Love of Kill – 02 – Slow Road Ahead

When two of the four shows you’re reviewing are Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer, you tend to have a higher baseline when it comes to production values. Love of Kill did not impress with its visuals this week, and oftentimes, especially when a car model was involved, it downright stunk.

But I’ll watch an ugly show if it has something else to grab my interest. Alas, this episode doesn’t move the needle all that much with the weird quasi-romance between Song and Chateau. He gives her the location of a dead target and a living woman, but a mysterious motorcyclist starts shooting at her, and before she knows it, she’s driven off a cliff.

The woman dies, and Chateau survives. First the motorcyclist pays her a visit and shoots her phone, then Song arrives and takes her to a hotel, where she’s running a fever. She still doesn’t trust him, but she’s in no condition to reject his help. Despite how little the show is giving us and how terrible it looks, part of me still wants to see this through…but I should probably resist that urge.

Love of Kill – 01 (First Impressions) – With a Song in Her Heart

Bounty Hunter Chateau Dankworth (Oonishi Saori) comes afoul of a killer more skilled than she: Song Ryang-ha (Shimono Hiro). He overpowers her, but it’s not her life he wants to steal; it’s her heart. So he lets her go in exchange for her name and number.

While Chateau’s options were limited that night, she quickly comes to regret the one she chose. Song proceeds to constantly text, call, and even send her a video of a target of hers he caught first, and is willing to offer her in a trade.

They meet at a juice bar Song digs, but as you’d expect, Chateau wants to get down to cold, logical business, not juice. Her gambit involves surprising and then stunning him with a taser, but he’s to quick, and almost seems to predict her movements. It’s gotta be frustrating for a skilled killer like Chateau to more than meet her match.

Song’s terms for giving her her target are nothing monetary. Rather, he wants to go on a date with her for Christmas Eve. Chateau, who distrusts anything free but can’t pass up the opportunity to cross a name off her list, goes along with it, showing up an hour late doing the bare minimum needed for their encounter to be interpreted as a “date”.

Song takes thing to a fancy hotel room with a gorgeous city view, complete with dinner and a 1982-vintage wine. Chateau wisely remains at a remove, wondering out loud how Song plans to “use her” and why she’d be “of interest” to him. To Song’s credit, he doesn’t try anything truly vile, and when Chateau wants to leave, they check out.

Before parting ways at the station, Song does get in a quick farewell hug to “confirm” something: her “scent” doesn’t bother him, while everyone else smells “putrid”. We end with a cryptic voiceover portending a “final stop” in their romance “ending in tears”, then a flashback to a young Chateau in the back of a car, presumably her parent murdered in the driver’s seat.

Love of Kill had me feeling a lot of things. Contempt for Song, mostly, and sympathy for Chateau, who couldn’t escape his clutches if she tried. I love stoic, logical characters like Chateau; even though she doesn’t really say or do much, she exudes a wonderfully cool detached aura, which makes Song’s stalking that much more upsetting.

The thing is, as someone rather desensitized to antiheroes (Soprano, White, Draper, and Dexter to name a few), I didn’t despise Song, and even kinda sorta came to understand why he decided to pursue Chateau with such gusto. If everyone in the world “smelled” terrible to you and made you sick, what would you do if you suddenly found someone who didn’t?

So far I can’t really see Chateau falling for this guy, but at the very least they seem to be kindred spirits: killers keeping themselves at an expansive remove from the rest of humanity. Regardless, I definitely want to see where this goes.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 12 (Fin) – Gungnir Big or Gae Bolg Home

We know it’s going to be a different kind of episode when we begin with the Robo-Goddess in her realm, which has taken on the stark monochromatic aesthetic of the OP (which remains my favorite of the Fall). It seems the World’s Finest Assassin is her latest and possibly last best hope against the Hero ending the world.

Back on that world, her champion Lugh is ready to burn Dia’s house down and whisk her away with the story that she committed suicide so that none of the sides in the war could have her. There’s just one problem: Setanta MacNess has arrived with Gae Bolg, and partially demolishes the castle before Lugh can implement his plan.

Lugh deflects Gae Bolg’s attack with one of his “grenades”, then launches the biggest cannon attack he has. Setanta survives the blast with some superficial wounds that soon heal, but the knight is amazed at having finally seen and tasted his own blood, goes into Berserk mode while maintaining his sense, and challenges Lugh to a duel.

Suspecting Setanta is indeed the Hero as Maha’s intelligence suggested, Lugh makes it clear to Dia that he can’t run from Setanta’s challenge, nor can he have a hope of winning a duel against him. That said, Lugh also reminds Dia he’s neither knight nor hero, but an assassin. Assassinating’s all he can do, and it’s all he will do against Setanta.

After a little trash talking and negotiating of the terms of the duel, Lugh gets Setanta to agree that the duel will begin when a coin he flips into the air hits the ground. This essentially locks Setanta’s gaze on the coin, so he doesn’t look up when a solid tungsten missile comes crashing down on top of him, causing an enormous explosion and shock wave.

That solid tungsten missle was initially casually launched into orbit while Lugh was still in Dia’s castle, but is the culmination of months of careful preparation and collaboration. He and Dia designed the spells to launch it, and he and Tarte scouted the island Maha found to test it. It even employes the same shielding Tarte used to help Lugh conserve his energy on the way to Dia. The name of the spell is Gungnir, which is fitting as Odin’s spear is believed to be the prototype of Cúchulainn’s Gae Bolg.

Lugh’s extremely aerospace-y and not necessarily assassin-y or knightly gambit pays off. He takes a considerable lick himself, but soon awakens to a concerned Dia, whom he’s so relieved is okay he kisses her just as the sun rises over the mountains. When Dia asks why he agreed to take on a non-Tuatha Dé matter, Lugh tells her he never forgot his promise to always come running.

As he promised Tarte, Lugh arrives home having failed his first assassination job ever yet still triumphant, because he brought Dia with him. Cian decides its best for now for Dia’s identity to be concealed; she’s to live with them in Tuatha Dé as Lugh’s younger sister, with her shared bloodlines with Esri making it a believable lie.

With that settled, Cian brings up another order of business: the Hero has apparently arrived in the Alvan Kingdom. Lugh’s confused by that, since he assumed Setanta was the Hero. Alas, he apparently wasn’t; the actual Hero, whose presence closely precedes the certain arrival of the Demon Lord, is one Lord Epona Rhiannon, and the close-up on his alternate-Lugh like visage is the last image we see in The World’s Finest Assassin.

Despite the fact there’s no immediate news of a second season, I can’t believe we won’t be getting one sometime down the road. There’s a lot of story left to tell and a lot of cute moments between Lugh/Dia, Lugh/Tarte, Lugh/Maha, or any other combinations therein. Not to mention…what if this Epona lad is just like Lugh: originally from another world?

That’s one of dozens of questions I’m hoping a sequel would explore. Until then, this was a bold ending to a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing isekai series.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 11 – The Ultimate Tool

I’ll start with the only flaw of this episode, which is that it takes a while to get out of that drab brown room where Lugh’s dad explains…a lot. Turns out thee client for killing Dia is Dia’s father, but he only wants everyone else, including the enemy forces besieging Viekone Castle, to believe she’s been assassinated.

Lugh has the choice to turn down this job, as it involves getting mixed up in the affairs of kingdoms other than the Alvan royal family. But of course Lugh takes the job, because he owes Dia for teaching him magic, loves Dia, and promised he’d run to her if she ever asked for help, which he believes she did…just without words.

Lugh’s dad, who similarly only broke his oath of loyalty to Alvan for the sake of his wife Esri (also a daughter of House Viekone, by the way) is both proud and amused his son turned out to choose his love from the same family.

Lugh’s dad also chose him because he’s probably the only one who can pull this off; his pops knows that with the mana it will take to reach the castle in time, he’ll be too depleted to be effective. Tarte also knows she can’t go with him because she won’t be able to keep up with him, but she does offer to “carry him” at least partway there.

Tarte does so by creating a wind cowl and running just ahead of Lugh. These things in concert greatly reduce the physical and magical strain on Lugh, allowing him to conserve his strength for the trials that await at his destination. I frankly love how Tarte has scienced the shit out of this; it’s a brilliant, elegant, and very cool-looking solution.

As the pair pick up speed and scream across huge vistas that give the episode a Lord of the Rings-like epic, sprawling vibe, Tarte’s inner monologue reiterates that she knew all along Lugh didn’t save her life for her sake, but so he could make her into a tool. She hastens to add that while many might be saddened by that, it made her happy.

She’d been discarded by her family as a useless extra mouth, but he gave her a use, a purpose, a reason to keep breathing. And if Lugh so thoroughly rejects the idea of becoming a tool, Tarte is resolved to become the ultmate tool for him, doing whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done for him.

When Tarte tuns out of mana, her wind cowl shatters, and she’s sent flying by the sudden burst of unshielded wind, Lugh catches her in his arms and keeps her from injuring herself. Lugh thanks her for helping him conserve, and marvels at how far he’s come in so little time.

Tarte asks Lugh if he really loves Dia like he says; Lugh answers in the affirmative. So Dia asks Lugh to promise he’ll return with Dia. He does, then dashes off, leaving Tarte alone in a vast field of grass, bathed in the gorgeous sunset, with a majestic mountain backdrop, and Tarte begins to weep…because Lugh, whom she loves so much, didn’t choose her.

We still get our goddess moment-of-the-week, but like previous ones it’s more of a brief and well-timed interstitial that doesn’t break the episode’s momentum. It is odd how all of a sudden the Goddess is talking like a robot, but one thing is clear: as of 14 years ago, she found a soul suitable for stopping the Hero’s rampage, and awaits his death.

Lugh arrives to find 1,500 enemy troops besieging a Viekone Castle with less than 200, but they seem to be holding the enemy off, thanks in large part to the “metal pellets” of Dia’s magic rifle. Lugh’s first task is to ensure the Castle isn’t sacked before he can fake Dia’s assassination, and he does so by wrecking the enemy forces’ shit.

Identifying all of the high-ranking magic users with his eyes of appraisal, he takes them out first. When the troops start huddling together for defense, he uses a Fahr stone to replicate the power of a grenade launcher, taking out large groups of the enemy at once. With the enemy in disarray, the Viekone forces use the opportunity to exit the castle to mop up.

After having used wind magic to listen in on the besieging army’s communications, he uses that same magic to detect a path devoid of sound, where he knows he won’t run into anyone. That path leads him all the way to Dia, who almost seems to sense he’s watching when she says “It’s all right. I trust you.”

Lugh reaches her and her father Count Viekone without being detected, and Dia rushes to hug him, absolutely overjoyed to see he actually came. But there’s still hard work ahead, including “killing” Dia and getting both her vassals and the army to believe she’s really dead, all without killing her. I hope he can keep his promise to return to Tuatha Dé together with Dia.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 10 – Carpe Dia

With an opening featuring Lugh and Tarte sailing in their swimsuits to meet Maha on the beach, this week’s WFA had the makings of a dawdle before the inevitable Shit went down. But sexy as it seems, their trip to a tropical island was purely about magical training in private, while Maha provides crucial intel on the Hero, believing him to be Setanta MacNess. MacNess is a soldier in the forces rebelling against the royal family in Swoigel.

Dia’s House Viekone is in Swoigel, so the next time Lugh visits her, it’s under the assumption that he’ll swoop in to rescue her from her kingdom’s civil war. Even when he says the Hero could be among the rebels (with Gae Bolg, a Divine Treasure I’ve heard of once or twice in other properties), Dia holds firm that she’s not fleeing her home.

She laughs off their little fight and suggests that since her father and his attendants are away, the two of them should go out. To satisfy Lugh’s desire for security, she dyes her hair brown like his when they go out. What ensues is their first official date in this, the first episode in a long while to focus on Dia and Lugh exclusively.

As you’d expect of two people who love each other, they have an absolute blast, whether it’s Lugh instructing Dia on how to use a bow and arrow to win a bear, to working together to find a lost child’s mother, to enjoying lasagna on a veranda overlooking a grand mountain vista. It’s pretty much the perfect date.

It gets even perfect-er when Dia takes Lugh to a hot spring she had reserved just for the two of them. One thing Dia is not reserved about is being naked in front of Lugh, as the two end up skinny dipping in what may well be better descirbed as a heated pool.

There, as comfortably and content as they can possibly be, Dia tells Lugh that she loves her home and everyone in it, just as he loves Tuatha Dé, and she’ll serve its interests until the very end. They embrace, and kiss, and their hair changes back to normal.

From this perfect moment in the hot spring, things get a bit dark. Lugh promising to make Dia lasagna when she visits his home felt like a flag of some kind, and there’s something very iffy about Dia’s “I’ll call you” with regards to when theyll meet next, which it seems won’t be next month.

Then I remembered when they were in town and Lugh could sense a lot of strength and murderous intent around him. Turns out that’s because everyone they encountered were Viekone soldiers in disguise, carefully watching over Dia. They strip of their street clothes and stand at attention as she strides by, her chestnut hair returning to silver.

After a particularly beautiful rendition of the ending theme by Dia’s amazing seiyu Ueda Reina (seriously, this is some of her finest work yet), we get the mother of all cliffhangers: Lugh is summoned into his house by Tarte where his parents are tending to a seriously injured man. His dad tells him the man has a job for them: assassinate Dia Veikone, the woman Lugh loves.

Everything had been going Lugh’s way, so it was about time he ran into a setback. But by god what a turn. While Dia loves Lugh more than anyone else, her duty to her country comes first, hence this first and last ideal date. I’d also considered that maybe Dia is the Hero (with MacGee simply a red herring) but honestly it makes more sense if she’s the one he has to save from the hero.

To do so, he’ll have to practice what he’s preached about no longer being a tool, but choosing who he kills. And I can’t believe Lugh would ever choose to kill Dia. I guess we’re about to find out.

Shin no Nakama – 10 – It’s Nobody’s Fault

Like last week, this episode featured a lot of what I love about Shin no Nakama—Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Mr. Crawly Wawly, and more of the slow quiet life. But it also came with a near-constant tension over Ruti’s present drug problem.

Surprisingly, that’s not revealed to Red yet, and he doesn’t infer it on his own, but to be fair, he’s a little overwhelmed to suddenly have Ruti back in his life saying the party’s adventures haven’t gone smoothly, and she wants to move to Zoltan to be near him.

In his new world where he’s chosen free will over his Blessing (and Rit has done the same), who is Red to tell Ruti she can’t do as she pleases? Eventually she’s going to run out of drug and the Blessing will once again assert control, but even as the Hero, Ruti would be happier with Red back in the party. In fact, she believes they can’t defeat the Demon Lord without him.

Red makes it clear very early in his reunion with Ruti that he doesn’t intend to rejoin, which would suggest he’s made his choice between the slow life with Rit and the fast one with the Hero. But it’s not that clear-cut. I think a lot of the reason Red doesn’t ask any questions about Ruti’s sudden change is that as the person who loves her most in this world, he’s just so glad to see Ruti like this.

Red and Rit put their blooming romance aside this week, and to the episode’s credit, it doesn’t go off-character with Rit and Ruti at each other’s throats. Tisse can still feel the tension, and fears the worst could happen if she’s not vigilant, but just as Mr. Crawly Wawly asked her to “look closer” when Ruti tried to pet him, he also shows Tisse a way forward.

As the title of this post says, it’s nobody’s fault Ruti became the Hero, but when she reminisces about her first battle against a giant owlbear—a battle she had to fight because her Blessing compel her—it kinda makes me wish the Almighty who bestows Blessings were a character in this show, so Red  could slug them in the face.

What Mr. Crawly Wawly and then Tisse discover is that it may be up to them to keep Ruti on the straight and narrow. Ruti is in love with her past when she could feel heat and cold and taste honeyed milk better and could sleep and be with her brother. But as much as Red loves Ruti, he also loves Rit, and he can’t live both lives with both of them at once.

It’s nobody’s fault things got this way (well, maybe Ares), but Tisse believes if anyone can save the Hero by helping her to move forward with her life and her destiny, it’s her. In that regard, the fate of the world may rest on the tiny silver-haired soft-spoken assassin…well, the shoulder that isn’t occupied by The Mister Crawly Wawly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 09 – First Job

Lugh may be busy planning his first official assassination job, but his mom Esri is thinking bigger-picture. For instance, she’s excited by the fact that he’s “growing up” as dutifully reported to her by Tarte, and also has some fine young noble ladies lined up, one of whom she hopes he’ll marry and giver her grandchildren before she’s too old.

This is historically typical aristocratic mom stuff, but it’s also clear this isn’t just duty for Esri. There’s no one she loves more in this world than her son Lugh, and she only wants happiness for him. If that means not marrying a noblewoman and having a family with Tarte, so be it. She becomes a granny either way.

While Esri is looking forward to Lugh’s future as a Zaddy, Lugh and Tarte pay a visit to Pisear, the second-largest merchant town after Milteu and also the prime market for Count Azba Venkaur’s drugs. They both detect that the innocent girl selling gooseberry jam in a dark alley is actually being forced to sell the drug-laced jam to pay for drugs for her addicted mom.

Lugh and Tarte beat up the low-level thugs controlling the girl, and Lugh uses magic to lift the girl’s mom’s physical dependence, but he knows he can only do so much without dealing with the root cause of this drug problem: the Count bringing in the drugs to begin with.

While Lugh and Tarte took a street-level view of how bad things were, Maha used her not inconsiderable intelligence resources on Venkaur’s operation. Then she accompanies Lugh-as-Illig Balor as the directors of Orna, which just so happens to be the Count’s wife Bridgette’s favorite brand. On the wagon ride to the Venkaur estate, Maha asks Lugh if he’s made any “progress” with Tarte.

A month on her own has made Maha even more confident and direct, and she makes it clear to Lugh that she and Tarte don’t see Lugh as just a brother, friend, or young master any more, and it’s time for him to look at them in a different way. Maha, for one, is biding her time until she becomes utterly indispensable to Lugh, at which point she’ll be on equal footing to negotiate an arrangement. Call it the “To Big to Fail” strategy.

They arrive to find Countess Bridgette to be an exceedingly warm and lovely woman for someone of such high station, and Lugh gets to shake the hand of his target, Count Azba. As the evening rolls on and he charms his mostly female guests of the Orna-branded party, Lugh catches glimpses of both Azba and Bridgette. He really gets to know the people whose lives he’s going to ruin.

Azba is a bad guy who sells drugs that destroy people and families and the very social fabric atop which he stands. He doesn’t deserve the pure love of his wife Bridgette, but he has it anyway. Lugh doesn’t want to hurt Bridgette, who never hurt him and knows nothing of her husband’s dealings. But he has a job to do for the betterment of the kingdom.

Mind you, he doesn’t do it because it’s his job. He’s no longer the finely-honed but ultimately will-less tool he was in his past life. He chooses who to kill, and after seeing what his crimes do to people, he’s chosen Azba as his first target. Moments after taking the shot and ending his life from several hundred meters away, Lugh’s magnifying vision lingers on the balcony until he sees a heartbroken Bridgette run out, grab Azba’s lifeless body, staining her face (covered in Orba-brand cosmetics) and her fancy clothes with the blood of the man she loved most in the world.

And Lugh feels something, after having never felt anything after assassinating in his old life. A distinct and strong pang of pain. He hastens to clarify he won’t regret this first kill, but he won’t forget it either. When he one day looks deep into the eyes of his sons and daughters—whoever their mother may be—a part of him will always see the blood-stained face of the poor Countess Bridgette Venkaur.

Shin no Nakama – 09 – Warm Hands, Full Hearts

Ruti takes Tisse and their Fisher-Price airship and head for Zoltan to break an alchemist out of jail. Why is the Hero abandoning the rest of her party to do crimes? Because the goatman gave her a sample of the Devil’s Blessing, which weakens her Hero’s Blessing and makes her more human.

She wants a steady supply of the drug, and she trusts Tisse. We get more time with the tiny assassin than all previous episodes combined, and thanks to the legendary Kugimiya Rie (Tisse’s seiyu) and the adorable Crawly Wawly, all of that time is a delight. This is an episode full of jokes that keep things light, unlike the last two weeks where all the self-serious plotting got on my nerves.

I also said the last two weeks that all I really care about is the main couple, but that’s not true; I always cared about Ruti and was fascinated by the curse of her Blessing, and now I care about her and Tisse, who hides the fact that she’s a sweaty bundle of nerves beneath her cool exterior.

Speaking of cool, Winter has come to Zoltan, and business at Red and Rit’s is slow since people don’t want to leave their homes. Rit suggests Red craft a hand warmer similar to the ones form Loggervia, and they’re a big hit in town. Rit saves one warmer for her and Red to share, strolling until they find a private park bench where they  can cuddle and smooch.

That’s the good stuff right there: the Quiet Life of the show’s very long title that both OP and ED promise and that drew me to this show to begin with. That said, that coziness blends well with the gently building tension as Ruti and Tisse get closer to Zoltan, but don’t run into Red and Rit immediately.

In fact, both Ruti and Red end up dealing with the same bridge knight seeking to challenge anyone who crosses. Ruti easily dispatches him into the river where he loses all of his possession. When he challenges Red in nothing but his bear boxers, Red does the same thing, and he loses he boxers too.

Tisse encounters Red first, not knowing who he is when they’re sitting beside each other at a very chill udon stand. As both are seasoned professionals, they quickly but discreetly size one another up and determine that they could be trouble; Tisse because she’s a capable assassin, and Red because Tisse can tell he’s a far stronger knight than the one who lost his drawers.

As expected, Ruti has no trouble at all executing a prison break and extracting Godwin, the alchemist, who will make as much of whatever Ruti wants if she just stops staring at him. The next morning Tisse wakes up to find Ruti didn’t sleep…but you get the feeling if she had enough Devil’s Blessing, she could, and she wants to.

What leads Ruti and Red to finally cross paths at the very end of the episode is nothing contrived, but a practical matter of Ruti not wanting to heal Godwin’s wounds with her Hero’s magic lest her cover be blown. For that, she needs an apothecary, and Tisse, who had already scouted the whole place, knows where the best one is.

What Ruti didn’t know is that the apothecary is the same guy who she met at the udon stand. Fresh from a fairy hamlet on Zoltan’s outskirts where he healed a very blue, very pretty, very naked undine from a cold-like curse that seems to be going around, there he is, welcoming new customers. When Ruti and Red lock eyes and realize that fate has brought them together, Ruti can’t conceal her overflowing happiness.

With tears of joy in her eyes and a huge smile, she pounces on her onii-chan with abandon. I suspect the beautiful reunion will be somewhat marred once Red learns Ruti is in Zoltan to procure drugs that make her a weaker hero. In any case, this week was a marked improvement on the previous two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 08 – The Only Way to Live

Last week aptly documented Lugh’s happy and successful life as Illig Balor with his right-hand women Tarte and Maha. Now two years have passed. While before Maha was powerless to save her friends from criminals, here she keeps an eye out for them when they’re out late and dispatches their would-be muggers with ease.

Lugh has learned that given a chance (and adequate resources), Maha has not only become someone who can protect herself and her friends, but thrive as a merchant. We learn that the shop purchased as the HQ of his now booming cosmetic brand was the first shop Maha’s father opened when he was a merchant. Both Maha and her friends are eternally grateful for Illig’s help giving them their new happy and successful lives.

But for Illig, this life is now over and it’s time to return home and to being Lugh Tuatha Dé. He leaves his thriving business in Maha’s capable hands, while Maha asks that if her Prince can spare a day a month for Dia, surely he can come see her sometime as well. Maha and Tarte also leave on warm, happy, and mutually respecting terms. They don’t see themselves as rivals for Lugh’s heart, because in their view there’s plenty of that heart to go around.

On the wagon ride home they run into some wolf monsters, which Tarteuses the skills Lugh taught her to easily defeat without Lugh having to lift a finger. Once they reach Tuatha Dé lands and he sees the new soybean fields, he gets out of the wagon to receive a warm welcome—and a big basket of produce—from his adoring people.

Unlike Maha and Tarte, they may not know there’s a lot of calculation in his behavior, but even if they did, like Maha and Tarte it’s his actions, not the motivations behind them, that would likely matter most to them.

Has the assassin from our world who is now Tuatha Dé become more sentimental now that he’s been in this world for fourteen years? It’s hard to say, but if he has, it hasn’t softened his edge one bit. When his father reveals that one of the most important reasons for sending him to be a Balor was to give his son the choice he no longer has: to walk away from the thankless life of an assassin anyone in the kingdom could betray and abandon at any time.

Lugh’s answer is a firm no, for the simple reason that he isn’t a Balor, or a merchant: he’s an assassin and a Tuatha Dé. Honor and duty to the kingdom mean nothing to him, but the happiness of the people he cares about means everything. Also, he mentions that he’s in love with Dia, and can’t marry her if he abandons his noble station to be a merchant. It’s another calculated move, but one that doesn’t preclude that he is in love with Dia, and simply calling it something more pragmatic.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 07 – You Gotta Moisturize

“You know, I’ve tried all sorts of moisturizers. I even went fragrance-free for a whole year. Now my sister, she uses some kind of uh… uh… uh… uh… aloe vera with a little sunscreen in it, and ideally, we should all wear gloves when going to bed, but I found out that that creates a kind of an interference with my… “social agenda”, you know what I mean.”—Frank Catton, Ocean’s Eleven

“It’s all going according to plan”—‘Illig’ thinks this as he lay in bed flanked by the undyingly loyal Tarte and Maha. He says the loss of their parents makes them seek human warmth, and their infatuation with him has made them his “pawns”—he continues to insist in his head that there’s a distance between artifice of his precious Plan and the reality as the girls see it: that is and has been kind and generous enough to demand that their loyalty and love.

After Illig heals his father’s legitimate son with his Tuathe Dé skills, his father agrees to adopt Maha as Illig’s sister, and also agrees that no matter when this charade ends, Illig or Lugh will always have a home to go back to in Milteu—a smart backup plan Just in Case.

As far as the merchant world goes, Illig takes to it like a fish to water and intends to make a huge first splash, converting one of his father’s failed liquor stores in the city into a cosmetics and confectionary shop focused on women. Knowing brand trumps quality in this competitive industry, he has an ace up his sleeve: there are no moisturizers in this world.

Not only does Illig impress his father, but his mother too, though she’ll still always hate him as a symbol of her husband’s impropriety. I’m sure Illig appreciates her directness. Six months pass, and Illig and Tarte watch the women and the money pour into the store. Illig further galvanizes Maha’s loyalty and love by making her the store manager, who hires her friends.

Maha and her friends are now living the dream they dreamt while living on the streets before being captured. Maha couldn’t be more content, and we learn Illig has also trained her in the skills of assassination. Such are her and Tarte’s depth of devotion to their master and brother, they’ll happily brutally torture a corporate spy in the night. Illig didn’t even have to be there.

This week is the wackiest Goddess interlude yet—in which she’s rap-dueling with The World’s Greatest MC, only to learn that 30 years later he’s done nothing because all he does is insult people. But while they provide a measure of comic relief, they also show us that of all the Worlds Best ___’s the Goddess has brought to a new world, Illig seems to be faring the best.

We also learn that once a month Illig travels to hang out with Dia, who is essentially his big sister. They collaborate on new spells and catch up. Just one day a month must be lonely (that bittersweet loneliness has been beautifully expressed in the Dia-centric ED), but even if Illig cynically thinks he’s just keeping another pawn loyal to him, there’s clearly more going on than that.

While Illig’s constant assurance to himself everything is going according to plan make me nervous for some kind of unanticipated setback, the first instance is pretty low-key: his body has arrived at puberty, and after a mana-intensive day at Dia’s, he sleeps soundly between Tarte and Maha…and wakes up to learn his body has had its first wet dream.

Tarte and Maha immediately assure him that in the future they will be able to “take care” of this new development without issue or delay, and Illig, who didn’t seem like much of a ladies man in his past life, is understandably flustered. While this first crack in his plan is mostly silly, the fact he now has less than five years to defeat the hero provides potential for many more. So much remains unknown of the hero, from their gender to the possibility of fulfilling his mission without killing them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 06 – The Merchant’s Daughter

Warning: This episode deals with some upsetting and potentially triggering themes, including rape and sexual assault, physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, child abuse/pedophilia, and self-injurious behavior. 

Our cold open features Lugh and Tarte donning their new threads as they prepare to live their new lives as Illig Balor and his servant. But after the credits, we pivot to the much-anticipated story of third member of Lugh’s assassination team from the first episode: Maha. Herself the daughter of merchants but now an orphan on the streets, she and five other girls survive by giving sightseeing tours to travelers.

They’re close to making enough money for better clothes, and one day Maha dreams of them making enough to buy a house in which to live together. But one stormy day that dream is stamped out when all six girls are captured by men hired to round up kids for his lord’s “orphanage.” I knew shit was going to get bad, but had no idea how bad.

Ironically, Maha and the others get what they were dreaming of: a roof under their heads, food to cook and eat together at a table. But it happens to come at the price of their own freedom. They are essentially slaves, doing whatever is asked of them and being beaten when their captors feel like it. It gradually wears their once enterprising spirits down into the dirt.

Then the captors start getting rapey, pimping the girls out one by one to those with the coin to purchase them for the night. The oldest of them, Ifa, is the first to go through this, and Maha is forced to bathe, dress, and apply makeup to her, essentially making her the involuntary preparer of the lamb to the slaughter.

The sequence of this preparation is plenty disheartening, but then the episode’s absolutely brutal transitions have Ifa being doused three times in a row, succinctly indicating how many times she’s endured hell; the light in her eyes fading more each time.

For anyone still thinking it wouldn’t simply get worse from there, the episode is ready to change your minds in a hurry. At first Ifa is the only one sent away, until one day one of the other girls asks why they never get to go.

Then they go, one by one, each being subjected to the same pre-hell ritual of washing and dressing up as Ifa was. One of Maha’s friends decides the only way to protect herself from further torment is to cut up her face with a sickle; Maha is too late to stop her. It doesn’t matter; her torment doesn’t end.

One day, Maha overhears her captors talking about her being next, despite her having only just turned twelve. Having witnessed the aftermath of what all the other girls went thorough, Maha rushes to the barn, and is ready to cut her face when she’s stopped by a familiar figure, at least to us: “Illig Balor”.

Illig has come to purchase one of the girls—not for a night, but for good. He chooses Maha, and gives her captor more than enough gold. Even so, the captor asks for and is granted three days, during which he intends to pimp Maha out to make some extra money on top of what Illig paid, then rape her himself.

At first, on her way to one of those clients, Maha is trying to put on a brave face; she’ll only have to endure three days of hell, and then she’ll be in heaven with her “prince”. Then her captor has his hands all over her, and she can’t do it. She uses her mana to escape the wagon, but is quickly caught by the captor’s henchman, who also uses mana.

The henchman seems intent on being the first to rape her, but he is incapacitated by Illig, who tells the captor he saw Maha calling for help with her eyes when he bought her. When the captor and his ilk try to take Illig out, Illig has no trouble at all taking them out.

Meanwhile, Tarte sets up a honey trap to get the pervert Viscount arrested, and the hellish orphanage is shut down. The girl who scarred her face even gets it healed by Illig. Maha then joins Illig, her “Prince’s” party, and all’s well that ends well, tempered of course by all of the other mental and physical scars the girls still carry.

Maha had by far the most intense and fucked-up backstory of the trio. Lugh came from another world where he was the finest assassin; Tarte suffered and endured, but for a briefer time. Maha saw and went through some shit.

I left the episode exhausted by the horrors Maha and her friends endured, but also happy relieved they’re now free and safe. The two-plus years that passed in this episode were the crucible in which a future Maha—an assassin Maha—was first forged.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 05 – Making a Name, then Taking a New One

When Lugh goes into town with Tarte by his side, he’s practically mobbed by townsfolk eager to give him free stuff as thanks for all the kind assistance he’s given them. Whether it’s developing a fertilizer for the grocer’s onions, replenished a water supply, or mended the leg of a cow, he demonstrates every day that being a noble is more about power and strength, but winning hearts. And he’s not shy about one of those heart’s being Tarte’s.

One night Cian summons his son to the dark room where he usually examines his growth. Instead, he does so in another manner, by asking Lugh “how Tarte is.” After reporting how in two years Tarte has become the equal of any member of the branch families, he also assuages his pops’ suspicion that Tarte was a spy meant to steal Tuatha Dé techniques.

Lugh admits it was incredibly fortuitous for him to just happen to run into someone like Tarte, but he can’t very well say the Goddess drew him to her she’s too busy watching the other hundreds of “finest” fighters not doing as well as Lugh.

Cian eventually invites Lugh to a special training center where they go up against each other. Lugh is impressed by his dad’s ability to mask his true movements and intents with traps and feints, but at the end of the day Lugh is faster, stronger, and if I’m guessing right, possesses at least a decade more experience in assassination that Cian, and wins the day. Huis dad couldn’t be prouder.

From there, we get a glorious montage of Lugh accompanying his father on jobs, which begs the question, just how many people need assassinating in this kingdom that Cian is so damn busy? That said, I’m willing to table that question since it’s fun watching the two slink around, Lugh dying his hair black so he doesn’t stand out, and just offing dudes in all manner of ways.

Cian and Esri hold a grand banquet to celebrate the next step in their son’s progression: moving on his own to Milteu to pose as the son of a wealthy and powerful merchant, the better to gain access to the fortresses of nobles in need of killin’. It seems like an awfully public party with lots of opportunities for agents of those nobles to infiltrate. Then again, it might just be Tuatha Dé and its branch families who are invited.

One branch son who is not ready to accept Lugh as the future main family head is Ronah…until literally moments later when his throat is nicked and his arm broken with ease by Lugh, proving on the spot who the “stronger” person is.

But to the show’s credit, Ronah isn’t just cast aside as an upstart punk who got taught a lesson by the protagonist. Instead, he accepts his loss and is determined to improve. Lugh encourages this, and even offers to make Ronah his subordinate and knight, gifting him a superlight sword of his own design. Ronah is all for it, and wishes Lugh well on his next journey.

While Lugh is “leaving the nest” and his parents, Tarte naturally tags along…who would dress him? Apparently Esri taught Tarte…something that she’d rather not elaborate on when they’re about to depart. But once in the wagon on the way to Milteu, Lugh reminds Tarte that he’s not Lugh anymore, and won’t be for two years. He’ll be Illig Balor, son of the head of the Balor Trading Company.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 04 – Nice to Be Needed

Ansatsu Kizoku is by no means the best-looking or most original anime of the Fall, but it just might have the best structure, or rather most interesting structure to its narrative. I love the way it darts and weaves back and forth through time. Macro-wise, we’ve already seen Tarte in action, but this is the episode that truly introduces her as a character, not merely an ass-kicking machine.

We begin with Tarte in pretty much the most dire situation someone can be in. Winter is coming, so the family decided to cast her out so there’d be enough food (it’s implied their lord overtaxes, which caused families to make impossible choices). Starving and running out of strength, she’s set upon by a pack of wolves.

Here’s what immediately made Tarte interesting: she smiles moments before her death. She neither fears nor blames the hungry wolves; hell, she respects them. If this is how she goes, at least she’ll be put to good use keeping other living things alive. When her family abandoned her, she felt she had lost all reason to exist. Then our friend Lugh arrives, and uses the wolves to practice his killing skills while Tarte watches.

Mind you, Lugh doesn’t arrive to save her until after we get an extended scene of him at the harvest market, watching the townsfolk prepare for the winter by preserving and rationing. There’s even a brief little aside of comic relief when the Goddess checks in on another person like Lugh who isn’t faring so well. It’s when Lugh goes hunting so his family will have meat in the winter that he comes across Tarte.

Tarte happens to be backing a huge amount of mana—more than he’s seen in anyone in town—and the grizzled assassin in him knows it can’t be a coincidence; the Goddess must have sent her to him. The thing is, that seemingly throwaway gag of her watching The World’s Finest Special Ops Guy become a NEET over four decades proves she’s not always watching Lugh and making things happen. Sometimes…things just happen, like meeting Tarte.

Lugh’s initial interactions with Tarte are seemingly kind, if somewhat emotionally distant and logical. It’s only after he’s struck a deal for her to bind herself to him mind body and soul that he reveals he manipulated this font of mana into someone who would never betray him; someone who owes their existence to him and so exists only for him.

Two years pass, and Lugh has been training Tarte into the fellow assassin he’ll need to take on the Hero. He hasn’t told her why he’s training her, nor is she curious. When he performs the same examination of Tarte that his father performed on him, it’s super clinical, medical…professional. Lugh may have the body of a twelve-year-old, but he’s no Lewd Rudy.

When I think about how Lugh interacted with Tarte with such precision calculation, I remember what his father said: they are people, not tools. A tool would not have been able to get Tarte to trust him or devote herself to him so easily, but Lugh has been raised to be empathetic and curious, and so is a much better judge of character than your stock killing machine.

The same can be said of Tarte. Takada Yuki does such a fine job initially voicing the starving Tarte and then imbuing her voice with more strength and confidence once two years pass. Tarte may be really really good with a spear (collapsible or otherwise), but she’s also a good person…or as she once said of Lugh, a good person “as far as I’m concerned”.

How we treat others matters. Tarte witnessed Lugh slaughter the wolves with the deftness of a surgeon, and hears how he’s killed people and will go on killing people as part of his duties. But he’s still a good person to her, because he and he alone saved her when he didn’t have to.

Now that both Dia and Tarte have been properly introduced (and are both exceedingly charming, rootable characters to complement Lugh’s aloofness) I imagine the cool beauty Maha’s story is next up. I’m looking forward to more taut, confidently structured storytelling.

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