Hamefura – 11 – Waking Bakarina

That was a goddamn tearjerker.—Steve Zissou

That was…that was outstanding. This episode left me speechless, so I’ll simply type what I want to shout from the mountaintops.

It’s not everyday a protagonist in an isekai anime ends up right back in the “original” world where they started, but after falling victim to Sirius Dieke’s dark magic, that’s where Catarina ends up. She’s initially disoriented—calling her mom okaa-sama—but after dealing with her many morning cowlicks (wondering where, and then who Anne is) she’s off to school…with a cucumber instead of the classic toast?!

There, she finally reunites with her best friend Acchan, but it’s played out as just any other day. They talk about Fortune Lover—she’s currently on the Alan route—and read manga during a break from classes. This world is like a pair of old shoes, fitting so smoothly and comfortably that it’s as if she’s wearing no shoes at all (like when she had a romantic scene with Alan in a tree).

But back in the world of Fortune Lover, Catarina has been asleep for over two days. She cannot be revived, and one of the best docs in the land is clueless. All he knows is that if she never wakes up, her body will eventually weaken until she dies. The news hits her pansexual harem like a ton of bricks.

One by one, we see the women and men who love Catarina wallow in abject despair, suddenly lost and facing incalculable hurt. Talking as if giving a eulogy at her memorial, each of them describes what she means to them and why they can’t live without her.

She brought Color to Gerald’s world, and light to Keith’s. She helped Mary learn to love herself and fall in love with her in turn. She relieved Alan’s stress about being the lesser twin. She alone understood Nicol felt blessed to have such a special sister. She alone told Sophia, and helped her to believe, that she was indeed beautiful.

The last person in this sequence is Sophia, who suddenly hears the voice and senses the presence of…someone else. As we learned a few weeks back, Sophia and Acchan share a strange connection that bridges their two worlds. In a window reflection, Acchan assures Sophia that she’ll bring Catarina back, but she needs a little help. Sophia has to return to Catarina’s bedside.

As Sophia springs into action, everyone else similarly breaks out of their respective sorrow spirals, standing tall and vowing to stay by Catarina’s side until she wakes up. It’s almost as if Acchan’s guarantee to Sophia spread to everyone else, and they realized that sitting around crying won’t solve anything; they have to be there for the one they all love.

As dusk descends on the “real” world, Catarina meets Acchan in their classroom, where the latter tells her that while she’s immeasurably happy to have been able to spend a little more time with Catarina, this place is no longer her world, and there are many people who love her waiting for her to return.

As a parting gift, Acchan tells Catarina where Sophia is being held, then flashes a bittersweet smile as she says goodbye to her precious best friend for the last time. The tears…I had them.

Catarina finally wakes up in her bed, surrounded by her harem, and promptly lets them know where Maria is. When they ask how she knows, she credits both her dream and intuition, leading everyone to flash a skeptical look. Still, they’re no doubt enthralled their Bakarina hath returned to them. Now life is worth living again!

The group treks to the Dieke family-built storeroom, locate the secret door, and find Maria safe and sound, and release her. It’s a shame we weren’t privy to Maria’s thoughts about how Catarina changed her life, but after all she had no idea Catarina was unconscious to begin with, so her omission ultimately made sense.

That just leaves dealing with Sirius, who is painted as far more of a tortured, misguided tragic figure than a mustache-twirling villain this week. He feels obliged to heed his mother’s dying wish to avenge her no matter the cost, and he’s resigned to putting his humanity up as collateral.

Even so, he remembers Catarina telling him how “gentle” his tea tasted, and how they were the same words someone else said (I’m guessing his mother). That’s when Catarina and the others arrive in his candle-filled lair. Her aim is not to fight or punish him, but to save him from certain doom—the same way saving everyone else staved off hers.

Peeps, this Hamefura shit is for real.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 24 – Fair and Square

With the discovery of the hourglass in the underwater temple, Naofumi now knows another Wave will arrive in 48 hour’s time. Fortunately, that’s enough time for him to teleport back to Melromarc and warn the queen, who quickly mobilizes a fleet of ships.

I’m not sure how she arranged things so quickly—unless such ships are on 24-hour standby—nor do I know how they know the next Wave will be at sea, but it is, and when they all teleport, they find themselves contending with monsters large and small.

The small fry are no problem for the soldiers, and Melty, who still considers herself part of the Shield Hero’s party, does her part, until one of the monsters grabs hold of her and threatens to drown her in the sea or worse. That’s when L’Arc Berg springs into action, demonstrating his impressive offensive power by eliminating scores of the beasts.

The giant leviathan sub-boss is a far tougher nut to crack, but a leveled-up Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo along with their new friends L’Arc and Therese press their attack and manage to kill the thing. There’s some great battle music to accompany their fight, complete with saxophones.

But once the sub-boss is dead and floating in the water, and the other three Heroes come to pick up rare drops (vultures), the mere mention of them being Heroes gets a weird reaction from L’Arc, who says if they’re joking about being Heroes, they’re not funny.

Turns out he and Therese aren’t ordinary elite adventurers from this world, but full-fledged Heroes from another world entirely. In order to save their world, they have to eliminate the heroes in this one, starting with Naofumi. It’s nothing personal—Therese feels horrible having to do it after all of Naofumi’s help—but do it they will.

As predictable a twist it was that L’Arc and Therese would end up powerful new foes of Naofumi & Co., I do appreciate that they’re not evil, nor do they have any petty beef with Naofumi, they’re just doing their duty as protectors of their world; apparently one world cannot be saved without condemning the other.

In any case, the fight between the former allies is appropriately intense and impressive. Not only do L’Arc and Therese not hold back, but Raph and Filo show just how much more powerful they are now that they were finally able to level up.

Also, L’Arc may do what most cliched villains do and explain his tactics to his opponent, but he does it in the name of fighting Naofumi “fair and square,” Naofumi is similarly transparent in the service of playing psychological games with his former buddies.

Ultimately, the fight comes down to a stalemate: blows have been dealt to both sides, but no one’s in terrible shape, and have plenty left in the tank. That’s when Glass makes her second explosive appearance, revealing herself as allied with L’Arc and Therese and a member of their world. Perhaps she’s a Hero as well?

In any case, she accuses her allies of wasting time playing around and launches the same attacks against Naofumi that very nearly did him in in their previous match. She’s pleased to see that his skills have improved since then, but warns him that they still won’t be enough, as those attacks are far from her worst, and she’s totally committed to personally erasing him.

While I thought this season would go out with a whimper, here we not only have a new Wave, but a paradigm shift in the structure of the plot, with a heightening of stakes and urgency. This is no longer a binary matter of saving or not saving this world; it affects other worlds as well, with other sets of dedicated Heroes whose goals don’t align with theirs.

The final episode is titled simply “Rising of the Shield Hero”, so it’s a good bet Naofumi won’t lose next week (that would be a fall, not a rise), but it will be interesting to see what he and his friends will have to sacrifice in order to fight off Glass, L’Arc, and Therese,  and where they go from there.

No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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No Game No Life – 03

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Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

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Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

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But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

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In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

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When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

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No Game No Life – 02

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Rock-Paper-Scissors is a very simple game, and a lot of psychology goes into its play. Stephanie Dora loses because she gets lost in analysis of her own strategy, and doesn’t consider the fact that Sora has a pretty good idea what it is. She fails to figure out that he had it all figured out, and loses. But the win isn’t particularly impressive (and Steph’s inner strategizing goes on a bit too long for my taste), because as Sora says: there was no way she was going to win; she’s just too emotional and easily riled.

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She was also coming off a fresh and devastating loss to Kurami and wearing nothing but a sheet over her panties, which couldn’t have helped her confidence. Sora may not have gotten a challenge, but he didn’t want one: he merely used a bet with Steph to test the power of the ten pledges. When he commands her to fall in love with him, she falls under his spell, but only intermittently. I liked the idea of the pledges being that ironclad, but it stumbled a bit in execution, Steph’s constant smashing of her head against things in an effort to shake off the spell got a little old after a while.

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That being said, I appreciated the manic energy both Hisaka Yoko and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu brough to Steph and Sora, respectively. Lest we forget, Sora’s not a normal human being, nor is Shiro; a point beautifully reinforced when they grow too far apart from one another. That intense co-dependence may make a future romantic pairing between Sora and Steph a bit tricky, but on the flipside, their absolute trust in one another makes them such a powerful gaming duo, Steph starts to believe they could be the key to saving the kingdom of humanity. More to the point, Sora’s thinking big, aiming squarely at the throne.

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No Game No Life – 01

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I wasn’t planning on watching this as I’ve never heard of it, but that seems to happen about once a season here at RABUJOI. Unlike WizBar, I’ve caught this right at the beginning. If every episode hence appoaches being as good as this first one, this could be a hell of a show. Here’s hoping this doesn’t crash and burn in the production values department in episode 11, too, because the visuals rock.

The show stars Sora and Shiro, a brother-sister pair of NEET shut-ins (or hikikomori) who are as otherworldly good at gaming as they are otherworldly bad at living in the real world (or caring about it, for that matter). The visuals establish their primacy right from the get-go: the outside world is bright, bleak, washed-out; the Lain-like interior (no coolant pools though) of the siblings is dark, but far more vivid in hue.

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They already have one foot out of the world they were born into, defeating 1200 elite MMORPG players while controlling only four mid-level players themselves, when they’re contacted by a stranger who knows far more about them than they should. This isn’t Heartbleed at work though, it’s Tet, the god of the world where Sora and Shiro truly belong: a world of games called Disboard. There’s a great sense of wonder and adventure as we’re suddenly thrust into that new world along with them; ending up 10,000 meters above it.

As Sora remarks, when a protagonist often finds himself in a new world, stories tend to depict that person’s return home. But this world feels more like home to them than the old one; right down to the color scheme. They waste no time putting their not inconsiderable gaming skills to good use, procuring supplies, cash, and a room with ease, and analyzing a game between players vying to become the next King of the world.

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This episode was an energetic,000 snazzy trip from start to finish, wasting no time getting Sora and Shiro out of one world, into the next, and into the thick of the action. While there was a glut of world-specific info for me to process (including Tet’s “ten commandments”), the show kept my eyes nice and busy while dispensing it, helping the necessarily medicine go down. My ears were also treated to the best soundtrack so far; broody and ethereal and brash and booming depending on the situation.

While Sora and Shiro are cocky and successful now (and would dismiss charges of beginner’s luck), things will really get interesting for me when they face off with a worthy or possibly even superior opponent. I look forward to that, and to the episodes with this pair of siblings being more than three minutes long, and containing no brother flesh-eating!

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