Hortensia Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Glimmer of Hope in an Age of Turmoil

What have we here….an un-ironic, non-isekai, no-nonsense Euro-style medieval fantasy epic? Welcome to Hortensia Saga, which plunges us right into the thick of an attempted coup…what odd timing

One of the king’s loyalist retainers transforms into a giant werewolf and kills him right before his daughter’s eyes, and then goes on to kill one of his baddest-ass knights, Fernando Ober (or Albert, depending on the subs).

The late Fernando’s brother Maurice Bauldelaire (Hi, Tsuda Kenjirou!) arrives at the Ober estate to tell his nephew Alfred the news that his father is dead, making Alfred the new Lord of Ober.

Maurice also rescued the adorable Princess Mariel, who cut her hair short and poses as a young lad named Marius whom Alfred takes under his wing as his squire. That’s fine with Mariel, who wants to become stronger so she can protect those she cares about.

Marius and Lord Alfred were brought together by shared tragedy and grief and become fast friends. If Alfred is aware Marius is actually a princess in disguise, he never mentions it, even after four years pass and she becomes his trusty squire. That’s a helluva time jump, and I kinda wish a little more time was spent on developing their friendship, but alas, this saga has a lot of ground to cover.

In those four years both were trained by Maurice and feel ready for their first real battle against the forces of Camelia (the retainers who betrayed the Hortensian crown). It doesn’t go particularly great, as their allies were pre-slaughtered and both youngins have to be saved by Maurice, but the two had each other’s backs, didn’t give up, and escaped with their lives, so call it a learning experience.

Marius is sufficiently injured that she doesn’t wake up for days, but when she does, Ober’s maid Nonnoria (Ueda Reina, pushing a bit too hard) is there to welcome her back to the land of the awake.

Marius joins a discouraged Alfred at his family grave where they met four years ago, Alfred declares his resolve to become much stronger, and Marius declares she’ll become stronger right beside him. The one thing they can’t do is give up hope. Little does Al know his squire is a girl and the heir to the kingdom he serves!

I was ready to pass on Hortensia when its opening sequence involved a hefty helping of lazy CGI extras, and featured characters who weren’t that much better designed or animated. If you’re going to go as arrow-straight with your milieu as this, you’d better bring it with the execution.

What actually kept me watching was the voice acting of Horie Yui and Hosoya Yoshimasa, two seiyuu I admire but haven’t seen in a lot of leading roles of late. Their work elevates a classic but bland premise, a rushed narrative, and merely serviceable production values. I’m putting this in my “maybe” pile for this season.

Re: Zero – 39 – Two Clowns at the Mercy of Fate

As with NeverlandRe:Zero’s second season picks up right where it left off when we last tuned in: with Otto administering some tough love on Subaru, who ultimately aceepts the merchant’s offer of help. His confidence and that wry glint in his eye restored, Subaru marches into Roswaal’s room and makes a bet: he’ll save everyone in the sanctuary and mansion without sacrificing anyone, all without resorting to Return by Death.

Roswaal notably doesn’t smile throughout this entire exchange until Subaru makes his resolve plain (and acknowledges the greed inherent in his plan), and Roswaal accepts the bet. Otto wonders if it’s simply because Rosy has never lost a bet. But like, er, an angry mob storming the U.S. Capitol to hijack democracy, there’s a first time for everything, and if all goes according to plan, Roswaal may find himself on the losing end of a bet for the first time.

Subaru isn’t going to rely only on himself to save everyone, but instead rely on and put his trust in his friends and allies. Otto got things started, but he alone won’t be enough. Ram seems intent on remaining on Roswaal’s side, though out of deference to their unspoken friendship she does give Subaru a key clue: that Emilia hasn’t figured out why she’s struggling in the trial, and won’t be able to pass until she does.

Subaru also visits Ryuzu for help, and learns that the Ryuzu he’s speaking to is one of three “supervisors” of the crystal, among the first four copies. Shima was once the fourth, but was relieved of her duties for her role in rescuing Garfiel from the graveyard when he attempted the trials. Thus Subie learns that a big part of why Gar is against the barrier falling is due to the fact his mother abandoned him and Frederica and “chose the outside.”

Emilia is exhausted when Subie visits her and asks her directly to tell him about the trial so far. He doesn’t promise she’ll feel better for telling him, but wants to share the burden of worry with her. She mentions how she was once frozen in ice (as we saw in the Frozen Bonds OVA), suddenly remembers her mother, then recalls a deal she made with Roswaal: if she won the Royal Selection, he would thaw the forest where her folks remained frozen.

Emilia feels she should be ashamed to seek the throne for such “personal reasons”, but our boy Subie can relate, to say the least, and assures her that wanting to help people is noble no matter how small the number. With Subie offering his unconditional trust and support, and helping her take the first step to resolving her trial stalemate, Emilia is able to finally fall sleep.

Unfortunately Emilia doesn’t awaken as peacefully as she falls asleep, as she sees a fuzzy memory of when she was a small child being separated from her mother before waking up in tears. Subaru took the step of pretending to try to harm Emilia so Puck would finally emerge in corporeal form, and he’s there when Emilia awakens.

Her elation is short-lived, as Puck is tiny—able to fit in the palm of her hand—and also has some sad news: he’s decided to break their contract, first forged when she was in dire need of protection from the arbiter Melakeura back in Frozen Bonds.

There are two primary reasons for this: first, the contract is blocking memories essential for Emilia to continue with the trial (and, incidently, life). Second, Puck is confident he can entrust his daughter to the one whose love for her is second only to his own: Natsuki Subaru.

That night, Emilia takes Subaru’s hand and asks him to stay with her throughout the night. With the seal on her memories broken, it will be a long and painful one. In one new memory, Emilia is being embraced by someone she calls Mother Fortuna, telling her that “all the people who told you ‘that kind lie’ wanted to protect her.”

Emilia wakes up, calls Fortuna a liar, calls Puck a liar, and when she sees Subaru isn’t there, calls him a liar. But I imagine Subaru had to leave her bedside to begin implementing all the various conspiracies he’s arranged with Otto. That morning, Emilia is missing, and Ram and Garfiel lead the search, but Subie already knows where she is: in the Graveyard. He sits beside her with an open ear and open heart, ready to help her get through this.

Re:Zero Season 2 Part 2 isn’t messing around. The witch’s tea party is over, as is Subaru’s crisis of confidence and competence, and oh yeah, Puck’s gone, just like that! It’s far more development than I expected, and with Emilia’s memory block finally lifted, her trial can proceed with the aim of raising the barrier on the Sanctuary. Takahashi Rie does some of her most beautiful and vulnerable voice work, and I expect we’ll get more of it.

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.