The Genius Prince’s Guide – 12 (Fin) – Exception to the Rule(r)

With Soljest marching on Marden at Delunio’s behest, Wein is facing his toughest challenge yet. Of course, there was never much doubt this season would end with another brilliant victory. It just takes a bit for it to come together. King Soljest simply wants a good fight, so Wein gives him one in the form of ambushes from small groups of Natran cavalry.

He plans for the battle to unfold in such a way that the earliest reports back to Delunio will arrive stating that the Natran army has been routed, which exactly what he needs Sirgis to hear when he needs him to hear it for his crazy negotiations to have actual teeth.

It’s a complicated gambit, but basically he gets Sirgis to believe it’s possible the yellow dye used in the clothes popular with his people is actually poison, and that he’ll unleash 800,000 Natran refugees into Delunio at the worst possible time, throwing the kingdom into chaos and allowing Soljest to swoop in.

It’s not clear whether Wein is aware that Sirgis’ true goal isn’t necessarily to regain lost Delunian territory within Marden—that’s just icing—but that he wants to become a Holy Elite. But if even half of what Wein tells Sirgis comes to pass, he can kiss a future where Delunio is the shining beacon of the continent goodbye.

The coup-de-grace of Wein’s diabolical bluff is that he has the “antidote” to the poison yellow dye, but will only offer it if Sirgis attacks Soljests’ army from the rear. By overwhelming Sirgis with a bevy of undesirable and downright nightmarish scenarios, he gets him to turn against Soljest.

King Gruyere, being an exceedingly experienced head of state, knows Sirgis’ betrayal was a possibility, and isn’t the slightest bit worried when his army is suddenly caught in a Natran-Delunian pincer. In fact, he was bored when his army was slowly pushing the Natrans back and threatening to take the Mardenian fortress.

What ultimately dooms Gruyere is his desire to blast through the Delunian lines, let the Natran forces merge with them and get embroiled in chaos, then circle around an eliminate both. His underlings’ first instinct is to beat a hasty retreat now that they’ve lost the advantage, but Gruyere needs to feed that Beast Within.

That proves to be his downfall when he finds himself distracted by Wein standing atop a high cliff. Wein’s top general and soldier then charge Soljest, but even they are merely a distraction for the much quicker and more nimble Ninym, who manages to gravely wound him.

Notably, however, Ninym doesn’t kill the good king, and he ends up convalescing at Castle Natra, during which time he slims down to a far more normal size. It’s here where he and Wein spar once more, with Gruyere threatening to let himself die in Wein’s custody rather than let him have his way, thus plunging Natra into all-out war against Levetian religion.

Wein is only saved thanks to Gruyere’s insatiable curiosity about the beast within Wein, saying he’ll go along with three-party talks if he tells him what that beast desires. We don’t hear Wein’s answer, but we already know it: just as it was in the beginning, he wishes to drag Natra out of debt enough so he can sell it off and live the slow life (no doubt with Ninym by his side).

The opportunity to see if Wein will get what he wants is enough to entice Gruyere to surrender. However, it’s not a perfect victory for Wein. While he avoided all-out war, by wounding and capturing the Holy Elite Gruyere, the influx of Levetian pilgrims has plummeted and the Mardenian-Natran economic bubble has burst.

While that means Marden won’t be a threat for independence anytime soon, it also means that Wein won’t be in a position to sell his kingdom anytime soon. Instead, it’s back to work negotiating, planning, and strategizing … with Ninym by his side.

What this show lacked in technical execution of battles (or any animation involving large groups) it made up for it with its thoroughly likeable core of characters and wonderfully cerebral plots. Whether we’ll get to see more of that in a second season, I don’t know…but I wouldn’t hate it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 11 – Rare Beast

After scoring some impressive political and economic wins last week, it’s time for Prince Wein to take his medicine, as he encounters conflicts and the potential for treachery as a result of Delunio’s (correct) accusations that Imperial goods are being distributed to the West through Natra and Marden.

Sirgis, Prime Minister of Delunio, demands an explanation, and when Zenovia doesn’t give him one, he demands it of Wein. And while Wein bails Zeno out and scores some points for the ensuing verbal sparring, the meeting ends with Sirgis promising they’ll rue the day.

With uppity kingdoms like Delunio seemingly itching for a fight, Wein decides to forge an alliance with Soljest’s King Gruyere. The military and economic benefits for both sides are clear, but Wein finds himself up against the most formidable leader he’s yet encountered, one who makes a huge meal of being carted around on a palanquin even as he speaks coridal words.

Speaking of meals, Gruyere insists that all important affairs of state must be discussed over one, and this is when we meet Gruyere’s adorable daughter, Princess Tolcheila. While both the OP and her unique twisted smile suggest she’s up to something, all she really does is cheerfully describe each delectable course of the meal.

Wein is utterly defeated by this meal, ending up eating far too much and saying far too little to the king. As Ninym rubs his back (another lovely little moment that speaks to this couple’s bond) Wein resolves to strike up a talk with King Gruyere. But the next day, every attempt to interact with Gruyere results in him being brushed off or outright ignored and avoided.

It’s enough for both Wein and Ninym to suspect treachery in the form of an assassination…but then why is Gruyere delaying? They’re about to set a contingency plan into action when Gruyere welcomes them to his private veranda to have the very talk Wein wants, not only expressing his belief that all people, including flahms, should be treated equal, but agreeing to an alliance with Natra.

It feels all too easy because it’s not true. As soon as Wein returns to Natra, he learns that the Mardenian borders are being attacked by Delunio, who are staking a claim to lands they loaned to the crown Marden in perpetuity. Whether that’s an excuse or a genuine desire, Delunio has an alliance with Soljest, and so Soljest has delcared war on Natra.

It’s an unusual place for Wein to be—on the wrong side of a doublecross. He remains a genius who had always suspected something like this would happen, but also shows that he often follows his passions, and the charming King Gruyere’s genuine-sounding entreaties snagged him hook, line, and sinker.

It’s a lessoned learned for a prince who may be brilliant, but doesn’t have half the experience playing the game of an operator like Gruyere. And we learn that Gruyere isn’t doing this just because he’s evil, but because Wein is a worthy opponent, a “rare beast” Gruyere is looking forward to devouring. Even if he loses, he’ll still be glad to have tried to go up against the Genius Prince.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 85 – Coming to This

Floch and the Jaegerists have taken the port and secured the Marleyan flying boat, but haven’t destroyed it yet, despite being the only thing our new alliance can use to get to Eren. Hange posits that Floch isn’t in a hurry to destroy valuable tech that will take decades to restore with most of the world gone. Whatever the reason, the alliance needs that plane. What is everyone willing to do to get it?

Armin wants to try to secure the boat and get it repaired by the Azumabito mechanics without shedding any blood. It’s probably upping the difficulty level far higher than they need to considering the stakes. That said, they’re also trying to cling to what shards of humanity they still possess, which is admirable…as is Magath trying to wring Eren’s location out of Yelena, then bowing his head in apology for initially blaming four kids for all of Eldia’s historical crimes against Marley.

Even Magath understands the importance of not holding children responsible for the misdeeds of their ancestors in a future where everyone can co-exist. Unfortunately, we’re not quite in that future yet, and so the plan to capture the plan without bloodsheed quickly goes sideways, in part due to Floch being smart enough to consider whether Armin and Connie are traitors, and in part due to Azumabito Kiyomi not being ready to go down without a fight.

Kiyomi understands that Eren’s plan won’t save the world, only shrink it; concentrating all of humanity’s inner conflict on one island—and shrinking the gene pool along with it. No, this way will be mankind’s ruin, only faster than allowing the present system to continue. I don’t know if Kiyomi thinks Armin will do something and tries to buy time by pinning Floch, or if she’s just ready to die fighting.

The end result is the same: the Jaegerists, who can’t be reasoned with in such a compressed timeframe, must be wiped out. Mikasa bursts into the room where Kiyomi is being held and does her best to incapacitate the Jaegerists without killing them, while Annie and Reiner transform in an attempt to capture or kill Floch. I daresay I felt quite nostalgic seeing the Female Titan in action again after so many years.

But while Titans rumble towards Marley and other Titans flex their muscles on behalf of the alliance, the most compelling part of the episode happens on the pier, as Armin and Connie try to trick their former comrades Daz and Samuel into disarming the bomb attached to the flying boat and let them use it to “chase the Cart Titan”.

When Floch raises the alarm, Armin is shot and Connie held, but their comrades hesitate just enough to allow Connie to take the upper hand, shooting both in the head. Yes, he and Armin betrayed two of their old friends…but they had to. The very world depended on it.

Clinging to their humanity won’t mean jack shit if the Eren and Rumbling succeed. The alliance’s one and only mission is to prevent that, and doing so will stain their hands with far more blood than they’d prefer. It has well and truly come to this, and there’s no more going back.

Attack on Titan – 84 – Kumbaya

While lying awake in bed, Jean envisions a comfortable future in “that prime spot in the interior.” He has a wife, a kid, and all the fancy liquor he can sip. He can have it all if he simply “stays put”, does what Floch says, and allows Eren to commit global genocide unchallenged. In other words, he has to give up on being a Scout.

Jean meets secretly with Hange and Mikasa prior to the botched execution of Yelena and Onyankopon that results in the three being eaten by the Cart, so we already know he’ll choose to stop Eren. This week we learn why he made that decision. First, Hange’s three simple but powerful words—genocide is wrong. Second, Hange makes him feel the eyes of all his fellow scouts who have fallen. He won’t forsake them. He tells Hange, simply, I’m forever a scout.

Fast-forward to the big meet-up of the Paradis and Marleyan Eldians (and Magath), and while last week there was a distinct super-heroic feeling to this eclectic band being brought together, it looks decidedly shakier this week, once they all, ya know, have to sit around a fire together.

The sparks start flying when Magath and Jean argue over who started this fight, at which point Hange, stirring the stew, says none of them should be talking about a past they weren’t present for.

Then Annie asks Mikasa if, when trying to convince Eren fails, would she really be able to hurt or kill him in order to stop him. When Mikasa bears arms, Annie responds with her needle ring, ready to transform. They end up cooling down then partaking in the hot stew.

Meanwhile, the reason Yelena is alive is so she can tell Magath and the others where Eren is. She won’t tell them, but she’s happy to stir the shit by going over how many people everyone assembled there has killed, and more importantly, what they did to each other.l

Honestly, why Hange didn’t insist on Yelena being gagged in such a volatile situation is beyond me. Yelena doesn’t spare anyone, getting it “all out in the open”. What sets Jean off is when she mentions Marco, and how Reiner and Annie took away his ODM gear so he’d get eaten by a titan.

It’s not that fact, but when Reiner adds that he killed the titan that ate Marco, and begs Jean not to forgive him, than Jean basically beats him to a pulp. When Gabi gets between them, she gets kicked, but she and Falco still beg Jean to help them save their families.

At dawn, after he’s calmed down, Jean wakes Gabi and Falco up, saying that he’ll help them. There’s a crispness and clarity to the look of the morning that suggests a great many things were burned away in that campfire, or at least set aside to the point where they can all work together towards a shared goal: stopping Eren’s genocide.

Unfortunately, before they reach the port where Azumabito Kiyomi says there’s an airship for them to board, Pieck reports that the port is already under Jaegerist occupation, and Lady Azumabito is among Floch’s hostages. The Stop Eren faction is off to a rocky start.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 08 – Little Miss Vying for the Throne

With help from Mayor Cosimo of the merchant city of Mealtars, Princess Lowellmina has organized a Summit of Imperial Heirs, where she and her three brothers can discuss a “peaceful succession”. She made a point to invite Natra, which is to say Wein, but is surprised to discover he sent his sister Princess Falanya in his stead.

It was actually Falanya’s idea. Sure, Wein had no interest in getting tangled up in another one of Lowa’s webs, and has the excuse of dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. But as we’ve seen in what are informative but rather stiff infodumps with her tutor, she’s absorbed enough knowledge, and wants an opportunity to apply it…while helping her dear brother out.

Lowa soon pivots from her disappointment over Wein not coming, and decides to introduce Falanya to her three brothers. There’s the youngest, Prince Manfred, who seems the shrewdest of the three (though not four if you include Lowa!), the hulking military-backed Prince Bardloche, and the eldest, Demetrio, who is the eldest…and biggest jerk.

Falanya comports herself well in this deep end of the political pool; a testament to her education and diligence. When the three bros start to bicker, Ninym is there to suggest the politest possible tactical retreat: she already promised to speak to Lowa.

However, it’s Ninym who picks up on Lowa’s not-so-subtle cues she wishes to talk in private, and it’s here where the episode shines, as I love how these two drop all rank and pretense and act towards each other like the old classmates and friends (or frenemies?) they are.

As Falanya observes and learns at the banquet, Lowa proposes a deal with Ninym: inside information about the summit of heirs in exchange for Natra joining her cause (which is now a legitimate fourth faction, making up in patriotic fervor what it lacks in teeth). Ninym, who wasn’t born yesterday and understands Wein’s wishes, imitates Wein perfectly in declining Lowa.

It’s not quite as fun when Mayor Cosimo gives Falanya a tour of the city, but Falanya is suddenly inspired upon entering the “Citizen’s Assembly”, which serves as a kind of non-voting delegation of commoners who hash out various proposals and debates.

Even though they’re discussing the construction of a new aquaduct, Falanya is enthralled, and watches carefully to see who among the delegates persuades most of the others to his way of thinking (unfortunately, I didn’t see any women in the assembly).

Demetrio, who we immediately learn to be a rude petulant asshole, activates Full Skeevy Villain Mode when he decides he’ll take out his anger at Wein for sending Falanya in his stead by doing…something to Falanya. It’s clear that even in a scenario in which Lowa doesn’t win the battle of succession, it isn’t going to be this guy.

He’s just a bad seed, and when his face twisted as he knocked over his own table of food, I thought him capable of anything, up to and including kidnapping poor lil’ Falanya!

That something turns out to be initially less barbaric, as he suddenly surprises Falanya (and Lowa and Ninym) with a proposal of marriage to Falanya. He says it’s to tighten bonds with Natra, but it’s really because once Falanya marries him, he’ll consider her his property to torment as he pleases. That’ll teach Wein to slight him!

Falanya trembles a bit, but regains her cool and politely responds by saying she’ll convey his proposal to Natra. When Demetrio says he needs an answer from her now, she takes the kid gloves off and surprises everyone in the room with her directness: royal marriages are a matter of state, and she knows full well she’s still too young and inexperienced to make such a decision alone.

Wein’s brother would be so proud…so it’s a good thing he’s here, and was listening just outside the room. On the one hand I’m sure Falanya and Ninym are glad Wein’s there. I also believe that Falanya won’t see his arrival as a failure on her part; as she said, she’s too young and inexperienced for the moves that are going down in Mealtars.

Demetrio will have to tread lightly around Wein to avoid being gutted, but it’s also incumbent on Wein not to doom his country by impulsively slaying the eldest imperial prince, even if he is a prick! Finally, I’m sure Lowa is glad Wein’s there, because she wanted him there all along. Will she be able to draw him to her side, huge hassle though it may be for him?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 83 – Putting Together a Team

Levi is lucky his companion in the woods is Hange, who is able to stiches him up and keeps his wounds clean. The two are in the dark until Eren’s message to all Eldians. Hange thinks the only option is to run, but even in his awful state, that’s not how Levi flies, so the two make contact with Magath and Pieck and propose an alliance.

We catch glimpses of Jean, Mikasa, and Annie at night trying to sleep through the din of the Rumbling, while Armin and Gabi ride through the night, trying to catch up to Connie in time to save Falco. Little did I know everyone in this little sequence would not only eventually reunite, but also have a plan involving Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. But first, Armin has to stop Connie from doing something he’ll regret.

Connie’s lie about “brushing the titan’s teeth” is not that convincing even to a dummy like Falco, but Armin and Gabi make it there in time, and Connie gets Armin to stand down by essentially forcing him to save him from his mother’s jaws. Almost losing Armin—and almost subjecting her mom to becoming the Colossal Titan—snaps Connie out of his crazed plan, as does realizing his mom would not have wanted him to kill a friend anda kid to save her.

After a downer of a scene where Mikasa gets her scarf back from her would-be protégé Louise (who is dying of shrapnel) and another scene of Floch going full Fascist, Armin, Connie, Gabi and Falco stop in town for some much-needed food and just happen to sit at the same bench where Annie is scarfing down her first food in four years. Sure, it’s convenient, but I’ll totally allow it, as well as Connie’s not-so-nice ribbing. These guys once trained together as kids, so after all that’s happened it’s nice to be reminded they still are kids.

Back at the ruins of the fort, Floch, who believes Jean has chosen a side, prepares to execute Yelena and Onyankopon. The former has no final words, but Floch wants Jean to prove his loyalty by killing Onyankopon first, and Onyankopon, who was dealt a terrible hand in all this, has a lot to say. The camera cuts away as Jean shoots once, twice, four times, all of the shots missing…on purpose. He pushes Floch away as the Cart Titan pounces, swallowing Jean, Onyankopon and Yelena.

The four shots were a signal to “continue the plan”, meaning Armin, Mikasa, and Connie had a plan, working with Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. Armin and Mikasa leave the city driving wagons packed with supplies, with Connie, Annie, Gabi, and Falco all along for the ride. Annie notices someone watching them leaving, something that will most likely come up later. But it’s just thrilling watching all these characters I like teaming up.

Pieck stops by a stream to regurgitate Jean, Onyankopon, and Yelena, the latter of whom was saved because she’s part of Hange and Levi’s deal with Magath and Pieck. Jean explains to Onyankopon that he just couldn’t plug his ears and remain a part of Floch’s xenophobic Jaegerist regime. Like Connie, he held on to his pride as a soldier.

In his cabin hideout, a recovering Reiner is kicked awake by Annie, someone he probably never expected to see alive again. He’s even more confused by the odd combination of people around him: Mikasa, Connie, Armin, Annie, Gabi, and Falco. He asks what’s going on, and he gets an answer: they’ve assembled a team…to save the world. Despite the magnitude of the difficulty of their goal considering the Rumbling is already underway, in that moment, I believed them.

This is the first episode of this cour of Titan that was actually fun to watch more often than not. Turns out there are a few good guys (or the closest thing to it) in this world, who never asked Eren to destroy the world for them, and are committed to stopping the slaughter or die trying. This episode was thrilling (and at times pretty damn funny) enough that I’m content to wait for the next episodes to explain exactly how they’re going to do that.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 07 – Creative Differences

Whelp, color me surprised the Festival of the Chosen-whatsit never took place! Prince Wein is beset by a plethora of challenges both in Cavarin and Natra, but manages to overcome them all by the end by following his own advice: “trust gains value when there is the potential for treachery.”

King Ordalasse didn’t expect Natra to defeat Marden, but now seeks to bring Wein to heel via the lucrative Holy Elite nomination. Zeno asks Wein if she can accompany him to the meeting, promising she won’t assassinate him…and using his own words to convince him.

King Ordalasse’s “right of blood” policy is gaining disfavor in Cavarin, and he’s gradually losing support, which could eventually lead to a coup. I like how the show makes us aware of this before Wein greatly accelerates the natural course of events by slaying the king with his own damn hand. Yes, Wein becomes the “uncultured barbarian” he warned Zeno about, after hearing how Ordalasse killed his consort and disowned his only daughter.

But the real kicker is when the king asks Wein to loan him some Flahms to hunt for sport. Wein’s barely-masked contempt is plain to see to all but Ordalasse and Holonyeh. After Wein kicks Ordalasse in the face and stabs him in the heart, he gives Zeno leave to kill Holonyeh, traitor to Marden.

It isn’t until Wein, Ninym, and Zeno have fled the capital that word comes of the noble rebellion back in Natra. But Wein is confident that with Zeno and Marden’s freedom forces on their side, they’ll have a fighting chance to quash the attempted coup.

Sitting by a campfire, Ninym playfully kicks Wein, asking him to confirm he devised this plan before killing the King of Cavarin, saying killing him and then coming up with a plan is the same as having no plan at all. Wein isn’t going to say he did it to rid the world of another Flahm-hater…but he didn’t need to. Ninym knows he did what he did, in part, for her sake.

General Levert’s cavalry forces give chase, but Wein arranges things so they meet the Natran rebels at the border before they encounter Wein’s traveling party, then pincers them with a combination of Marden freedom fighters and a loyalist Natran contingent led by General Hagal—at the sight of whom I’ll admit I pumped my fist!

Hagal pulling a Jordan was Wein’s plan all along: make the rebellious Natran rebels think Hagal retired, thus bringing them out of the woodwork. In the ensuing melee both the Natran rebels and Levert’s cavalry are annihilated, taking troublesome pieces off the board and truly killing two birds with one stone.

“Prince Helmut” eventually pays a visit to Wein in Natra, and quickly reveals herself to actually be comely Crown Princess Zenovia of Marden, who’d assumed the alias of Zeno during her time with Wein.

Ninym’s lovely blend of protectiveness and jealousy is plain to see, especially when she wordlessly refuses to help Wein when Zenovia offers to swear allegiance to Natra, thus making Marden a vassal state. Once again, Wein loses by winning, more than doubling his kingdom’s lands while also butting them up against a fresh western enemy.

Last week’s density of political entanglements made me weary, but this week resolved most of them in thoroughly satisfying fashion. That said, the fact Ibis (the woman who helped stoke the Natran rebellion)  is working for Caldmellia—who wants nothing more than bloody chaos to reign—means Wein’s troubles are far from over.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 47 – Good Times Had By All (But One)

Veldora didn’t show up because he sensed Rimuru was in danger—he wasn’t—but because he wanted Rimuru to give him the next volume of a manga he was really getting into. That’s kind of the lazy otaku energy I’m here for.

While he’s there, he’s all too happy to spar with his older brother’s only child, Milim (while pulling off Street Fighter and Dragon Ball moves!). When Rimuru tells him not to hurt her as she’s being controlled by Clayman, Veldora tries to correct him, but Rimuru is in to much of a hurry to listen.

After dealing with the magical beasts by freeing Nine Tails (who was suffering under Clayman’s Demon Dominate, a spell removed with Raphael’s help) Rimuru checks in on how Beretta’s fight against Viola is doing, only to find Beretta happily humming as she neatly arranges Viola’s parts around her.

After shit got super-serious last week, it’s good to see that playful humor return, along with easy but still cool-looking wins. The pieces are meant as an offering to Rimuru in hopes he’ll find a place for her new master Ramiris and her to live in Tempest.

Speaking of cool, Shion may have the best moves of anyone this week, easily freeing herself of Clayman’s bonds and pummeling the shit out of him. When he transforms into his apparent final boss form, he’s just as easily dealt with, showing just how large the gap is between Rimuru’s most trusted lieutenants and everyone else who isn’t a Demon Lord.

It’s when Clayman is on his back and bloodied when he calls for Milim to get over there and bail him out that Milim reveals to all that still didn’t know it that she’s acting of her own free will. I complained last week that we were basically getting a Milim devoid of personality, and this episode gave me exactly what I wanted: the regular sweet, joyful, and completely chaotic Milim Nava. Plus, Hidaka Rina finally gets to say words!

We learn that Milim was pretending all along in order to get Clayman where she wanted him: in a place where he couldn’t win, and where he’d reveal the person hiding in the shadows: Yuuki (apparently).

This calls into question why she had to destroy Carrion’s kingdom in service of that lie, but since none of its denizens were harmed and Rimuru has ample treasure and labor to rebuild the kingdom, all’s good in the hood!

That is, until we get what is supposed to be Clayman’s sadsack story about being the weakest member of the Moderate Harlequin Alliance, calling out to the heavens to give him more power, and the heavens rather curiously answering his call.

As he converts his soul and the souls of all he’s had killed into energy and power, we learn this was Rimuru’s plan all along: awaken this next-level Clayman so that he can be defeated once and for all and free all those souls. And after getting his warmup in with Milim, Rimuru chooses himself for the task of taking out Clayman—to demonstrate that he has arrived as a genuine Demon Lord.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 09 – Officially Rivals

The battle between Iska and Salinger commences, and Kimisen goes full Shounen Battle Mode, complete with the arrogant opponent’s high-and-mighty speeches. It basically boils down to Ichigo—er, Iska fighting a shinigami captain—er, Salinger and weathering his attacks, with some light but welcome support from Rin.

Down on ground level, Alice is attacked by Nameless, but only very briefly, as if he was once again merely testing her defenses. It isn’t long before she spots Iska and realizes he did what she’d hoped he’d do: help her out rather than simply running when free of the cuffs.

Honestly, while Salinger was amusingly smug at times, he’s also pretty much a cookie-cutter haughty boss, and thus not that interesting. Adding to the lack of suspense is the fact Iska already defeated the Nebulis Founder, whom Salinger considers an equal. Salinger also expresses surprise at Iska’s abilities a bit too much to be a credible big bad.

I had expected Alice to join Iska in the fighting, as they’d also joined forces to beat back the Founder, but Iska has this well in hand, and manages to force Salinger to retreat. All Alice has to do is comfort the wounded Rin and serve as a reminder to Salinger that even if he defeated Iska, he’d have to deal with her.

The fires are extinguished, the prisoners recovered, and the dust cleared in Alcatroz. Alice urges a suddenly adorable Rin to be honest about her various cuts and bruises she suffered, while Alice snaps herself out of swooning over Iska by telling herself he only did what he was supposed to do as part of their temporary alliance.

The Nameless who was at Alcatroz returns to the Empire, then removes his helmet to reveal she was Risya all along; the real Nameless was off ensuring their special forces infiltrated the Central Province. It’s almost as if Risya and N07 were merely an elaborate distraction. We also catch a glimpse of some kind of giant mecha thingy that just might be the next boss against which Iska and/or Alice must face off.

As for Iska, he joins N07 on the car ride home. As she’d been worried about Iska for virtually the entire mission, Mismis reveals she hasn’t yet fully processed the fact she’s an astral mage, nor what to do about it, but since she helped save Iska, it’s his pleasure to help her out in devising a plan to keep her out of Imperial prison or worse. Who better than a former inmate like him?

Back on the royal palace grounds, Alice gazes up at the stars and utters the name “Iska”, irking Rin, who warns her master that she’ll tell the Queen if Alice keeps this up. Little to they know they’re being watched by Alice’s little sister Sisbell. We’ve already met her, as she was the mage Iska broke out of prison. Sis doesn’t want to believe it, but we know it to be true. It’s looking like she’ll be calling on him to help her out again soon.

Tower of God – 05 – Cheap Instant Coffee in a Fine Ceramic Bowl

“What do you *mean* you didn’t notice me putting my hair up? HMMPH!”

This episode sputters a bit in the first half, starting with a mostly redundant explanation Khun’s Crown gambit (other characters catching up to where we are), and a third round of fighting Khun admits is a waste of time. Rather than face the new challengers directly, Khun uses three allies he secured in the first test, when he was supposed to be killing them. The allies prove more than capable of eliminating all comers.

That leads to the fourth and final round of the Crown Game, involving a party consisting of someone who has both the looks and strength to be a Princess of Jahad like Yuri, a towering beast-man in the mold of Rak, and…Rachel. She sidles up to the throne and mutters to Bam that they won’t steal his crown; they’re apparently there to protect it. Only the remaining challengers prove too much for them, and Rachel is injured and tossed into the air.

Bam leaves the throne to catch her, and the two meet eyes, leaving no doubt for Bam of who she is, and that she means more to him than the throne, the crown, or the whole damn Tower. Things look bad for them both when an enormous power suddenly awakens in Bam, blasting the challengers away. Black March seemingly stops time to warn Bam about losing control before knocking him unconscious.

With the Crown destroyed by Bam’s blast (which Lero Ro thinks might’ve been an instance of Bam becoming Shinsu itself) the game is ended without a winner. Lero meets with Yu Han Sung, who treats him to powdered caffe latte served ironically in a chawan. Han tells Lero that the purpose of the tests in the first place isn’t to gauge one’s worthiness, but to ascertain whether they pose any threat to the Tower.

It’s a nice scene between two administrators, but Han clearly knows more than Lero, and Lero knows not to trust the word of someone in Han’s position. Lero also gave his teams three days off following the Crown Game, but with only one day to go, Bam is still unconscious despite Khun’s urgings. That’s when a recovered Rachel arrives with a request for Khun. Based on her behavior thus far, I wouldn’t be shocked if she wanted Khun’s cooperation in keeping her and Bam as apart as possible.

P.S. I love the super-energizing OP, with its bopping theme performed by a Korean boy band Stray Kids, but the ED is the one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen, consisting of a static shot of an intermittently napping Rachel. At first I thought this was a temporary sequence until the “final” ED animation was complete, but apparently it isn’t, which is strange because…there’s just not much there.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 14 – Heads Up!

It seems silly to call this a “calm before the storm” episode when it actually featured quite a bit of spectacle and excitement, but it’s clear the real decisive battle is yet to come, and this entry was to set it all up and give that battle the weight and finality it’s due.

As such, it starts with a war council composed of Gilgamesh, Ritsuka, Mash, and their assembled allies. Gil is short on men, but has enough for a last diversionary stand at the Northern Wall, giving Ritsuka and Mash sufficient cover to head to the Blood Fort in the Cedar Forest.

The day before the battle begins, Ritsuka and Mash say goodbye to Uruk as it is for perhaps the final time, reveling in how many new people they were able to interact with this time around, further reminding them why humanity is worth saving. While en route Merlin speaks to Ritsuka about the “beautiful history” humans make, and he wants a happy ending.

Ana, who also didn’t accompany the party to the Underworld, spent her time helping a blind, ailing old woman with her flower stall. That woman couldn’t see, but could feel the warmth within Ana, and urged her to remove her hood and keep her head up so she could be seen as the most beautiful young woman in Uruk.

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s made explicit here: Ana is a younger, more caring version of Gorgon, before her heart was twisted into an evil abomination. She carries all the guilt of her older self, but could prove to be the X-factor in the battle to defeat her and save humanity.

The day of the battle arrives, and Kingu joins the forces of Demonic Beasts, meeting Quetzalcoatl in single combat. Here Kuku shows just how powerful a goddess she is, not just by overpowering Kingu, dodging his chains, and staying on offense even when one catches her wrist.

No, I’m talking about the means by which the city block-sized Axe of Marduk will be sent to the Blood Fort: Kuku grabs it out of the sky, spins it like a propeller, and THROWS it to Merlin. This “mounmental axe throw” is one of the most badass things we’ve seen a Servant do in this series, right up there with when Ushiwakamaru shows out in her doomed battle with Gorgon.

The plan was simply for Quetzalcoatl to pass the axe off to Merlin so he could drop it on the fort, but Merlin’s staff “slips” and he simply alters the trajectory of her far more powerful throw. As a result, the fort is trashed and Gorgon’s divinity drops, increasing her vulnerability. Kuku loses some too as a result of breaking the edict of the alliance, but not all, since it was inadvertent.

Once inside, Mash is mortified almost unto paralysis by the sights they see of humans trapped in glowing orbs in various states of transformation to Demonic Beasts. She must be steadied by Ritsuka, but his hand also trembles. When they summon Gorgon, she’s in a charitable mood—likely due to the weakening caused by the partial destruction of her temple. If Ritsuka joins her cause to end humanity, he can be her Master.

That’s a Hard Pass for Ritsuka, and Ana steps forward, hood removed, and raises her head in preparation to unleash the Divinity she’s held back all this time. Turns out she has a pair of Mystic Eyes she’ll use to offset Gorgon’s, making things a little easier for our heroes. But there’s a lot of episodes left, so this fight is probably not going to be a butter cakewalk. Not to mention the yet-to-be-determined fate of Ushiwakamaru.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 13 – Don’t Get it Twisted

Putting on a tough front, Ereshkigal pummels Mash and Ritsuka with stone projectiles, but Gilgamesh, despite being dead, can still launch attacks from his Divine Treasury under his Royal Authority. His assist enables Ritsuka to start a dialogue of reconciliation; of asking Ereshkigal straight-up if she’ll leave the Alliance and join their fight to protect Uruk.

Ereshkigal is initially stubborn and won’t put her duties aside. Ishtar provides some griping for psychological effect. All Ereshkigal claims to want is “commendation” for all of the hard work she’s done in the Underworld while her other half flew freely through the heavens.

Ritsuka tells her he can’t praise her for work she clearly hates doing but does anyway out of divine obligation. Instead, he spends a Command Seal so Mash can activate Camelot, tearing down Ereshkigal’s hostile front (expressed through Gulganna) while protecting her pride and dignity as a goddess.

The scary skeleton monster disappears, leaving only a chastened, yet also relieved Ereshkigal in human form. She exhibits far more dere than tsun in this state, as Ritsuka takes her hand with both of his and welcomes her to their side if she’s willing. Ereshkigal is surprised he knew it was her coming to visit him during those chats, which is why he knew deep down she wasn’t an evil goddess like Gorgon.

The old cloaked dude severs Ereshkigal’s connection to the Alliance, but she holds back on becoming an official servant of Ritsuka. Before that, she wants to be of help to Ritsuka of her own free will rather than by contract, when he and the others are in a bind.

Until then, as Gilgamesh ascends back to the living world, his soul freed and returned to him by Ereshkigal, Ritsuka, Mash, and Ishtar trudge back to the surface to meet him back at his ziggurat in Uruk. Siduri is over the moon to have her king back, but Gilgamesh reports that while in the Underworld he failed to find Enkidu’s body, which means while his soul was destroyed, Kingu may be the present occupant of that body.

Before dying, the real Enkidu assured Gilgamesh that he’d “encounter more valuable treasures than me” in time. Perhaps those treasures have revealed themselves as Ritsuka and his growing alliance of servants and goddesses, all dedicated to saving Uruk and the human world, even if it ultimately means the end of the age of gods.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

%d bloggers like this: