Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 09 – Straighten Yourself Out

Gray and Caules are consulting with Olga-Marie about Hephaestion when the path of Rail Zeppelin is suddenly altered, turning into the infamous “Child of Einnashe,” or Forest of Dead Apostles, and stopping dead in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.

Some enterprising mages are quickly stabbed by the predatory trees. With El-Melloi still unconscious and most of the passengers locking themselves in their rooms, it falls on Gray and her allies to figure out how to get the train back on track.

In a rather abrupt transition, Luvia and Kairi visit the “Zombie Cooking” studio of Jean-Mario Supinerra. They ask him about the crimes involving beheadings, and he assumed from his Scotland Yard contact that such a case had been resolved. Trisha also contacted him about it just before she died in the same manner, suggesting she had some pecognition about her fate.

Melvin Weins, who had been following Rail Zeppelin by helicopter ever since meeting with Reines, joins Gray, scaring the crap out of her with his unorthodox, bloody entrance. Soon Karabo and Yvette arrive with the conductor, who asks them to assist in getting the train moving again, lest they be forced to cancel the auction.

Caules agrees to stay with El-Melloi, and Melvin plays his violin to tune the magical circuits of everyone, buffing them for the upcoming mission; judging by Yvette’s reaction, the tuning also happens to feel really, really good.

The eclectic, hastily-built party (a really cool combo, by the way) sets out into the bitter cold. Yvette locates the main Leylines and Karabo marks them for activation. Add warns Gray of trouble approaching, and hangs back, once again encountering Hephaestion, a Servant whose true name she knows but whose role—and Master—she doesn’t.

As Yvette, Karabo, and Melvin battle the forest’s defenses and finish activating the leylines, Gray and Heph spar, with the latter not at all interested in dialogue and the former hesitant, but not altogether unwilling to use force.

When the train starts back up, Olga-Marie happens to land on a dimensional pocket with an imaginary attribute; a signature spell of the Fellows family to which the late Trisha belonged. When Olga unlocks the pocket, Trisha’s head falls out, to Olga’s shock and dismay. Adashino enters the room, pleased the head of the victim has been found.

Even when the train released from the forests and ready to continue on its proper course, Gray isn’t about to let Heph get away, so she rescinds her first restraint, transforming her scythe into a giant hammer. Will they get left behind, or will the battle again be interrupted, whether by an awakened El-Melloi or someone else? Even standing still, with its titular character out cold, Rail Zeppelin continues to crackle with intrigue.

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DanMachi II – 08 – Whatever It Takes

Mikoto arrives in the midst of Bell’s beatdown at the hands of Aisha, but the latter takes her down with one strike, then continues wailing on the Little Rookie. Turns out Haruhime, donning a red cloak, is the source of Aisha’s power boost. Phryne also gets in on the game, snatching up Bell for herself and chaining him to the wall of her secret love nest.

Bell is lucky he couldn’t manage an erection, because Phryne has to leave him to find an “enhancement” medicine, allowing the one other person who knows about the dungeon—Haruhime—to sneak in and rescue him (after slipping the keys to the captured Mikoto).

Bell mentions his and Mikoto’s present efforts to buy her, for which she’s grateful to the point of tears, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in going anywhere or doing anything other than what was decided for her long ago: as Take tells Hestia, she’s to be sacrificed to the Killing Stone, a magical object that optimizes Renard power.

In Haruhime’s case, she’s able to provide a level boost to Aisha, but once the ritual is complete and the stone shattered, that power can be spread to many other Ishtar Amazons, giving them the offensive edge they need in a war against the more powerful-on-paper Freya Familia.

Once Haruhime gets Bell back to the Pleasure District and urges him to flee, Mikoto meets up with them, having learned about the Killing Stone thorugh books in Ishtar’s palace. Aisha also arrives, and snatches Haruhime back up. She dares Bell to do something—anything—to try to get Haruhime back, but Bell freezes. In that moment, he wavers between the desire to save her and his reluctance to get Hestia Familia tangled up in a war they can’t win.

He’s so frozen in hesitation, Mikoto has to grab his hand and run before the other Amazons can capture him. In short, this episode was a bit of a downer, as Haruhime has seemed to be a doomed character ever since her introduction. One wonders if her fate is sealed now that Bell lost his last best chance to save her, or if he can summon the same resolve Haruhime has and risk everything to challenge her death wish.

Heck, even if Bell wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in Haruhime’s fate, it just seems like a very bad idea to let Ishtar gain such a dangerous military advantage, considering she basically screws her underlings (like Aisha) into obedience. Here’s hoping for some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Isekai, Ranked

If Anime is escapism, there is no better way to escape than plunging Into Another World, where our niche skills and routine possessions may shake the fabric of reality! From MMO-inspired, to hard fantasy, there are many types of shows on this list but no movies nor series we haven’t seen recently. Bring all disagreements to the comments below!

1. Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World
Re:Zero takes Isekai’s love for fish-out-of-water stories on step further: through brutal, expectation breaking blind sides, it makes the viewer a fish out of water too! Dripping with fantastic animation, Re:Zero’s true strength is the balance of its highly detailed world without over explaining its magic system, time loop mechanic and political systems. It also earns bonus points for  limiting the application of its protagonist’s powerful magic and technological advantages.

2. Sword Art Online (1st season) 
In the narrowest of second places, SAO pairs top shelf animation with an approachable cast and easy to appreciate central conflict. Put its lovingly constructed MMO setting aside, and Kirito’s mistakes and occasional darkness elevate him above his potentially generic good-at-everything character type and Asuka plays the strongest heroine/love interest on the list.

3. Now and Then, Here and There
Imagine if Digimon told a bleak story about sex trafficking child soldiers trapped on a waterless world with a maniac king? NTHT’s intense swerve from adorable into darkness is on par with Re:Zero and, much like Natsuki Subaru, HTHT’s Shu must rely on ‘durability’ and ‘heart’ to make it through. While some of it’s later tragic moments are predictable, this f’ed-up little anime scores major points for telling a complete story and having that story grow Shu from simpleton into a conflicted young adult.

4. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
While Red’s post-earth scifi origin may stretch the common definition of Isekai, being trapped in a primitive culture that treats him (and his AI-driven mech Chamber) like a hero of old does not. Beautifully, Gargantia flips the script and makes Red’s overwhelming power, and killing in general, counter productive and at odds with the local people.

5. Yōjo Senki / The Saga of Tanya the Evil
Give us World War I with magic, a gender swapped villain as our protagonist, and God as our antagonist, and you’ve given us something pretty damn original. Like Gargantia, this reborn in another world captures thinking differently about the world can be as powerful and terrifying as unworldly strength. Without question, Yojo Senki’s cast is the most uniquely imagined on this list.

6. No Game No Life
Like Tanya, the Blank twins piss off god and are sent to another world as punishment. However, their punishment is much more stylish and… harem. Underneath NGNL’s acid-soaked panties, over the top protagonists and the psychedelic color pallet, is a show featuring thoughtful puzzles and imaginative spins on classic gamble-to-win story telling. Sadly, its story ends unfinished…

7. KonoSuba
One part jab at Isekai and one part love letter to the starting town of every fantasy MMO, KonoSuba is all parts ruthlessly funny! While this reborn in another world (with a goddess!) show is not as smartly written as NGNL, and it becomes repetitive after a time, the constant frenetic action more than makes up for it.

8. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Quiet, thoughtful, and full of sadness, this hard fantasy Isekai doesn’t care if its heroes are reborn in another world or trapped in a dungeon crawl afterlife. Building family bonds and connecting with people who would not normally be friends is all that matters… and it’s lovingly animated to boot!

9. ReCreators
As a reverse Isekai, ReCreators distinguishes itself by bringing the other world to us. The experience is fantastically animated and packed with clever dialog that somehow breaths sincerity into a profoundly silly plot. The cast is quite diverse, both in design and personality, which keeps the action fresh, yet somehow cohesive throughout. It’s only major flaw is, the final act, which is way to drawn out.

10. The Devil is a Part Timer
No I’m not kidding! This reverse Isekai’s premise that the Devil is trapped in our world and must work at McDonnald’s to get by is charming. While DiaPT’s humor isn’t particularly specific to the devil, the jokes are punchy, and the overall plot develops at a respectable pace. As an added treat, the opening gothic fantasy fight scenes are surprisingly well animated.

11. Log Horizon (1st season)
Most exposition heavy, trapped in an MMO themed Isekai featuring ‘top ranked’ players crumble after a few episodes. More often than not, these shows try too hard to sell the coolness of their game worlds, user interfaces, and central characters. Miraculously, Log Horizon gets better mid season with a simple question: if former NPCs have personalities, can grow and learn, and even die, are they more human than the former players that dismiss them as background texture? Still, it takes Log Horizon six episodes to get going and good lord is it gray looking…

12. Overlord (3 Seasons)
This transported into an MMO Isekai mirrors its main character: it is competent but not sure what it should be doing at any given moment. Sometimes the protagonists are villains and sometimes they are heroes. More often than not, characters are given lavish screen time to develop, only to be slaughtered whimsically. The resulting narrative is full of call backs and revealed foreshadowing… yet hasn’t gone very far in 3 seasons and hasn’t asked any interesting questions along the way.

13. El Hazard – The Magnificent World (OAV/TV)
Predestined paradox, trans-dimensional time jumping high school students (and their drunk gym teacher) are trapped in an Arabian Nights’like land besieged by sentient bugs, a secret tribe of assassins from another dimension, and a death star like eye of god orbiting nearby. If you watched anime in the 1990s it will all be familiar but it still manages to feel original yet cohesive production. The character abilities are wonderful, the tragedy is nice, and plenty is left up to your own imagination to fill in the blanks. A bland, fault free, protagonist and a boy-crazy harem vibe are the only reasons it isn’t higher on the list.

14. Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
This invading the other world Isekai flips the script to deliver political intrigue, clash of culture, and commentary on Japanese society. It loses points for being a overly harem, relying on super dumb/super evil antagonists, and a dull protagonist but it’s fun enough to watch.

15. Drifters
Stylishly violent, strikingly ugly, historical character filled and utterly bonkers, this reborn in another world Isekai’s uniqueness will hold your attention. Even if you do not want it to.

16. Rise of the Shield Hero (2 Seasons)
On paper, this transported to an MMO world Isekai’s “treat the hero like crap,” “watch him accept the role of a slave-buying villain” and ultimately “rise to become the true hero” concept is great. Revealing that the world he’s saving may be less redeemable than the world the invaders are trying to save is also great. Too bad its padded and many of the arbitrary delays and narrative dead ends feel like cop outs.

17. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
While it lacks the initial hardcore’ness of Shield Hero, this reborn in another world Isekai is pleasantly animated and full of heart. The idea that naming monsters grants them power is a pretty neat mechanic too. It just sort bounces from idea to idea without a sense of purpose of resolution. One minute it’s a story of unlikely friendship, then magic destiny, then town builder, then harem, and onto magic school and isn’t about anything in particular until a hastily thrown together plot ties it up at the end. It scores points for making its hero a slime… although the reborn aspect never feels played with or justified.

18. Angel Beats!
If the gun fetish, kids fighting a loli-angel instead of attending school in the afterlife plot weren’t so dumb and drawn out, this rebirth story’s touching moments would push it much higher. There’s a really good tale of life cut short, reunion after death, and again after rebirth here and it gets major bonus points for finishing the story it had to tell. Totally squandered.

19. Death March / Kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku
Like Shield Hero, this reborn in an MMO Isekai is actually quite good looking. However, its Gary-Stue protagonist, harem and absurd narrative padding make it far less interesting.  OMG how many episodes are about making lunch?! That’s too bad because the concept of code-like “copy and paste” magic system is pretty neat.

20. Wiseman’s Grandson / Kenja no Mago
Despite opening with a modern day man being killed, this reborn into a fantasy world Isekai is more Magic School than Isekai. The only thread that connects the protagonist’s lives is that he can look at magic with an eye for process instead of outcome. The result is harmless easy watching but harem elements, a slow pace and lack of getting anywhere narratively hold it back.

21. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
This summoned into an MMO Isekai starts off as charming, but ecchi-heavy, before abruptly turning dark at the end of the season. We’re talking ‘make a child watch as her best friend is slowly tortured to death’ and creepo ‘finger-bang a loli cat girl in order to give birth to the demon inside her’ level dark. While those elements elevate HNtSaDL above niche appeal of its harm and MMO content, they aren’t so interesting to earn my recommendation.

22. Problem Children are coming from Another World, Aren’t They?
T
he non-ecchi poor man’s No Game no Life features a talking cat that only some characters can understand and dreadful music. TFW smooth jazz? There’s some cuteness to be had, and the solutions to gambling games can be clever, but the overall vibe is low energy. It loses drama points because its protagonist is as smart as a god and physically stronger.

23. Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?
This poor man’s Konosuba is occasionally funny, satire of RPG conventions and family relationships. Mama’s skill that interrupts whatever her son is doing, no matter what it is or where he is in the game world, is particularly charming. Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the creepo factor of sexualizing that family relationship.

24. Restaurant from Another World
My mom is secretly from another world and my restaurant’s front door connects back to that world each day is certainly unique, but it’s structured more like a food-porn show than Isekai. While the linkages of each patron become clear over time, few characters are not aware of those connections themselves. The result never feels like it gets anywhere.

25. In Another World With My Smartphone
Stories without risk are still watchable when they immerse us an interesting world, or delve into niche details like food or how magic works, or sleeze us with harems and sex appeal. Smartphone fails all of these things. Worse, it does nothing with it’s one idea: protagonist Touya is reborn in a fantasy world with smartphone. Except, GOD GIVES HIM GOD TIER MAGIC FROM THE GET-GO! Ironically, Re:Zero and No Game No Life both use of a cell phones in more interesting ways, and Tanya’s God isn’t even comparable. Unoriginal, unfunny, not dramatic, not sexy, not worth watching.

26. Maou-sama, Retry!
This transported to an MMO Isekai’s trash production values, and bizarre characters are hard to take seriously. The results are sometimes so terrible they are funny, such as incompetent background music transitions and detailed horses hiding at the edges of the frame. Sadly, a bland harem and complete lack of narrative objective kill the mood.

27. Isekai Izakaya
Imagine a low energy, public access style show, with a tourism theme, that featuring a modern Japanese restaurant that serves fantasy world patrons…

28. Isekai Cheat Magician
A loveless summoned to a fantasy world Isekai who’s protagonists are the most powerful and purely good characters could deserve a niche rating. Not this one. The narrative sort of ‘skips the boring stuff’ and, in doing so, skips character development. Hilariously, what the narrative does show is poorly animated, always underwhelming magic battle scenes or people standing around talking.

29. Endride
Without dialog, this stumbled into a magic world Isekai’s vibrant color and crisp art would be watchable. The fact that the world is somehow inside of Earth’s core and the sparse use of mythology are unique, but its dumb-as-bricks whiny teen protagonists have the maturity of a small children. There are many unintentionally funny moments like scientists using gigantic laptops or the king’s magic weapon looking like a safety pin. Ultimately, the cast is so unlikeable that the show itself is unwatchable.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 09 – A Panoply of Pecs

In an episode that’s not only mad with muscles, but exceedingly bountiful with fourth wall-breaking, a back muscle workout by Machio is interrupted when his pectorals suddenly start twitching, sensing the “muscle pressure” of a potential adversary.

Turns out, it’s Machio’s massive bodybuilding mentor from America, Barnold Shorsinator, who looks and sounds a lot like a similar action hero from Austria whose name cannot be said lest Dumbbells incur the wrath of The Lawyers!

Hibiki and Ayaka know him well from the movies; the other three…not so much. As for why Barnold hasn’t so much as texted Machio since the latter left America, well, there’s a harmless explanation for that: he dropped his phone in the water and lost his number! Similarly, Machio accidentally crushed his phone containing Barnold’s number. Truly an estrangement borne from momentarily clumsiness and scarily strong hands.

It is hand strength that brings Barnold to Machio’s gym, as he presents his former pupil with a hand grip with a resistance he estimates only a hundred men could successfully squeeze. Naturally, Machio breaks the damn thing with minimal effort, passing Barnold’s test. He’s holding a huge international bodybuilding competition tomorrow (short notice!), and wants Machio front and center.

The ladies attend the extravaganza of musculature, with Barnold leading them to a VIP suite and providing instructive commentary on how competitive bodybuilding is split into different areas, the basic poses like Side Chest, and the way the muscles and their owners are scored.

The girls are not only smitten with the frankly insane amount of glistening beef on display, but surprised and educated by the amount of complexity and nuance inherent in a bodybuilding competition. The crowd feedback plays a big role too, especially during the exciting “pose down” segment.

But once Machio takes the stage, the competition is over; he is regarded by crowd and co-competitors alike as a god among men, his muscles emanating waves that figuratively tear the clothes off of every man, woman and child in the audience, including Hibiki, Akemi, Ayaka, Satomi and Gina. They then look down and realize their clothes weren’t really ripped off, but it sure felt that way!

So Machio claims victory, but he notices that the competition wasn’t quite as outstanding as less-informed observers might’ve thought. Thus, he passes Barnold’s second test: this competition was just the first round; there’s to be another, more intense competition in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for Barnold, Machio is too devoted to his work and his clients to cancel all the appointments necessary to make the event…so that’s that.

Except it isn’t…not quite. Barnold leaves Japan, but leaves behind his personal secretary, whose name sounds like Jason Statham, but he’s not quite Jason Staham, if you catch my drift. Hibiki’s sudden anger at Jason trying to make “hustle that muscle!” happen is a fitting capper to a perfectly absurd and thoroughly fun outing of Dumbbell.

Astra Lost in Space – 09 – Beyond Vicarious

Before announcing Zack’s findings to Quitterie, Funi, and the rest of the crew, Kanata dreams about a training session with his father, who was also an athlete but was denied by injuries the opportunity to attain greatness. Kanata knew his father was trying to realize his own dream through Kanata; attempting to live vicariously through his healthy young son.

But knowing what he knows now, Kanata now realizes why his father was so intent on training him to become virtually the same person he wanted to be: because when it comes to DNA, they are the same person. That’s right: It isn’t just Quitterie and Funi who are clones of their mother; everyone on the ship is a clone of their parents.

Needless to say, this explains quite a bit: Why most of them had distant or loveless parents who drove them to follow in their footsteps, but also, more importantly, why they’re titularly lost in space: cloning is a felony, and a new law mandating the collection of everyone’s DNA would expose their clones—and thus, their crime.

If the theory sounds thin aboard the Astra, it’s confirmed by the parents themselves back home, as they all commiserate about how their dreams of extending their lives was thwarted. They bicker quite a bit more than their younger clones and don’t seem to have any remorse in sending them off to their deaths to save themselves.

Back on the Astra, everyone is in shock, and for some like Quitterie, it turns to despair. As for Aries, she learns she was almost certainly adopted by her loving mother, as they don’t look alike and, well, her adoptive mother actually loved her. Kanata, good captain that he is, tells them to lift their heads, and revises their mission: not just to get home, but get home and put their rotten folks in prison for what they’ve done.

After that, everyone gradually processes the news that they’re a clone in their own ways. On the whole, once calmed down from the initial horribleness, the overarching emotion is that of relief: that there was a reason they ended up in space, or that their parents were the way they were.

Charce left his family long ago so he wasn’t that messed up by the news. Luca is proud of who and what she is, and is determined to move forward as an individual beholden to nobody. Yunhua is happy she can now step out of the shadows and do what she loves. Aries loves her mother and knows her mother loves her, regardless of what person she was cloned from.

Finally, even Quitterie and Funi find comfort in the knowledge that nature and nurture essentially play a 50/50 role in determining a person. Quitterie, Funi, and their mother are three different people with distinct personalities based on their experiences, not just their DNA. The two of them are good people; their mom’s a goddamn monster.

And that’s what truly underscores the nefariousness, the straight-up evil of their parents for marooning them in space. Cloning yourself is one thing; to deny those clones their individuality and even their humanity by discarding them like used tissues is quite another, and the ultimate in delusion. Did they think they made clones so perfect, their experiences wouldn’t make them different people? If that’s the case they’re as stupid as they are evil.

In any case, kudos for the crew members to get over the pain of their asshole parents’ deep, profound betrayal, and their ability to come together as the new and loving family they are. Case in point: Quitterie and Zack announce their wedding plans to an ecstatic crew that’s also a bit flabbergasted in the wake of Zack’s talent for hiding his true emotions behind a granite facade.

After their party celebrating their escape from Icriss, the discovery of Polina, and congratulating the soon-to-be newlyweds, Zack activates the Astra’s long-range telescope, which he repaired using parts from the Ark VI, and for the first time in three months, the crew lays eyes on their home planet: a planet of blue oceans, white clouds, and green land.

But here’s the thing, and it’s not revealed until Polina notices the landmasses are all wrong: the crew’s home planet isn’t Earth. It is Polina’s home, but none of the crew have ever heard of “Earth,” and look at her like she’s either crazy or still suffering the effects of her long slumber. In any case, their home planet is called Astra, which means Polina didn’t just lose twelve years, but perhaps her entire universe.


Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 08 – A Better Dream

This week Takagi and Nishikata get “stuck” in the storage shed after gym class, as Nishikata pretends he can’t open the door in order to scare Takagi. Honestly it’s a pretty sizable “own goal” on his part, as Takagi doesn’t mind being alone in a shed with Nishikata one bit. She even realizes pretty quickly that the door’s not really locked, but if he’s going to make conditions so perfect for teasing, who is she to resist?

While in the dim shed Nishikata scrapes a knee, so Takagi takes him to the conveniently empty nurse’s office to administer antiseptic. Again, the two are all alone, and Takagi makes sure to point this out, sitting on the bed with Nishikata (the second bed of the episode!) and putting her hand just an inch from his, daring him to hold it and claim victory. Unfortunately, Nishikata…just can’t do it.

When the two compare dreams of what they’d do with a million (then ten million) yen, we can see the recurring theme of Nishikata being an unapologetic, helpless…kid. He wants to buy all the video games and comics; she wants to go on vacation with “someone she loves”—someone Nishikata can’t yet realize or accept to be…him.

Presumably, at some point, Nishikata will grow up a little more and take Takagi’s numerous, increasingly obvious hints. Or perhaps the time will come when Takagi will stop “teasing” and simply tell him upfront how she feels, leaving no room for doubt and not following it up with a “just joking.”

Mind you, I’m not saying that’s Takagi’s responsibility to move this thing forward. For all I know, she’s fine with things the way they are—which is why she’s not pressing—or she’s waiting to see how things play out. In any case, her odds of a desirable outcome are surely better than winning a 10 million-yen lotto ticket.

Cop Craft – 08 – Meow What?!

After a really heartfelt and powerful episode in which Tilarna made and then promptly lost a friend, Cop Craft takes a week off—to be charitable—with an episode that’s little more than a vehicle for showing as much Tilarna fanservice as possible.

After Tilarna fells a small prop plane, scoring them a crate full of junk that vaguely smells of latena, Kei uses the bath first, then leaves Tilly to analyze the trinkets on her own, with only Kuroi to keep her company.

Kuroi gets a little crazy and starts running around, Tilarna gets stuck by a tiny crossbow bolt, and she and the cat switch bodies. Kei doesn’t pick up on this, only that Tilarna must be sick or something since he wakes up with her in his bed, scantily clad, and about to rub her face against his when the cat—actually Tilarna—comes between them. Kei lets who he thinks is Tilarna to sleep in, but he’s got shit to do, so heads off.

Tilarna manages to text Cecil, who arrives to find a huge mess, Tilarna missing pants, and a cat nodding and texting her. The crossbow just happened to slide into a trash can, and Kei is fastidious enough to take out said trash, so Cecil and Tilarna have to chase it down, but not before Tilkuroi tackles Cecil and knocks her out, further slowing them down.

Meanwhile Kei, seeking O’Neill, walks in on the aftermath of an epic party involving prostitutes, a goat, and habanero sauce, but which is neither here nor there. Honestly, this entire episode felt like it was on hallucinogens and a sedative that ground every action to a halt in an effort to make this a two-parter for some reason. That’s what’s most frustrating: shows can have the odd bad week, but this tomfoolery isn’t even over yet…

HenSuki – 08 – Fairy Godsister

For all his more kinky potential love interests at school, Keiki’s home life is defined by a healthily affectionate relationship with his imouto, with whom he spends the most time this week. Okay, maybe they’re a bit too close, as her reaction upon him walking in on her is almost too calm, and she seeks advice from him about the color of her underwear, and they have no problem with close physical proximity.

A quiet day at home is punctuated from a visit by Sayuki, who apologizes for jumping him at the clean-up session, but deems it the result of him showing his “pet” inadequate affection. So she has him do dog stuff to her: shaking hands, patting her head…and rubbing her belly. It’s the last thing that Mizuha walks in on.

Immediately after an “emergency family meeting” where he smooths things over, Yuika arrives, also bored, and dresses Kaiki up as a bunny girl before again removing her underwear for him. Mizuha walks in on the middle of that, necessitating another meeting.

Basically, after Keiki dealt with Ayano and Koharu, Sayuki and Yuika reassert themselves as his two primary love interests. Finally, Mao calls him, aware that the other two were planning to visit him, and asks a very cryptic question about what he’d think about her being his girlfriend.

Later, Keiki is shocked to discover Cinderella’s white underwear has vanished from under his bed. He concludes either Sayuki or Yuika took them, which makes them the two prime Cinderella suspects. I for one am not so sure about that, or his further deliberations with Ootori and Shouma.

For one thing, Mizuha could have removed the underwear. For another, either Sayuki or Yuika could have taken them and not be Cinderella. Finally, Mao’s phone call is super-suspicious. Still, Keiki is hell-bent on discovering the culprit once and for all, so he isolates Sayuki and takes her out to a theme park in order to continue his investigation.

Vinland Saga – 08 – Bound by Past and Pride

Thankfully there are no goofy-looking generals or ships overladen with treasure falling down waterfalls without damage this week, as Askeladd’s crew returns home to the Jutland peninsula and settle down for the winter. When they arrive, there are boys eager to join the crew to replace those who died in battle, and girls eager to give Askeladd a warm welcome—and get some pretty jewelry in return.

These lands are owned by the feudal Lord Gorm, who micromanages every quarter-piece of silver it will cost for Askeladd and his men to live, eat, and drink on those lands. Askeladd is rolling in dough, so that’s not a problem. He also meets Gorm’s slave Hordaland, named after her homeland in Norway. Gorm blames her noble upbringing for her ineptness as a servant, but Askeladd thinks he’s just not using her the right way.

Oh yeah, there’s also that tiny little matter of the duel between Askeladd and Thorfinn; the time has finally come. Now that he’s older and harder, a couple women actually take notice of Thorfinn’s mild cuteness, though he once again needs a good barber…and probably a bath too.

Like last time, Askeladd treats the start of the duel rather casually, but Thorfinn immediately demonstrates that if he lets his guard down too much. He’s killed many people and gotten a lot of training and battle experience since their last duel, and it’s on full display in his less erratic, more deliberate and thoughtful fighting style.

However, in those same years Finn has gotten older and better, Askeladd is still as good as he’s ever been at using not just whoever but whatever he has to win, and he also happens to know exactly how to push Thorfinn’s buttons.

He pretends not to remember Thors’ name or whether he actually killed him, with a condescending and disrespectful tone that causes Finn to quickly lose his temper and make an ill-advised charge that Askeladd is all too ready for.

Since no one said anything about a fight to the death, and surely Askeladd has no interest in taking the life of one of his best scouts, he simply knocks him out after neutralizing him with a stunning move. Thorfinn may have become a better warrior, but he’s still no match for his captain.

That night at a huge feast, one of those eager boys sidles up to Askeladd seeking a job, and asks his possibly future captain why he risks keeping someone like Thorfinn around when he could easily kill him in his sleep? Askeladd is categorical: Finn would never do that. He is a warrior, like his father, and would never accept victory devoid of honor.

Askeladd can sleep soundly because Finn is held back by the twin binds of past and pride. He also can’t help but laugh as he watches Lord Gorm, a slave to money, beating Hordaland, not just a literal slave but a slave to her past and pride, being a former noble who had no say in her present situation.

As Thorfinn sulks aboard his father’s ship, Thors comes to him in a vision, and upon placing his hand on his son’s head, Finn turns back into a boy and bursts into tears. Thors knows nothing he can say can stop his son from seeking revenge, but reminds him again that no one has any enemies, and the most honorable warrior has no need for a sword.

When Hordaland surprises Thorfinn with some dinner, we finally get to hear how she feels about her situation, rather than just assume from how she acts around Lord Gorm. She believes, rightly so, that she and Finn aren’t that different: both are where they are because they have nowhere else to be. In her case, she believes even if she ran away and kept running, she’d just end up someplace just like Gorm’s lands.

As the snow starts to pick up, Finn tells her about Vinland, and in doing so attempts to give her some hope that it does matter whether or not you run and/or fight (Horda would never kill, and probably doesn’t want to start, but she can still run if she chooses to). True to Thors’ words of wisdom, both Finn and Horda have no real enemies—only their own self-imposed binds.

In the August of the next year (1013), King Sweyn’s armies mount a huge invasion of England, burning, pillaging, and raping their way all the way to London…where their momentum is suddenly halted by a stout defense, including someone who looks like Askeladd’s wilder English brother. Sweyn also gives his son Prince Canute a chance at valor, who along with his other son Harald, are candidates for succeeding him.

While it’s exciting to see an early London come into the picture and other big-world developments, what made this episode was the duel (and how it was won) and its more intimate moments: those between Askeladd and Gorm, Askeladd and the wannabe fighter, and between Thorfinn and Hordaland. Vinland Saga has some shiny toys to toss around, but those smaller human interactions pack a far meatier emotional punch.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 08 – Invisible to Time

In her shock and rage, Olga-Marie lashes out at the one she deems the most likely culprit in Trisha’s murder: Karabo, of the mage-detesting Holy Church. Karabo blocks her attack and renders her unconscious, then volunteers to perform an autopsy on the body, putting aside the differences between their factions.

Contrary to my theory about Trisha possibly knowing her fate and meeting it without complaint, the investigators determine that neither the mystic eyes of premonition or past vision could see the perpetrator; that they were essentially invisible to time. Furthermore, the loss of Trisha’s head strongly suggests the perp was after her eyes—such murders are apparently not uncommon on the Rail Zeppelin.

El-Melloi meets with Olga-Marie once she wakes up, telling her he’s not helping her so Aminusphere will owe him, but because of a creed he adopted after his adventures with Iskander. “Glory lies beyond the horizon,” his servant used to say, assuring him that while what he seeks is beyond his grasp, he’ll find his own path one day, something he’s now trying to do.

With that in mind, El-Melloi will do everything in his power to keep similarly out-of-their-depth young ones (like Olga) from losing their lives needlessly. Olga is taken aback by his confessing to being influenced by a mere “minion” and “means to an end,” but she doesn’t understand that El-Melloi’s Servant was his mentor in every sense of the word. She simply  considers El-Melloi “weird”, and Gray weird for being his apprentice.

While passing in the corridor, Adashino tells El-Melloi that both Codrington and Davenant had the same sponsor, but won’t say anything more, leaving “Mr. Detective” to deduce whether that sponsor is involved with Rail Zeppelin.

As Luviagelita and Kairi determine the theft of the Holy Relic was an inside job, committed by someone who possessed a spare key to the bounded field, El-Melloi and Gray wait on the caboose of the train to await the thief, who arrives in a flash of red lightning on the train’s roof, wearing Iskandar’s mantle.

She introduces herself as Hephaestion—one of Iskandar’s generals—and is unwilling to recognize El-Melloi as a true subject. Disgusted with his face, she moves to kill him, and when Gray intervenes, she uses Mystic Eyes to turn Gray’s body against him. El-Melloi neutralizes that spell, but Hep then summons Iskandar’s Noble Phantasm, Gordius Wheel.

Gray prepares to recind her seals and unleash her own Phantasm, but again El-Melloi stays her hand, then uses the magical energy in his hair of all things to redirect Hep’s lightning to the ground. It doesn’t entirely work—he suffers severe burns to his back—but in any case Hep was clearly toying with them; if she wanted them dead, she could have done it. Instead she withdraws.

Olga-Marie offers a panacea to heal El-Melloi in exchange for calling them even, which Caules combines with a Primeval Battery, so El-Melloi is poised to recover, but he doesn’t regain consciousness for the rest of the episode. But before he passed out, he wondered how he’d never even heard of Hephaestion. No doubt it made him wonder what else he might not know, and whether he still nothing more than the helpless, hopeless boy who bit off far more than he could chew.

Fire Force – 07 – A Long Way to Go

In the wake of the nighttime “joint exercise” (read: heated battle) between the 5th and 8th companies, their commanders decide to hold a “job well done” cookout in hopes of fostering peace—and keeping their superiors off their backs.

There’s no clearer evidence that the two companies have put their differences aside than Princess Hibana feeding Shinra cuts of grilled meat, but she also agrees to assist Captain Oubi and the 8th in their investigation of the scourge of spontaneous human combustions.

The most likely culprit is believed to be someone from the 1st company, since most of the man-made infernals come from their jurisdiction. It’s logical enough, even if it’s almost as likely to be someone not of the 1st who just happens to operating there.

In any case, Oubi wants eyes and ears on the inside, so he makes use of the above-board, inter-company trainee exchange program to send Shinra and Arthur to the 1st. They’re accompanied by first-years from the 2nd and 8th to allay suspicion that the 8th is up to something.

When Maki escorts the trainees to the 1st’s Captain Burns (the fire soldier at the scene when Shinra’s family was killed), Shinra immediately challenges him to sparring, with the understanding that if he can beat Burns, the good captain has to answer his questions without reservation.

But as both the 2nd Company trainee and Arthur exhibit, these 1st dudes are no joke, and challenging them to a fight so soon, even under the guise of training, doesn’t so much help their investigation as show them exactly what they’re up against in terms of strength.

One of Burns’ lieutenants, Karim, can turn flame into ice with the use of some kind of one-man-band air compressor, while Burns is able to stop and extinguish Arthur’s vaunted Excalibur with one lazily outstretched hand.

When Shinra gives Burns his best shot, it’s clear no member of the 1st is breaking a sweat today, despite Tamaki’s needless worry that Shinra might be able to hurt one of them. Once Burns dispatches Shinra, he asks him why he became a fire soldier, and suddenly Shinra’s spiel about wanting to be a hero to stop what happened to his family to happen ever again, Burns simply replies that Shinra has a long way to go to achieving that goal.

Still, perhaps being among such scarily powerful fire soldiers will help Shinra learn a thing or two, even as he and Arthur investigate the possibility one of them is creating Infernals. One 1st soldier I’m reasonably certain is innocent in all this is Tamaki, whose main special skill seems to be accidentally tripping and falling on men…her superiors have even adopted a habit of catching her in mid-air.