Vinland Saga – 13 – The Prince is Beautiful, But Cautious

After what looked like a no-win scenario had unfolded for Askeladd, Thorfinn, and Prince Canute, the standoff actually de-escalates when Askeladd starts speaking Welsh, to the surprise of even Bjorn.

It’s his assessment that their “hosts” from Brycheiniog won’t do them any harm, but they cannot let a horde of Danes cross their lands unchallenged, hence their intimidating posture. Askeladd tries to get Canute to intimidate them back, but the prince hides behind Ragnar.

Askeladd and Gratianus have a private meeting with the Brycheiniog commander, Asser, in which Askeladd reveals that he is half Dane and half Welsh, and a living descendant of the legendary King Artorius of Brittania, who inspired the legend of King Arthur.

The episode’s cryptic cold open depicts him in his youth bringing his dying mother back to Wales, and Gratianus greeting him. It should be noted young Askeladd looks a lot like Thorfinn. No wonder he’s taken such a shine to him; he’s the son he never had.

Anyway, Askeladd agrees to hand over the weapons of all his men and allow themselves to be escorted across Brycheiniog so Asser and his king can save face and look good to the common subjects. In exchange, Askeladd will see to it Canute is the one who succeeds the Danish throne, which means he’ll have a powerful seat at the table with which to ensure a treaty of non-aggression with Wales is arranged.

The fact of the matter is, Askeladd hates the Danes, likely in part (if not mostly) because of what they did to his mother. He seems as intent of keeping Wales unspoiled for her sake as anything else. But between some concerned looks from Bjorn and some groaning of his men, he will be testing their loyalty—and the secrets he’s kept from them—to their furthest limits by changing their route to Gainsborough.

In the meantime, Prince Canute finally hits his limit for enduring verbal abuse and mockery from Thorfinn, and calmly explains that as a prince he must be more cautious with his words…before abandoning that cautiousness to give Thorfinn a piece of his mind. Ragnar is shocked, but in a good way; he knows more than most how he might be hurting the fledgling by not insisting he leave the nest.

Still, Ragnar’s desire to protect a child who has already endured so much (Canute’s childhood was not a happy or peaceful one) seems to override that logic. It’s probably heartening to no end to hear Canute speaking to someone other than him; it means Canute and Thorfinn are, against all odds, developing a rapport. That can only be good for the both of them.

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Summer 2019 Anime, Ranked.

With the exception of Fire Force’s twelfth episode, we’ve wrapped up our coverage of the Summer 2019 season, which is just as well since we’re technically in the second week of Autumn.

Between Braverade, sesameacrylic and MagicalChurlSukui we watched and reviewed eleven shows in all (plus additional coverage from Oigakkosan, not detailed here), totaling 132 episodes, or approximately 53 hours. Without further math, here’s how we ranked those shows, and why. Break out the thesaurus!

11. HenSuki

RABUJOI Score: 7.00/10 MAL Score: 6.83/10

Pros: Novel premise, colorful pastel palette, likable characters, generally witty banter, risque ecchi situations that never cross hard lines of decency.

Cons: Uneven at best animation, silly central mystery that drags on too long, “twist” resolution feels like a cheat.

Verdict: An enjoyable, fluffy guilty pleasure. I try to watch one per season.

10. Lord El-Melloi II Case Files

RABUJOI Score: 7.77/10 MAL Score: 7.44/10

Pros: Built-in goodwill from Fate/Zero, always intriguing setup for cases, sumptuous setting, production, and mechanical design, stirring score, bonkers magical battles.

Cons: Excessive magical technobabble can be exhausting, conclusions to mysteries can feel contrived/arbitrary, non-Fate fanatics will end up hopelessly lost by most cameos or name-drops.

Verdict: A pale shadow of the classic upon which it’s based, but nonetheless a fun and moderately clever detective series.

9. Fire Force (Episodes 1-11 of 12)

RABUJOI Score: 7.82/10 MAL Score: 7.75/10

Pros: Gorgeously bizarre alternate-universe setting, elegant world-building, virtuoso action sequences, powerful orchestral soundtrack.

Cons: And MC who is dull and cliched within an inch of his life, Characters who go from evil-to-good (or vice versa) at the drop of a hat, a tedious central conspiracy, the potential for character bloat, frustratingly uneven gender balance, pathetic bouts of fanservice.

Verdict: A stylish show primarily about spontaneous human combustion might’ve weathered news of the horrific KyoAni arson attack, but isn’t quite good enough to watching following into the Fall.

7 (tie). How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift?

RABUJOI Score: 7.83/10 MAL Score: 7.68/10

Pros: A fresh, original premise to which it remains totally devoted, marvelous comic timing in the rapid-fire, self-deprecating, fourth-wall breaking dialogue, lovable and believable MC, decent animation, one hell of an earworm OP.

Cons: Ecchi elements and a superfluous Russian chick don’t add much, some parody bits are too on-the-nose, the show loses momentum in the final couple episodes.

Verdict: The show that inspired me to get off my skinny, underdeveloped backside and actually join a gym for the first time in my life!

7 (tie). Cop Craft

RABUJOI Score: 7.82/10 MAL Score: 6.94/10

Pros: Cool reverse-Isekai-lite premise, Range Murata character design, toe-tapping OP and lively soundtrack, entertaining buddy cop dynamic, engaging fights and chases.

Cons: Lame villains, some odd narrative choices, inconsistent/unfocused direction, disappointing animation, underutilized supporting cop cast, lots of loose ends.

Verdict: A show with some good parts to work with, mostly used badly. A wasted opportunity that’s not as good as our episodes ratings indicated.

6. DanMachi II

RABUJOI Score: 8.25/10 MAL Score: 7.45/10

Pros: Appealing, charismatic characters you love to root for, amusing romantic polygons, tremendous score, superb utilization of twelve episodes to tell a variety of engaging stories with a beginning, middle and oh-so-epic end, culminating in a quiet finale that doesn’t forget its core goddess-child dynamic.

Cons: Villains’ barks prove far worse than their bites, a couple slower episodes between mini-arcs don’t really distinguish themselves, and that huge Amazoness Phryne…what the hell?! 

Verdict: After the very lame Sword Oratoria spinoff DanMachi got a proper sequel, focused on the characters we cared about, full of emotion, excitement, and good old-fashioned fantasy ass-kickin’.


5. Fruits Basket 1st Season (Episodes 14-25)

RABUJOI Score: 8.50/10 MAL Score: 8.36/10

Pros: Impeccably-rendered characters and depictions of their various psychological issues, dark and poignant flashbacks, exquisitely cozy slice-of-life, a good balance of the mundane and the mystic, and hard-hitting cathartic scenes.

Cons: Some members of the Souma family are more interesting (and tolerable) than others, but even the less interesting ones get plenty of screen time, Tooru’s saintly selflessness can wear thin at times.

Verdict: A beautifully-crafted second half that rewarded patience by delivering some of the strongest and most moving episodes of the year.

4. Master Teaser Takagi-san 2

RABUJOI Score: 8.58/10 MAL Score: 8.40/10

Pros: Truly magnetic chemistry in the central pair, Deft use of subtle facial expressions and body language in the animation, superb performances by Takahashi Rie and Kaji Yuki.

Cons: Like the first season, the various teasing games can grow repetitive, as can Nishikata’s denseness and inability to see more than one or two moves ahead, the side stories involving side characters often felt like padding.

Verdict: Continues and refines the brilliantly simple teasing formula of the first season, while ever-so-gradually blurring of the line between teasing and flirting. A sweet and touching, slow-burn portrayal of young, awkward first love.

2 (tie). Vinland Saga (Episodes 1-12)

RABUJOI Score: 8.67/10 MAL Score: 8.57/10

Pros: Flawed but rootable MC whose character is more complex than it initially seems, his multi-layered antihero mentor, exemplary action and battle sequences, powerful score, compelling exploration of the hard old world, with enticing glimmers of a brighter new one.

Cons: That said mentor would keep a kid dedicated to murdering him around so long stretches credulity at times, those battle sequences sometimes feature individuals or groups doing superhuman things that detract from the otherwise naturalistic milieu.

Verdict: While not quite as big, loud, epic, or bonkers as Attack on Titan, or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Vinland Saga is arguably Wit Studio’s most balanced and human series. Looking forward to the second half.

2 (tie). Astra Lost in Space

RABUJOI Score: 7.77/10 MAL Score: 7.44/10

Pros: Very well done futuristic world- and space-building, a large-ish main cast that you steadily come to know and love, the sense of family that arises from the crewmembers’ experiences together, an optimistic spirit of exploration that isn’t constantly beset by mortal peril, creative planets and lifeforms, thankfully subverted expectations for a Lerche-style bloodbath.

Cons: “Character gets a backstory” formula to some episodes felt repetitive at times, the crew almost faces too little mortal peril considering their circumstances, they similarly rely on a lot of luck, some major plotlines and twists could have been left out and still resulted in a pretty strong show.

Verdict: Maybe the season’s biggest surprise hit, the ambitious Astra calls to mind some of the best of live-action shades-of-gray sci-fi (Firefly, Battlestar, Expanse) while maintaining an old school optimistic, exploratory outlook. It set out to do and say a lot, and was mostly successful in doing so.

1. O Maidens in Your Savage Season

RABUJOI Score: 8.58/10 MAL Score: 8.40/10

Pros: Fearlessly tackles tough social topics on adolescence, sexuality, gender roles, upbringing, and abuse, ably juggles multiple, diverse love stories and triangles at once, pleasingly drawn and animated, and despite all its serious themes, doesn’t leave out the comedy.

Cons: What seemed to be an irreversible dive into an abyss that would tear the five girls apart, they work almost everything out almost too easily for a tidier ending than expected; while the show dips a toe in LGBTQ themes through Momo’s awakening, her’s is one of the least developed arcs despite being one of the most interesting.

Verdict: A rare-for-anime honest and unblinking exploration of the awkward, painful, and sometimes savage emotional journey to adulthood all kids must face (and not always at the same speed). By the numbers, the best show I watched this Summer, and the one I looked forward too most from week to week.


Summer 2019 Big Board:

Cop Craft – 12 (Fin) – Forgivable Evils

What had the makings of some kind of grand conspiracy is ultimately boiled down to A Wizard Did It in the exceedingly tidy Cop Craft finale. Captured last week, Tilarna ends up in a penthouse with that wizard with her hands and feet both cuffed. It’s also one of the only instances I can recall where she’s not wearing her Semani cape, revealing an elegant midriff-bearing top.

She has to sit and listen to Zelada drone on about how he believes decadent Earth culture will eventually overwhelm destroy Semani culture: weapons, tools, sex…and that awful, awful rock music. Despite it seeming an awful lot like that ship has sailed, he’s working to make two societies to hate each other…or something. The nerve of someone in Carmen Sandiego pimp cosplay decrying decadence!

Meanwhile, the FBI agent rather ineptly attempts to extract Kei’s iPhone password so he can destroy the last photo of Marla and the assassin (Randall is killed off-camera). Kei, ever the smartass, starts to give it to him: “F-U-C-K-Y…” Hee-hee.

While the camera made sure to show us that Tilarna’s legs were cuffed, Kei’s legs are completely free, and his arms are cuffed to a flimsy folding chair that isn’t even bolted down. All it takes is for Mr. FBI to get too close, and Kei has him in a leg headlock. It demonstrates less how badass Kei is (and he is), and more how excruciatingly dumb Mr. FBI is.

Meanwhile, after ranting virtually all night, Zelada senses that Kei has gotten free and is killing his puppets. After all this time, and with little reason to keep Tilarna alive, Zelada nevertheless takes his sweet old time before finally deciding that yup, he should kill Tilarna. It’s like he’s waiting for Kei to arrive and save her, because that’s what the plot demands!

Even with arms and legs cuffed, Tilarna is also a badass, and manages to dodge Zelada’s attacks until Kei bails her out. Zelada’s invisibility is overcome by activating the sprinkler system (how ’bout that!), but the weakened Tilarna can’t handle the sword, so she and Kei switch weapons, with Tilarna pumping Z full of lead while Kei beheads him with her sword.

With that, our buddy cop odd couple waits for backup that will be late because the town is rife with violent protests. Kei leaves it up to Tilarna whether to give the photo of Marla to the police as evidence of her role in the assassinations, and after weighing the options, decides to do so.

Donald—er, Domingo Tourte wins the mayorship after Marla is arrested, but things eventually cool down as Tilarna thought they would, because for all its warts, San Teresa is still a good town filled with mostly good people. That’s why, as she writes to her father back home, she’s decided to stay put, serving as Kei’s partner in stylish crime-fighting.

And there you have it! A rushed ending, perhaps, which did itself no favors with the idiocy of its villains, but far from eye-gougingly terrible. I’d say Cop Craft would have benefited from another twelve or even six more episodes to give the conspiracy and photographer arcs a little more fleshing-out, but honestly the show probably would have found a way to squander them and be forced to end just as abruptly.

I will say that even if I wasn’t always in love with what Cop Craft did with the episodes it had or the world it built, it was still a neat world, with a solid core duo of likable characters, a smattering of cool supporters, and a fun soundtrack. It wasn’t flawless, but it wasn’t all bad either—much like the situation Tilarna and Kei find themselves in when the end credits roll.

Vinland Saga – 12 – The Face of a King

As Thorkell’s forces chases his, Askeladd sends a message across the Severn River, hoping for some reinforcements to even the odds. His “Ear”, an Asian-looking man with very good hearing, can tell the enemy is only a few days away, if that.

The men are worried, and Bjorn relays that worry, but Askeladd is content to leave everyone in the dark. He also hasn’t been quite the same since seeing Prince Canute’s face. It just doesn’t seem like the face of a king. To be fair, Canute is young…but so is Thorfinn.

A thick, brooding atmosphere of impending doom pervades the march of Askeladd’s men as they grow more fatigued and Thorkell draws closer, but takes on a more otherworldly hue once they arrive at the spot where Askeladd says the reinforcements will be waiting.

The rendezvous point is a Roman ruin, suffused in fog. The soundtrack starts to boom with synth bass and brash, punishing tuba as Askeladd draws near and bows in deference to the two figures in romanesque garb. Eventually, triremes come into view.

These aren’t representatives of the Roman Empire reborn, nor another world, but one of the stubbornly independent kingdoms of Wales. Any enemy of the English is a ally of theirs. Askeladd’s connections enable them to cross Wales to reach Gainsborough rather than deal with Thorkell.

It will be a long journey, and the lands of Wales are rough and unforgiving, so Askeladd appoints Thorfinn as Prince Canute’s bodyguard. Amusingly, the Welsh commander mistakes Finn as the Danish prince, and says the same thing Askeladd thought when he sees his face—just not king material…at least not yet.

Thorfinn’s job is to make sure Canute lives to fulfill his destiny, but despite being the same age the two couldn’t have more different paths to get to that age. Finn is cold to Canute, while the prince is frightened of Finn. We’ll see if putting the two together toughens Canute, softens Finn…or both. Of course, the challenge of just keeping Canute alive becomes painfully plain when their forces are lured into a trap, with archers from a neighboring Welsh kingdom raining arrows down on them.

In an odd aside, we see an aged, balding Leif Erikson arriving at a port, and spots one of the slaves being taken away. (S?)he looks a lot like Thorfinn: messy straw hair, brown eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here. Does this scene place some time after the ambush? I doubt Finn would be so easily captured. If you have any insight into that, let me know in the comments.

Otherwise, this was an interesting episode to mark the halfway point of the series. Thorfinn is protecting Canute mostly to get another duel out of Askeladd, a duel that’s sure to be the closest yet as he grows stronger and Askeladd gets older. But there’s a lot going on around him that threatens postpone or even deprive him of that duel, if for instance Askeladd doesn’t survive the ambush.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 13 (Fin) – His Own Battlefield

Gray and Lord El-Melloi are back in London, recovering from the battle outside Rail Zeppelin with Dr. Heartless and Faker. The Lord’s students are so eager for him to return to teaching class they infect his hospital room, which he believes actually lengthens his recovery time. However, both are eventually discharged.

They meet with Miss Adashino, who reveals that Dr. Heartless is her older brother-in-law, and also the case with him isn’t quite closed. El-Melloi agrees; both he and Faker were described as “necessities for the future”, meaning he’ll likely face Heartless again. Bathed in the light of the setting sun, future Lords Reines and Olga-Marie resolve to become friends and allies.

Gray runs into Melvin Weins on the street, and the latter discusses how he is in possession of both the damaged El-Melloi magical crest and the Velvet family crest that Waver surrendered as collateral to pay off the El-Melloi family’s debt.

When asks why he still calls the Lord “Waver”, he says someone has to, or he’ll be lonely when he eventually gives up the title, as he will and must do when Reines comes of age. He warns Gray that Waver may not stay in London forever; that he might move on, be it for the next Holy Grail War or something else.

After a ceremony in which Svin is promoted to the rank of “Pride”, surpassing El-Melloi himself, a big celebration is thrown in the lecture hall, where El-Melloi’s students all express their appreciation and gratitude for his valuable lessons.

Not a lot of the praise gets through, as El-Melloi retires to his office to keep drinking and wallowing in self-loathing until Gray takes his cup. After comparing himself unfavorably to Lord Kayneth, Gray contends with his claim of being a “half-assed lord” only good for celebrating the accomplishments of his students.

But he, and only he, saved Gray. Who knows where she’d be without him. For that, and for many other contributions to the lives of his students, he should take pride. She then asks if he’s going away, and he declares that he’s abandoned his bid to join the Fifth Holy Grail war. Instead, he’s pivoting to a more important battle, one involving settling matters for Iskandar by continuing to pursue Doctor Heartless and foiling his plans involving Faker…and himself.

For that he’ll need to continue depending on Gray to fight beside him, relieving her to no end. With that, she finally gives him the gift she bought at Luvia’s department store, and he reminds her that the gift itself isn’t as important as the whydunit—the thought and intent behind giving him a gift.

In a dream, an Iskandar of his mind and memories’ own making confronts him, asking for a progress report of sorts. The king seems impressed by Waver’s growth and furrowed brow, and even though El-Melloi insists he’s still nowhere near close enough to being a worthy subject, Iskandar is more concerned with whether Waver has had fun living the live he was ordered to preserve. With tears welling up, Waver tells his former Servant that it has indeed been fun.

With that, he marches back into his lecture hall in the Clock Tower, surveys his talented, dependable students, and commences class once more. There will certainly be more battles and challenges he’ll have to face in the name of both the El-Melloi family and Iskandar, but he won’t face them alone, and those trials certainly won’t preclude the fun Iskandar would prefer he’d continue to have.

So ends the generally nonessential (hence the Grace Note) yet diverting Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II, an intriguing look forward from one of Fate’s best–told stories, Zero, which added color, texture, and added context to the overall world. The scenario started small (with a dead cat in episode 0) but grew grander and grander, and the stakes along with it.

Ultimately I’m glad Waver decided not to try to participate in another Holy Grail War—enduring one is enough for any individual, two would be seriously trying his luck—and with more relevant fish to fry vis-a-vis Doctor Heartless, there will still no shortage of excitement in store for him, Gray, and any other gifted students who’ll gladly have his back.

DanMachi II – 12 (Fin) – A Goddess’ Love

While last week’s cliffhanger, in which Bell, Hestia, and Ais literally fell off a cliff, hinted at more action and peril in the finale, we end up with no such thing. My expectations were duly subverted; thank you, DanMachi! The episode skips to the part where Ais has already effortlessly saved everyone, and Hestia is in bed recovering from a fever.

They end up in a gorgeous mountain village, whose mayor Karm and daughter Rina are more than happy to host a goddess. When Rina proves more than capable of taking care of her, Hestia puts Bell to work helping the villagers prepare for their harvest festival. Ais joins him, donning some very fetching village garb.

So…what’s the twist? Isn’t everyone in this village a bit too kind? When does the other shoe drop? Well, it doesn’t. Bell and Ais never encounter any more enemies, be they Ares’ children or anyone else. The village doesn’t even have a dark secret; the scales of the legendary Black Dragon are on proud display for all to see, their mere presence keeping monsters away and enabling the village to prosper. Ais gives them the stink-eye, but that’s all.

The lack of any classic conflict allows the episode to be a meditation on the goddess-child relationship, represented in the present by Hestia and Bell, and in the past by Karm and his goddess Brigid. Once a brash young adventurer himself, he and Brigid loved one another, so much so that she saved his life at the cost of returning to heaven.

Filled with grief and regret, he swore never to take a wife and instead adopted Rina, who keeps him going. But as his life continues to wind down, he impresses upon Bell the importance of honoring and protecting his goddess at all costs.

Bell takes that to heart when a recovered Hestia joins him and Ais at the festival. Rather than bookending DanMachi with Bell-Ais dances, Bell remembers Karm’s words and how he spurned Hestia last week by saying the wrong thing, and formally asks her for a dance.

The fun is interrupted by Rina, who brings Hestia back to speak to Karm, who is very near death. While everyone around her is weeping, Hestia maintains an ethereal calm about the whole thing, keeping things light and upbeat as she speaks to Karm.

Turns out she and Brigid were best friends (though, like Loki she used to call her a shrimp), and she lets her hair down so Karm can see her as Brigid with his failing eyes, calling him to join her in heaven. Bell can’t help but weep as Hestia shuts the departed Karm’s eyes—he can’t help but see his own future in the scene.

Bell wanders off on his own, but is soon found by Hestia, who suspects he’s worried about their very lifespans and resultant perspectives on time. But she tells him not to overthink things. If he wants to be with her—and he very much does—then there’s nothing to worry about. She’ll be with him, all throughout his life, even when he grows old.

Even when his soul rises to heaven, is wiped clean, and returns to earth as someone else. She’ll simply find that person and ask them to be in her Familia. There’s no need to fear their love for each other, because even if his body isn’t eternal, she, and that love, most certainly are.

With that, Bell, Hestia, and Ais return to Orario. They vow to return to the village—I can’t blame them, place was super-cozy—and Ais has Bell promise to bring her along, inviting Hestia’s ire. Haruhime invites it too when she welcomes bell home with a big hug.

As action-packed, world-changing finales go, this…wasn’t that. In a way, it was something better—or at least far truer to what a goddess like Hestia is all about: the warmth and comfort of the hearth, and the kindness and love of a happy home.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

Cop Craft – 11 – Better, Not Best

Kei and Tilarna meet Domingo Tourte, who kinda resembles Donald Trump, only slimmer and with a more conventional hairstyle. His adversarial relationship with the press, “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude, and anti-immigration policy are also pretty similar to the 45th President. While he’s not creepy with Tilarna, he is terribly condescending to both her and her people, to the point she’s fuming by the end of their brief interview.

She’s made even madder by the fact Kei played the peacekeeper by acting so deferential around the candidate. He knows he wouldn’t have gotten anything out of Tourte if he didn’t play nice, and instead learns something potentially valuable: Tourte says he’s a politician first and an Earthling second, the opposite position as Kei’s old chief.

That could mean he’s not involved in the assassinations—just an unwitting beneficiary. But they need more, much more, which is why Kei’s colleagues Cammy and Jamie hit the streets looking for info on Coal’s assassin while McBee looks up an old flame who may be connected to the only Earth company that can work with Veifaht steel.

For the first time in a while, it feels like a whole police detail is working a case rather than just Kei/Tilarna. It doesn’t hurt that Cammy and Jamie are are both very good at their jobs and very fun to watch (I loved Jamie describing her Wiki rabbit hole!), as it doesn’t take long for them to find a sex worker who had the assassin as a client.

As Kei and Tilarna drive past the messes made by both pro- and anti-Semanian protesters, it dawns on her how fortunate she is to be treated as an equal by her peers. Kei tries to cheer her up by telling her she’s not some exception sitting in the clouds above it all; just being the decent person she is has changed the hearts and minds of those she’s interacted with. Some of them hated Semanians before, but because they know and like her, their opinions have softened.

Speaking of hard, Marla Mozeleemay wastes no time picking up her late husband’s torch and running in his stead for the mayorship. In this way, Marla is the Hillary to the philandering Bill Clinton going up against Trump’s populism with concrete policies. Tilarna still suspects she was involved in Zoey’s murder, but isn’t about to vote for Tourte either.

That’s when Kei tells her politics isn’t about choosing “the best” candidate—there never really is one—but the “better” candidate, echoing the compromise many felt they made by “holding their noses” and voting for Hillary after she beat Bernie in the primaries.

But if Kei’s reporter acquaintance Randall is to be believed, Coal wasn’t the only one stepping out beyond the bonds of marriage. He has a photo of Marla engaging in a liaison with a burly man sports a bulldog tattoo on his elbow—just like the Marine who killed Coal, identified as Ethan Dole.

Kei and Tilarna’s supposedly private meeting with Randall in the park is interrupted by armed FBI agents led by Special Agent Roland Chan. It’s only after they’re arrested that Tilarna determines all the agents except Chan are “dead” and under the control of a wizard. Moments later they learn which one: Zelada is alive and well and apparently a key player in this sprawling conspiracy.

Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

HenSuki – 12 (Fin) – After Much Deliberation…

Keiki wakes up from a nightmare (in which he takes his new wife Sayuki out for a walk, like a dog) to find Mizuha in his bed, reiterating her love for him, kissing him, and essentially urging him to choose her among all his choices. Needless to say, she comes on too strong, and ends up pushing Keiki right out of the damn house.

He ignores Mizuha’s many calls and instead gets in touch with Shouma and Koharu, to tell him his situation and ask for a place to crash. Alas, Shouma’s house is full and he won’t allow Keiki to stay at Koharu’s. He also encounters Mao, fresh off a BL-writing all-nighter, who has bean cakes and milk at the ready for the hungry Keiki.

Mao only lends more evidence for her case as Best Girl by supporting Keiki without judging, while having her own thing going on separate from him. She may not be aware of Mizuha’s romantic love for him, and assumes they had a sibling spat, but she knows in the end the two of them will be fine. She even gets an accidental indirect kiss in!

The episode then widens into an extended montage with both Mizuha and Keiki attempting to text their feelings, but not actually sending any messages to each other. Keiki also called his dad, who confirmed that Mizuha was adopted, and Keiki warmly and immediately welcomed her into the family. It seems very odd he’d forget this.

In any case, even a single day away from home proves too much for Keiki, as he only just manages to get in the front door after getting caught in the rain before passing out, cold and feverish. Mizuha puts aside their present issue and takes care of her brother.

Mizuha calls Sayuki, who rushes to Keiki’s side and jumps in his bed to warm him. Sayuki also texts Yuika, reporting their boy is “defenseless,” but they ultimately can’t put their competition on hold long enough to calm down, so Mizuha kicks them both out so Keiki can get better in peace.

Keiki wakes up in the middle of the night, his condition improved, and once again walks in on a naked Mizuha in the bathroom. They stay on either side of the door trying to talk this thing out, and Mizuha mentions that her love for him began on that day when he welcomed her (which again, he forgot) and only grew from there. She lost her family in an accident, but gained a new one.

Still, Keiki had never viewed Mizuha as anything other than his little sister, and even though things will never quite be the same whether he accepts or rejects her love, he decides to remain that caring brother going forward. It’s a safe, sensible chocie that’s true to the character he’s been thus far.

That being said, he can’t weasel his way out of granting the command of the winner of the confession contest, and Mizuha wants him to be her boyfriend for a day. She concedes that going from brother to permanent boyfriend isn’t like flipping a switch, but seems determined to gradually change his mind.

It doesn’t help her case when he finds out her phone is full of selfies of her in various stages of undress. Turns out she’s a full-on exhibitionist! Looks like “normal” for Keiki was, is, and will always involve attracting women with particular tastes. A girl bereft of said tastes probably isn’t in the cards for him. Might as well go for Mao!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 12 – Fake Servant, Real Prayers

For the at times jumbled and confusing but generally thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the Rail Zeppelin arc, the rule about no one uninvited boarding the train is again cast aside, as it was for Melvin Wains. For one thing, both the train and Lord El-Melloi II were initially fooled by Dr. Heartless, who disguised himself as Caules with intel from Yvette and murdered Trisha by controlling Karabo.

The real Caules then appears, along with another uninvited guest in Reines, with Luvia’s research in hand. They were able to fly to the train using something called Touko Travel.  What finally got El-Melloi wise to the fake Caules was the fact he was able to heal him so easily; something he knew his student wasn’t quite capable of. The Lord asked Adashino to put on an act so Heartless would think they were at odds.

But gaining mystic eyes wasn’t Heartless’ only objective. By placing both Rail Zeppelin and the Child of Einnashe on the same Leyline, he was able to create a fake Holy Grai. He used that to summon a fake servant, “Hephaistion,” of the “Faker” class, based on the residual image of Iskandar. She appears beside him when Heartless uses a (fake) Command Seal.

Having no intention of being caught, he has the conductor open the oculus to the auction room allowing him and Hephaestion to leave, giving them and Gray/El-Melloi more space to fight. Heph and Gray cross swords again, while Heartless summons the Child of Einnashe once again.

At this point, Karabo emerges from the train with his Mystic Eyes restored, and he delivers a number of blows to Heph by bringing past slashes into the present, all while El-Melloi uses his own experience in following Iskandar to deduce Heph’s story.

Others get into the mix, with Olga-Marie leading a big astromancy spell that rains green flames down upon Einnashe’s twisted branches, while Rail Zeppelin’s staff transforms the train into a weapon that projects and amplifies the power of loaded Mystic Eyes to fire a massive rose-colored beam of energy that damages Einnashe and forces it to retreat.

In the midst of all this chaos, El-Melloi is preparing a spell, one using the amorous pendant worn by Trisha. He’s able to cast it once Heph freezes both Gray and Karabo with her Mystic Eyes, and that spell allows Gray to bring her scythe down in a critical blow across Heph’s chest.

Still, she’s one tough cookie, as she summons the Gordius—er, Hecatic Wheel in order to escape with Heartless. El-Melloi is out of gas, and leaves the rest to Gray, who is steadied by Karabo. He urges her to hear the prayers embedded in her weapon, and to add her own: her desire to protect Sir and everyone else. Those prayers are answered, and the third restraint is rescinded the use of Rhongomyniad is approved, and she blasts Heph and Heartless into the ionosphere.

I have to hand it to this show, despite how much last week’s table-setting and mulling around annoyed me, I knew it had it in it to deliver a powerful climax, and so we have here. Like I said, there were a lot of moving parts that weren’t necessarily made clearer by last week’s preparations, and quite a bit of jargon tossed around, but there’s no denying I was entertained.

Fire Force – 11 – Flowers of Edo

On Captain Oubi’s order, Hinawa regales the newer members of the 8th with the tale of how the 8th got started. Hinawa was a sergeant in the Imperial army at the time (as was Maki, a general’s daughter), and his lieutenant was a kind fellow named Tojo who had his sidearm “baptized” in case he has to put an Infernal to rest.

Well, Tojo is the one to be infernalized, and when the time comes to put him down, Hinawa can’t pull the trigger because his gun isn’t baptized. While off duty, he comes upon the scene of a fire where Oubi, head of the amateur firefighters, takes exception to the Fire Force soldiers who delay putting a docile Infernal to rest because it won’t “score enough points.”

Hinawa and Oubi decide to team up and put the docile Infernal to rest, and Oubi eventually starts the 8th Company as a different kind of Fire Force, one primarily concerned with putting Infernals to rest as respectfully and properly as possible while ensuring the safety of the living.

The company starts with just the two of them, but Hinawa urges Oubi to recruit Maki, whose work ethic, compassion and dedication to her duty make her the perfect match for the company they want to create. When Maki hears this in the present, she’s overcome with happiness, as she initially thought she was just brought in as a “meat shield.”

The reason for all this reminiscing? Aside from the fact it’s fun to learn about how the 8th got started, it was their first call that brings them to the present matter at hand, as it’s likely that the first Infernal they put to rest was artificially created by the Evangelist.

The location of that first call was Asakusa, the jurisdiction of the 7th Company, headed up by Captain Shinmon Benimaru. Beni does things a bit differently too, as his company doesn’t officially answer to the empire, and they dwell and work with traditional technology.

Oubi and the 8th visit the 7th’s HQ unannounced, and meet Benimaru, his lieutenant Sagamiya and two tiny twin fire soldiers Hinata and Hikage. But Beni doesn’t like another company stepping on his turf, and won’t hear them out. Just as Shinra is challenging him to a fight he’ll likely lose, fire bells sound outside—an Infernal has been spotted.

Shinra and the 8th then bear witness to the way Beni does things, as well as demonstrates his compound 2nd/3rd-gen abilities to both create and manipulate flames. He uses them in much the same way firefighters of the hikeshi system of old Edo: to demolish buildings and even entire blocks in order to stop the spread of the fire. His ability just enables him to do it on his own and with great efficiency (not to mention style).

The people in his jurisdiction, much like the people of Edo during those fires, aren’t outraged by the apparent wanton destruction. On the contrary, they know Benimaru is doing what must be done to protect the city, and hope that if they ever Infernalize, he’ll be the one to put them to rest. Fires and the destruction caused to stop them are a fact of life for them. For as the saying goes, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.

DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!