Summertime Render – 24 – Everything Mattered

Ryuu and Shinpei are able to catch Ushio before she falls to her death, and she’s reverted to a child since her hair wasn’t quite enough to fully restore her. She’s well and truly out of gas and can no longer fight, but has one more ace up her sleeve.

If Ryuu and Shinpei can buy her two minutes, she’ll turn herself into a hacking shotgun shell that, once fired at Shide, will sever his connection to Hiruko and delete him. While stalling that long won’t be easy, it’s far from impossible, especially as Shide is the loquacious type and enjoys toying with his prey.

Ryuu and Shinpei do battle with Shide, who in addition to being very annoying with his monologues is also a tough customer due to three centuries of honing his shadow skills. Neither of the boys can match him for pure creativity, and Shin can tell they’re not going to make it if they don’t do something drastic.

That something is having Ryuu possess Shide’s armor, depicted as Ryuu literally wrestling with a mass of mud with eyeballs, resulting in Shide being frozen in place. The downside is that now that Ryuu is out of Shin’s body, Shin can feel all the pain Ryuu was suppressing. He nearly passes out, and then his body starts to disintegrate.

However, all this rash, all-or-nothing action pays off, as Ushio is able to finish the hacking shell. This leaves Shin having to get to the shotgun two meters away before Shide (who isolates Ryuu and tosses him away in a glob of mud) can charge and kill him.

He won’t make it, and Ushio can’t move the shotgun as she’s the shell inside, but Haine can, and moves the gun right into Shinpei’s hands. Ushio helps him hold it steady, they get the shot off, and Shide finally, finally bites the dust. His plans to both cause and witness the end of the world come to nothing.

This leaves Shinpei, Ushio, Ryuu, Haine, and lil’ baby Hiruko, whom Ushio attempts to delete. Instead her and everyone else’s data is transported to the real world of over 300 years ago, the very day that the original Haine finds the dead whale that is Hiruko on the beach.

Realizing that Hiruko sent them back to break the cycle, Shinpei scares Haine off before she reaches the whale, and then Ushio deletes it. Baby Hiruko vanishes, finally able to rest. Haine vanishes shortly thereafter, hoping that she and Ryuu can be friends again somewhere, someplace.

That just leaves Shinpei and Ushio on the beach, and what we know must be one more tearful goodbye. Ushio is a shadow, after all, and with Hiruko gone she’s not far behind.

Shinpei wants to disappear with her, but she throws a characteristic “dummy” his way; the time they got to spend together in the past few days made her—made them both—so happy, but she wants him to live on. Not to mention everyone is waiting for Shinpei back home in 2018. Ushio vows to use her remaining power to transport him back to his proper time, but that’s not all she aims to do.

It would seem she’s inherited at least some of Hiruko’s power, with which she plans to overcome the loops and re-draw the summer. So as Shinpei ends up on the boat to the island, his face landing in Hizuru’s chest, maybe it’s not goodbye, but more of a see you later situation. We’ll find out in the finale.

Summertime Render – 23 – Realm of the Dead

Haine has devolved into an eyeless, helpless child that Shide apparently has no further use for. But he does want her Observer’s Right Eye, which is now in Ushio’s head. He provokes Ushio and Shinpei into following him to through a tear in the cave wall into another dimension.

Ushio tells Shinpei if he goes in he’s not coming out, but with both Ryuunosuke possessing him and her by his side, he’ll be fine. But even if things go pear-shaped, he hastens to tell Ushio he loves her, he wants to be with her, and he will never leave her side again.

The remainder of the episode takes place in a thoroughly weird—and hauntingly beautiful—dream world: Haine/Hiruko’s true home. As a result of Ryuunosuke pushing his body too hard, Shinpei’s right leg is ruined, but Ryuu offers to control his body and taking on the pain.

This enables Shinpei to walk, which he needs to do to find Ushio, whom they know is both still alive and no more than 50 meters away due to the shotgun she printed still being whole. Shinpei and Ryuu come upon a ball—Haine’s handball. They follow it into a Hitogashima frozen in time from when Haine lived.

There they find Ushio, apparently in great pain and in contact with Haine. But this Haine is different: she’s just a kind little girl like the one Ryuunosuke’s sister befriended years ago. Assured there’s no threat, Ushio introduces Haine to Shinpei and Ryuunosuke.

Haine tells them they’re in the realm of the dead, Toyoko. While the power of the awakened Observer’s Eye can only be fully utilized in the real world, Shide has brought Ushio here to steal the eye from her. Once he has the eye, he will transcend to a still higher dimension…and destroy the world.

Right on cue, Shide uses Baby Hiruko to summon one of Haine’s memories of her island being firebombed by a squadron of B-29s in World War II. Ushio’s hair shield protects them while Haine prepares to use her innate power to suspend the memory, giving Ushio a shot at attacking Shide. Without Hiruko in his possession, his armor will disappear, and she can kill Shide’s inner body within.

As you can tell from the screenshots, this episode is a trip, packed with gloriously detailed, imaginative, gorgeous, and frightening imagery, and an even more heightened reality when it comes to action, with Ushio using falling bombs as steps up to the plane where Shide is.

But as cool as this sequence is, it still isn’t enough to stop Shide, because the body she attacks is a hollow one – nothing but an empty suit of mud armor being controlled remotely through Hiruko. Gaining this new piece of information may prove costly, as Ushio passes out and starts to fall.

If any of this is wrong, I apologize, but the plot mechanics and rules of Summertime Render become more and more baroque with each passing episode. But this is such an engrossing spectacle and I’ve come to love these kids so much, I don’t really mind the growing complexity.

Summertime Render – 22 – Red-Eye

Ushio returns better than ever, and demonstrates how her hair-blades can erase Shide’s armor, leaving his inner body vulnerable. But while Shinpei appreciates her enthusiasm, Shadow Mio stops her from charging in, then transmits the careful plan Shinpei has set up. We get a little flashback to the morgue where Toki explains how they can use Guil to hide Haine’s handprint, making it impossible to track him.

Shinpei shoots himself while holding Ushio’s hands, creating a tenth loop inside Guil, who is in Hiruko’s Cave. They know Haine and Shide—both Shides—will find out soon enough where they are and what they’re up to, so they use the festival fireworks to blast through the mud barrier Haine created to get to where her main body is located. Shin’s team is truly humming like a well-oiled machine.

The closer they get to the main body, the louder and harsher Haine’s transmitting signal is to the ears of Shadows. Since he’s now hosting Ryuunosuke, that signal is particularly excruciating for Shinpei, but Ushio manages to help him by transmitting her signal at the same wavelength, neutralizing Haine’s. While Shide attacks Ushio (who uses her hair as a shield), Sou manages to ambush Haine (in her Shinpei form) and pins her, not with a shadow nailgun, but with the original she was unable to sense.

But while both of Haine’s inner bodies are killed and Haine’s body is sliced in half, it’s apparently not over. Ushio turns around to reveal she now has a red right eye like Haine’s, and Shin has one too. Shide reappears, ready to start some shit, and Shinpei has to ask himself: is he freakin’ immortal?

Even the best laid plans in this intricate chess game of feints and diversions are bound to face some setbacks, and the fact that killing Shide and Haine didn’t kill them is…problematic, to say the least. Not sure what they can do about that, especially with all their moves in this plan exhausted and no more loops to make a new plan.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 20 – Just a Lone Child

After slicing Shide to bits only for him to reform, Hizuru tries to get Haine to scan her so she can destroy her Shadow Shinpei vessel. Only Haine realizes that Hizuru was granted immunity by Mio. Haine also betrays her inherent inability to understand why Hizuru is doing what she’s doing: trying to save those lives that haven’t been lost after getting her brother killed.

Hizuru switches to Plan B, which is to transfer Ryuunosuke from her body to Shide’s mud armor of “nothing”. It succeeds, Ryuunosuke emerges from the mud, exposing Shide’s vulnerable human body just as Tokiko arrives aboard Ros, ready to pound Shide into the stone age.

By the time Shinpei and Shadow Mio make it to Alan’s garden, Shide’s clone tells them they’re too late; Mio and Sou are probably already being devoured by Shide in her cave. Shadow Mio confirms her original is dead, and she figures it’s time for Shinpei to loop.

A badly wounded Tokiko then arrives, having successfully escaped from Haine and Shide thanks to Nezu and Tetsu. She’s there only to warn Shinpei to go to Torajima Island to help Hizuru. Rather than go there in this loop, Shin assumes that like Mio and Sou, the others are dead, or will be before he and Shadow Mio arrive. So he shoots himself with Dr. Hishigata’s Derringer, and loops back to 10:10 AM.

Thanks to Shadow Mio’s speed, she and Shinpei are able to intercept Mio and Sou before they meet their doom, and redirect them to protect the kids. Mio has a chance to confess to Shinpei, but instead wishes him well before they part. He rides on Shadow Mio’s back as she glides through the forest and then takes to the sky to avoid enemy Shadows.

They arrive in style just as Shide is dispatching Ros, and he and Shadow Mio join Tokiko, Tetsu, Nezu, and Guil. Unfortunately, they’re just a little late to save Hizuru, whom Shide stabs in the heart and looms over menacingly.

Haine!Shinpei senses something…off, a brilliant glowing emanating from Shinpei’s pocket (the shell that is all that’s left of Ushio), and then tells Shide that they’re withdrawing for now. While the immediate threat to everyone has passed, Hizuru is in a bad way.

Shinpei prepares to shoot himself and loop again, but Hizuru doesn’t want him to, and Mio stops him from doing it. He’s no longer in the position to save everyone. For her part, Hizuru doesn’t fear her impending death, and considers she’s getting a better death than most.

Before she dies, she tells Shinpei to remember that at the end of the day, Haine’s base personality is still that of a lonely little girl who loved to be spoiled. She’s also certain that Shide and Haine’s goals are different, and that at this point Shide is likely using Haine. Just before breathing her last breath, she transfers Ryuunosuke to Shinpei.

I doubt she’ll be the last person to die who Shinpei can’t bring back by looping, but Hizuru’s dying words should prove vital in any eventual victory. Her returning to the island is the reason any of the others are still alive with a fighter’s chance of winning.

It’s looking like that chance will rely on creating a rift between Haine and Shide, shattering their bond so they’re isolated and weakened. Considering that bond has lasted centuries, that’ll be no easy task.

Summertime Render – 19 – Haine-ous Affair

No sooner does Shinpei wake up in what might be his final loop does Haine swoop down on him in the form of a mocking, gloating crow. She copies the little girl, seemingly just to mess with him, then raises a whole mess of shadow minions that surround him and the kids.

But just when it seems like it’s all over…she stops the attack, and withdraws. Shinpei, who had instictively reached into his pocket, pulls out the contents: a single seashell—presumably all that’s left of Ushio. But if there’s still a shell, can she still raise hell?

Haine apparently isn’t content to simply kill and/or eat Shinpei and his friends. She insists on messing with him, which seems like a bad idea, because it raises the chances of her enemies to mount a comeback from zero to less than zero. It’s as if the number of remaining episodes, rather than logic or common sense, are driving Haine’s actions.

Nevertheless, she uses the copy of Shinpei she had stowed in her back pocket to call all his friends while the real Shinpei has no bars. Mio and Sou go to Alan’s Garden where an all-too-suspicious Karikiri is waiting for them, while Hizuru, Nezu, Tokiko and Tetsu go to a remote island accessible on foot during low tide.

The real Shinpei comes home to find Mio pinned Shadow Mio out of fear Ushio’s hack died with her, but Shadow Mio is still on his side. With her offensive power, they definitely have a chance.

Hizuru, smelling a trap, heads to the island alone with a sledgehammer after saying her maybe-goodbyes to Nezu & Co. She meets Haine!Shinpei, doesn’t fall for her charade for a second, and is then confronted by Karikiri.

Ryuunosuke and Karikiri/Shide have a little game-recognize-game moment, and then have at it there on the beach, with Haine transmitting Ryuunosuke’s two-second foresight—which was, it turns out, a glitch that occurred shortly after she copied him way back when.

Ryuunosuke still manages to put up an impressive fight, but the bottom line is Shide has an infinitely regenerative armor of corpses, while he has…his sister’s regular human body, which he knows he’s slowly tearing apart by making her fight.

Hizuru takes over and reminds him that this is probably their last stand, and there’s no reason to hold back. In fact, if he doesn’t hold back for her sake, they’ll lose. But she assures them they can still win. How exactly they’ll do that is a matter for next week.

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E04 – The Traveler King

With Gabriel promising to return tomorrow, Maou and his generals and frenemies adopt a fortress mentality, sending the normal human Chiho off while Ashiya and Urushihara stay on stanby at Suzuno’s. That leaves Maou and Emi together with Alas Ramus at his place.

While Emi is weary of this arrangement, and can’t commit to allying herself with the devil, she will do what it takes to keep Alas out of harm’s way, so in that regard her and Maou’s interests are aligned. When they turn in for the night, Alas makes sure to grab both of them close.

While initially uncomfortable with the proximity, Maou and Emi bask in their “daughter’s” unbridled love and exuberance, while Emi is genuinely moved by Maou’s bittersweet improvised tale of a traveler who became a king.

Emi gets a literal rude awakening around 5:00 in the morning from Gabriel, who was simply lying in the room waiting for them to wake up (ambushing a sleeping couple is beneath him). Gabriel continues to be a paragon of reasonableness, but makes it quite clear: he’s leaving with either Emi’s sword or Alas Ramus.

We learned from further explanation form Suzuno earlier that as the Guardian Angel of the sephira Yesod of the Tree of Life, Gabriel has a claim to both sword and Alas, as they are shards of Yesod. But that doesn’t matter to Maou, who planted and nurtured the seed that became the apple that became his near-as-makes-no-difference daughter.

When saved from death and reborn (you can see himself in his bedtime story), Alas was a symbol of hope he gained, so Maou offers his head in exchange for letting Alas at least stay with Emi.  Gabriel laughs at Maou and Emi in marital synch one minute, and is choking out Maou the next. He’s out of patience.

But while Emi’s sword can’t do much against Gabriel, and Maou is far to weak to stand against him, Alas is more than up to the task. All it takes is hurting her Papa to send her glowing with rage and blasting out the side of the wall, taking ol’ Gabe for a violent aerial tour of the city at near-dawn.

Emi gives chase, and when she gets her sword shattered by Gabriel, Alas backs her up—as long as Emi tells her she and Papa will be together with her forever. After Urushihara cows Gabe’s Angel guards with the sheer power of his former archangel status, Suzuno takes Maou on a ride to where Emi and Alas are an unceremoniously lobs him at Gabriel.

While grabbing and restraining Gabe, Maou tells Emi to hurry up and kill the two of them, something Emi isn’t going to do even without Alas being right there watching. So Gabe shakes free, leaving Maou to fall. No one can get to him to stop his fall…except for Alas.

Emi then whips out a fresh sword and her armor (complete with a partial maho onna-kishi transformation sequence) to warn Gabriel to get lost, even managing to slice his cheek and make him bleed. But before he goes, he makes it a point to admonish Emi and tell her to reflect on “what sort of being she is”.

Emi returns to earth exhausted but none the worse for wear, but the damage is done: Alas is gone. After saving Maou, she said she wanted to be with them forever she’d have to say goodbye “for now”. Maou is devastated, but as Chiho learns while having coffee with Emi, by “for now” Alas meant only for a short while, as she has now fused with Emi’s sacred sword (now a dagger).

Emi presents Chiho with her very unique predicament of wanting to defeat the Devil King someday, but not being able to do it with a weapon that’s also his child! Emi’s fine with that; she’d rather Maou and Emi simply continue to get along, even if watching them grow kinda-sorta closer thanks to Alas leaves her out in the cold romance-wise.

Alas also insists Emi not let Papa suffer longer than he needs to, and has them reunited that evening. To Emi’s surprise, seeing Alas again actually brings tears to Maou’s eyes; Chi-sis explains to Alas that people also cry when they’re happy.

We find out that Gabe told Emi he hoped she’d prioritize the world’s safety, and then learn that Lailah, Emi’s mother, was the one stole Yesod in the first place. Could Emi’s mom be the woman who saved Maou’s life? There’s a lot of intrigue (and potential dread) on the horizon, but Alas wielding her innate power has at least bought this little pop-up family a little more time to be happy.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 14 – The Usual Is Ideal

Kazuya isn’t quite sure what he’s doing, but he wants to support Chizuru in her pursuit of acting, and he’s also pretty sure he loves her. Booking her every week will certainly support her financially, but when she tells him it’s a bit much and there’s “nothing in it for him”, it reminds him that their rental girlfriend-client relationship is purely transactional as far as she’s concerned.

Nevertheless, Kazuya is serious about supporting her, so much that he bows before Ruka and basically asks her to let him keep going on rental dates with Chizuru. Ruka, who is saintly in her patience of this dude, agrees as long as she gets to accompany him to Chizuru’s play to see if she’s really that great an actor. As for their rental date, Kazuya asks Chizuru to drop the act, as his “ideal” of her is the real Chizuru he knows.

I don’t know if hearing that makes Chizuru happy or what, but I do know that after their date is over and they part ways, she walks right back up to him, not as his rental date, but as Chizuru, and they continue hanging out. But when they go to the batting cages, it’s because Chizuru wants to blow off steam without being hit on by other guys. Kazuya is her shield, but his reward is getting to see her athletic side, along with her home run smile and full force of her high-five.

We then learn that the batting cages were also to kill time before going to visit her grandma, who is back in the hospital. Chizuru knows her gran likes Kazuya (not to mention still believes they’re actually dating), and while she takes a good long time replacing the water in the flowers, it affords Kazuya and her gran another chance to talk about stuff.

When Kazuya says he saw Chizuru’s play and thought she was amazing, and goes on to say she’s incredible and strong while he’s just a burden, Chizuru’s gran can’t help but laugh. She’s known Chizuru a lot longer, so she knows the real real Chizuru is, at the end of the day, a somewhat lonely, needy girl who loves acting and praise, and covers up those weaknesses with an “armor of ice.”

Gran knows that someday that armor won’t be enough for her granddaughter, and she’ll need someone who “sees her for who she is,” and solemnly asks Kazuya to be that someone. Kazuya, for all his issues, at least prefers the genuine Chizuru to her distant, performative rental persona, and now knows that even that version of Chizuru he believes to be so strong is just like him; always beset by and trying to hide her weakness.

Kazuya is also serious about not letting Gran down about being there for Chizuru, even if not as a real boyfriend. I can’t help but question his credibility to do so when he can’t even manage to toss his used tissues in the dustbin. But that also means there’s plenty of room for growth.

As Chizuru appears at his door to declare she’s lost her key and a preview involving Mami at his door too, next week looks to be a sitcommy scenario, but I hope the more serious matters explored this week aren’t left by the wayside.

Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Deca-Dence – 01 (First Impressions) – A Study in Scale

Deca-Dance starts small and modest: a father on a mission to investigate artifacts; his young daughter Natsume tagging along out of a sense of adventure. It doesn’t end well for Natsume: she loses her dad and her right arm. Still, she survives, and dreams of fighting and making a difference.

Fast forward to when Natsume’s about to leave school and take on a job as a Tanker, supporting the Gears who fight monsters called Gadoll. They all live on Deca-Dence, a massive mobile fortress and humanity’s last bastion. Only she never hears back from The Power that doles out the jobs. She wanted to be a soldier, but it seems her missing arm disqualifies her.

Natsume is instead given a hard, dirty armor cleaning job under the supervision of a joyless man named Kaburagi. He slaps a harness on her and pushes her off a ledge onto the sheer side of Deca-Dence. Rookies typically scrub rotten Gadoll guts and blood for five years before any kind of advancement.

While it’s gross exhausting work, Natsume eventually gets the hang of it. In both the classroom exposition scene and her working montage, Deca-Dence the show exhibits a willingness to use these methods of shorthand to deliver all the information it needs to deliver. The montage works better than the student recitation of What’s Going On mostly because it’s showing, not telling, and what it shows is very cool-looking.

Natsume eventually convinces her stoic boss to throw a welcome party for her, during which she gets tipsy and takes Kaburagi to task for his fatalism. He just wants to live a relatively quiet peaceful life within the walls, and can’t see why Natsume looks at her arm stump and says to herself “More of that, please.”

The older Kaburagi has clearly been worn down by his experiences, while despite suffering quite a bit of trauma of her own Natsume remains optimistic about the prospect of defeating Gadoll and living in true peace and prosperity.

At the same time, Kaburagi has a pet harmless Gadoll whom Natsume names “Pipe”, and also a strange, unexplained side-job involving extracting “chips” from people when ordered to by a shadowy boss. We learn a lot this week, but there’s still a lot of mysteries to unravel; more on that later.

Eventually Deca-Dence comes afoul of a Gadoll attack party, led by an immense, Leviathan-like mega Gadoll that is larger than the fortress, surrounded by a bevy of bizarre candy-colored Gadoll small fry. They may look like Pokemon rejects but even the smallest of them are bigger and faster than humans. It’s a good thing then that the Gears use flight packs in order to increase their speed and mobility (similar to the flight packs in Youjo Senki, another Nut anime).

When the Gadoll are spotted Natsume and Kaburagi are still outside, and their colleague Fennel and another maintenance guy end up falling off the side of the fortress. They fall for a very long time, accentuating the sheer scale of their home as well as the battle unfolding below.

That battle actually doesn’t seem to be going so well when Kaburagi drops in with Natsume, but he grabs a flight back from one of the dead Gears and proceeds to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the lesser Gadolls, with a tethered, nauseous Natsume trailing behind him.

It’s an absolutely gonzo sequence with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details. More importantly, it (along with his side job and pet Gadoll) drive home the fact that there’s a lot more to Kaburagi to sleepy maintenance work, and despite not having Natsume’s moxie, unlike her he’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

I can see why he wouldn’t want her getting involved in this bloody business, but I still hope she convinces him to train her, “just in case” she has to fight some Gadoll on her own someday.

From the small-scale battlefield we pull way, way back to the final clash between Deca-Dence and the gargantuan Gadoll boss. In a high-tech command center that belies the fortress’ chaotic, grungy exterior, General Minato has his crew go through a number of checks and elaborate technobabble that essentially transform the fortress into a giant mass driver cannon in the shape of a fist.

Once that fist is charged up, they wait until the Gadoll is as close as possible before firing, and boy howdy can you ever feel the impact of that. The physics of large scale masses coming into contact at ridiculous speeds, and their effect on the surrounding environment, is beautifully rendered down to the smallest spec of debris.

With the latest round of bad guys thoroughly defeated, it’s time to collect all the Gadoll meat, rest, heal, repair, and celebrate…until the next battle, and the next, and the next. You can feel Kaburagi’s weariness with this business, but also understand why Natksume wants to play a meaningful role.

Instead of ending conventionally with watching the humans deal with the aftermath of the battle we see that the humans had been observed by weird trippy robots in a trippy Dr. Seuss city. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, but I sure as shit was enticed, as it adds an entirely new layer (and scale) of surrealism and mystery to the past, mostly straightforward proceedings.

Gargantua. Sidonia. Macross. Er…Chrome-Shelled Regios—I’ve always had a soft spot for anime about a group of humans aboard a massive self-sustaining vehicle in a desperate struggle for survival. Deca-Dence is no different. From the city-punching, overarching Gadoll struggle down to the smaller, cozier struggle of one spunky girl trying to carve her way in the world, to the strange intriguing mysteries and ambiguity over who is actually the aggressor in this war, Deca-Dence is a sure keeper in my book.


P.S. Thanks to Crow for another shout-out!

Bofuri – 08 – Maple Ex Machina

In preparation for NWO’s third event, a cow-hunting expedition, Iz kits out Maple, Sally, and Kasumi in some adorably warm wool outfits. But this is event that values high agility, so Maple doesn’t contribute as much as she could to the final cow count. Rather, she stumbles and falls off a mountain and into a fierce battle with an increasingly gross demon boss. She’s swallowed up, but eats her way free.

For defeating the demon Maple gains some frightening new skills, including the ability to transform into Atrocity, complete with a deep and demonic version of her own voice. At the gate to the Third Level, the rest of the party just stands back with sweat drops and lets their adora-monstrous friend do her work against a tree monster that never had a chance.

The third level turns out to be a distinctly cyberpunk world full of whimsical machinery and flying vehicles (she’s no longer alone in the skies with her giant Syrup). The party splits up to get a sense of the place, and Maple ends up feeding an old man on the street who gives her a rare quest that leads to an encounter with what I believe to be the first generation Machine King.

The former king is malfunctioning and changes its form and demeanor several times, but Maple is quick enough to keep up with those changes, and in one of the king’s lucid moments, he bestows upon her the skill [Machine God], which enables her to transform into a powerful, midriff-bearing cyborg killing machine straight out of Gurren Lagann.

An intense robo-duel ensues until Maple is the last one standing, packed with some really nice smooth and dynamic animation and lighting effects. Once things have died down and Maple gets a look at herself, she not unreasonably wonders what the heck just happened. Will she be able to change back to normal, as with [Atrocity]?

One hopes so; she’s going to have trouble fitting through the guild hall door with all that paraphernalia! Whatever happens, the paradigm of NWO has shifted once more as the scale of its world has expanded and evolved. As she collects more ridiculous skills, her ability to surprise us with fun combinations increases. As Kanade puts it: “Watching Maple never gets old.”

Bofuri – 07 – Kinda Immortal

As they roll—literally, in the case of her poison ball—with Maple, it’s not long before Yui and May are up to Level 20, have double strength, and are able to dual-wield normally two-handed warhammers. They go at the Hydra boss over and over until they can defeat it in under two minutes and thirty seconds…not bad for three girls with no agility!

The members of Maple Tree branch out (heh heh) on their own little mini-quests once Iz gives the sisters new crystal hammers. They monster hunt with Sally as she teaches them low-speed agility, Kuromu finds a hidden undead dungeon with Syrup and gains awesome new armor, Kanade upgrades her Akashic Records, and Kasumi…shears sheep for wool, until Maple demonstrates a new skill that lets her grow a huge ball of wool around her, and even add poison to it. Talk about hogging—er, sheeping?—all the glory…

While everyone else is off leveling up, Maple ends up falling down a rabbit hole of sidequests involving an NPC mother and ill child. These quests would be difficult if she wasn’t a massively OP’d tank with a giant flying turtle, but she completes them all in the space of a few hours.

Due to the unnatural speed with which she clears the chain of quests, the NPC mom’s dialogue is unnecessarily dramatic. Instead of being happy to be thanked, Maple feels like she owes the mom an apology!

The final reward of the sidequest chain is “Loving Sacrifice.” Maple commissions an angelic new white suit of armor and gathers her guild-mates in the overworld to demonstrate. After shedding a slice of her HP (she has over 1,000, so plenty to spare), she dons wings and a halo and creates a barrier around the entire party of eight that no enemy can penetrate as long as she’s alive.

Rather than jump for joy at this development, her guild-mates are…a little nervous. After all, isn’t this just a bit much? Maple became the target of the gamemasters before when she spammed Devour; no doubt they’ll step in to de-power her again in an effort to restore game balance.

At the same time, a much larger guild has set its sights on Maple Tree as a potential rival, and will be watching them very carefully in the third event preceding the guild competition. So while Maple was on easy street throughout this episode, that may not be the case next week.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 04 – A Companion in Hell

At a royal gala celebrating the defeat of the latest Wave of Catastrophe, there might as well be a black cloud hanging over Naofumi. He doesn’t want to be there any more than anyone there wants him to be there. Raphalia tries to cheer him by offering him food, but when the Spear Hero…[checks MAL] Kitamura Motoyasu sees her, he challenges Naofumi to a duel on te spot.

Motoyasu doesn’t like how Naofumi is using a demi-human as his slave. Even if it’s legal in this world, he doesn’t think it’s right. Of course, he’s coming from a position of great ignorance in terms of the actual nature Naofumi and Raphtalia’s relationship. Myne eggs him on, and even when Naofumi refuses to fight Motoyasu, King Melromarc intervenes, ordering him to accept the challenge and arresting and gagging Raphtalia.

Clearly there are two sets of rules in this world: those Naofumi must follow, and no other rules. A duel between two people shouldn’t be something that can be thrust upon an unwilling participant, even by a king. But Melro straight up abuses his power, and nobody stops him, because he is king. All the while everyone, from the heroes to the assembled nobles, practically pelt Naofumi with a hail of insults and exhortations of disgust.

But if he has to fight, Naofumi is going to fight to win, something that might actually be possible since he’s leveled up and gained so many skills, including several that transform the shield into an offensive weapon. He has Motoyasu off balance until Myne interferes with a wind magic spell. The blatant cheating goes utterly unnoticed by everyone but Naofumi, but as a result he loses, and “Myne” makes sure to rub it in his face.

I put “Myne” in quotes because that’s not her real name; turns out she’s Princess Melty, the king’s daughter. Naofumi goes over in his head how he was set up every step of the way by Melty, using the power of her pops and manipulating Motoyasu into thinking Naofumi was The Worst. Even the other two heroes…[checks MAL] Kawasumi Itsuki and Amaki Ren saw that Myne interfered, making Motoyasu the loser.

But no one else will speak up about the cheating, and however ill-begotten the Spear Hero’s victory was, it was still a victory. That means Raphtalia’s slave contract with Naofumi is terminated. As she turns away to leave, Naofumi is consumed by some kind of miasma. But she doesn’t really leave; she admonishes Motoyasu for freeing her when she never actually asked to be freed, and tells him the truth: that Naofumi has only ever been kind to her, and she owes him her life.

Some time ago, in a moment of vulnerability when Raphtalia broke down, Naofumi was there to hold and comfort him. Now it’s Raphtalia’s turn to comfort him. He may think he’s in Hell, where no matter what he says or does, everything will be stacked against him, but that’s only the case if he completely disregards one very important fact: Raphtalia is his sword, and if need be she’ll follow him through Hell itself.

As she embraces Naofumi she levels up, growing into a grown woman in the process (a quirk of demi-humans and one reason they’re oppressed). The miasma is lifted, Naofumi rises, and is free to leave not with his slave, but with his ward, companion, and sword.

Motoyasu still suspects Raphtalia is somehow being brainwashed, but Ren and Itsuki don’t see how he can think that after hearing Raphtalia pour her heart out so publically. The King skulks away, either disappointed the plot didn’t work out or disappointed in his daughter (or both).

Best of all, when Raphtalia gives Naofumi a sandwich she made and he tastes it…he can finally taste it. It’s as if she broke the curse that made everything taste like nothing for him, either through a passive practical spell, or simply by being there for him when no one else was. Even if they got off to a rough start, he was there for her too. And so they’ve saved each other.

This was a standout episode that really got my blood boiling when things started again piling up against Naofumi, but things more or less worked out in the end. There was definitely some catharsis to him finally being cut some slack. I’m still not quite sure why Malty is so obsessively committed to making Naofumi’s life hell. It’s because she’s just, well, bad, that would be slightly disappointing. But what else could it be? She barely knows him.

After being so pissed off with the other heroes that I didn’t even bother to learn their names, Ren and Itsuki showed promising signs that their opinion of Naofumi was improving, or at least that they’d entertain his claims of unfair persecution. Perhaps that’s the first step towards the four heroes eventually working more closely together for a future Wave.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 03 – The Grateful and the Ingrates

Only a week has passed after the fight in the mines, but Naofumi and Raphtalia have leveled up to a respectable degree. The armorer says as much, and all the extra discounts and freebies the demi-human gets confirms to Naofumi that this world is full of lolicons.

Still, he seems pleased that Raphtalia is less timid and is now able to stand and speak up for herself. She even negotiates to get new custom-made armor for Naofumi that he thinks makes him look like a bandit, but also doesn’t want it going to waste.

It’s a good thing they mentioned the Waves to the armorer, because he points them in the direction of the church where the Dragon Hourglass counts down the time until the next Wave, which will come in less than a day.

Unfortunately the other heroes are there, and the Spear even tries to steal Raphtalia away, but she rebuffs him. They can mock him all they want and even bring up the “rumors,” but Naofumi won’t say a single word of attack or defense. He’s long since done talking with these assholes.

Raphtalia wants to know what happened between her master and the other heroes, but Naofumi isn’t ready to tell her. Regardless, when dawn breaks and they prepare to be transported to the location of the Wave, Raphtalia formally reiterates her undying loyalty to Naofumi. She is only alive because of him, and so she’ll be his sword and never leave his side.

After transport, Naofumi gets a close look at a Wave of Catastrophe for the first time. The other heroes rush ahead, but he notices they’re leaving a nearby village unprotected from the hordes of undead soldiers and swarms of giant wasps.

So he and Raph head there, he orders Raph to evacuate the villagers while he tries to kill as many monsters as he can. It’s tough work, as there are hundreds of them and he can’t seem to get their numbers down. Luckily the bulk of them mill around beneath a watchtower that Naofumi sets ablaze and brings down on top of them.

When the royal knights arrive and firebomb the place to mop up, they don’t bother to warn Naofumi, who gets Naphtalia under his shield just in time. When she hears the knights talking shit about her master, she threatens to take their heads off, and Naofumi has to order her to stand down.

Still, despite the knights’ utter disgust of Naofumi, he protects them all the same, and in turn, some of them stay behind to help him and Naphtalia even after their commander orders them to meet up with the other heroes.

With the knights’ help, Naofumi and Naphtalia are able to fend off the remaining monsters, while the other three heroes defeat the “boss”—a chimaera, from the look of it—with their much flashier-looking attacks. All of a sudden, the skies clear and the threat has passed. And Naofumi has passed his first Wave test.

A massacre of innocents such as that which claimed Naphtalia’s parents thus averted, the raccoon girl is overwhelmed by the relief and starts to cry, but Naofumi’s heart isn’t made of stone, especially where she’s concerned, so he puts his hand on her head to comfort her.

Naphtalia may have been a slave purchased to be used a a tool, but even Naofumi has to admit she’s much more than that. By not treating her like a slave but like any other person, he’s helped bring about her transformation into a formidable warrior with the heart of a true knight.

Naofumi has also gained the gratitude of the entire village, none of whom still harbor any animosity towards their hero. There are still a lot more people to convince that he’s actually not a rapist swine, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s not here to make friends or clear his name. He’s here to save this world from the Waves, then go back home.

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