Made in Abyss – S2 04 – Finding Their Treasure

No sooner does Reg come face to face with Princess Faputa than she jumps on top of him, and he sees that she’s not as, shall we say, abstract as most of the other Hollows, but rather is much more like Nanachi. Flashes of memories of Faputa run by in his head, but he can’t remember anything. Not only does Faputa know Reg, she knows him as “Reg”, even though that’s the same name Riko gave him a long way up ago.

More to the point, she considers him her Reg. She pierces his navel and threatens to look down his trousers, but Reg manages to slip away. She asks if he plans to “live in the same time as the ‘human child'”, even though he’ll remain when they die, and Reg doesn’t hesitate: he’ll stay with them till the bitter end.

Meanwhile, as Nanachi is touring the market, Majikaja explains how the village of Iruburu knows everyone’s desires—”signals of the soul”. When Nanachi says they value Mitty, Riko, and Reg most, Majikaja lets on that Mitty is actually here, in the villlage, and also name-drops Vueko’s friend Belaf.

While Faputa came on a bit too strong for Reg’s taste, the fact remains they’re sure to meet again, and soon. After all, she has the answers he’s always dreamed of knowing about where he came from, who created him and why, and who he was back then. That said, seeing how Faputa treated him, he wonders if learning too much would change who he is, and he likes who he is.

When Riko finally gets over the worst of the runs, she calls out for Reg and Nanachi, whom we both know have become engrossed in other things and in their distractedness left her alone and unprotected. It doesn’t take long for Riko to get jumped by a gang of Hollow ne’r-do-wells who once again squeeze Meinya too hard, and threaten to squeeze her too.

Needless to say, my heart fell into my feet once all those slithering appendages ensnared Riko. Thank goodness, then, for the rehabilitated Maaa, who springs to the rescue, saving Meinya and Riko, then escaping the cave when the Balancing envelops the bad actors. Having had her fill of handsy Hollows, she prepares to head into town with Meinya, but then invites Maaa to join her, having proven they’ve got her back.

She squeezes herself into a very hip and popular Hollow restaurant, orders something a Hollow with a mouth is eating, and proceeds to get something she was not expecting. The proprietor tells her it’s spicy roasted testicles, and after a beat or two Riko realizes the Hollow spoke in her language. She’s not the only one there who can, either; sitting near the end of the bar is a towering, venerable-looking Hollow called…Wazukyan.

So, we’ve got Irumyuui becoming Faputa, Wazukyan becoming…that thing, and when Majikaja leads Nanachi to where Belaf is, we learn he’s become a kind of armored serpent-dragon thingy. Of course, Nanachi isn’t there to see Belaf. They’re there to see Mitty, who is stuffed rather ceremoniously in a decorative pot and seems as pleased to see Nanachi as those dead red eyes can relay.

As Nanachi drinks in their reunion, Vueko’s voiceover comes in, saying that once someone finds “their treasure”, their value “transitions” and their journey ends. For Nanachi, that treasure is Mitty. For Reg, it’s recovering his forgotten past. For Riko, it’s finding her mother and/or the ultimate journey’s end—the bottom of the Abyss.

Then we see that Vueko has hardly changed at all, other than growing longer hair, ditching clothes, and wading for who knows how many years in the very black mass of goo that goes about doing Balancings. We’re sure to see more of Vueko’s pre-goo experiences, but for now the past and present have officially merged.

P.S. “Those Everyday Feels”, the track that played when the Layers of the Abyss were first introduced and accompanied the first season’s Next Episode cards, makes a comeback this week. It’s one of the simplest but most stirring of Kevin Penkin’s tracks, and also one of my faves.

Made in Abyss – S2 03 – The Ruthlessness of Value

Nestled deep within the Golden City lies an entire village full of hollows like Nanachi, only those who chose to become so in order to endure in the Sixth Layer. Majikaja takes Riko, Reg, and Nanachi on a tour, and show them where Prushka ended up. While initially it looks like a hollow is chipping away harmfully at the whistle, Riko can sense that Prushka “doesn’t mind” and Majikaja confirms that shaving the whistle down to a purer form increases its “value.” And in the hollow village of IRUburu, value is everything.

Majikaja, whose automaton body we learn is actually only a vessel (their real form is sloshing around in the body’s central tank), takes our delvers to the hollow market, where everything is assessed, bought, and sold. Majikaja makes it clear that human children are among the most valuble, but Riko puts her foot down: she’s not here to sell pieces of herself.

That said, when one of the hollows squeezes Meinya too hard and almost kills her, it is punished by a “balancing”, which is the power of the village taking the hollows possessions and finally tearing off bits of it until the damage it did is paid in full. All hollows here, who have taken the form of their desires, know that this is how things go down.

Thankfully, Meinya is tougher than she looks and survives the accidental squishing, and Riko is able to spend the money given to her in reparations to buy lodging and food. Riko is eager and excited to taste food one would never be able to taste anywhere else in the world…but since this is Abyss and there’s no bodily function it won’t explore, she ends up in intestinal distress.

Nanachi and Reg prepare to further explore the village, but there’s a big boom, and suddenly a huge procession of hollows start racing towards it. Majikaja tells them it’s Faputa, “embodiment of value”, who “can go anywhere and will never perish.” Majikaja calls Faputa a lady of high status, which Nanachi translates to “princess”. While doing recon, Reg encounters this princess.

Faputa bears a striking and completely non-coincidental resemblance to Irumyuui, the little native girl Vueko took under her wing during Ganja’s descent into the Abyss in the distant past. Here the present and past once again collide, as we watch Ganja encounter the bizarre, whimsical, and terrifying power of the Golden City and its hollow denizens for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Penkin’s score is up to the task of capturing the combination of wonder and danger; the guy is a master of orchestral crescendos that perfectly express the emotional and physical scope and scale of the city as first viewed by Vueko & Co. I must admit I replayed the final few minutes of the episode just to get swept up in the awe.

But as Vueko remarks, as awesome and beautiful as this place is, what is most assuredly is not is safe...at least for humans. It’s both heartening and heartrending to consider that just as Irumyuui evolved into Faputa, all of the members of Ganja are probably still around in hollow form. They may even have already met Riko, Reg, and Nanachi. They may have had to cast off their human form, but the intelligence remains, and at least they are finally at peace after what they endured as people.

Made in Abyss – S2 02 – Fire Bubbles, Dragons, and Eggs, Oh My!

As soon as Riko, Reg, and Nanachi set foot in The Golden City, its striking, terrifyng beauty is almost too much to handle. That said, once she’s acclimmated Riko has a grand old time checking out all the new stuff, like the ruins of what look like fallen, fossilized cities, or ornate dragon mega-bosses the trio dare not get near.

It’s not just creatures they need to worry about. Riko almost falls through a trap to her death three steps into the city (Reg rescues her with his extendo-arm), while a raid on the nest of a more docile animal for eggs is seemingly met by the Golden City showing why it’s Golden: mammoth bubbles of magma bursting and carpet-bombing the landscape with flame and poison gas.

As for the eggs? Neither boiling nor grilling will keep them from twitching, but Reg eliminates the threat of poison, and once Riko (and, most reluctantly, Nanachi) tuck in, they find the taste grows on you. This layer is full of wonders and hazards, but it’s a good time so far.

That is, until Riko gets excited about sending a message balloon up, only the second she’s ever sent to her friends back in Orth. Nanachi adds a drawing of the three of them to the package, but despite covering it in anti-animal ol and its launch accompanied by one of Kevin Penkin’s signature Abyss themes full of yearning, a critter snatches it out of the sky. Riko is upset, but that’s how it goes.

The three turn in for the night with Reg protecting them with his arm being used as a perimeter fence, but the next “morning” Riko wakes up to find that Prushka, AKA her White Whistle, is gone. In its place is Nanachi’s drawing of them with a strange symbol that looks like an upside-down person scrawled in red ink (which Reg remarks is at least not blood. Too true!)

With Reg and Nanachi’s heightened senses, finding Prushka is not outside the realm of possibility, so the three set off, again affording us still more achingly gorgeous and weird vistas and structures. When they find the red ink-soaked hair of Riko and Nanachi stuffed into the sewn-up butts of dead critters, they’re certainly appalled, but press on.

Riko isn’t going to let fear keep her from finding Prushka. They continue following the scent, leading them to a vast plain with a shambling cityscape in the distance. Where they end up, the bleached, bone-like stone of everything is suddenly painted in all manner of reds, oranges, which combined with the green of the plants is quite festive…but also a little disconcerting.

They eventually end up in a cave decorated with countless human bones, then encounter a rickety-looking but ultimately solid bridge to a very smooth, tree trunk-like shaft stretching hundreds of feet tall. There’s an opening stained red like a wound, and despite how foreboding this all is, the trio presses on.

Even moreso than other Layers, The Golden City is a blank slate; Riko says her mom’s notes are mostly about food and so they have to draw their own maps from here on out. But I doubt they’d have expected to encounter an entire city full of strange, diverse creatures.

One of the more mechanical ones approaches them, making all manner of funky noises while moving. He initially speaks in the same language spoken by the pre-Orth island natives, encountered by Vueko years ago, before switching to Riko’s language. No doubt these are either Vueko and her friends transformed into something beyond human, or more likely their descendants. Can’t wait to meet ’em!

Made in Abyss – S2 01 – The Light No One Else Has Found

Nearly years after had Dawn of the Deep Soul and nearly five years after the season one finaleAbyss is a-back. Rather than pick right up with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi as they continue their dive, we get a fresh perspective from a new character, Vueko, who in the first damn minute of the episode is being horribly abused by the man who took her in.

At least she’s recounting her past; in the present she’s one of the “Three Mages”, bearer of the Star Compass, and currently very seasick aboard a ship in a fleet led by the bug-eating eccentric Wazukyan. They’re part of a Ganja, a suicide team of exiles and misfits united in their desire to find the Golden City, which we know to be on the Sixth Layer of the Abyss.

In addition to having immediate sympathy for what Vueko has gone through, and relief that she’s now being treated well and even relied on (the little scene where her comrade Belaf calls her “lovely” in every way that matters is sweet as hell), my feelings were also of dread, because this is Made in Abyss. Vueko and her team are most assuredly doomed, and were likely doomed long before Riko’s time.

Still, Vueko is doing what she wants to be doing, and eventually her team comes upon an island with an entrance to the Abyss (the same island on which the city where Riko lived was eventually built), a tribe of suspicious but ultimately non-hostile natives, and one little girl who is banished by said tribe and serves as their guide.

She and Vueko soon become tied at the hip (not literally…yet) as the group makes their way into the Abyss and descend the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth layers, to the very eyeball-shaped elevator Riko & Co. enter at the end of the movie.

Just as Vueko makes a leap of faith through the elevator’s gooey doorway, it’s Riko who emerges from the other end, followed by Reg and Nanachi. The message is clear: many have passed through that green goo throughout the ages, but once you’re on that elevator going down, you’re never going back up.

Adding a little levity to what had so far been an quietly awe-filled but also rather dour outing is the fact the elevator ride down is so long that Riko can’t hold it in any longer. Not just No. 1 either, but No. 2. So she goes, and because it’s so quiet (no Kevin Penkin elevator music) Reg and Nanachi hear it all.

But no matter, shortly after Riko’s done her business, the darkness of the ocean around them is soon broken by a golden light. They alight from the elevator on the Sixth Layer, in the Capital of the Unreturned. It’s a terrifyingly gorgeous sight, and a sight very few human beings have seen (and remained human).

Will our friends encounter Vueko & Co. somewhere in this gnarly, chaotic, beautiful capital? Or…more likely, their bones? Is there a chance Riko’s mother could still be down here somewhere, most likely even further below? Many wonders and horrors await, all of them most likely to be expertly presented. The Promised Neverland and Shield Hero showed how not do do a second season; I’m confident Abyss can deliver the goods.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 04 – The Battle of Monster Island

At this point in the game, there have been so many new character intros in PriConne that not only is there still a great deal of mystery surrounding Yuuki’s whole deal, but I’ve even forgotten some of what we’re supposedto learn. The best I can do is assume his dream of an epic battle of godlike champions (plus him and Pecorine) is either a memory from his past life or a glimpse of the future. All I know is the big bad they’re all fighting looks and sounds a lot like Karyl’s boss.

There’s no time for a leisurely breakfast this week, as PriConne has a lot of narrative and liteal ground to cover, so we go from Yuuki’s crazy dream to an equally crazy situation where the Gourmet Guild has bit off more than they can chew. I love how we enter this latest calamity in media res, only later learning that Peco is passed out due to intense hunger.

On Monster Island to capture a rare and delicious cut of meat, the guild is bailed out by a quartet of beastfolk originally from Landosol, who dwell on the island and are ostensibly led by their resident detective, Kasumi (Inori Minase, whom I’m amazed hadn’t voiced a character on this show yet!) It’s a lot of new characters to keep track of, but when PriConne puts so much love into their designs and veteran talent behind their voices, it’s hard to be mad for the wealth of new faces and voices.

The beastfolk party teams up with the Gourmet Guild and split into two groups of four, eventually finding the stronghold of the island’s Shadows. Another awesome battle ensues, with the characters showing off their distinct weapons and styles of fighting, and Yuuki providing a key assist in powering up Kasumi so she can capture a Shadow sample for further study.

When the dust clears, Kasumi finds herself face to face with a Shadow clone of herself, naming her “Kiiri” and eventually changing her clothes and hair so others can tell them apart. Unlike all the other Shadows they’ve encountered, Kiiri is extremely docile and sweet, and while initially somewhat vacant and mechanical, the more she hangs out with Yuuki and his glowing power, the more she comes alive as a person.

Ramifications of a Shadow clone of Kasumi coexisting with their group from now on aside, the second group meets up to report that a giant golem was swarmed and captured by the Shadows like ants on honey. A digital copy of the golem’s occupant, Metamorregnant, warns the reunited group that once the golem is swallowed up by the Shadows, it will be used to launch an assault on the island’s beastfolk town.

Sure enough, that happens, and for the rest of the episode PriConne shows off its mastery of both scale, kinetic action, and magical chaos and destruction, as Peco rallies the other seven members of the two parties to fight and fight until the threat is defeated. After all, there isn’t a boat big enough to evacuate the settlement.

The eight party members are split between supporters and front-line fighters in the battle, with Yuuki powering up everyone with his glowy powers. Peco, the most powerful fighter of all of them, takes the lead literally running up the hundred-foot-tall golem, then launching not one or two or three but four consecutive Princess Strikes, the final one meant to be the coup-de-grace.

But suddenly, the ring Karyl’s boss gave her glows, and Peco is instantly teleported from the battle to the throne room of her former home, Landosol Castle. She’s welcomed there by Karyl’s boss, but the shocked, pained look on Peco’s face says it all: she is not happy to have been plucked away from her friends in the middle of a crucial battle to save hundreds of innocent people. Karyl’s boss calls Peco Princess Eustania, and it looks like whatever plan she has, she’s putting it into motion now.

A cliffhanger! Like Banished from the Hero’s Party, I tend to prefer PriConne when it’s in sweet, low-stakes slice-of-life mode, just four friends enjoying good food after a fun adventure. But PriConne obviously has larger ambitions, and there’s no doubt in my mind it has the visual chops to pull off whatever it wants, so I’m eager to see where this goes.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 02 – Fanning the Fires of Fancy

Jinguuji and Tachibana discover that they can summon the latter’s apartment—recreated in perfect detail, right down to the trash—anywhere they want, a portable inn. Unfortunately, Tachibana only has two small TV dinners and nothing else in the way of food. When Jinguuji asks him what he’d do if there was a major earthquake, Tachibana, unguarded, says that obviously Jinguuji would come and save him!

That sweet sentiment aside, the current situation is they have a place to sleep and a reliable source of water, but will have to secure more food soon. Fortunately, a typical medieval fantasy village is not far from where the Goddess dropped them off. When Tachibana (wearing the clothes his sister left at his place) comes afoul of some bandits, they immediately fall in love with her, resulting in all of them brawling each other for her hand.

Jinguuji rounds up all the ruffians, and with Tachibana’s intensely persuasive adorableness they learn the location of their base. But when Jinguuji tells Tachibana to hang back while he handles things, she says that isn’t right. It reminds him of how the two of them first met in middle school.

Jinguuji was raised to be someone who could follow orders, resulting in everyone dumping all the work onto him. But Tachibana pitched in when he didn’t have to, and in doing so restored Jinguuji’s faith in humanity.

Combined with the Goddess’ “Curse”, Jinguuji’s reminicing about his beloved best friend results in him thinking about dating and marriage. When he checks his lovey-dovey behavior by smacking his head into a tree, Tachibana uses a handkerchief to stop the bleeding, and in doing so inadvertently exposed a bit of cleavage.

This, in turn, causes the “Charmed” Jinguuji to wrap Tachibana tightly in his blazer so she’s not revealing any skin. The two bicker as the bandits emerge from their base, thinking they have the upper hand, but the moment they say something about Tachibana, he buries them one-by-one in the ground like rice plants.

With the bandits defeated, Jinguuji and Tachibana discover an expansive horde of loot. They give much of it to the village (from which it was originally stolen anyway), but Tachibana does ask the village to provide her with a new outfit: a pink smock-like dress with a red bow and black fingerless gloves. By now, Tachibana has started to embrace the “omnipotence” of cuteness.

Unfortunately, her “Troublemaker” passive skill results in the bandits’ hideout burning down, along with the entire forest, which comes as a horrendous shock to the local Elven premier. While a step down from the first episode (as second episodes so often are), I’m still enjoying the chemistry between the two old friends, complete with looks back at how and why they are friends.

Fabiniku – 01 (First Impressions) – Old Pal-idigm Shift

Life with an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout is a stupendously ludicrous title; honestly, even my horribly punny title would be better. Fortunately, the show seems to be far more clever and engaging than its name, and it all comes down to its nucleus of two old friends.

Ordinary but horny Tachibana Hinata and hot but woman-averse Jinguugi Tsukasa aren’t friends because they’re similar—they couldn’t be more different—but the fact of the matter is they’ve been friends for 25 of their 32 years, and you can feel that history in the way they act.

A combination of a typical night of drinking and the classic tongue-in-cheek serious-voiced narrator gives us the skinny on their attributes and internal thoughts about one another. Tachibana is trying to get Jinguuji married off, while Jinguuji is fine being with Tachibana forever.

The mixer they attend goes poorly for Tachibana as usual (all the women gave Jinguuji their contact info) and he gets so drunk he’s face down in the park wishing he could be a beautiful woman whom everyone fawned over. Then an exhibitionist goddess makes it happen!

Just like that, Tachibana and Jinguuji find themselves in a strange forest in the daytime. More concerning, Tachibana’s body melts into green goo than reconstitutes into the body of a petite blonde beauty (with very sharp teeth!) voiced by MAO.

As Tachibana so eloquently puts it, she’s gained stuff up top and lost stuff down below, but her speech patterns and mannerisms are still the same old Tachibana Jinguuji knows…and she’s honest, loves, either in the same way as the friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad, or something more romantic in nature.

It’s not even that much in doubt that at least part of Tachibana feels the same way…and that’s before they insult and anger the naked Goddess of Love and Beauty while she’s trying to give them their mission to save the world that she casts some kind of mysterious curse on them.

The immediate effect of this curse seems to be that Tachibana and Jinguuji suddenly find each other even more attractive, something neither one wants the other to get wind of. Their brains simply are too used to each other as best mates to properly process what their hearts are doing.

To their credit, neither one immediately dismisses their feelings as a direct result of the curse. Maybe the curse increased their affection for one another, but it was always there. Only now Tachibana is a woman, and because she is still fundamentally Tachibana, she also happens to be the only woman the distrustful-of-women Tachibana could ever fall for.

This results in a Love is War style battle of wills, with the two trying to get the other to admit their attraction. As the the one with the cute girl’s body, Tachibana goes on the offensive, only to find Jinguuji irresistible simply by being Jinguuji.

Meanwhile, Jinguuji hides his outsized reactions behind his usual stoic calm—a skill well-honed throughout the years staving off all those women who fancied him. He’s never thought about his type, but now he knows it, and it’s his best friend in a girl’s body.

As the two struggle with their new reality, a seemingly harmless and cute-looking fluffy white bunny thing interrupts. No sooner do they call it cute than its face unfurls reveal a grotesque monster. Suddenly survival mode overrides scoring flirting points against one another.

Jinguuji instinctively gathers his suddenly much smaller, lighter, and pleasant-smelling best friend in a princess cary and shows off the fruits of leg day. The two fall down a cliff, enabling the monster to catch up, but rather than continue running, Jinguuji decides to make a stand. He never let some woman take away his best friend, and he’s certainly not about to let some nightmare-faced Gossamer do it!

That’s when he punches the monster right in its core, quite unexpectedly creating a huge hole in said monster’s body. Turns out while he doesn’t look any different, Jinguuji is actually a Level 70 badass. Yes, it’s revealed this world has RPG-style menu screens that pop up in front of one’s face.

Tachibana is a Level 1 Hero, by the way, making Jinguuji her ideal trusty knight. As for their castle, Jinguuji is able to summon what looks like the door to a modern Japanese apartment with one of his active skills; the proverbial rest and save point.

While all the isekai and RPG trappings and their quest to defeat the Demon Lord are sure to play a larger role as our two best friends continue to explore their new lives (and meet more people), I hope the focus remains on how the bond between those two old friends continues to morph and evolve due to a very new and unexpected development.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 01 – Quest for the Legendary Seasoning

Every single one of PriConne’s season two premiere’s 23 minutes is used to pull us straight into its lush, expansive world and not let us go, like those mangy purple dogs that keep nomming on Yuuki. It offers both epic fantasy thrills and comfy cozy little pleasures that come between those big moments, and I absolutely love it to bits.

As thanks for sharing her mushroom harvest, Kokkoro was given a map by Karin at the Guild which leads to a “Legendary Seasoning”. After a tasty breakfast of egg sandwiches, the quartet heads out into the big, beautiful world. The first season was always easy on the eyes, but PriConne pulls out all the visual stops as Peco, Yuki, Kokkoro and Karyl strike out on an adventure.

The four soon find themselves gleefully lost in a vast above-water coral forest. Along with all the eye candy comes top notch chemistry between the disparate characters, the same classy orchestral score, and superb sound design. It also features some great comic timing, with quick cuts that had me laughing on more than one occasion.

They’re stuck in the forest for what seems to be several days, such that when Karyl is sick of fish, Peco and Yuuki trap one of the furry beasties that roam the area. Their meat is juicy and delicious…but ultimately poisonous. The four find out the hard way one by one when they vomit rainbows. The friends and family of the beast they ate surround the paralyzed party. Karyl had me howling when she exclaimed “I don’t want to die in such a stupid way!”

Fortunately, te four are saved by a grizzled old man who has lived in the coral forest for years. In fact, he and his party made the original map the copy of which Kokkoro obtained. He serves as their guide, and Kokkoro learns from his locket that he’s the last living member of a adventurer’s party of four…whose souls happen to still be stuck here in the form of spectres.

The quartet readies for battle, but when physical attacks prove worthless, Kokkoro works off a hunch and initiates a healing spell to help the ghosts pass on peacefully. Turns out that’s what the old man wanted all along, and he too is a ghost. That said, Peco asks the four of them to join them on their search for that legendary seasoning, “Drops of the Sea.”

The ghosts agree, and procure transport to the location in the form of a dang airship that soars through achingly gorgeous landscapes and cloudscapes. This is all happening during the end credits, and it’s a credit to the show that it packs as much as it can into its running time. It’s only fitting that a series in part about food that it offers such heaping helpings of visual bliss right out of the gate.

Alas, they’re never able to procure the Drops of the Sea from the eggs of the giant turtle who supposedly lays them…because the only turtle they find is a male. That said, this was always about the journey and about sharing new sights, sounds, and tastes along the way…even if they were briefly poisoned!

The episode fittingly ends with a meal. Returning home after to long, there isn’t much in the way of food to prepare, but Kokkoro makes it work, whipping up a quick and tasty fried rice-like concoction. When Karyl, a famously picky eater who hates vegetables, spots bits of them in her food, she is weary, but when she works up the courage to take a bite she learns it’s much better with veggies than without.

Everyone scarfs down their dinner and puts their hands together in thanks: thanks for the food, and thanks for each other. Then it’s off to warm beds, restful sleep, another gorgeous dawn, and another fun adventure.

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

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

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

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

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

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

SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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