The Eminence in Shadow – 20 (Fin) – Just Getting Started

Before she knew it, Princess Iris, who not only believed she was the strongest fighter in her kingdom, but needed to believe it, was beaten. Mundane Mann’s sword lingered at her throat. He could have taken her life ay any moment, and she knew it. Not taking her life, showing mercy, isn’t what enrages Iris.

It’s when Mann lowers his sword, without even asking if she yields, because something else has gotten his attention. He thinks so little of her as his opponent he can not only turn away, but leave the battlefield. Of course, it’s so Cid can stop Rose from getting herself killed, then face off against an even stronger opponent in Beatrix.

Cid and Beatrix cross blades so quickly as they guide through the rainy sky, they almost look like fireworks. But soon the two-person dance gains a third partner. Iris isn’t done with Shadow; not by a long shot. Unfortunately for her and Beatrix, he is simply in another league when it comes to speed, strength, and precision. He even fights them with his beloved crowbars!

Meanwhile, Rose is free, but asks herself in a dark alley, what now? Alpha appears to give her two options: try to save her kingdom by going it alone, which will almost surely end in failure and death…or join Shadow Garden and prove both she and Oriana are worth saving.

Of all the women Cid has dueled with, Annerose definitely gets off the easiest; she’s a picture of tranquility as Iris and Beatrix throw everything they have at Shadow in the background. Bon Voyage, Annerose!

It takes some sustained futility for Iris and Beatrix to finally agree to work together, which consists of Iris using one of her flashier fire attacks with her enchanted mithril sword—the use of which she earlier agreed is underhanded, but she has no choice.

She aims to stop Shadow even if it costs her her life, but even her best attack doesn’t even hit, nor does Beatrix’s, which she executes after charging up with a cool display of whirling geometric shapes. Iris ends up face down on the ground, and Beatrix soon joins her, Shadow stomping them both into submission.

When Iris tells Shadow that their attack has only been stalling for time, the entire Knight’s Order has mustered, and there’s nowhere for him to run, Cid breaks out his loudest, most drawn-out, supervillainous (excuse me: supereminancious) laugh yet. Run? Run where? Why?

No, Shadow is staying right where he is, because playtime is over. Cid really chews into the clichés here, and just generally has an absolute blast—literally, as he covers the capital in an eerie purple dome, then unleashes I AM ATOMIC as the ultimate battle-ending coup-de-grace.

But—and this is key—this I AM ATOMIC is totally benign; just a glorified puff of smoke that allows him to withdraw of his own accord. When Beatrix and Iris come to, the rain is gone, the sky is clear and blue, and a rainbow arches over them. Beatrix is her usual stoic self, but Iris starts blubbering like a child. I’ll say this for Shadow, she brings out a side of Iris no one else can!

Speaking of women he negatively affected, remember Sherry Barnett? I do! And she makes a quick cameo in the ending minutes of the episode that serve as an epilogue. She’s itching to fight and kill him, while Asshat get scolded by his Cult superior, trying to frame his failure as a positive since it resulted in the destabilization of Oriana.

As for Cid Kagenou, he continues to not be killed by his sister, and is back on the train to the temporary buildings where dark knight academy classes take place until Gamma’s conglomerate rebuilds the academy. The Seven Shades are hard at work both in the shadows and in broad daylight, doing what must be done.

Rose wisely decides to join Shadow Garden, but learns that it won’t be a picnic. After walking dozens of miles, she and Alpha reach the Garden’s secluded headquarters, ancient city of Alexandria, which gives off some serious Nazarick vibes.

There, Alpha hands Rose of to Lambda, who tells her her life and identity up to that point are over and meaningless. With one swipe, Rose’s clothes—and more distressingly, her beloved burger wrapper—are torn to shreds. But before long, “Number 666”, as she has been re-named, will likely have a sleek slime suit of her own—and renewed purpose.

The Eminence in Shadow appropriately and perfectly concludes with its namesake character, once again playing Moonlight Sonata in a dark, dramaticaly lit room filled with drifting feathers. It is only the latest of many carefully-orchestrated “set pieces” Cid is not only fond of, but lives for.

With his army and background influence growing and his enemies sharpening their swords, there’s a ton that could be done in a theoretical second season. If and when that season becomes a reality, I’ll be right there, parked in my comfy Ikea chair, ready to watch Cid act like a endearing goofball and a breathless badass simultaneously. But for now, Eminence goes out on the highest of notes.

The Eminence in Shadow – 19 – Fear Is the Mind-Killer

Prior to her match with Mundane Mann, Iris practices her swordsmanship alone in the dark rain, all the while remembering all the times she was praised and admired throughout her life for her strength and ability. She has been both fueled and burdened by the collective wishes of the people of Midgar: as long as they have her, everything will be fine. She intends to maintain that narrative by beating Mann.

Little does she know that the real Mundane Mann is Claire’s mundane little brother, who happens to know his stuff when it comes to countering the bitterness of coffee. When her honored guest War Goddess Beatrix, the Legentary Swordmaster, arrives, Cid relishes a chance to be a background character, as he and other NPCs visually frame the Beatrix and Iris.

Lord Asshat doesn’t even notice Cid is sitting beside Iris until he shuffles of to the restrooms. He’s too busy helpfully letting us in on his, or rather Diabolos’, plan to use the drugged King of Oriana to assassinate the King of Midgar, throwing both kingdoms into chaos so the cult can swoop in and reign. Beatrix, who has shown she has keen insights, says both Asshat and the king “stink” as they pass by. They do stink!

Asshat is confident Rose will return with her drill tails between her legs out of love for her father. His marriage to her will give his rule legitimacy, while her possessed condition will also make her a prime subject for the cult’s experiments. Only one problem: Rose has been cured of her curse. As she sneaks into the arena, she encounters Diabolos corpses everywhere, along with Shadow Garden. They tell her to move forward “fulfill her mission”, unaware Cid didn’t give her one, confident she’d make the right choices.

I’m glad we got some time inside Iris’ head earlier to show that she isn’t this invincible warrior, like her subjects even her sister believe but someone full of insecurities and fears. It lends necessary context to her duel with Mundane Mann, which is more psychological than anything else. Just a slight movement from Mann causes her to hallucinate that he’s lopped off her head, her arm, or leg.

Ultimately, while she has the potential to be far more than she is, Iris could not unlock that potential against Mann. She still has a long way to go. And as I suspected, unlike Annerose, who took her defeat in stride but thanked Mann for showing her how far she had yet to go, Iris’ loss is devastating as it not only shatters where she thought she was (at or near the top of the pile) but what the people thought of her.

But if Mundane Mann is assassinating Iris’ reputation in the arena, it’s Rose who does the actual assassinating. When she arrives at the boxes where her father and Asshat are, she gives a beautiful and heartbreaking speech about following her own path, even if it means making one more mistake. It even rouses the king into a moment of lucidity, in which he forgives her all her sins.

This, of course, makes her weep, because it means there’s nothing holding her back from Doing What Must Be Done…nothing but her own fear. She lunges at Asshat, who uses the king as a shield (as she likely suspected). His last words are used to tell Rose he loves her. Asshat has now lost the weapon he aimed to use against Midgar, and when Rose puts her blade to her own neck, is about to lose his future wife—and the cult’s newest research subject.

That’s when Mundane Mann crashes through the window to stop Rose, asking her if this is really the choice she’s made. He transforms into Shadow and switches his voice to Shadow Mode, but it’s a third identity Rose immediately recognizes: that of the Stylish Bandit Slayer Rose watched from a shack where she’d been bound by said bandits.

If anything were to return a smile to Rose’s face, it would be the arrival of Cid/Shadow/Stylish Bandit Slayer. And the third one is most definitely her favorite, since he’s the one who inspired her to become a fencer to begin with. In that regard, Cid was influencing the geopolitical landscape of this world before he was even aware of it!

When Rose tells Shadow how she had despaired and tried to take her life because while she had the power to fight, it was still difficult to do so, and the consequences of any actions she might take terrified her. Shadow tells her to raise her head, saying her fight has not yet ended. Rose gets the picture and flees. After defeating all of Asshat’s cult bodyguards, he holds a sword to Asshat’s neck. He calls for backup, but Shadow Garden has taken out all of it.

The only one who answers Asshat’s call for help…is Beatrix. Now, I’m not under any illusions that she gives two shits about Perv Asshat, or either of the two kingdoms he’s planning to screw over. She’s not taking Asshat’s side, and may well not even know what that side is.

No, War Goddess Beatrix answered the call, because after watching how Mundane Man / Shadow defeated Iris, she wants to cross blades with the man herself. She’s a legendary swordmaster, after all—other than finding her niece, finding a strong and worthy opponent and fighting them is all that matters.

The Eminence in Shadow – 18 – Absolute Confidence

As her forced smile at his front door suggested, Claire is not here on a friendly visit. She’s there to choke Cid out on his bed for breaking every one of his promises thus far to hang out with her. She presents an extremely exclusive box ticket to the Bushin Festival, and he’d better be there to watch her fight and win, or he’s a dead little brother.

The ticket gives Cid access to a section where only royalty and nobles sit, including Princess Iris, who is seated right next to him. Cid has succeeded thus far as a background character insomuch as Iris only knows him because he’s Claire’s brother, and Alexia’s friend (though Cid disputes that label). Iris’ lickspittles also look down on Cid as an unexceptional irrelevancy just how he likes it!

While heading to the dressing room for his next match, Cid once again encounters the ethereal Lady Beatrix, who like him has a MgRonald bag. Unlike him, it’s filled with burgers, not his Mundane Mann disguise. While she’s apparently here to find her niece (i.e. Alpha), she’s also powerful wild card in a tinderbox of conflicting political interests.

Speaking of which, Perv Asshat helps himself to Cid’s seat while he’s gone, and Hayami Show does his usual good work making even idle chitchat sound incredibly menacing. When he asks who Iris thinks will win the next match: Annerose or Mundane Mann, she gives Mann one thing: his eyes have the look of absolute confidence, like he sees the path of total victory.

Obviously, we knew Cid was going to mop the floor with Annerose, it was just a matter of how he’d do it and how fast. She actually hangs in there longer than any previous opponent, even with his weighted armguards off. She tries to beat his speed with hers, but finds out his speed is far greater than she imagined. When she tries to get him to charge her so she can counterattack, he simply counters her counter.

After that barnburner of a fight, Iris excuses herself from Perv’s charming presence in order to prepare for her match. Perv tells his attendant to find out everything he can about Mundane Mann, since could well represent an unchecked and troublesome threat to his (and Diabolos’) plans for world domination. Ironically, he rules out Mann’s possible affiliation with Shadow Garden, siting its all-female composition and the lack of any motive for Garden to intervene at the Festival.

This reasoning fails to take into the account that while the Garden may not have any reason to participate, its leader does, since it’s his opportunity to be a more public Eminence in Shadow, and show off moves Lord Shadow never would (since he’s in the shadows). But as Mundane Mann he’s snagged one more admirer in Annerose, who accepts her defeat and thanks him for showing her heights she never knew, which she will now aspire to attain herself.

If Annerose has any other designs on Mr. Mann, she’ll have to get in line. Now that she’s cured of the Curse, Rose prepares to do what must be done to save her kingdom and her people from Asshat’s treachery. She still holds the wrapper of the MgRonald burger Cid gave her as a token of what she now knows to be a doomed love and impossible future with him.

With just two episodes remaining, and Rose, Iris, Beatrix, and however many of the Shades show up later in play, the Bushin Festival final is sure to be one for the ages. I just hope that Perv Asshat is put in his place, the poor king is freed from his mind prison, and Mundane Mann shows Iris what true strength is before peace-ing out!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 17 – Moonlight Oriana

While sneaking away from his sister (by again flying out a window), Cid notices Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata being played in a concert hall. It’s Epsilon at the keys. Like Gamma and Beta, she’s using knowledge from Cid’s world to advance her position in this one. He doesn’t mind, and even compliments her figure, because he loves the Moonlight Sonata. And why the hell wouldn’t he? It’s the perfect theme song for Shadow.

He asks Epsilon about Rose’s whereabouts, but all she knows is that she is in the underground labyrinth. That’s all Cid needs to know. Alexia is already leading Beta down there, the former by now completely unconvinced that “Natsume” is a weakling. Alexia doesn’t know how fortunate she is that Beta is capable, because they’re heading into a totally unknown and potentially fatal situation.

When an exhausted and bloodied Rose catches her breath, we finally see what she encountered when she met with her father and Lord Perv. The king was clearly not in his right mind, and he and all of the assembled nobles and courtiers were under Perv’s control. Rose lashed out with violence, but now regrets that decision as a princess shouldn’t be so reckless and shortsighted (though considering that’s Alexia to a T, maybe they should?)

The nasty wound on Rose’s chest wasn’t caused by her pursuers; rather it is the early effects of possession; before long she’ll be consumed like Alpha & Co. were before they were freed from their curses by Cid. Just as Cid wishes he could have been there to see Rose go all “rock-n-roll”, Rose wishes she could get rid of Perv and his ilk, marry Cid, and live happily ever after. Now she’s not even sure how much longer she’ll live, period.

Throughout her monologue, which is spoken aloud, I kept thinking Cid would emerge from the shadows to tell her he still believes in her, still has her back. Of course that’s ridiculous; Cid would never act like that. Instead of emerging from the shadows, he appears before her in disguise as Shadow, playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano he borrowed from the concert hall. A gorgeous moonlike light suffuses the hall, and thousands of white feathers fall, all adding to the theatricality. Cid is killin’ it here.

Once the sonata ends, he stands up and asks Rose if she’s going to give up or keep going. Rose isn’t sure how. Shadow tells her he’ll give her the power to do anything and everything she needs and wants to do. With few other options, Rose accepts, and Shadow not only extracts the curse, but imbues her with power comparable to the Seven Shades.

Shadow doesn’t stick around, leaving a single black feather on the piano keys, because he doesn’t have to. Diabolos assassins arrive, but the newly supercharged Rose turns them all into red mist with a single slash of her sword. With this power, perhaps she truly can save her father, her kingdom, and all the other nations threatened by the Cult.

When she encounters Alexia and Beta, the former demands to know what’s going on, but Rose won’t tell her. She doesn’t want Alexia to get dragged into it, and telling her will do that. Alexia won’t take no for an answer, and starts a fight with Rose. While she fights better than Rose expected, she’s obviously no match for her.

Rose leaves an unconscious Alexia with Beta, who doesn’t offer any resistance and even expresses her support for Rose’s future ventures. Their alliance may now be shattered, but Beta suspects they’ll meet again. Beta is hardly one to question Lord Shadow’s actions—if he bestowed upon Rose the same power as her and the other Shades, he must’ve had a good reason.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 16 – Gesundheit!

With one third of their alliance suddenly a fugitive, Alexia and Beta ponder what do do about it. Alexia wants to get at it, but Beta warns caution. At this point in their frenemy-ship Alexia can tell Beta is putting on an act, and doesn’t like how Beta is keeping stuff from her. But in the end, Beta is looking out for the headstrong Alexia, not just as a friend, but as Lord Shadow’s Number Two.

While Cid departs from the arena as himself in order to get into character for his match, an elf woman passes by him, and can smell elf on him. She asks if he knows any, particularly one that looks a lot like her. Her name is Beatrix, and she is Alpha’s aunt. But Cid isn’t about to tell a stranger about Alpha’s whereabouts. While likely no match for her niece, Beatrix can handle herself with a sword, but Cid puts on a weak, normal guy act that she buys.

Two warriors who don’t quite buy Mundane Mann’s act are Annerose and Quinton, who compare notes. Quinton admits he hasn’t been able to actually see what Mann is doing to win his battles, only that he knows he’s doing something. Annerose can see, but only for a scant moment.

For instance, in Mann’s fight against the Unbeaten Legend Goldy Gilded, he cracks his neck to avoid a fatal blow and throwing the strutting golden peacock into a rage, promising Mann will never get another chance to beat him. He charges at him again with his ultimate Golden Dragon Sword attack, but Mann sneezes and Goldy is knocked out by his own momentum.

Annerose can’t quite believe what she’s seeing, but also can’t dismiss Mann’s moves as mere luck or coincidence. That said, her running commentary to Quinton is so farfetched that he storms off not believing any of it, and looking forward to his fight with Mann. Left alone, Annerose finally cuts loose a bit, cracking her neck and sneezing in rhythm before realizing she’s practically surrounded by spectators, blushes and flees.

As for Princess Rose stabbing her husband-to-be Perv Asshat, when Princess Iris visits the lord, he seems perfectly fine. Meanwhile, Rose’s father the kind looks very much not fine.

The heavy implication here is that Perv has him on some kind of drugs and/or under some kind of brainwashing or hypnosis. In any case, Lord Perv does not seem like a savory guy, and certainly not someone I’d want someone as awesome as Rose to marry!

Speaking of awesome, Annerose confronts Mann after he easily handles Quinton, to tell him that she’s “seen his evervy move” and warn him that those same moves won’t work against her. She may be several orders of magnitude stronger than Quinton or Goldy, but she’s no Mundane Mann. Still, I love how she basically bluffs in order to try to get something from her next opponent (she has no idea about his true ability).

And it works, kinda! Cid removes his armguards and when he drops them on the ground they’re so heavy they make craters in the concrete. In the funniest moment of the episode, Annerose counterattacks with an adorable neck crack and self-satisfied smile—both of which are met by Cid simply shuffling away. I love how in addition to being stoic as hell, she’s also a delightful goofball. She should have sneezed too!

The fact Perv is uninjured and also seemingly controlling her father tell me that Rose is on the run because she tried and failed to stop Perv from whatever he’s scheming, and Perv framed her for assault, a crime for which even a princess can be severely punished.

As such, she’s on the run. It also tracks that Rose wouldn’t want to burden Alexia and Beta—possibly her first and only friends—with her personal issues, but she should know better. Hopefully she doesn’t have to suffer this ordeal alone for much longer.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 15 – Riding the Wave

One thing that keeps me coming back to Eminence is that it’s just plain fun as hell watching Cid having fun. And with the Sanctuary arc all wrapped up and the Bushin Festival gearing up, he’s having a ton of fun this week in particular.

It’s also fun watching his idea of fun, which isn’t just to sign up for the festival and obliterate everyone. Nah, there’s an order to this, and he wants to build up some mystique. Gamma gives him a new face and identity for this purpose: the on-the-nose “Mundane Mann”.

Between his weak look, wan complexion, poor posture, he becomes an immediate target for stronger fighters to warn him off the festival, starting with the very polite and to-the-point Annerose, one of the favorites to win it all. She tells Cid to back out now to avoid permanent harm.

Cid asks her to kindly not judge a book by its cover, but when a much larger Quinton picks a fight, Cid exercises discipline and doesn’t show his hand. He lets the guy wail on him, which is free marketing for how unlikely a champion this Mundane Mann guy is.

Annerose asks Quinton to stop lest she step in, and apologizes to “Mundane” for letting things get so out of hand. She says it’s better for him to get his ass beat now than enter the Bushin Festival and suffer even greater pain from certain defeat.

But when Cid simply hops back up and strolls away, Annerose is confused; even after being beaten on by that guy for that long, he doesn’t seem hurt at all! It’s a subtle but very effective strategy by Cid to get Annerose thinking maybe there is something to this weakling.

Since Bushin is held in Rose’s hometown, she and Cid end up bumping into each other at a fountain, after Cid has a thorough chat with Skel regarding betting over “Tuna King” burgers. Rose reports that she, Beta (in her alias as Natsume Kafka) and Alexia have become fast friends.

She also says she has a prior engagement: her father is going to introduce her to her fiancé Perv Asshat (what a name). She’s not looking forward to it. But she’s determined to live her live as a dark knight, something she’s always wanted to be since she watched a younger cid fighting those brigands years ago. That’s right: Rose met and fell for Cid far earlier than she realizes—and she wouldn’t be the knight she is without him!

The next day, the preliminary matches begin, and Cid tags along with Skel as the latter continues to bore him with his betting strategies. Skel does end up attracting another fighter, Goldy Gilded, the Ever-Victorious Golden Dragon (Skel murders the name many times.)

Goldy tells Skel that he assesses fighters and assigns a “power level” to each of them. Cid slips away to take a dump, and moments later Mundane Mann arrives. Goldy doesn’t think much of Mundane, giving him a scant 33 versus over 1,300 for his opponent.

And yet, in the blink of an eye, Mundane’s opponent is out cold on the ground and Mundane is the winner, which means he’ll be Goldy’s next opponent. Goldy is confident, and Annerose is intrigued by what she (and likely no one else) saw—Mundane delivering a devastating double punch to the loser’s chin. All of this is just what Cid wants to create more anti-hype with a tinge of mystique.

The next morning, however, Cid’s fun looks destined to be curbed, as Skel bursts in with a newspaper article alleging that Rose stabbed her fiancé and ran off. I don’t think that’s what Cid meant when he suggested that she “relax”! I know Cid is pretty indifferent towards most people, but maybe it’s different with Rose? Will he try to track Rose down in time to make his match with Goldy?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 14 – The Start of a Legend

As soon as Cid opened his right eye at the end of last week’s episode, I knew that playtime would soon be over. Nelson can send his copy of the Great Hero Olivier—heck, he can send dozens of copies—at Cid, but it doesn’t matter. He’s the motherfucking Eminence of Shadow. When Olivier draws too close, he lets her impale him, missing his vitals, then bites her neck , severing a major artery.

The other copies soon fall by Cid’s sword, until he’s stabbed in the heart (and has to move said heart to avoid serious damage) and decides to wrap this up with his Atomic overkill move, which doesn’t just destroy the Olivier copies, Nelson, the sword in the stone, the chains, and the magical core. It obliterates the entire Sanctuary, and floods the city by displacing an entire reservoir’s worth of water. Alexia, Rose and Beta can only watch in awe (and in Beta’s case, knowing pride)

The end of the Sanctuary also spells the end of Aurora, or at least the walking walking memory version of her that befriended Cid. Their goodbye scene is genuinely moving, and even if, say, Aurora’s other name is Diabolos, she hopes that one day Cid will find her—the real her—if only so they can meet and “converse” again.

In the aftermath of their singular experience, Alexia takes the initiative and asks Rose and Beta to join forces with her, for the three of them working together will accomplish more than any of them independently. Of course, she doesn’t know Beta is a high-ranking member of Shadow Garden…but that’s okay! It just means Beta has just made inroads with not one but two prominent royal families.

Time progresses, and Gamma is able to buy up a bunch of property in the Velgalta Empire where she knows petroleum deposits dwell. The seller doesn’t even know what that is, but he will—the whole world will. You could say that while Nelson and his Sanctuary ilk suppressed the world’s technology, Shadow Garden is rapidly bringing it back. We see prototype automobiles and airships in the works.

Alpha looks in on her fellow Shadows with a sense of pride and accomplishment, remembering when it was just a handful of them in a modest Japanese-style house with Cid. And now they’re all poised to turn the wheels of the world from the shadows.

They’ll have another chance to demonstrate their power if they choose at the next tournament in Rose’s neck of the woods. Alexia’s sister will be gunning for them, while Rose appears to have contracted the Curse. There’s a lot to cover in the remaining six episodes.

The Eminence in Shadow – 13 – The Beast Girl, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the white void, Alpha sits back while Delta does her think as the “token musclehead”, rejecting the fact that being closer to the center of the sanctuary makes them weaker and Nelson stronger, donning a skimpy slime bikini, and summoning a gargantuan meat cleaver with which she splats all of Nelson’s clones in one go. It’s good to finally see Delta in extended action.

Meanwhile, Epsilon’s group encounters a memory that she’s able to purify, and they discover a library that holds all the knowledge on the possessed children held in the Sanctuary, as well as the means to open an exit. Epsilon briefly loses her falsies, but her underlings know better than to say they saw it.

Finally, there’s Cid and Aurora, who are like two peas in a pod and gradually build a genuine bond as they continue to explore her dark memories. Cid continues to treat her like no one else, neither as an adversary, underling, or hassle, but as a pal.

The two buds end up dead ended at the door that leads to the magic core. Cid knows his sword can’t break the chains, and also knows it will require a descendant (presumably of Olivier) to pull the key-sword out of the floor, Excalibur-style.

But while they kill time playing tic-tac-toe and pondering their next steps, Delta’s unhinged violence manages to shatter Nelson’s white void, leaving him no choice but to summon Olivier herself. That’s when Epsilon’s group meets up with Alpha’s to report their findings, and Alpha orders a withdrawal.

It speaks to just how damn powerful Alpha is that not only was her slime outfit not visibly effected by the power drain, but one stern look at Delta instantly cows the beast girl into leaving her prey and coming along. Alexia and Rose accompany Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, and the others through the exit.

Nelson receives an alert about Cid and Aurora, and meets them where they are with Olivier by his side. He orders her to kill Cid and while she’s extremely strong and is able to draw blood, she fails to do so. Cid, meanwhile, wears an involuntary smirk on his face. Nothing like a worthy opponent to lift the spirits.

Only Cid doesn’t necessarily consider Olivier that worthy; after all, she lacks a heart, and is simply a tool Nelson is using to try to kill him. Nelson tries to cut a deal with Aurora that will save Cid, but he rejects it, asking them to kindly not decide the outcome of his battle with Olivier before it’s over.

Nelson says fine, and sends Olivier to deliver a killing blow through Cid’s chest. But again, he merely smiles, and finally opens the right eye he’s kept closed this entire time, and not just because that’s what many anime characters do: he was suppressing an even greater power within him, which he will likely use to neutralize Olivier and continue assisting Aurora.

The question is, is Nelson right when he says the witch is just deceiving Cid and she’ll lead him to his doom once her memories are all back? It’s worth thinking about considering the Aurora with whom he’s gotten along with so famously is missing large chunks of her former personality…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 12 – Through the Red Door

That big red seal-looking thing? It’s a door; a door that won’t stop following Cid no matter where he flies. Since it won’t go away, he decides to go through it. His Shadow Garden maidens have the same idea, and make their appearance at the arena before Alexia, Rose, and Archbishop Nelson.

Beta does a terrible job pretending to be her comrades’ hostage, while Nelson’s assassin Venom attacks Epsilon but only manages to slice off her fake boobs. She quickly re-forms them with her slime suit, and in any case everything happens too fast for the princesses to notice. Shadow Garden jump through the door, and Alexia and Rose follow, bereft of anything better to do.

They arrive in a strange and oddly futuristic sci-fi place that is the true Sanctuary the church has hidden from the rest of the world. In this inter-dimensional space there’s a statue of the real Great Hero Olivier, who was not only a woman, but looked just like Alpha (since they share blood). Alexia and Rose are rightfully very confused.

Rather than meeting up with Shadow Garden, Cid ends up in a different “section” of the Sanctuary, in which the real legendary witch Aurora has been incarcerated for centuries (she’s also voiced by Eureka herself, Nazuka Kaori, who possesses one of the more ASMR-triggering voices).

After exchanging pleasantries and freeing her from her straitjacket (she’s nude underneath but he doesn’t so much as blush), Cid agrees to help Aurora get out of this place, which is apparently constructed out of stored memories, among them a young Aurora crying, whom the older Aurora slaps.

Meanwhile the ladies find themselves in the main research facility of the Sanctuary, where the Diabolos Cult experimented on children with “Diabolos Cells” in order to create “Diabolos Beads”, a drug that can make members of the cult immortal and invincible.

Olivier was one of the few who survived the experimentation, a brutal affair carried on with the banality of a congenial modern office. One of the lead researchers was the not-so-good Archbishop himself, Jack Nelson. Alexia wrongly but hilariously surmises that hair loss was a side effect of the beads.

Alpha correctly surmises that Jack Nelson is one of Diabolos’ twelve Knights of the Round, which rings a bell for Alexia since her betrothed longed to become one of them. With no further need to hide his identity, Nelson starts to gloat, only to be impaled and cast into a pool by Delta.

Delta is ready to be scolded by Alpha for disobeying orders not to kill him, but turns out Nelson is made from stiffer stuff. He wipes away the reality of the research facility, leaving a white void where he proceeds to create copies of himself. But both Alpha and Delta are more than game for a fight.

This episode was a mind-bending trip and a half, introducing a real sci-fi underbelly to the fantasy surface world where Cid ended up after dying. It’s notable that much of the episode doesn’t involve him at all. It makes one wonder how much longer he’ll insist this is all a game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 11 – Good Conversation

Cid isn’t picky about most things, but he does love hisself a nice hot spring. Since there’s a hot spring in Lindwurm that’s where he spends some time. He happens to meet Alexia there (something I’m sure Rose might be upset about) and she ends up striking up a conversation that eventually leads to him warning her not to judge a book (or rather, his “Excalibur”) by its cover.

At the arena where the Goddess’ Trial takes place, Alexia is seated between Rose and the newest, hottest celebrity author, who is really Beta. Alexia is intimidated by Beta’s ample bust, while Beta is wearing a revealing, crowd-pleasing dress on purpose to piss of Alexia, whom she believes is out of her league when it comes to messing around with Lord Shadow.

The ensuing trials are pretty perfunctory; we watch a couple of warriors with weird names call for one of the legendary warriors of yore to emerge from the Sanctuary to fight them, but throughout the day and into the evening only one manages to actually summon one. Then, thanks to Rose, Cid Kagenou gets his turn.

Rather than run away or fight as Cid and blow his cover, Cid chooses a third way: sending up a big purple flare that distracts everyone. When they look back down at the arena, Shadow is there, and he ends up summoning Aurora, Witch of Calamity, someone so destructive in her time even the two princesses have never heard of her—because so few people were left to tell stories.

Of course, the Seven Shadows’ resident bookworm Beta knows all about Aurora, as does the acting Archbishop Nelson (who rejected Alexia’s request to run an investigation). Nelson has a low opinion of Shadow and believes he’s bit off more than he can chew. At least initially, Aurora’s staggering display of power seems to bear that out.

Of course, ol’ Violet Eyes and her tangled web of blood spears has absolutely nothing on our boy Mister Atomic, but she is the toughest opponent he’s yet faced, and he appreciates her shared commitment to treating their battle like a spirited, joyful conversation. The rules of the trial mean the version of Aurora he gets is only “equal” to his skills and power, after all.

Cid is having fun in this battle, as is Aurora, but eventually brings things to an end quite decisively, shattering Aurora’s web and delivering a fatal strike that sends her back to the hereafter from whence she came. Shadow doesn’t stick around for applause, but shortly after he skedaddles a new, elaborate magic circle appears.

Alpha, Delta, and Epsilon watch as that circle extends beyond the confines of the arena and envelops a large part of the city. And while Cid only engaged in battle on a whim, his Seven Shadows naturally assume he intended for this to happen, and that the Sanctuary is responding to his challenge. If tougher opponents than Aurora are on their way, I imagine he’s looking forward to another conversation or two.

The Eminence in Shadow – 10 – Advent of Chaos

Eminence in Shadow? More like boxtease in shadow. Left and right girls are trying to get Cid to notice them or hang out with him, but he ain’t interested. He’s too lost in the pretend game he thinks he’s playing in this world. And the next stage of that game calls for a trip to the Sacred Lands and their capital, Lindwurm.

So Epsilon can augment her figure with slime, and Beta can write all the aspirational doujinshi she likes, and the two can compare their busts at Shadow Garden HQ, but Cid/Shadow could not care less. They’re not women to him so much as valued, loyal underlings.

That certainly extends to his non-Shadow Garden women in his life as well. Claire clearly wanted to have a fun summer day with her brother, but he hit from her. Alexia, who is also headed to Lindwurm, stops by Gamma’s modern department store and is introduced to thongs, and subjects her big sis a wall slam to prove her commitment to wearing one to win him back.

Then there’s Rose, who we learn found Cid alive and well in a flashback to the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack. Since he gave her her life, she’s decided to return his feelings and give him her heart. He runs into her at the train station and from that point on she’s constantly clinging to him. Cid doesn’t want thongs or drill tails. He just wants some space and some intrigue!

Just as he hid from Claire, he hides from Rose’s attempt to sleep with him (he believes she’s trying to convert him to her religion) and two days later they arrive in Lindwurm. There, they have a sightseeing date, where he learns from Rose that the demon Diabolos lost his left arm to the Great Hero Olivier in the Sanctuary, a place just outside the capital.

He also learns that Rose is a huge fan of Natsume-senpai, a famous and popular author. One glance at Natsume’s novels, and Cid knows it’s someone blatantly plagiarizing works from his world (including Eminence in Shadow—nice fourth wall break, that). He’s disappointed to learn the author is Beta, with whom he’d shared those stories in hope she’d be inspired to, ya know, right something original.

A few episodes ago we saw how playful and flirty Alpha could be (and how utterly unaffected Cid was), but here she’s all business, investigating the gruesome assassination of Archbishop Drake. Shadow Garden is already well into the case when their leader arrives.

He ends up intercepting the assassin in an alley and parries his sword strike with a little wooden ice cream spoon (Cid seems to be channeling Riddick here). Then the assassin is swiftly dispatched by Epsilon the Accurate. She and Shadow exchange a few words, Epsilon’s fake boobs bouncing emphatically the whole time. But Cid has no time for boobs…there’s adventure afoot!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 09 – Doing What They Must

It doesn’t take long for Sherry to tune the control unit, and she opens a hidden passage in a bookshelf to use the secret tunnels to get to where the artifact is so she can shut it down. She’s doing all of this for her father Ruslan, who took her in when her mother was brutally murdered.

She thanks Cid for all his help, and they go their separate ways. Once she reaches the balcony of the auditorium she finds out how bad things have gotten: the invaders are now simply picking off students for sport from above. Sherry wastes no time deactivating the anti-magic field, and when she does, Rose is ready.

Within seconds of getting her magic back, she slices the nearest invader to ribbons with a flourish of her drill-like ojou ringlets, and encourages everyone else to rise up and attack their captors; after all, they outnumber them. She tries to reach their armored boss man, whom even she isn’t sure she can defeat, but is soon surrounded and running low on magic.

Still, she fights on, confident others will fight if she dies, and eager to live up to the love Cid felt for her that led him to die for her. Things look dire until Shadow himself crashes through the ceiling and dispatches everyone around her. He’s not alone: his army of Shadows are with him, and mop up the invaders.

But the boss slips away, then hikes up the pressure of the oil lamps school-wide, causing an massive inferno. While I don’t hear a single cough from the ensuing smoke and flames, nor does anyone seem to be getting burnt by said flames … eh, whatever, maybe they’re special isekai flames.

The invader boss proceeds to start burning everything in Ruslan’s office, but Cid is there waiting for him, and knows who the boss is: Ruslan himself. Once he’d reached the absolute highest summit of swordsmanship, he became ill, and sought out a radical cure.

That’s how he ended up meeting Sherry’s mother. When she warned against using the artifact, Ruslan murdered her in a elaborate, grisly way, and while Sherry was present for that, it’s been established that she’s not very observant, and so never knew her adoptive father killed her mother.

Ruslan never gets into why he took the academy hostage, or why he set the academy on fire, but never mind, now that Cid’s there he’s not going to accomplish anything else. There’s a fun little fakeout when Cid lets Ruslan slash him right out the office window to his apparent death, only to reappear Batman-style in his Shadow form.

Ruslan fuses with the artifact in order to augment his power—as one does—but as you’d suspect, fighting him is still child’s play to Mr. Atomic, who doesn’t really have to break a sweat parrying his opponents’ lightning-fast fusillade of attacks.

When Cid has had enough, he ends Ruslan’s life in the exact same grisly way he ended Sherry’s mom’s … and just like that traumatic event, Sherry arrives just in time to witness a parent’s demise. Shadow departs as she screams out in anguish, not having the heart to tell her who Ruslan is and why he deserved this end. Knowing how much her dad meant to her, she most likely wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

While Ruslan was as two-dimensionally eeeevil as villains come (why else hire Oostsuka Houchuu to voice him?), he was never anything but a loving, supportive father to Sherry, and I was devastated watching her experience a repeat of her mother’s death. No one should have to face that. And now she’s an orphan again.

At the same time, I don’t blame Cid, because he did what he had to do. Even though Ruslan promised him that he arranged things so the real Shadow Garden would be framed for this entire terrorist attack, he shrugs that off. He never claimed he and his garden were walking the path of righteousness, but nor do they walk the path of evil.

Instead, they walk their own path. This comes as news to Alpha, who thought they were being righteous, but accepts Cid’s interpretation without hesitation, as does the rest of the organization. If Shadow is now the number one most hated and wanted fugitive in the kingdom, so be it—they’ll continue to do what they must.

As for poor Sherry, she and Cid share a muted farewell scene where she regrets not getting to know him better before heading abroad to a prestigious research institute. Before they part, perhaps forever, Cid asks her what she thinks she needs to do. A kaleidoscope of emotions fall over Sherry’s face as she’s momentarily unable to hide her emotions with a sad smile.

But she won’t tell Cid; it’s a secret. Does she, unlike so many others, know Cid and Shadow are the same person, and thus Cid is the one who killed her father? If that’s the case, is she going abroad in order to plan her revenge against him, or simply to start the next phase of her life as a researcher? It’s pretty ambiguous, and I like that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 08 – A Terribly Flawed Scenario

This week starts off by replaying the start of the invasion of the academy by Fake Shadow Garden (Shamdow Garden?) this time from Cid’s perspective, and man is he excited to be involved in a terrorist attack! The moment he realizes Rose is in serious trouble, he launches himself into the path of the baddie’s blade, as that’s the role of the background character. In doing so, he (posthumously) wins the heart of Rose, who remembers how hard he fought against her in the tournament and now sees his selfless sacrifice as proof that he loved her.

Rose and all the other students are rounded up in the auditorium, but Cid is left behind, as he’s just a corpse. Or IS he? After punching himself several times in the chest, Cid starts his heart back up, having successfully pulled off the risky “Ten-Minute Death—Heartbreak.” Considering what Cid did to himself to reach this other world, it’s no surprise he’d put his life on the line to best inhabit the role of Eminence in Shadow. Meanwhile, Sherry is researching away when one of the bad guys’ top lieutenants drops in.

She’s saved by one of the school’s elite swordsman who is still able to fight despite the lack of magic, but he falls to the bad guy’s blade soon enough. He only manages to buy a bit of time for Sherry to shuffle away in her flip-flops. After sniping several dozen of the enemy and plummeting dramatically off the school roof, Cid senses Sherry is being pursued and not doing a great job of being stealthy, so he serves as her protective shadow, killing anyone who gets close to her.

Sherry’s refrain of “it’s just my imagination” is one of many comedic highlights, and when she finally trips and nearly falls down the stairs, Cid is there to catch both her and the artifact and recommend she stop thinking out loud, stop trying to decipher the artifact while moving, and ditches slippers. He escorts her to her father’s office, where she finds unpublished research of the artifact she’s been charged with, which is the control unit for the Eye of Avarice that’s created the anti-magic field.

But the Eye isn’t just neutralizing magic, it’s absorbing it. Given enough magic, it will eventually reach its full capacity and release in one huge explosion that will level the school. So it’s a magical bomb threat. Sherry is game to fine-tune her artifact so they can shut the Eye down, but to do that Cid has to head back to where Sherry was to fetch the tuning instruments. After righteously toying and fucking with the lieutenant guy, he encounters Nu, who finds her ex-betrothed dying in the room where Sherry was working.

Nu reports that the real Shadow Garden have arrived on the scene and are ready to go on Cid’s orders. The only downside to that is that Gamma, the clumsiest of the Seven Shadows, is in command. Cid then fills Nu in on what he and Sherry plan to do, and he describes the plan so nonchalantly it basically reinforces her belief that Cid is a mastermind of unsurpassed brilliance, when he’s actually just been wining it all along and doesn’t even believe any of this is real.

But of course, it is, and the lives of  the whole school are in his, Sherry’s, and Shadow Garden’s hands. Watching him cut through the bad guys and have tons of fun doing it was immensely entertaining; watching him and his allies save the day should prove the same or moreso.

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