Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 04 – Fly Me to the Moon

With Lev being told Irina will launch in three weeks and her finally trying on a real spacesuit, shit is starting to get very real. If the higher-ups are to be believed, she may not live a long life even if the launch is successful, but Irina doesn’t seem to mind at all, and continues going through the training with nary a complaint (though she does remark that the suit is really heavy).

While Irina is changing out of her sweaty clothes into a fresh jumpsuit, Lev encounters Rosa in the hallway. Rosa is, so far, a completely one-dimensional racist bitch who is a waste of time. But when she lays into Irina to Lev, Irina overhears, and bids that Rosa say what she wants to say to her face. Rosa slinks off, warning Lev not to get his blood sucked. Even though, if we’re honest, it’s Rosa who sucks here!

When Lev and Irina get some free time before she has to enter an anechoic chamber (where you can indeed go mad quite quickly listening to nothing but your body make noises), Irina kinda prods Lev into taking her to a jazz bar. She gets some soda water, natch, but one sip of Lev’s dark red concoction has her slightly tipsy. No matter; she’s never heard jazz before, and she quite likes it.

Later that night Lev and Irina head out to a frozen lake to skate. While last week’s animation really shined with the airplane ride and skydiving, here Irina performs an elegant performance while an insert song plays. It’s really quite something to behold, and the latest demonstration of why Lev should really try to prevent her from being “disposed of” if he can.

Irina and Lev have never been closer. He tells her how he’s wanted to go to the moon since he was five; she told him how her parents were burned alive while she watched…pretty standard date stuff!

As for the whole post-launch disposal thing, Irina volunteered to be a test subject because it meant she would be going to space, and possibly the moon, before the humans defiled it. Even if the Zirnitrans off her afterweards, they can never take away the fact that she danced among the starts before they did.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 04 – Chestnut Pudding

First of all, a ghost haunting the konbini Miko frequents adding three percent tax to the items the living cashier is ringing up, and Miko’s dry observation of it, got a huge laugh out of me. I just loved the creepy, absurd, yet mundane nature of it.

You’d think Miko would want to watch something, anything other than paranormal TV shows, but either she’s being a good big sis by watching with her little brother Kyousuke, or she genuinely likes ghost stories…she just doesn’t like being able to see said ghosts.

Something spooks Miko into going to the nearest vending machine, where she finds tiny little spirits when she drops her 500-yen coin. Oddly charmed by these bitty, seemingly harmless little guys, she follows one as he skitters away, only to end up in an alley with a giant ghost who eats the little ones like a snack. When she tries and fails to pick up the coin, a crow bails her out by stealing it.

Mieruko-chan once again proves its horror movie bona fides by giving us the classic situation of being visited by a ghost in one’s most vulnerable state: while naked in the bath. This is apparently the first time it’s happening to Miko, and she’s genuinely voicing her limits. She thought she could rely on the bathroom for solace, but now that’s no longer true.

This time her savior is Kyousuke. Worried she’s dating some dude (she’s not) wants to get in the bath with her, and she enthusiastically offers to wash his back. If he’s in there with her, the ghost isn’t as scary.

Every morning, Miko tells us she makes a wish to no longer “see them”, but that wish is seemingly ignored day after day, as she’s seemingly seeing more ghosts in more places all the time. She’s not even given a moment’s peace to eat breakfast with her family thanks to ghosts swarming the table and breathing on her food.

Throughout the episode, Miko had been all gung-ho about procuring some chestnut pudding. In addition to sounding freakin’ delicious (seriously, I need to find a recipe and make some if I can’t find some at the Japanese grocery store), I figured it was one small way Miko copes with her ghost sightings.

Then the episode throws us a twist by showing that the chestnut pudding has special significance: it’s not for her, but as an offering for her dad…who was dead all along! It’s a hell of a twist that builds on the fact Miko can see more than the ugly invasive ghosts, but ordinary ones too.

The post-credits sequence is a replay of the first segment in which Miko was watching TV with Kyousuke, only this time we see what Miko saw, and why that shampoo commercial freaked her out enough to go out for drinks.

This episode really accentuated the sheer weight of Miko’s ESP, and how it’s adversely affecting her sleep, behavior, and appetite. Could the new character who’ll (finally) be formally introduced next week, be a fellow “seer” who might have some tips for Miko finding some relief? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 15 – Sisters Big and Small

As the seasonal rains soak Dedoldia Village, Rudy and Mushoku Tensei get his pervy antics out of the way quickly, with Gyes warning Rudy he’ll kill him if he messes with his daughter Tona. Rudy is either off to the side or in the background of this whole episode. Instead, it’s an almost wholly Eris episode, one I’ve been looking forward to and one that does not disappoint.

Eris, now and forever the true MVP of Mushoku, really gets to shine as she takes a shine to Tona and her friend Tersena. While a noble only child, you can tell Eris just fits better in this kind of environment. She quickly adopts the adorable local dress (the wardrobe design is strong as usual on this show), and looks after the beastgirls as her younger sisters.

But when the subject of Ghislaine comes up, Gyes’ mood suddenly darkens, and he dismisses her as a “disgrace” who betrayed the village by shirking her duty, and expected her to be dead in a ditch. Eris doesn’t care how big and strong Gyes is, she will not let that slander of her master, friend, and surrogate big sister stand, and lets Gyes have it. Rudy confirms to Gyes that Ghislaine indeed became a far more admirable person than the sis he knew.

As you’d expect, Tona and Tersena are eager to learn more about the kind, strong Ghislaine who taught Eris everything she knows and was always there to save her…not to mention helped her develop her rock-hard abs. Tona, who has always hated her father’s insistence on her sword training, changes her tune when Eris offers to teach her the way Ghislaine taught her.

There’s a beautiful poetry to an outsider and the student of Ghislaine, all but disowned by his big brother, finally getting his daughter excited about swordsmanship. Eris is no easier on Tona than Ghislaine was on her, but there’s still that underlying care, affection, and kindness in the way Eris always helps Tona up after besting her. Two weeks pass and the tough training pays off, with Tona showing marked improvement and ferocity.

The three girls also continue to grow closer as friends and surrogate sisters, until word comes that the rains will soon subside and Eris and her party will be on their way. Tona doesn’t want Eris to go, but Eris says she has a home to go to. Tona reacts by lashing out at Eris, who understandably holds back. That night, Gyes tells a sulking Tona how he doesn’t feel great about how he and Ghislaine parted ways, and doesn’t want her and Eris to go through the same.

Rudy wisely takes the Sacred Beast for a walk to get out of the way so Tona, with Tersena as moral support, approaches Eris and apologizes. The girls make up, and spend their last night together having fun and laughing. There’s so much love and strength in these scenes, especially when you remember what they’ve all been through, with Eris so far from the only home she ever knew and the beastgirls narrowly escaping slavery and death.

After a tearful goodbye to her new sisters, Eris indulges Gyes’ request to spar, so he can get a taste of how Ghislaine now fights through her student. It’s an unexpected but welcome and very awesome demonstration of how far Eris has come, even though she narrowly loses.

Of course we, like Rudy, didn’t get a great look at what actually happened, just Eris cursing when it did. Still, losing to Ghislain’s big brother is nothing to be ashamed of, and she isn’t—instead, she’s motivated to beat him when she inevitably returns to the village.

As they’re departing the village, Geese hops aboard the wagon and joins the party, at least as far as the Holy Country of Millis. On the way, the party passes a memorial to the Seven Great Powers, the legendary strongest fighters in the world, with whom even Ruijerd says he might have trouble.

The fact Rudy is committed to avoiding such dangerous people by “living quietly” almost assures that they’ll run into at least one of these Powers, and possibly more. Whether they’re friend and/or foe will be fun to discover, hard as it will be to top this week’s wonderful Eris-centric story.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 12 – All Dogs Go to the Dark Realm

This fun grab-bag of Jahy-sama situations begins with the most Wile E. Coyote-ish: Jahy finding a big mana crystal but assuming it’s a Magical Girl trap. While she analyzes all the ways she could be done in, the manager shows up and prepares to pick it up.

That’s when we see how much living among humans has made Jahy a better person: she dives at the rock to save the manager at the potential cost of her own life. She was scared to grab it before, but when her friend is in danger, she didn’t hesitate.

That acquired Jahy-sama goodness shows up again when she’s surveying the upgraded playground. While she’s trying to focus on looking for crystals, she can’t help but think of how to make Kokoro happy by going on the slide, the wobbly bridge (a favorite of wee me) or picking a flower for her. Then she spots Kokoro being accosted by two men, and again springs into action.

Turns out one of the men was just helping her up after she tripped, and Jahy committed unnecessary assault. When she spots the police, she runs for it, as she abhors any authority other than her own, and the police, with nothing better to do, give chase. Jahy ends up back at the station for questioning. Perhaps she shouldn’t have kicked that guy, but in the heat of the moment she put her beloved Kokoro’s safety first, so I can’t fault her.

Our next segment is another welcome Saurva-centric one. This time she’s completed “Woof Woof DX”, a potion that will transform Jahy into a subservient pup and give Saurva the second-in-command mantle she desires above all else.

Making the potion took many sleepless nights, and in her fatigue, Saurva accidentally drinks the potion instead of her matcha, and transforms into the very dog she intended Jahy to become. Not just physically, mind you…but mentally, Saurva starts acting more like a dog, despite herself.

This results in her running around outside instead of staying home and waiting for the potion to wear off. She encounters the white dog who chased her as a human, then encounters Jahy, and learns the unparalleled joys of having your tummy rubbed and playing fetch.

Later, when Dog!Saurva encounters the landlady she fears so much, she recoils, but soon learns the lady’s kinder side, as she leaves her umbrella behind to keep Saurva out of the rain. She concludes that people are nicer to dogs than her, and just when she gets used to the idea of being a dog a little longer, she turns back into a human…a naked human. This begs the question: she were arrested, who would she call?

The final segment post-credits is about the dangers of gambling. Jahy just wants to take Kokoro out for a shopping trip to the mall for snacks, but gets overly competitive over a crane game, and soon spends all of her money trying to get a big bag of snacks that costs far less than she put into the game.

It matters not in the end, as Jahy gets a lucky roll and wins the snacks with her last 100-yen coin. The taste of the steak and strawberry snacks is enhanced by the taste of victory, and having again proven her greatness to her dear Kokoro. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gambler!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

86 – 15 – Tines Falling from a Comb

Shinei’s cordial, by-the-book adjutant is giving him a  report in the hallway of their base when a half-dressed Frederica half-sleepwalks right into Shin and calls him “Kiri”, short for Kiriya, her knight who she believes became a Legion because of her. Once she’s fully awake she’s mortified; a proper lady should never find herself in such a situation.

Of course, when we later learn she’s running around the barracks doing all the odd jobs the soldiers have no time to do, it tracks that she’d be exhausted. Meanwhile, the old Spearhead gang is back, but aside from some momentary cheeriness from Kurena, it’s a particularly dour affair. Frederica chalks it up to them getting worn down by their roles as lackeys of the army.

The start of the episode was the least interesting, with their unit commander Colonel Wenzel trying to make the strategic case for putting the 86 to “proper” use in her new prototype Reginsleifs. She seemingly gets her wish on the eve of a forecasted large-scale Legion attack that Shin knows is far, far larger than the conscientious federacy’s analysts predict.

After the briefing, Shin returns to his quarters to find Frederica there. He prepares coffee as she criticizes how empty his quarters are, comparing them unfavorably to those of Eugene, which she cleaned out after he died. Shin tells her she could have spared herself some pain by never getting to know Eugene, but Frederica doesn’t roll like that.

Some of Misaki Kuno’s best voice work is done as Frederica regales Shinei with the story of the siege that ended the empire, and Kiri’s fall as well. Even so, to her it’s always better to meet, know, love, and remember. If freeing Kiri of the Legion means losing Shinei or anyone else, she won’t have it.

Those connections are what make life living for most people, but Shinei has been living without a single thought about his future for so long, he’s never properly grasped that…until perhaps he met Lena and now Frederica. Just as the Shinei’s resemblance to Kiriya was a catalyst for her getting close to him, Frederica is like a subsitute Lena for Shinei right now, trying to keep him aware of the things in life other than war.

Frederica tells Shinei like Lena did to start thinking about his future; even if it’s just his next leave, that’s a start. As for Raiden, he’s a bit irked that Shinei unilaterally revealed to the military that he can hear the voices of the Legion, something they all agreed to keep secret lest it make things unpleasant for all of them.

Raiden and Shinei don’t feel like friends here, because they’re really more like brothers. Strained brothers, due to Shinei being his usual mostly opaque self and Raiden actually starting to think about a future himself. He’s worried for Shinei like a brother too, not due to the coming Legion threat, but becaue the Giadians are “no saints”.

The credits end with the first Lena sighting in what seems like forever. Whether this harkens a Lena-centric (or even half-Lena) episode next week obviously remains to be seen, but it’s clear the calm before the next coming storm is just about over.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 03 – Wonderful First Time

Lugh’s very first magic lesson with his new mentor Dia goes awry when Dia, unaware of just how much goddamn mana her student possesses, tells him to put as much as he can in one of her family’s Materia-like Fahr Stones. He does so, and it quickly turns into a magical bomb that shatters every window in the Tuatha De mansion. Even so, his parents aren’t angry, they’re proud and excited.

If this were the soul of Rudeus Greyrat, not an old grizzled assassin in Lugh’s body, there might be ample potential for pervy unpleasantness (especially considering Lugh is seven and Dia ten). Fortunately, there’s none of that; even when Dia decides to sleep with Lugh, it’s no big deal. When she teaches him mana conversion for his “first time”, it’s oddly intimate, but ultimately pure.

Another common pitfall for a dynamic like this is to assume that in addition to the young callow student being attracted to his pretty older teacher, the two always have to be bickering or competing. Instead, Lugh and Dia collaborate equally, with Dia bringing her knowledge of the spells of this world to the table and Lugh applying his ability to synthesize his own spells. Together, the two literally make gold out of thin air.

Two weeks pass, and Dia is feeling sad about having to leave, as there’s nothing more she can teach him. So in addition to gifting her with an impossibly sharp beta titanium knife, Lugh earnestly promises her that if she even needs him, he’ll go to where she is without fail. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but lest we forget, they’re probably share a father, and kids always bond faster than adults.

With the pure, charming innocence of Dia departed for her home, Lugh’s dad admits that despite only being seven, Lugh is ready to learn more about the family business. To whit: Lugh takes him to a prison full of death row inmates from around the kingdom who are there for the purposes of experimentation in the service of further honing their assassination skills.

When Lugh asks why his parents didn’t simply raise him to be an unfeeling killing machine, Cian’s answer is both profound and obvious: because while they are assassins (and damned good ones), they’re people, not tools. In contrast to his previous life, Lugh must use his own humanity in addition to knives and guns to optimize his assassination skills.

The final three minutes turn the chipper magical training nature of the epiode to that point on its head, as Cian orders Lugh to make his first kill. The convict is seemingly scared out of her mind and tearfully begs Lugh not to kill her, but Lugh doesn’t shrink from his duty, lopping off a hand with his own titanium blade and telling her she’ll die a relatively peaceful death.

This draws out the true criminal, who is not scared of dying and curses Lugh to be sent to a hell full of demons. To this, Lugh responds that that might be a nice change of pace next time he dies. This is dark, good stuff. Its consistent, sincere, and serious tone (matching our protagonist’s demeanor without his adult voice intruding upon his new world) more than makes up for its merely adequate visuals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

Memenpu takes to the untamed Labyrinth like a fish to water, locking Gagumber out of the controls so she can try her hand at salvaging crystals to exchange for money. But while following the routes of the map jewel and taking some more perilous shortcuts pays off, her natural talents, intellect, and guile, if untempered by experience, could quickly spell the end of her.

Despite basically watching her best friend Lynda die, Memenpu doesn’t seem to be showing the Labyrinth the proper respect. She insists She’s Got This, and while Gagumber is initially willing to indulge her, when increasingly strong, mysterious earthquakes rend the aptly named base camp “Troll’s Palm”, playing it safe and getting some rest are the order of the day.

As a former elite Marker, Gagumber is someone Memenpu should really be listening to and trying to emulate, as the fact he’s still there annoying her is proof he knows what it takes to survive in the Labyrinth, a place whose beauty can lull you into a dangerous false sense of security or comfort. Memenpu literally leaps down a freshly-created crevice and lands on her inflatable goat doll in a dark frozen cavern.

She should be scared, all alone down there with no backup and no idea what lurks in the shadows. When those whats start lurking, shining their many red eyes at her, and then chasing her, Memenpu probably wishes she’d gotten a little more rest so she could run a little faster. The swarm of horseshoe crab-like creatures don’t care how smart she is, or how badly she wants to reach the “Dream Place.” They just want dinner.

It’s in Memenpu’s most dire hour of need, holed up in a cargo container the creatures are slowly but surely smashing into, that she finally calls out for her dad to rescue her. Thankfully, he does, even if it strains credulity a bit that he was able to find her in the nick of time. Suffice it to say, Memenpu needs Gagumber here in the Labyrinth, even if she didn’t in Pinyin.

At the same time, Gagumber needs Memenpu too, at least if they’re going to reach their destination, they’re going to have to take the occasional calculated risks or unorthodox routes. Their latest one ends with them parachute-dropping before Jolly Jolly Base Camp, where a debonair mad sips tea, nibbles cookies, follows up his earnest praise for the father-daughter pair with what sounds like a threat…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 16 – Can’t help but relate

I’ve never disliked Haebaru Chiyu. When she first showed up at Gama Gama, it was clear she was trying her hardest to excel in what was established to be a very exclusive industry. Nor did I ever particularly side with Kukuru in their many spats; Chiyu is absolutely right that Kukuru was, in many ways, spoiled and privileged by being the granddaughter of a aquarium legend.

But this is the episode where my feelings about Haebaru Chiyu shifted from mere understanding to affection. Because, you see, all along, Chiyu has been busting her ass at both Gama Gama and Tingaara…she’s been doing that while being a single goddamn mom. When the attendant team has to take on overnight shifts for a pregnant penguin, she can’t do it, because she’s got a damn son named Shizuku.

They say context is king, and all along Kukuru has had it all wrong. Chiyu isn’t simply some arrogant go-getter looking down on her, she’s a desperate mother trying to balance her lifelong passion of marine life with ensuring her child has sufficient attention. That’s why, when Kukuru takes the shifts Chiyu would have had, Chiyu gets extremely upset with her. When Chiyu yells “I want to work too!”, I teared up, because I knew she was being brutally honest.

Once Kukuru learns Chiyu’s deal, she’s understandably, as she puts it, “torn”. Here she was, hating on Chiyu for being so ambitious and imperious, but all along, Chiyu had this whole other life completely outside the aquarium. It makes Kukuru want to try to experience something like what it means to be responsible for another human life. So she asks the vet Takeshita (who has also joined Tingaara) if she can babysit her son.

Fuuka, ever the peacemaker and moderator, pays Chiyu a visit at her home, and learns from Chiyu the strife she experienced. She was once married, but when she first tried to balance having a kid and working at an aquarium, she was eventually fired and her husband left her. Considering all that happened to her, it’s not surprising she’d want to keep her parenthood a secret at Tingaara. But Fuuka says there’s no need for that, nor is there any need to scorn Kukuru or Gama Gama.

After all, rather than press forward with her shallow hatred of Chiyu, Kukuru committed to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be mother. Takeshita’s little boy never stops crying for the half-day Kukuru is taking care of him, and nothing she does can calm him until his mama comes home. Even so, Kukuru feels she’s learned something precious about loving all living things—including little humans—as her gramps wanted.

Last week, Kukuru reached  détente with Kaoru, and I said it was fine if she couldn’t do the same with everyone she butted heads with, most of all Chiyu. But leave it to Aquatope to find a way for even Kukuru and Chiyu to drop their antagonist act and admit that they do in fact share common ground, namely a love of aquariums and a desire to protect the life within them.

When the penguin’s egg finally hatches and brings forth a new life, Kukuru, Chiyu, and her son Shizuku are all embracing, rapt by the awe of watching a new life enter the world. Shizuku did her due diligence to understand Chiyu better, and in return, Chiyu opened up to Kukuru and her other Tingaara co-workers about the fact that she’s a kickass single mom. Character growth all around!

Komi Can’t Communicate – 01 (First Impressions) – [……hic……]

Komi Can’t Communicate is a dazzlingly fresh and new high school comedy in the best tradition Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Instead of two hyperachievers, we have the Most Ordinary Kid Ever in Tadano Hitohito and the Class Princess Komi Shouko, who is so popular in her class that nobody realizes she never talks.

Nobody, that is, except for Tadano, who ends up sitting next to Komi in class, and is knocked out during what must be ordinary break time class horseplay. Komi ditches gym in order to stay beside him until he comes to, which occurs just as she meows to her black cat doll. In what is a pretty fun habit, Komi ends up dashing away at top speed.

But Tadano alone, ordinary kid that he is, comes out and asks Komi if she has trouble communicating. Komi, amazed with his insight despite how blatantly obvious it is, wants to respond verbally, but gets simply too nervous and self-conscious.

But give her some chalk, and she’ll fill a chalkboard with her thoughts. Tanado joins in, and a silent conversation ensues that’s thrilling in its presentation (and ASMR cred!) and ends with Tadano saying he’ll be her first friend and help her get 99 more.

I freakin’ loved this show, and if you have Netflix, you should check it out. It’s a thing of astonishing beauty and quirkiness. The episode drops a bombshell by indicating that making 99 friends is not going to be easy in a school that’s apparently full of unique weirdos, which I guess actually makes Tadano special, since he’s the only “normal” one.

But that’s the fallacy of his assumption of ordinariness: if it were so ordinary to empathize with and reach out to someone struggling to communicate, maybe she wouldn’t have this problem. But in a school of kids either gawking or being gawked at, Tadano actually observed his desk neighbor’s issue and offered to help. This looks to be something special.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 03 – Off the Path of Blood, On the Path of…COOKIEEES!!!

This week’s Shin no Nakama takes place entirely in the present day, but it doesn’t get off to a strong start when Red (and the camera) gazes a bit too long on Rit’s bazongas spilling forth from her ‘jammies. I mean for real, I thought my player had frozen! Fortunately, the rest of the episode is a lot less leery.

I have a bit of a problem with how easily Red ended up living with a literal warrior princess who has basically already made it quite clear she loves the guy. Heck, you can love whoever you want for whatever reason, but Red didn’t really do anything to engender such undying love from Rit. The flashback ep help explain their friendship, but not their sudden fauxmance.

Despite this, I can’t help but love watching these too together. Whether Red is helping Tanta’s friend Al after a bullying incident, to simple scenes of Red and Rit having meals or enjoying his new nutritional biscuits, the two just work well together. There’s a difference between their mutual bashfulness around each other and outright pretending they don’t feel something for one another. Shin no Nakama exploits that intermediate space with aplomb.

Other than the morning pop-out, the episode doesn’t go in lame or predictable directions like Rit being awful at tending a shop (or cooking), or Red being pervy. Instead, when he lifts Rit up and spins her around, there’s a genuine innocence to it, along with unbridled joy. And Rit is just as happy to be spun as Red is to spin her. No sudden pull-back shots of the exterior where we hear a scream and a slap!

Also interesting is the brief but increasingly consequential cutaways to the Hero’s Party. As I suspected, the big dude and the knight dudette aren’t happy Ares unilaterally banished Gideon, and when the big dude decides he’s going to go off to find Gideon, he gets Ruti’s blessing. I’m glad the party isn’t just falling into lockstep behind Ares’ conniving, but I also don’t need Red returning to the party. I’m here for the slow life!

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars