The Genius Prince’s Guide – 10 – Cooperative Relationship

Princess Falanya leads the people out of Mealtars, past the armies of Lowa’s brothers, and into the waiting arms of Caldmellia and King Gruyere, who were not prepared to deal with so many refugees. The stunning move, made possible thanks to Falanya’s charisma, essentially freezes all parties and gives Wein ample room to negotiate a way out of this that’s acceptable to all, yet still takes advantage of his opponents’ disadvantage.

As the officially sanctioned negotiator for Mealtars, Wein makes use of the city’s ample treasury and offers to buy Levitian’s surplus surplies with both gold and the promise of a memorial and temple to Levetia. With the Levitian army hanging back in reserve, Wein uses the supplies to raise a militia the princes won’t want to fight.

But his true masterstroke comes when he meets with Lowa’s brothers, who like the Levetians have limited room to maneuver due to the sensistive military scenario that has been created. With a knowling Lowa present, Wein dusts off the “trial in absentia”, pinning the blame on the assassination  and the war on the absent Demetrio and forcing his younger brothers to agree, as it’s the best option they have.

As a result, the armies end their siege of Mealtars, the Levetians return home, and the people of Mealtars are cemented not only as a strong friend and ally to Natra, but in Lowa’s faction as well. The mayor tells Lowa over tea how he asked Wein “why are you doing this?”, and was charmed by his response: to gladden his little sister’s heart.

As we know, nothing is more important to Wein than his family, be it Falanya or Ninym, so we know he was being sincere. But there’s no denying siding with Mealtars in their hour of dire need paid huge dividends for Natra and Marden, as imperial exports, passed off as Marden exports, are now flowing through the vassal state and into the west.

Ninym rightly brings up the fact that the richer Marden becomes, the more likely it is they’ll desire independence again. Sure enough, Marchioness Zenovia is encouraged by her advisor to take advantage of their newfound prosperity to “extract a commitment” from Natra when Wein pays them a visit on his way to Soljest.

The advisor proposes that Zenovia ask for Wein’s hand in marriage…which is exactly what Wein thinks she’ll ask for when he visits. Only…she doesn’t? Wein is totally thrown off as they discuss only matters of state such as a conservative western nation sending a letter of protest regarding trade goods.

Wein lets his hair down and be his impetuous self in front of Ninym, as usual, assured that the next day Zenovia will broach the topic while giving them a tour of her capital. But once again, Zenovia—disguised as Zeno and fooling no one—simply gives him a tour…no proposal.

Wein is the one to broach the topic, but when they have a seat on a bench in a park, Zeno pivots by asking why Wein is so “oddly distant” from his people. Wein proceeds to give a cautionary lecture on the responsibility of nobility and royalty to maintain a certain mystique and remove from their people.

This is for a reason Zeno hadn’t considered: she, as well as Wein, Soljest, and even Lowellmina Earthwold, can trace their venerable royal and noble lines all the way to commoners. That means all of the people in one’s kingdom could one day become the first humble branch of a new royal tree…hence his vigilance. He must be the best prince he can be, because he’s surrounded by potential replacements.

Zenovia acknowledges that Wein is a great man, even greater than she initially believed, and that’s the reason she’s happy, for now, with Marden remaining a loyal vassal of Natra (also, she jests that his face isn’t her type). But as she confides to her advisor, Zenovia also feels that marriage with someone like Wein, someone she lionizes as a hero, would be impossible.

I feel she’s selling herself short here, but it’s not my place to tell her how to feel! Even the advisor concedes that she should trust her heart in this matter, and it doesn’t make her a bad leader to refuse the clever play of strategic marriage.

I’m usually not a fan of characters running themselves down to prop up ones they idolize, but considering what she’s witnessed Wein achieve in the time she’s known him, it’s hard to argue with her feelings of inadequacy. Such is the sold writing of this show that I can both disagree and respect her position. Now, what’s up with Delunio?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 09 – The Princess Pride

At first, Wein thinks he’s arrived in Mealtars at the absolute worst time: just when Falanya has insisted that Demetrio seek Wein’s approval for his marriage to her. Wein, Ninym and Lowa exchange subtle nonverbal cues as he expresses his heartfelt approval for the union. After all, it will be the second—with Wein marrying Lowa, Natra’s Imperial influence will skyrocket!

This prospect causes Demetrio to agree to discuss it another day, which buys his sister time, but Wein assures Falanya that he won’t let her be married to such a man. Later, despite showing signs of fatigue, Wein joins Lowa for a secret clock tower meeting. Things aren’t going quite as Lowa planned, but she’s in a good position to snatch the throne, and promises Wein she will get him “all mixed up” in her “epic tale”.

As we learn Prince Manfred to be an incredibly decisive and logical man, planning to assassinate someone as intelligent (and thus dangerous) as Wein, Falanya continues to spend much of her time in the Citizen’s Assembly. Not only does she soak up the discourse like a sponge, but garners the esteem and admiration for watching and listening so intently.

Demetrio welcomes Wein to further talks, but when a maid serves them tea, Wein asks, then demands the maid drink it herself. When she hesitates, Demetrio takes his cup, accuses Wein of cowardice, takes a sip…and collapses as blood trickles from his mouth. Ninym starts to chase the maid, but Wein orders her to find a doctor instead. They may never learn Manfred ordered the hit, but he’s not about to let an Imperial prince die…even the worst one.

Demetrio survives, but Wein is detained for questioning for several days, during which time Mealtars is surrounded by Bardloche and Manfred’s armies. No sooner is Wein free than news comes the Levitians, led by Caldmellia have also brought an army to the city’s doorstep. The increased strain on the besieged city will lead to unrest, riots, and eventually military intervention. But as Wein is calculating all of these variables, he suddenly passes out from exhaustion.

That means, surprisingly, that it’s once again up to Princess Falanya, and unsurprisingly, considering how much she’s learned in so short a time, she rises to the occasion and handles the shit out of it. As the Citizen’s Assembly threatens to devolve into every-man-for-himself chaos, she stands in the center of the assembly (who we already know to be enamored of her) and makes an impassioned plea for solidarity.

It works, and Mealtars manages to hold together even with three armies staring them down. Ninym scarcely leaves Wein’s bedside, so when he finally awakes, she leaps at him for a tearful hug that’s probably a little too tight for his current condition, but speaks to how he’s as much her heart as she is his.

With the entire city united behind their new idol Falanya, Wein has her lead them out of the city walls in a peaceful and orderly evacuation. Through her speeches, she’s able to convince them to leave it all behind in service of a better future for all of them. Strategically, of course, this has the effect of paralyzing all of the armies outside, who even combined are dwarfed by Mealtar’s sheer numbers.

Even Caldmellia and the Levitians weren’t prepared to take in and provide for so many, meaning whatever ulterior motives they had, they’ll have to put on hold. As Falanya tells the masses, Mealtars isn’t the walls or streets or houses; Mealtars is its people, and with the power of the people at her back, even the tiny, adorable little princess can stare down imperial armies and religious zealots alike.

I’m truly loving Falanya’s rapid ascent to greatness from her humble beginnings as the character who listens to exposition for the benefit of the audience…and if Wein is still hoping for a slow life down the road, I’m sure he is too!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 07 – Creative Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

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

Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

Cop Craft – 10 – Democracy in Action

On the way to an interview with Coal Mozeleemay, Kei is stopped by the reporter Kevin Randall, but insists he has no comment. In their meeting with Coal (definitely awkward due to his last encounter with Tilarna), he has no comment either, as his wife Marla handles all the questions, confirming to Tilarna that he’s no leader.

Turns out he’ll never have a chance to prove Tilarna wrong, as he’s shot during a speech. Kei pares down 92 potential suspects in the crowd down to three by eliminating anyone not acting like an assassin would, showing Tilarna that Kei’s pretty good at this detective stuff when all’s said and done.

Unfortunately for both of them, the black suit-wearing culprit won’t surrender or come with them without a lengthy chase, during which he demonstrates superhuman speed, agility, strength, and an uncanny ability to shrug off multiple gunshot wounds.

Again predicting he’d require more agility than a full-size car, Kei commandeers a tiny, quirky Messerschmitt KR200, which is naturally abused and badly damaged in the dust-up with the perp.

Kei and Tilarna have no choice but to put the guy down by whatever means, but before he dies, his appearance completely changes, revealing he wasn’t Semanian at all, but a human soldier using Semani magic. His gun was also disguised as a camera, made of ridiculously precise Vaifaht steel Tilarna claims even the best smiths back home couldn’t come close to creating.

So on one hand we have two dead candidates, and the only one left standing is in favor of kicking out all “aliens,” and on the other you have a highly-trained human soldier using immensely sophisticated magics in order to make it look like a Semanian killed his own.

Chief Zimmer instructs Kei and Tilarna to interview Tourte next; we’ll see if he knows anything about this apparent human-led conspiracy to make him the next mayor, which could well lead to the expulsion of all Semanians, many of whom might not go without a fight—either legal or physical.

Meanwhile all these murders of candidates have the public on edge, and well-organized anti-Semani demonstrations are already underway. Whether they popped up organically due to fear or something arranged by pro-Tourte partisans, we shall see, but in the meantime Kei urges Tilarna to keep her cool, even if what’s going on is both unjust and undemocratic.

Astra Lost in Space – 11 – Right Hand Man

In the biggest twist yet in a show packed with ’em, Charce turns out to be the clone of the king, raised to be a replacement body, not an individual person. When clones were banned, his mission changed: accompany the Space Camp and ensure they all die.

And yet, even having heard all this, Kanata isn’t ready to give up on Charce. He insists that if he really didn’t love and care about them, he wouldn’t have hesitated with the wormhole generator. But Charce has an exploration for that too: Aries Spring is the clone of the king’s only daughter, Princess Seira.

Seira was staunchly against being cloned, but her father did it anyway, cementing the king as a violating dickwad concerned only with everlasting life. She spirited her baby clone away with her surrogate mother, Emma, naming her the reverse of her name before parting.

A year before Space Camp, Seira and Charce were enjoying nature when a shadowy figure rushed out of the woods and shoved Seira off a cliff; an assassination made to look like an accident. The king threw Charce in jail where he rotted until a week before camp, when he was assigned his new mission: to die, and take the other illegal clones with him.

It’s fair to say Charce had the most fucked up childhood of the crew, and what makes him even more pitiable is that he believes his life has been wonderful, as long as he’s had a purpose; as long as he served his king. Kanata gives him a much needed punch; he can talk about his true purpose all day; he knows when someone is forcing or faking happiness, and Charce hasn’t been faking it.

But Charce’s mind seems made up; he produces a second wormhole generator from the right arm of his suit—a wormhole meant only for him. This isn’t about fulfilling a mission anymore, but punishing himself for betraying the only friends he had in the world (other than Seira).

Kanata stops the suicide attempt with another one of his athletic feats, jumping over the dang wormhole and shielding Charce from it. But he misjudged the distance, and Charce can’t turn off the wormhole soon enough. It swallows Kanata’s right arm, transporting it back to Earth orbit.

The moment Kanata’s arm disappears, the most pressing question is whether he’ll survive the injury. Quitterie doubtlessly saves a lot of his precious blood with her quick thinking and first aid, but he needs a hospital, and they’re still far from Astra. Charce regrets what happened, and Kanata tells him he’ll pay for it by being his second-in-command when he gets a ship. But right now, in Kanata’s present state, it sounds an awful lot like a death flag.

Cop Craft – 09 – The Cat’s Out of the (Garbage) Bag

As silly as I thought the Tilarna-Kuroi body swap is, if you ever find yourself in such a pinch, it helps to have a competent friend in Cecil Epps. Having missed the trash pickup, she calls the waste management company, and when they stonewall her, she plays the police card to get access.

Once at the processing center they find the exact truck that took the bag containing the crossbow, but they’re a little too late and it ends up the proverbial needle in a trash mountain. Still, they’ve narrowed down the location enough for Tilarna to go in and attempt to sense the crossbow’s latena, which she does.

Unfortunately, Tilarna-cat’s lack of thumbs means the crossbow ends up destroyed on the trash conveyor. But the good news is, destroying the artifact reverses the spell, and Tilarna returns to her own body, right when the smuggler has broken in and is trying to get her to cough up the crossbow.

Tilarna allows herself a few moments to jump for joy over getting her body back (as we all would), but the intruder saw her butt and everything else below the waist, so she beats the crap out of him, only sparing his life when Kei arrives, having been briefed by Cecil.

All’s well that ends well, though Tilarna would prefer if Kei were a little more upset about another man seeing her naked, again underscoring their…complex relationship.

With the body swap reversed, the episode trades Tilarna’s lack of pants for a school swimsuit, as Zimmer’s entire unit has a summer cookout at his place. It’s nice to see everyone unwinding after some hard cases—and for Kei’s extreme food snobbishness and bossiness exposed…honestly, he’s almost as bad as Zane!

The fun and relaxation is cut short when there’s breaking news report on the TV: mayoral candidate Nathan Kahns has been shot and killed. They determine the culprit, who had no criminal record, was being controlled by a wizard, possibly Zelada. With the “compromise” candidate in Kahns out, that leaves the Semanian Mozeleemay and the far-right Tourte, who wants to banish all Semanians.

That means this case will have long-term ramifications for all of San Teresa that could threaten the future of human-Semanian coexistance. There’s a small but telling example of the insidious ethnic strife inherent in this case when a beat cop calls a passing Tilarna a “damn alien” under his breath.

Kei hears that, and aggressively defends Tilarna, who is both embarrassed and grateful that Kei did it. Kei’s explanation about how it’s not the same when he uses slurs like “alien” (because it comes from familiarity and not hate) isn’t the strongest, but it is realistic behavior. But Tilarna may find herself turning the other cheek a lot more as they dig into this sensitive case.

Cop Craft – 07 – Keep Your Friends Close

Tilarna and Kei suddenly find themselves deep in the world of vice and political intrigue, as Tilarna serves as bait for a john at a high-end brothel, and they end up arresting Cole Mozeleemay, a powerful Semanian politician running for mayor of San Teresa. While Cole didn’t get far at all with Tilarna before Kei and the cops take the hotel room, the fact he touched her hair is enough to make her upset Kei didn’t bust in sooner.

Mozeleemay very publicly asserts his innocence to the press (gaslighting them in the process), while his ambitious politician’s wife commits to helping him get through this (but that doesn’t mean he can touch her). Tilarna is as expected disgusted by Earth’s slow, plodding brand of justice, especially when even that kind tends to slow even more when a powerful person is involved.

All Kei tells her is that this is the way it is, and that she’s going to have to resign herself to that, as he has over the years. She needs a friend—someone other than Kei—and is comforted when she has a chance encounter with Zoey, the woman who was kind to her at the brothel, and who is also an amateur photographer.

Zoey actually needs help moving after the police raid, and Tilarna, being nice, helps out. Knights may be solitary by nature, but the more Tilarna hangs out with Kei, the more used to relationships she gets. Her need for female companionship must have been stronger than ever considering what she went through and how Zoey (unlike, say, Cecil) can relate to the life.

Tilarna and Zoey become fast friends over their brief time together, and Kei just happens to return to the spot where they split up to pick her up later that night. She’s also enchanted by Zoey’s photography. They continue to hang out despite Kei’s warnings not to get too involved with people they’re investigating (Zoey believes Tilarna is merely a rich runaway).

Meanwhile, the already-tenuous solicitation case against Mozeleemay takes another blow when a list of the club’s clients is leaked to the media. Some of the names are real and some are fake, creating more reasonable doubt for Mozeleemay’s lawyers to use in his defense.

We learn that Zoey is the one who provided Mozeleemay with the list, in exchange for enough cash to afford the gorgeous apartment with an ocean view. Mozeleemay shows his true colors once more when he offers extra pay for a quick trick, but Zoey spurns him. Mozeleemay’s wife, who is following him, spots Zoey exiting his car.

Tilarna, increasingly distraught over the increasing possibility she went undercover and endured what she did for no good reason, brings up the possibility of an employee at the club being the leaker. Jamie shows them the video stills of everyone who accessed the list, and sure enough, Zoey’s photo sticks out.

She goes to Zoey’s place immediately to confront her. Zoey doesn’t answer the door and Tilarna prepares for the worse by drawing her sword, only for Zoey to ambush her…with her camera. She has a photo canvas for Tilarna as a gift for helping her move, but Tilarna is all business, and starts with the accusations. Zoey denies, then asks if Tilarna is a cop, and Tilarna can’t lie.

Then, as the two stand almost back-to-back in front of those huge ocean view windows, a bullet strikes Zoey in the chest, then a hail of bullets shatter the windows as the women hit the deck. Kei, providing backup for Tilarna, manages to shoot one of the two assassins, but he says nothing about who sent him before passing out.

That night, as he watches the news about himself, Mozeleemay gets word that Zoey was shot, and relays the message to his wife when she comes in the room, and noting how it could help him beat the charge. Then he realizes his wife was the one who arranged the hit. She denies it, of course, but taking his hand in hers, tells him he shouldn’t worry about such things—the implication being his job is to win the election; nothing more.

Zoey’s final words to Tilarna before passing out express her disappointment in having been betrayed by someone she thought was a friend. There’s not enough time for Tilarna to explain the complex circumstances, and how she considered Zoey a good friend too. Kei is by her side at the hospital when she learns Zoey has died, and upon returning to her apartment, unwraps the photo Zoey gave her as a gift: a behind-the-back of Tilarna beaming in the sunset. Tilarna takes Zoey’s camera as a memento.

It’s as heartbreaking and poignant as Cop Craft has dared to get so far, and really makes me feel for poor Tilarna. While she’s no fool, she is young, inexperienced, and naive. And Zoey was right when she said Tilarna can’t understand the difficulty of lowborn Semanians trying to go straight in San Teresa. Adding ironic insult to injury, the self-proclaimed advocate of Semanians like her is…Cole Mozeleemay.

Yet look at what he allowed to happen to someone like Zoey, just because he couldn’t keep it in his goddamn pants. I want Tilarna to get revenge, but I don’t want her to get in trouble. At the same time, I don’t want her to suffer the unique turmoil that comes from being perpetually unable to do what is right and just in a world where justice is whatever the most rich and powerful say it is.

As far as Tilarna and Kei’s partnership friendship may have come, Earth still feels like a place that will only continue to eat away at her pure and virtuous soul…as it has already done to him. How can a place like that—which gave her a new older sister then took her away just as fast—ever feel like a home?

Vinland Saga – 03 – It’ll Pull You In

Askeladd immediately shows both Floki and us what kind of dudes we’re dealing with, as he manages to double the bounty for Thors’ head from five to ten pounds of gold. Floki is a very shrewd man with good instincts, but he also has a solid right-hand-man in Bjorn, who spears a Jomsviking who was hiding behind a tapestry and passes it off as an innocent accident.

As for Thors, he doesn’t leave at the break of dawn, but is seen off by the whole village. Before they leave, all five of the young men he’s bringing along have designs on asking Ylva for her hand in marriage upon their return and presenting her with spoils of war; all Ylva wants is a little more shuteye.

When a young lass who likes Ari (one of the guys who tried to propose to Ylva) is cruelly rebuffed, Leif assures her none of the five greenhorn lads will come to any harm; Thors will see to it they’re dumped off in Norway before they see any battle, and Leif promises he’ll ship them back to Iceland, disappointed, but with their organs still very much internal.

Seemingly the only member of the village not seeing them off is Thorfinn, who is nowhere to be found and presumed by both Thors and Ylva to still be off skulking, angry about being scolded. We get a little more comedy when the five guys line up on one side of the boat, while Thors is on the other side all on his own with one hell of a huge oar. Leif bangs out the pace on the drum, and the ships are off.

It isn’t until they’re already out in the open sea that Thorfinn reveals he stowed away. While peeing over the side (he really needed to pee) he suddenly notices where he is, and his smile is so wide and bright, Thors can’t help but smile back, despite the fact his son just ruined his plans to try to keep him safe.

He later paints Finn’s back door red for his insolence (pretty tame discipline from a viking in the 11th century), as the gears turn in Askeladd’s head. He chats with Bjorn about the bounty deal not seeming quite right; he’s quite sure Floki reached out to them independently and his superior didn’t order Thors’ execution.

Askeladd also believes Floki is afraid of incurring a great loss of his own men, and so hired someone else. This tells Askeladd that this Thors fellow shouldn’t be a pushover, even if Floki says he’s “not a warrior” anymore.

As night falls, Thors warns Ari not to stare at the moon in the sea, lest it “pull him in,” a common nautical hazard. As Thorfinn dozes contently in his lap, Thors tells Ari more about his first child, the woman Ari says he’s in love with.

It was a difficult birth for Helga, the daughter of the leader of the Jomsvikings, but Thors was about to head out on another mission, and was annoyed he got a daughter instead of a son. He’s about to leave when Helga asks him to name her.

He says he’s “busy”, but Helga insists—the first time he ever saw her truly angry. So he named her Ylva, after his mother. And that, he tells Ari, was the first time he started to feel afraid of battle…which makes sense, as dying in battle meant abandoning his newborn child and wife to an uncertain future.

The next day they arrive at the Faroe Islands—the usual rest stop between Iceland and Scandinavia. They row into a cove that leads to a trading village, but the high walls immediately spell foreboding, and Leif notes that there are fewer structures in the village itself.

By the time they start rowing out of the cove, it’s to late—Askeladd’s men start dumping huge piles of debris onto their ships, blocking their only exit. Then another drum can be heard: the drum of Askeladd’s two ships rowing towards them.

Ari and the other men bristle and claim to be ready for battle, but Thors knows better; the boys will be no match for these hardened foes. So he takes a deep, “I’m getting too old for this shit” breath, pulls out his sword, and hands his dagger to Thorfinn, warning him only to use it in time of absolute need.

Before Askeladd’s men know it, Thors has leapt onto one of their ships. He takes out the first man with one punch, two others with two more, and then three with three; six skilled men downed without even drawing his sword. It’s then that Bjorn and Askeladd know: they’re going to have to work their asses off to earn every ounce of that gold.

Each of the first three Vinland Sagas have been very different affairs—from an introduction to Thors and Thorfinn and live in Iceland, to the arrival of a new old threat, to the swashbuckling adventure that begins in this episode. But all three of kicked all kinds of ass in their own way.

Like Thors himself, it doesn’t glamorize violence or killing, and Ari and his four hotshot friends are presented as the naive fools they are. As for Thorfinn, he may not have pissed himself while hiding in that barrel, but yeah…he’s now somewhere that’s absolutely no place for a six-year-old. I just can’t see how this ends well for anyone…but nor dare I look away.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

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