The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 07 – Sonny Girl

Naofumi’s arrival in another another world doesn’t turn out at all like I’d thought. Instead of being a fish out of water in Glass & Co’s backyard, he ends up in a prison with just Rishia. Both their levels have been reset to 1. Later, Raphtalia jumps out of a pile of hay, revealing that she’s reverted to her previous smaller self. The three may have been tanks in their isekai, but this place seems to follow an entirely different set of rules.

That said, the cell they’re in is unlocked and they still have their weapons (Raph’s sword is way too heavy for her), so they start exploring. They soon find a portal of light that takes them to an isolated island. The sea stretches to the horizon, where it glitches in and out. Instead they head into the jungle, where they slowly start to level up by defeating easy lesser monsters. There’s a refreshing feeling to this, like just starting out on a new JPRG.

When they find a body of fresh water and are attacked by a kappa that’s way too strong for any of them, it looks like they’re about to suffer an ignominious defeat and end up God-knows-where, but they’re saved, by none other than the “Hunting” Hero, Kazayama Kizuna. She’s voiced by Tomita Miyu, who along with Penkin makes this a welcome Abyss reunion.

Before Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia arrived, Kizuna was all alone in this place, which she calls the Infinite Labyrinth. She says she was trapped there by a hostile country, and has long since lost count of how many years it’s been. At one point she even considered suicide, but that was long enough ago that she can talk about it in a cheerful tone. For someone who’s been a alone so long, she’s remarkably well-adjusted and “normal”.

Naofumi proceeds to make an absolute mockery of the untold years she spent here, as the moment she shows them what she believes to be the edge of the Labyrinth, he comes up with a plan to bust them all out. He has her cultivate a Bio Plant Seed, which he then detonates right next to the portal none of them can move through.

The plant starts to grow, and with it the portal grows. I suppose this has the effect of thinning out whatever barrier kept them out of it, because once it reaches a certain size everyone is able to go through it. Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia call out to Kizuna to come with them, and she snags them with her fishing wire, hitching a ride through the infinite.

The four are spat out in a place Kizuna recognizes as the world where she was originally summoned, and as soon as she realizes she’s finally free of the Labyrinth, she leaps on Naofumi and spins around in giddy elation.

While the Labyrinth crisis was solved way too quickly and easily, I still enjoyed this trippy, slightly unnerving, yet fun bridge between the Tortoise arc and whatever’s to come. Similarly, while Kizuna was rapidly introduced and had to spout a lot of exposition (much of it rendered moot by their escape) Tomita made her effortlessly charming and rootable throughout.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 06 – Blessed Are the Weak

Just when this second season of Shield Hero was flagging and reminding me of another series that crashed and burned in its second season (cough-cough PROMISED NEVERLAND cough), it puts out one hell of an epic mid-cour finale. A lot is owed to the persistent mugging of Mid-Big Bad Kyou Ethnina, whom I thought was pretty generic at first—and kinda remains throughout—but there’s such a goshdarn charisma to him. Dude just loves being evil as shit and does not care.

Another welcome addition to an already packed stage? Queen Fitoria, AKA Tange Sakura in giant regal bird form, arriving in the nick of time to press the fight against the regenerated Spirit Tortoise. Through Filo, she tells Naofumi and the others to destroy the heart while she destroys the head. If they do it at the same time, the shield around the core will fall and it will be Bye-Bye Tortoise.

It’s a simple plan, but our boy Kyou isn’t about to let them pull it off without resistance. When Ost tries to open a way to the heart, Kyou stops them, and it’s a testament to his arrogance that he doesn’t bat an eyelash even when his fellow heroes from another world show up, having come up empty in finding the real heart, poised to team up with Naofumi’s party.

While L’Arc, Therese and Glass are deferent to their Vassal Weapons, Kyou treats his book like he stole it (which may be he did?). He doesn’t worry about being vastly outnumbered because he has the power of his book and the Tortoise and the other three heroes he captured at his disposal. With that power, he casts a supergravity spell that presses everyone to the ground. But as he gloats and stomps on Naofumi’s head, the seething magma within Rishia’s timid exterior finally erupts.

Rishia alone is able to rise to her feet and walk towards Kyou, mastering her ki manipulation just as her sensei knew she could. When her goofy bird costume gets burned away, she burst forth from the flames a dazzlingly cool avenging knight, taking the fight directly to Kyou embracing her weakness while exposing his, and then breaking the heroes free (though it must be noted they remain unconscious while Rishia does all this cool stuff).

Crucially, Rishia’s unexpected outburst buys the others time to move. Ost bestows the power of the Spirit Tortoise in Naofumi’s shield, allowing him to cast the all-powerful All Liberation Aura, freeing everyone from the gravity spell. Filo joins L’Arc & Co. to destroy the heart, while Naofumi prepares to use his Evil Shield, and the cost that comes with it. Ost repeats her wish for Naofumi to kill her…

A multi-cast spell, the destruction of the primary shield and the creation of an emergency backup shield later, and Naofumi can’t bring himself to summon any anger or hatred for Ost. But she played a little trick on him, already having embued and now fully awakening the Tortoise power within his shield. As the emergency shield and core are blasted away, Ost collapses, but the threat of the Tortoise is neutralized, and the lands are safe.

At this defeat, Kyou simply shrugs, as he’s kept “the bare minimum” of souls he collected within a vial that he uses to open a portal back to his home world. He tells Naofumi and Rishia “smell ya later” and hops. in. Ost, fading fast, tells Naofumi the Tortoise shield was only unlocked because he wasn’t swallowed up by rage or sorrow. He won’t have to use the evil shield anymore.

L’Arc, Therese, and Glass hop into the portal to chase after Kyou, but when Naofumi tries to follow, he’s stopped by “game rules” that say Cardinal Heroes can’t invade other worlds. However, Ost gives him one last boon by granting permission to go through the portal to help the others. Perhaps out of habit, Naofumi calls for Raphtalia and Filo to join him and tells Rishia to stay behind with Itsuki, but again she refuses.

She’s on the Shield Hero’s party now; they’re her comrades, and her rightful place is through the portal with them. Just like that, Naofumi has left one otherworld and is bound for another. It’s an unexpected but intriguing development here at the halfway point, and this episode just singlehandedly salvaged the season.

Summertime Render – 04 – Ushio Deux

Last week Shinpei encountered Ushio on the beach, dramatically backlit by the festival fireworks. But it’s only this week that she says anything, and actually tackles Shinpei. Nagase Anna has such a refreshing voice that’s perfect for Ushio: crisp, clear, and full of exuberance.

Considering his previous encounters with doppelgangers of people he knows, Shin is understandably weary, as this Ushio must be a shadow. But she’s different from the others. For one thing, she’s not evil. For another, she doesn’t know she’s a shadow (or what a shadow is). As far as she’s concerned, she’s just Ushio. She wished for Shin to return, and he did, so she wastes no time confessing to him.

Shin still doesn’t fully trust this Ushio, but she’s talking and acting so much like Ushio, it’s a complete trip. When she runs off and joins the festival—still in her swimsuit—he chases her down, takes her to a quiet storage area and insists she stay put, lest someone see her and wig out. Incidentally, the only person we see spot her is Shadow Mio.

Shinpei gets back to the gang in time to join Tokiko in witnesseing Seidou totally crashing and burning in his sudden confession to Mio. Tokiko knows full well who Mio really loves, and that her brother is doomed to fail. Mio friendzones Seidou so fast his head spins.

That’s when he’s comforted…not by Shin or Toki, but but someone wearing a magical girl mask. Everyone instantly recognizes Ushio’s voice, and thus she’s found out even faster than Seidou was rejected by Mio. But when Mio sees Ushio, she naturally wigs out…because this Ushio is a monster…or is she?

For the moment, no; Ushio remains a compelling enigma: a shadow somehow gone wrong. When Shin first takes hold of her, I assumed he was going to scold her or lead her back to her hiding spot. But then he grabs her so hard it hurts her, and even causes her to bleed, and that’s when the shoe drops: this isn’t Shinpei.

But wait, when Shin returned, Mio said the code word and he gave the right response, right? Right; but as we see, Shin is jumped by Shadow Mio on his way back to his friends, and Shadow Shin updates his memories. Not only does he know his code with Mio, but now the shadows know he’s experiencing time loops. Shadow Shin’s solution to that? Don’t kill him…at least not until “everything is done”.

Shadow Mio obeys Shadow Shin, who heads to Shin’s friends. Regular Shin may be badly hurt, but even when Mio breaks his arm, he keeps trying to crawl to the real Mio to keep his promise to protect her. Shadow Mio is about to break his leg as well when her head is blown off by two shotgun blasts from none other than the woman on the Ferry.

The engaging mystery of “New Ushio” and her lived-in rapport with Shin combined with the added suspense and peril of the evil shadows and one hell of a switcheroo return Summertime Render to rare rating air.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 05 – The Ost With the Most

Berg, Therese, and New-Look Glass are not in the bowels of the Spirit Tortoise to fight the Shield Hero and his party. No, they’re there to deal with one of their own: a fourth Hero from their world who is only causing shit for his own personal gain. Berg proposes a truce and team-up; Naofumi refuses, but says if they don’t want to fight, they can do whatever else they want.

Just like that, they part ways, even though both parties are looking for the Tortoise’s heart. Instead, Naofumi & Co. come upon a dragon hourglass. Ost recalls that it’s used to indicate how many souls the Tortoise has consumed and converted into the power that would create a barrier against the Waves. Berg & Co. seemingly find the real heart first.

Naofumi’s party soon finds what they believe to be the heart, but encounter the fourth Hero from Glass’s world, who clearly matriculated at Generic Anime Bad Guy U. Long, wild gray hair, glasses, a quasi-military uniform, and a devil-may-care attitude…he sucks, and I just want to punch him. But he is the wielder of the Book vassal weapon, and even Ost’s attacks go right through him.

When this guy doesn’t heed Naofumi’s order to release control of the Tortoise and give back the souls he stole, he lets the heart’s defense system kick in, forcing Naofumi to protect everyone with his Meteor Shield. Filo and Raph fan out and attack the heart, but as they do, they cause Ost to cry out in pain, and she eventually passes out.

This whole time inside the body of the Tortoise, Ost has been doing some serious soul-searching. Once her existence was so simple: collect souls with the greater good of protecting the world from Waves. But then why does she empathize and feel with the people whose souls she’s supposedly designed to take?

The answer, it would seem, is that she isn’t really the Tortoise’s familiar. Even with the Tortoise’s head and heart destroyed, she remains, and opens a path to its deepest depths.

The Book Wielder is there, annoyed they’ve made it this far, and reveals that Ost could be more accurately described as the Spirit Tortoise itself. She is its very core, which means if Naofumi & Co. are to succeed, they must kill her…which is exactly what she asked them to do when they first met.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki Dropped

After three episodes and some careful consideration, I’ve decided not to continue with Kunoichi Tsubaki no Mune no Uchi. While it featured some lovely sisterly camaraderie and genuinely kick-ass action, the overly-cute Takagi-san style designs are starting to wear thin, and I suspect the “will Tsubaki meet a boy” question will drag on far longer than I’d like…—Preston

Summertime Render – 03 – Mesopotamian Culture

Having watched footage of her own shadow on Shin’s phone, Mio believes the next step should be to help Kobayakawa Shiori. But when Shin goes to Shiori’s house, he finds only piles of black powder where Shiori’s parents once were, and deduces that the Shiori he saw at the funeral was actually her shadow, and the real Shiori is really dead.

After unsuccessful attempts to locate the woman in glasses from the ferry, Shin is heartened that at least the island cop Tetsu survived in this loop. He tells Shin and Mio that a detective from the mainland is on his way to investigate, and also gives Shin Ushio’s phone, saying she said he’d know what to do if he got it…but Shin can’t unlock it.

Shin shares everything he knows so far with his old friend Sou, who believes that since the shadows can be photographed, they are real and thus can be killed like normal people (might be a stretch). Mio thinks they should go to Hiruko (like the previous loop) for answers, but knowing what became of Mio there (being killed by her shadow) Shin hesitates at this suggestion.

After getting caught in the rain together, Mio gives Shin Ushio’s shell necklace, just like the previous loop, saying she wishes he’d stay on the island forever. Later, Sou shows up at Shin’s with both Mio and their mutual friend Yukiko in yukata for the annual island festival, which they attend together.

While there, Shin deduces that Sou is harboring a crush on Mio, while Toki asks Shin flat-out about his feelings for Mio. He responds that he of course cares or her…as family. That answer doesn’t seem to make Mio particularly happy, but Shin is distracted by the sudden sight of what looks like Ushio in the festival crowd.

His pursuit leads him to the beach, where he sees an apparent ghost—or possibly the shadow—of Ushio, backlit by the festival fireworks. Shinpei may have survived this loop—so far—but while it has resulted in some answers, a lot more questions have surfaced. At least he’s not alone in being aware of the general situation…but what’s up with this Ushio on the beach, and how can he be certain at this point that his friends Sou and Toki aren’t shadows?

While I’m enjoying the atmosphere and sense of dread lurking just beyond the corner, and the fact Shin and Mio survive to the end of the episode having learned more about the situation, this episode lacked the punch and the drive of the earlier two episodes, and featured some iffy animation to boot. I’m hoping for a rebound next week with the arrival of “Ushio”.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 04 – Part of the Gang

The night after the battle, Rishia tells the rest of the party how she and her parents lived happy unassuming lives as poor nobles until a neighboring noble abducted her as payment for debts unfairly levied against her family. She thought she was a goner, but was rescued by Itsuki, who exposed the evil noble. Ever since, Rishia has vowed to repay the Bow Hero (also, she’s probably in love with the guy…I mean look at that face.)

Naofumi’s party, along with Ost, Eclair, and Elrasla, take it upon themselves to finish off the Spirit Tortoise by traveling onto its headless body and finding its weak spot. On the way, Ost wonders why all of the soldiers are saluting and praising her when she’s technically a servant of the Tortoise. The answer is simple: because she fought alongside them, and saved their lives.

After hours of traveling through dense fog with no weak spots in sight, Naofumi decides to stop and camp for the night. While Raph and Filo sleep together, Rishia admits to Ost that she’s a little jealous of their sisterly bond as she was an only child. But throughout the episode and especially here, Ost serves as a big sister figure.

Ost assures Rishia that even though she’s no longer in the Bow Hero’s party—and maybe precisely because she isn’t—she’s able to accomplish something for his sake. The next morning, when they meet up with Queen Mirelia at a village decimated by the Tortoise awakening, Ost provides a soothing presence for Rishia, who is not used to being around such death.

After being comforted by Ost, Rishia pays it forward by telling an also-distraught Raphtalia that she doesn’t have to “get used to” death an destruction. That’s after Mirelia leads Naofumi’s gang to a large dilapidated shrine further within the Tortoise’s back, into which they all brave despite the constant risk of total collapse.

Once there, and there is an ancient language written on the wall to translate, Rishia really comes into her own, both in enthusiasm and competence. Naofumi wonders if from now on she should focus on honing her scholarly skills, but Elrasla tells Naofumi that might yet be a waste of Rishia’s potential, which remains as yet untapped. She then comes upon some writing she can’t ready easily, which Naofumi immediately identifies as Japanese.

Mirelia calls it the “hero’s alphabet”, and while some of it is worn away or obscured, he can make out something about breaking a seventh seal. When the shrine collapses, Ost finally remembers something important: the key to defeating the Tortoise is to travel within its body.

Naofumi prepares to head in with Raph, Filo, and Ost, asking Eclair and Elrasla to keep the armies together should thinkgs go sideways. He’s ready to ask Rishia to stay behind as well, but she refuses: she’s a member of his party; where he goes, she goes.

It’s a brave, bold gesture by someone who, along with Ost, have become my favorite characters in this second season. That said, when she heads into the dark and spooky “large intestine” of the Tortoise, she still needs Ost by her side to keep her wits about her.

That’s when the party suddenly encounters what appear to be three adventurers who claim to have been sent by the queen. Nobody buys that, and when Raph uses anti-mirage magic to nullify their disguises, they’re revealed to be Naofumi’s old pals L’Arc, Therese…and Glass. Now they’re not a trio you come across any ol’ day in a giant turtle colon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 03 – Adversity is the Greatest Uniter

Tsubaki is almost at the end of her kusari-fundo regarding the near-constant bickering between Sazanka and Asagao. That’s when Uikyou and Kikyou, the polar opposite of that pair, show up. Their speech and movements are so in sync, they might well be identical twins. They also offer the secret to getting along in scroll form.

The only catch? The scroll has to be taken from them. Tsubaki makes things interesting by tying Sazanka and Asagao together by the leg so they have no choice but to work together against their far-better coordinated opponents. Uikyou and Kikyou have no trouble slipping out of their grasp and making them look foolish.

Ultimately, Sazanka and Asagao stop arguing and start doing something that will help their odds. That means Sazanka clinging to the larger, stronger Asagao so the latter can move freely without worrying about the rope. Alas, the twins use sleep bell jutsu, and the two have to punch each other to stay awake.

In their dreams, it works, and they manage to defeat the twins. But in reality, they fell asleep despite all the pinching. Nevertheless, the twins report to Tsubaki that they worked hard, and together, while also admitting the scroll containing the secret to getting allong was blank. Ultimately, the only ket to getting along is practice, like any other skill.

In the second half, Hana-senpai is fed up with the girls constantly making fun of men. She cancels classes and announces that there will be a game of tag. She’ll be “it” an will play the role of a male, while anyone she catches will go without dinner. Every girl knows they’re no match for Hana, so the exercise seems to pay immediate dividends.

Hana is able to catch just about every girl, and when an overconfident Benisumomo comes straight at her, she reminds her of the still yawning gap of ability between them. After seeing Beni and Tsubaki fight on pretty much equal ground, Hana is on a totally different level…which makes you wonder why she fears males so much and insists the others do the same.

Whiel Asagao quickly falls victim to an all-too-easy caveman meat trap, Tsubaki has a plan for defeating Hana. It involves Sazanka using transformation jutsu to let Hana’s guard down. When Hana notices Sazanka’s imitation of her fellow teacher Konoha is not quite right, Sazanka is captured by the “real” Konoha…but that’s really Tsubaki in disguise.

Because Tsubaki’s transformation jutsu is far more convincing, Hana speaks to her as if she were speaking to the real Konoha, and lets slip that the men being scary is merely a lie they must uphold at all costs. Tsubaki is so shocked by this she transforms back into her normal form and darts away.

When Hana tries to give chase, her bad back starts barking at her, and the real real Konoha comes to help her. Hana tells her to find Tsubaki, who heard something she shouldn’t have, and is now all mixed up.

Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 03 – Turtle Soup

The time for talk has passed—this episode is all action. The Spirit Tortoise—that is, the somewhat janky CGI Spirit Tortoise—must be stopped, and with an alliance of nations at his back, Naofumi is never going to have a better chance to do it. I have to respect an episode that is devoted to one thing and one thing only: covering the battle from start to (apparent) finish.

That said…deary me…Shield Hero is to be commended for its ambition. The execution, however, is very much a mixed bag. Often times animation is dispensed with in favor of panning stills or, in the case of the masses of soldiers and the tortoise, the aforementioned janky CGI. There’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief in viewing this grab bag of battle visuals.

But if the animation can’t cash all the checks the composition writes, Kevin Penkin sells the hell out of what we get. I can’t stress enough just how important the quality of the soundtrack contributes to a sense of gravitas and awe. That, and seeing Naofumi not only recognized but celebrated by the marching troops is something of a revelation. He’s come a long way, baby.

While things get a little hairy due to the Spirit Tortoise firing a flurry of deadly purple thorns that decimate the allied forces, those forces are still able to stop its advance by taking out one of its legs. The mage corps then pierce the skin of the tortoise’s neck, allowing Raphtalia and Filo to go in there and deliver a devastating combined strike that beheads the beast, which was the whole objective of the operation.

Throughout the battle, Ost selflessly (and awesomely) offers her not inconsiderable magical powers to assist in both offense and defense. But she’s also something of a canary in a coal mine; everyone expected her to disappear when they beheaded the Spirit Tortoise, since she’s it’s familiar and all. But even after the head has been detached, Ost lingers on. While I’m glad she’s not dead, the fact she isn’t means the Tortoise isn’t either. Thus the threat endures.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 02 – Three Dogs, Three Sheep, a Duel and Double Meat

The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen

Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).

You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.

After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.

In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.

While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.

Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.

From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

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