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

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

Gagumber has to hit it a few times, but his dusty old Mark Bot shudders to live and he and Memenpu engage in a protracted chase against a kaiju that seems oddly drawn to them. While old and dusty, the Mark Bot is still highly tuned and modified for maximum performance, which means Gagumber and Memenpu are able to keep a step or two ahead of certain doom.

After last week established how deadly the kaiju are, that creates an excellent nervy tension throughout the chase, which combined with the diversity of the environs (from the underground Chinese-style city to the darker depths of the mines) and the top-notch Cowboy Bebop-esque soundtrack make for one hell of a crowd-pleasing 23 minutes.

Even when one pursuing kaiju becomes two, Memenpu soon finds her Mark Bot legs (even if they can’t quite reach the pedals) and uses her inventive genius both to plot the best course out of the colony, but precisely where to place charges around the trapped kaiju so it causes the ground beneath them to crumble in a neat circle shape, where they become fish in a barrel to shoot at…with fireworks that just happen to be stowed in the cabin.

Gagumber and Memenpu’s heroics end up on the radio, and someone we’re sure to meet sooner or later—possibly their ex-wife/mom?—hears the broadcast. The two pay their respects to Walsh and Lynda, and Gagumber impresses upon his wee daughter how shit is not going to get any easier, but when you’re out there in the Abyss Labyrinth you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches…even if one of those punches is the death of someone you love.

With that, the two pack their bags, take care of the paperwork necessary to leave the colony, and then strike out into the Labyrinth proper. The scenery is stunning, like a dream you never want to leave, as well as highly reminicent of Made in Abyss. Suffice it to say I don’t mind SAKUGAN’s cosmetic similarities to an all-time masterpiece. Let the subterranean father-daughter adventure begin.

P.S. In a truly weird, random easter egg, one of the ramen cups says “Tubular Bells”, the name of the theme to The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield.

The Faraway Paladin – 01 (First Impressions) – Enduring the Holy Flame

When we meet Will, looking every bit like the little brother of Chise and Shirayuki (which is very apropos), his world is very small. There are only three people in his life: Gus the ghost, Mary the mummy, and Blood the skeleton. You will note that none of those creatures should necessarily classify as “people”, but here they do, because they’re raising a little boy they could have easily killed…or left to die.

While I know if I was three years old I’d probably be scared out of my mind by the presence of three monsters in my life, but that’s only because I was raised by human parents. Will has never known anything in this world other than these three. The twist is, he’s not originally from this world, but from ours. This adds a wrinkle to a premise that, frankly, could have been just fine without the Isekai angle.

That’s because the idea of these three classic enemies of humanity were responsible for leveling the nearby human city taking pitting on the sole survivor and raising him like their own child is an attractive one. Unlike, say, Golem in Somali and the Forest Spirit, they all have a good grasp on humanity and raising children because all three of them used to be human.

Of course, Gus, Mary and Blood are not simply emulating three human parents; they’re imbuing Will with the wisdom and experience only three undead beings can. Gus helps Will unlock his affinity for magic; Blood toughens and hones him into a man who can kill when he needs to (for survival) and defend himself so he won’t die. Mary teaches him everything else about life—including empathy and unconditional love.

Inevitably, Will grows older (eight to be exact) and his curiosity about what his three adoptive parents haven’t disclosed or are currently hiding from him grows exponentially, as does his ability to investigate. Again, this is nothing different from what regular human parents go through—you try to hold off on explaining certain concepts until the kids are old enough to properly understand. But Will is already at that point, whether they like it or not, and it’s due in no small part to how well they’ve raised him.

To that end, when he spots Mary sneaking into the chapel to pray and finds her surrounded by white flame, Will runs in and grabs her to try to pull her out, causing severe burns that may scar his hands and arms for life. But when he comes to and Mary apologizes for keeping secrets, Will apologizes right back, for prying.

Mary also tells Will that she keeps praying to the goddess Mater she betrayed after death because she still reveres her, and because Mater provides bread to sustain Will. By all indications, Will didn’t live the best life back in our world, but these three undead monsters seem to be teaching him to be a better human.

Good-natured, charming, optimistic, possessing just the right hint of darkness lurking beneath the surface (that city looked pretty dead) and a kick-ass English title, The Faraway Paladin is promising slice-of-life Isekai, perhaps different enough from Mushoku Tensei to keep it on my watchlist.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 01 (First Impressions) – SOMEDAY IS RIGHT NOW

The all-caps up top are no mistake—this is a big, loud first episode, starting with a father-daughter quarrel through an impossibly complex subterranean metropolis that’s shot like a Mission Impossible film. The precocious Memenpu wants to become a “Marker”, one of the elite group who trek through the Labyrinth to parts unknown. Her father Gagumber is content to keep her home and safe as they work menial jobs in the colony.

Their home, Pinyin, is basically one big nest where Memenpu’s father never wants her to leave…at least not yet. But Memenpu, despite being only nine years old, is already a college grad and distinguished inventor. It’s only a matter of time before Pinyin—and her dad—just can’t hold her back from grander, more dangerous future.

Memenpu finds inspiration in Lynda, a Marker who works side-by-side with her dad Walsh. Lynda is initially fine stoking that fire of adventure and discovery in Memenpu’s diminutive abdomen, acting as a big sis and role model and encouraging her little sis to dream big. As it so happens, Memenpu has dreams about and draws pictures of a surface with a boundless sky. A mysterious master Marker named Urorop seemingly eggs her on by leaving a photo at her door of that very surface.

While Memenpu and Lynda bond, Gagumber and Walsh drink. It’s pretty clear that Gagumber used to be a Marker like Walsh, and probably a good one,  but gave it all up (including all the esteem and preferential treatment) the moment his daughter entered his world, and then became it. But Walsh, as someone with an older daughter who has already been through this, tells his friend that there comes a time when a father has to put trust in their child to become their own person.

While I have no doubt that Gagumber is immensely proud of his little girl, that’s tempered by a great sadness that she grew up so damn fast. When he teeters home drunk as a skunk and she pretends to be asleep, he’s still lucid enough to make his thoughts clear. It’s not that he never wants her to grow up, only that he wishes she’d stayed a kid a little longer.

But it’s not just Memenpu’s natural intelligence and talent that is pushing her towards adulthood and independence, but seemingly Urorop as well. Along wih the photo of the surface, Memenpu is given a jewel that when its intricate cracks are projected on a larger surface reveals a map of the Labyrinth around Pinyin…and a route to the surface in the picture.

Then a kaiju bursts through the walls of the colony and wreaks havoc, sending Memenpo, Gagumber, and Lynda on a mad dash to safety. When they’re cornered, Gagumber draws his pistl and shoots the monster in the face, asserting that he won’t let it hurt his beloved daughter. Memenpo is shocked by her usually deadbeat-ish dad’s sudden change in demeanor.

Speaking of changes in demeanor…at first the kaiju chase is played as tongue-in-cheek; the kind of whimsical lunacy you’d find in Durarara!! or Gatchaman. But the kaiju threat is real, and even Lynda curtly orders Memenpo to keep back as she and her dad Walsh board their Mark Bot to do battle. Just as Walsh is complimenting Lynda on having grown up, the two of them instantly get blown up. Memenpo is frozen in shock…as was I. I did not expect shit to get so real so quick.

Fortunately, her dad’s composure isn’t so easily shaken, as he scoops her up and takes her to safety. But if this day’s events taught him anything, it’s that Walsh (RIP) was right: when “someday” becomes RIGHT FUCKING NOW, all a father can do—all a father must do—is trust in their child. But, again, she’s only nine.

So he compromises: she’ll let her strike out into the vast underground unknown towards her destiny—heck, he’ll even supply their transport in the form of his old Mark Bot—but he’s coming along for the ride to protect his little girl. So begins a father-daughter adventure for the ages. I can’t freakin’ wait to see where it goes.

Vanitas no Carte – 08 – The Lord’s Eternal Blade

When they’re in the royal castle where the Queen herself dwells as a guest of Lord Ruthven, Noé is like a giddy kid, while Vanitas is all business. Indeed, he wears out their welcome right fast when he insinuates that Her Majesty could be the cause of the curse-bearers. He even goes so far as to question why she’s become a hermit, and even ask if she yet lives!

This almost gets him killed by Ruthven—with Noé and Jeanne almost dying simply by being in the same room as Ruthven’s wrath—but Lucius, whom we learn is one of the highest ranking members of the court, is the only vamp who doesn’t become overly enraged. Indeed, Luca acts as though Vanitas stumbled upon the truth…because he kinda did: the Queen is not doing so hot!

Vanitas and Noé are kicked out of Altus and suddenly we’re back in Paris, with Vanitas wrapping up his report to Count Orlok and his servants (who also lose it when they learn how rude he was to Her Majesty). It’s a neat way to transition to the Next Case, which involves missing vampires.

Noé’s dhampir (half-vampire) associates Dante, Johanna and Riche report that it’s the doing of the church’s anti-vampire army, the Chasseurs. They all take a trip into the famous and haunting Paris catacombs hoping to find the captured vamps, but they find nothing but a tourist trap. We also meet one of those chasseurs, who seems to have a soft spot for Vanitas, considering him a victim being hounded by the vile vampires.

However, the only vamp hounding Vanitas is Noé, who decides of his own volition to accompany him on his investigation. Noé is amazed that Vanitas knows his way around the super-secret catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is a wonderful adventure deep into the bowels of the ancient city, eventually ending up in a special fancy ossuary containing the remains of slewn vampires.

It’s there where they meet Sixth Paladin Roland Fortis, who is initially a big dumb happy puppy, like the male version of Sarasa in Kageki Shoujo!! He takes Vanita’s quickly improvised story about getting lost, and Roland says he himself is lost, adding to his dopey cred. I myself was fooled until Roland very emphatically asks Vanitas to come over and take a look at something.

Roland ends up shoving him into a cell, then unleashes a flash grenade that renders Noé blind and nauseous. He declares that no vampire who walks through these hallowed halls can leave alive. Will Roland stand down when he learns he’s in the presence of Vanitas, and hear him out regarding not killing Noé? We’ll have wait until next week to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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