvious that food is far more than just sustenance for the body. It’s also the mortar used to build the friendship blooming between two sweet, formerly lonely souls in Ryou and Kirin.

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P.S.: I’m really digging the Alice in Wonderland-themed OP, with Ryou as the White Rabbit and Kirin as Alice following her down the culinary rabbit hole. The stirring opening theme, “The 5 Ways I Know to Become Happy”, is structurally and thematically similar to “No Need for Promises”, the theme of Escaflowne (one of my favorites). As it happens, both are passionately performed by Sakamoto Maaya, more than eighteen years apart.

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 14

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90% of last week’s episode was given over to Leon’s rebirth into a simple life of working the land. This week it’s Prince Alfie’s turn to get the lion’s share of the episode, and while his adventures have nowhere close to the emotional impact as Leon’s, it’s still a respectable, if episodic, romp.

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Exhausted by the ample rigors of being the Golden Knight and a prince being groomed for the throne, Alfie gives his portrait artist the slip and hides inside a wagon that just happens to be robbed while on the road, and its young driver is tied up and thrown in the back with him.

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Leon continues to enjoy the company of the fair Lara (voiced by Aiba Madoka, her first role, and a damn good one) and Emma happens to cross paths (it’s probably more like Emma was looking for him.) Emma confirms Leon is okay, tells him Alfie is okay, and they part ways. Short and sweet, but it’s good to know Lara is going to be around more than one episode.

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When the thieves arrive at their abandoned (and haunted) castle hideout, Alfie reveals himself and asks them to surrender, but not only does Herman appear on the balcony, but the Juliet to the tied up guy Mauro’s Romeo; in love with each other, but with feuding families.

Mauro tells tales of Count Juste—the castle’s former lord, whom Alfie always idolized as a great knight—coming home to find his wife Isabelle had become a witch, and killed her. Alfie assumes Uncle Herman came to address a potential horror infestation in the castle. The fact that Herman knows nothing about the curse and merely came to collect white lilies for his new lady friend Himena, the romantic bastard.

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When night falls, Fana springs Mauro from the dungeon, but get cornered by guards, and happen upon a hidden passage that leads to the room where Horror-Juste and Isabelle remain in their deadly embrace.

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Juste takes Fana for his new bride, but Horror-Roland (Juste’s rival for Isabelle’s heart) possesses Fana’s dad, and the two start to fight in Horror Mode. Yes, there’s a lot going on here; not all of it necessary, but the detailed story is surprisingly easy to follow along.

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Since these guys are horrors, that means Herman and Alfie can actually fight them. Lo and behold, they’re both complete pushovers, though when Juste is about to drain poor Fana of all her blood, his face opens up to reveal a gruesome face that wouldn’t be out of place in Parasyte. Herman takes out Roland, Leon takes out Juste, and Mauro reaches out and catches a falling Fana, cushioning her landing.

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In the end, Mauro and Fana, who we don’t really care that much about, end up together (who knew the Garo Knights were yentas?), Alfie has a little adventure away from his palace, along with some exercise, and Herman has to look somewhere else for white flowers for Himena. Nothing super-consequential, but stylish and witty as always, and thus still enjoyable.

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