Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 07 – Murder on the Mystic Eyes Express

At what appears to be Kings Cross Station, Lord El-Melloi II awaits the arrival of that most infamous supernatural mystic eyes collection and auction train, Rail Zeppelin. He is accompanied by Gray (natch), and by one of his students, the berserker Caules Yggdmillenia. But that’s not all; not by a long shot. Rail Zeppelin passengers are a veritable cross section of the magical world.

There’s Olga-Marie Arsimilat Animusphere, daughter of the Lord of Astromancy, accompanied by her maid Trisha. There’s Adashino Hishiri of Policies, clearly there to observe and await what may befall Lord El-Melloi. There’s Karabo Frampton of the Holy Church, an intense rival of the Clock Tower. While not in El-Melloi’s party, his student and self-appointed “future mistress” Yvette Lehrman has her own invite.

Leandra introduces herself to the passengers as Rail Zeppelin’s auctioneer. Rodin is its conductor. And then there’s Rail Zeppelin itself: a spacious, sumptuously-appointed luxury train that seems far bigger on the inside than the outside, and travels on rails above leylines. I love trains and the whole idea of enjoying all the comforts of home while travelling somewhere far off. Rail Zeppelin itself is a character in this arc—and an immediately likable one at that.

It’s apparent there are a number of uneasy truces in operation between factions normally warring (either metaphorically or literally, or both). That lends the episode a tense and uneasy atmosphere. The train is stuck on a fixed rail, hurtling at high speed; a powder-keg that could explode at any moment for a whole host of reasons.

While Reines did not accompany Lord El-Melloi, she’s running her own investigation the theft of her brother’s catalyst for summoning a servant of the Holy Grail War: the Mantle of Iskandar. Such a task is frought with danger, so she hires Shishigou Kairi and pairs him up with Luviagelita Edelfelt (with whom she nicely bonded last week along with Gray)—an inspired duo if ever there was one.

Having foregone sleep for much of the last two nights, El-Melloi spends the first night and much of the following day catching up on sleep. Before he awakes for breakfast, Gray meets with Yvette in the dining car, who comes from a family who craft mystic eyes from gems, like the one her eyepatch conceals. Either Yvette can’t quite get Gray to admit they’re rivals for the Lord’s heart, or Gray simply doesn’t consider Yvette a rival at all.

Lady Aminusphere and Trisha once again meet with El-Melloi, to discuss his cooperation in the coming auction. Specifically, Olga-Marie wants the biggest prize of the auction—the highest-ranked Rainbow Mystic Eyes—the “ultimate operation of celestial bodies within the human body.” If El-Melloi helps her win them through strategic bidding and folding, he will be rewarded.

More to the point, she knows they’ll win them, because Trisha has seen that outcome with her Mystic Eyes of Premonition; the effects of which only add to Gray’s discomfort when combined to her symptoms of motion sickness (poor kid lacks her train-legs, perhaps in part because King Artoria is from a time long before such tech).

While off on her own recovering, Gray gets some friendly advice from Karabo Frampton. When the two touch, Karabo’s Mystic Eyes that can see the past glimpse King Artoria Pendragon in a field (clearly enjoying not being on a speeding train). He had suspected she wasn’t a mage like most everyone there, which leads to her belittling herself and underplaying her value to Lord El-Melloi. Karabo assures her she’s already someone the Lord “finds necessary.”

Trisha joins El-Melloi at the bar, revealing that she and her lady have investigated the role of one third-gen mage of limited renown Waver Velvet in the Holy Grail War; seeing the younger Waver reflected in his glass is a nice stylistic touch. El-Melloi, like Gray, may consider that role to have been flawed and inadequate, but the mere fact he survived is a testament to the contrary.

Trisha, believing he seeks Mystic Eyes as a weapon for the next Grail War, warns him that having Eyes means accepting the destiny of being bound to them. Of course, El-Melloi is more than prepared for such a destiny, as he’s already bound himself with the title of Lord El-Melloi—albeit while trying to limit expectations with a tacked on “II”—and all the duties and responsibilities therein.

Not to mention he’s bound to meeting with Iskandar once again, even if the Heroic Spirit has no memories of the last war and their time together. Gray sympathizes; who wouldn’t want someone you were devoted to carry memories of you? But just as El-Melloi goes into a spiril of self-loathing and Gray is about to cheer him up with the gift she got at Luvia’s store, there’s a loud, distressed scream.

El-Melloi and Gray rush to its source, and they find a shocked Olga-Marie kneeling before the bloody, headless body of Trisha. That makes Rail Zeppelin a Magical Murder Mystery Train, packed with potential suspects in the best Christie tradition, with El-Melloi as its Poirot. And there’s still the matter of who gave him one of only twelve open invites to the auction.

All we know for sure is that neither he nor Gray committed the murder, and that when Trisha was warning El-Melloi about being at peace with whatever destiny Mystic Eyes might provide, she was speaking from imminent experience. Her eyes allowed her to foresee her own demise—one she either couldn’t or wouldn’t avoid. She may have been the first victim of whatever power is at work here, but she likely won’t be the last.

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DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.