The Rising of the Shield Hero – 20 – Strong Bonds

Well, look at that…Queen Mirelia understands that you need to have a camp and supplies if you’re mobilizing a large force. She also understands the need to make a regal impression in front of that force, as she suits up in her armor against the wishes of her Shadows. Finally, it seems she’s ready to take a more active role, promising to bring the Pope and his flock to justice for their treason.

Meanwhile, in the magic Cathedral, the Pope manages to block, parry, or nullify pretty much every attack thrown his way, and unlike his opponents, he doesn’t particularly care if his acolytes push themselves so far they end up dying; he considers that martyrdom (though I bet if you asked him to lay his life down he’d have a different view).

When the other heroes urge Naofumi to break out his “overpowered” Rage Shield, the cursed dragon within takes hold of him. Like Emperor Palpatine, the dragon wants Naofumi to let the hate flow through him—not just the dragon’s hate, but his own, amassed during all the various injustices that have befallen him since arriving in this world.

Thankfully, Raph, Filo, and Melty pull him out of his rage spiral by reminding him that they love and support him, and aren’t about to lose him to the darkness.

Naofumi promises not to let the shield get the better of him, and coordinates with his allies and the other heroes to press the attack against the Pope.

But no matter what feints and combos they throw at him, he calmly deflects it all, and serves up more innane religious babbling as if anyone wanted to hear any more. All the while, his followers outside fall and expire one by one. He can’t keep this up forever.

Ultimately, the Pope decides to concentrate his remaining Mana into a large-scale illusion spell that creates a kaleidoscope of Pope clones along the inner surface of the Cathedral, enabling him to attack his foes from above and every angle.

It’s almost game over for our heroes, but Queen Mirelia casts an Icicle Prison spell that freezes him in place for them to finish off. Naofumi delivers the coup-de-grace by casting Blood Sacrifice, which, you guessed it, requires him to expend the majority of his own blood.

At first it looks ineffective, but the blood creates a mechanical serpent that bursts out of the ground, snatches up the Pope, snaps his staff, and basically dissolves him into a pool of blood. With that, the Cathedral falls, the Heroes are free, the lame boss I never cared about is gone (hopefully for good), and Queen Mirelia introduces herself to the nearly-bloodless Naofumi, apologizing for not showing up sooner and promising not to let him die.

Obviously, he’s not dying—we have at least five episodes left—but hopefully this victory marks the beginning of détente and future cooperation between Naofumi and his fellow Heroes. I’m just glad this Pope-Coup mini-arc is behind us, and that it was resolved in reasonably satisfying fashion.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.