Magia Record – 03 – My Friend Whom I Hate

As Iroha finds herself witnessing a friendship of three girls strain against deep-seated resentment, she has another dream about Ui, this time with her two friends Toka and Nemu. The three are very smart and build amazing things together (which also make amazing messes) but Ui is constantly the glue holding Toka and Nemu together; the Momoko to Kaede and Rena.

Before Iroha can investigate the lead her new dream has provided, her new Kamihama friends Momoko and Rena have a more pressing problem: Kaede is trapped in a Staircase!

The three visit Coordinator Yakumo Mitama, who offers to “adjust” Iroha’s Soul Gem to possibly awaken more power, and also connects them with Nanami Yachiyo, the unfriendly magical girl who already warned Iroha not to return.

Yachiyo puts aside her animosity for Iroha (whom she believes to be so weak as to be a nuisance) and agrees to help the others rescue Kaede. The four have their Magical Girl transformations, all of which are very cool and very stylish. Yachiyo’s sandals and Iroha’s sheer top are particular fashion standouts.

 

Yachiyo and Momoko attempt to draw out the Witch by writing their names on the steps and then apologizing, and when that doesn’t work, Rena tries to apologize to Kaede, but it’s insincere. Finally she goes off on a rant about how she actually hates Kaede, and she’s sorry for “making” Kaede her friend.

That brings for the Witch and an elaborate Labyrinth of branching staircases. They find Kaede, and she and Rena eventually reconcile, promising to compromise in their relationship so that Rena isn’t always made out to be the villain.

Momoko and Yachiyo detach the Witch’s core (in the form of a bell) from the Labyrinth’s summit, and Rena and Kaede combine their powers to eradicate it. But oddly, there’s no Grief Seed, which means the entity they just defeated might not be a Witch.

Rena disguises herself to gain access to the medical center, and learns that while no one remembers Ui, they do remember her friends Toka and Nemu. They were eventually discharged, though they don’t remember where. It’s the first concrete proof Iroha’s dreams aren’t just dreams. They contain truths about the past.

That brings us to a post-credit sequence in which a Magical Girl from the original Madoka series makes an appearance: Madoka’s mentor and friend, Tomoe Mami. Kyuubey has summoned her to investigate the strange goings-on Kamihama City—including the phenomenon that renders him unconscious whenever he tries to enter.

We know that Iroha interacts with a “Baby” Kyuubey in Kamihama of whom “Adult” Kyuubey isn’t aware. It seems inevitable that Iroha will cross paths with Mami at some point. As mysteries continue to be revealed and twist together, my enthusiasm for this new series grows.

Magia Record – 02 – With Friends Like These…

Iroha keeps dreaming of her little sister, Ui. Kyuubey questions if Ui is or was even a real person, wondering why anyone would bother erasing her. But let’s not forget: Kyuubey is a trickster and can’t be trusted! Iroha’s apparent wish was to cure Ui, a wish that might result in Ui being cured, but doesn’t preclude her from disappearing, both from Iroha’s physical world and her memory.

There’s a medical center in her dream that’s a real place in Kamihama, so she sets off in the off-chance Ui is still a patient there. Her bus ride is interrupted by a Witch, who charms all of the passengers and lures them into a Labyrinth. Iroha transforms and follows, but again she is outmatched, as is a red-haired magical girl Akino Kaede. Fortunately Kaede has friends in Togame Momoko and Minami Rena.

Momoko, ostensibly the Mama Bear of their Kamihama trio, offers to help Iroha find her sister. Iroha supports Momoko, but Rena is opposed to any activities that deviate from their mission to investigate and stop the Chain Witch.

Iroha inadvertently serves as the catalyst for a huge dust-up between Rena and Kaede that leads to the latter saying their friendship is over, and Momoko only makes things worse trying to smooth things over. It’s clear that it’s hard in any universe for magical girls to get along, let alone maintain amicable friendships.

The thing about Rena is, she can shift her form to someone else, making a search for her the next day difficult. Momoko and Kaede want reconciliation, and so does Rena, but she’s held back, be it from pride, shame, or regret.

That’s when the infamous “Chain Monster” arrives, fulfilling the urban legend about writing your name and the name of a friend on a certain staircase to formally end your friendship. Just two episodes in and things get dark in a hurry, as the most cheerful and innocent of the magical girls is swallowed up by chains and dragged into the staircase. Rena and Momoko can do nothing to stop it.

The question is, is the Chain Monster the same as the Chain Witch, is the staircase a Labyrinth? If so, perhaps they can go in, rescue Kaede, and defeat the witch in one stroke. Or maybe Kaede is gone, forever. You just don’t know with this show!

Magia Record – 01 (First Impressions) – Changing of the Guard

Same system, new universe. Magia Record’s English subtitle is quite clear: this is a side story, starring a new pink-haired protagonist in Tamaki Iroha (Asakura Momo). She’s an independent, reliable, somewhat lonely low-level magical girl whose school friends are unaware of her double life. Once in a while a Witch will interrupt her elevated train commute and force her into a trippy Labyrinth where she must do battle.

Lately Iroha has been trying to determine what her Wish was—the one Wish granted by Kyuubey in exchange for becoming a Magical Girl—but she’s forgotten, possibly due to part of the wish itself being for her to forget. Meanwhile, a number of Magical Girls are having the same dream about a mysterious girl telling them they’ll be “saved” if they go to Kamihama City.

Iroha’s comrade Kuroe (Hanazawa Kana) intends to visit the city to see for herself. Iroha misses her stop and accompanies her, but on the way they’re enveloped by another Labyrinth and attacked by another Witch, this one too powerful for either of them. In the ensuing fracas, Iroha encounters a tiny, apparently younger version of Kyuubey.

Madoka Magica’s trademark radical shifting of visual styles carries over into this series, and I can say with confidence that whether inside or outside of a Witch’s Labyrinth, this first episode looks like a million bucks. Iroha’s hometown of Takarazaki with its skinny, towering apartment blocks and hanging gardens are among the standout vistas to which we’re treated. The Labyrinth also blasts the girls high above the clouds at dusk. Gorgeous.

Iroha and Kuroe eventually come down to earth, crashing into a huge arcology-like skyscraper in none other than Kamihama City. Their savior is a dark blue-haired witch whose powers vastly surpass theirs, but more than anything she’s miffed to find two interlopers operating in her territory. She tells them that contrary to the dream, Kamihama is no haven for Magical Girls. There are more of them, and they’re more powerful because they have to battle tougher Witches.

Iroha and Kuroe return home with a warning from the third girl not to return, and to discourage any other girls from attempting to visiting; they’ll be considered enemies. Iroha ends up having another elaborate dream as she watches scores of seemingly brainwashed girls headed to Kamihama, luggage in hand, assured of their salvation. Then she remembers her Wish to Kyuubey: to save Ui, an ill girl who may be her sister.

With a stylish presentation, super-cool wardrobe, stirring soundtrack, and cloudy mysteries waiting to be tackled, Magia Record looks to pick up where Madoka Magica left off, showing us the darker sides of Magical Girldom in a new setting with new players. I for one am full steam ahead on this one!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 09 – Slash & Flash

Getting impatient, Vecta orders his main force of Pugilists and Dark Mages to advance with orders to capture Alice unscathed at all costs. Now that his prey/soul-snack is in sight, it won’t be long before he takes a more active role in the battle.

Another new Integrity Knight in Sheyta Synthesis Twelve volunteers to meet the Pugs and slow them down. Her specialty is impossibly fast slashes from an elegant and flexible épée-like sword skinnier than she is (the Pugs mock her lack of muscle tone on several occasions).

Sheyta has no problem carving up the Pug leader Champion’s forces with brutal efficiency, but Champion himself is literally made of harder stuff, which intrigues her. She draws the battle out longer for two reasons—she’s buying time for Bercouli, Alice, and the others, but once all of her armor has been sheared away and Champ is at full power, she’s actually having fun.

She’s about to finish things when Champ’s lieutenants snatches him away. The match ends in a draw, but put a rare smile on Sheyta’s face. She and Champion gained a mutual warrior respect, the kind of two-sided badass brawl I prefer to simply obliterating the masses of boring evil monsters.

Vecta sends Vassago to harass the Humans’ supply corps, and ends up crossing swords with Ronie (never any luck, that girl). However, she’s able to sound the alarm, and Alice and Bercouli are also there, having anticipated their supplies would be targeted. Even so, Ronie is in big trouble against the far stronger Vassago…until a miracle occurs.

At least, Ronie considers it a miracle, because the God of Creation Stacia appears above her and rends great fissures in the earth that swallow up Vassago and his minions. Stacia, of course, is merely an Underworld avatar being inhabited by our good friend Yuuki Asuna, who makes one hell of a divine entrance that simply gave me goosebumps.

On his way down his own personal size abyss, Vassago recognizes “Lightning Flash” from Knights of the Blood in SAO. The hero(ine) is finally, finally on the scene, in a powerful avatar poised to rescue the damsel-in-distress—in this case Kirito in a welcome inversion of SAO II. I can’t wait to see her fighting beside Alice.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 08 – Sacrifice on Both Sides

Alice just continues to be the biggest badass in SAOA, as it should be, since her name’s in the title. Fresh off of obliterating a sizable chunk of the enemy’s forces, Alice comes down to earth exhausted, but there’s no rest for the weary as she gets right back up.

When the chief of the Ogres emerges from the carnage, Alice learns that she’s the primary target of Emperor Vecta before sending him to the grasslands to where he wants his people to return.

Meanwhile, Eldrie comes before her consumed with shame and self-pity for not being able to live up to the standards of her disciple, but she’s just happy he’s still alive.

After a brief war council, Alice proposes and Bercouli agrees to split up their forces. Being the “Goddess of Light” the Dark Emperor seeks, she’ll gain the attention of a sizable chunk of his remaining forces, evening the odds for the Human Empire. She’s essentially bait.

On the other side, a discouraged Dee Eye Ell gets her second wind when Vecta offers her the lives of the 3,000 orcs in order to provide the energy necessary for a large-scale counterattack.

Like the Ogre Chief who simply wanted his people to return home, the orcs are painted in a sympathetic light, and the show is unblinking in their suffering as they give up their lives for a larger cause than themselves.

Alice doesn’t see the attack coming until it’s too late, but Eldrie is there to divert and absorb it with his Recollection, resulting in severe injuries that ultimately claim his life. While Alice is beside herself and orders/begs him not to die and leave her, promising to do anything for him, Eldrie couldn’t ask for a happier death, in the arms of the mentor he protected, valued and loved above all else.

Thanks to Eldrie, Alice can fight on, decimating the Dark Mages to the point Dee Eye Ell just starts sacrificing her own underlings in order to stay alive. Dee dreams of becoming Empress, meaning at some point she’d have to betray Vecta.

But Alice intends to skip over her entirely and go after Vecta directly. She knows at some point she must reach the World’s End Altar, she just has more immediate matters to attend to—not to mention a full head of steam after losing Eldrie.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 08 – A Dark Day for Humanity

Tiamat is by far the toughest boss Ritsuka and Mash have had to face, and they don’t even try to fight her themselves. Ushiwakamaru manages to make it in time and delivers one hell of a fight—with nary a wardrobe malfunction—in the most exciting, best-looking and sounding sustained battles in a show that’s been packed with them. Ushiwaka is utterly devoted not just to protecting humanity, but her friend—not master—Ritsuka, a boy who remembers her tale a thousand years after she left the mortal plane.

Her own history and legacy is also at stake, so she fights like there’s no tomorrow, giving absolutely everything she has, including her Noble Phantasm. It isn’t enough. Tiamat regenerates all of the severed snake heads and holes Ushiwaka’s attacks made, and she ends up in a heap, spent and exhausted.

King Leonidas sallies forth with his 300 Spartan warriors to spell Ushiwaka, but despite more impressive fireworks and hyper-masculine posturing, he lasts an even briefer time than her, as all of his defenses gradually fall and he is turned to stone by Tiamat’s Mystic Eyes, eventually crumbling to dust.

Ushiwaka gets her second wind after Leonidas, but it’s to no avail. Ultimately it’s “Enkidu”, who reveals himself to actually be Kingu, who stops his mother and gets her to withdraw. If she were to take Uruk, the alliance with the other two goddesses would fall, and she’d have to fight them, draining valuable time and effort. Instead, Kingu is content to leave Ritsuka, Mash, and Merlin alone for the time being.

His big-picture plans include the release of the second generation of Demonic Beasts, which we learn are being grown in Tiamat’s lair. It is where a beaten Ushiwaikamaru finds herself, and because she cannot hold her “cheeky tongue”, Kingu decides to bestow upon her a fate worse than becoming just another run-of-the-mill beast, but a monster born in the primoridal “mud of the holy grail.”

Needless to say, this is awful news for humanity. Leonidas is beaten, Ushiwaka is in the hands of the enemy (and her friends believe her to be gone), and Benkei peaces out. As Lord Elrond once said: “our list of allies grows thin.” How in Babylon are the good guys going to turn this around?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 07 – The Broken Knight Repaired

Last week we saw Renly had run and hidden in a supply tent behind the lines, but as luck would have it that’s the very tent to which Ronie and Tiese take Kirito in order to keep him safe. Before they arrive, Renly is haunted by Administrator saying he’s always been “broken” due to his inability to master Perfect Weapon Control.

We learn the reason for that is that when sparring with a friend, he accidentally dealt a lethal blow to him after shattering his sword. But when a goblin too big for the girls to take on bursts into the tent, and he sees how strongly Kirito wants to protect them, Renly snaps out of his funk and kills the goblin with his sparrow blades.

He then makes his way back to the lines, killing every goblin he sees. until he’s faced with their chief, for whom his standard attacks won’t work. Again he remembers Kirito’s determination and uses Recollection to bind his two blades into one, cleaving the charging chief straight in half. Linel and Fizel, who fell back to rescue him, return to their unit, learning he’d managed to found his courage without them.

Elsewhere, the Dark Mages and Ogres are on the march, but 800 aerial minions are launched as air support. They all fly straight into a dense lattice of Bercouli’s time slashes, which he activates simultaneously, taking them all out. If last week was the Dark Territory making some inroads, this week was clearly the Human Empire pushing back.

That trend continues when Alice finally makes her move. She had generated a giant mirror filled with luminous elements harvested from the souls of the dead below. She’s saddened to learn that both human and dark territory forces have the exact same souls, rendering their entire conflict pointless in her mind. Nevertheless, this is a battle that has to be one.

To that end, she compresses the mirror sphere into a much smaller size, until the elements within reflect infinitely. Having scooped up all the souls, the charging dark mages aren’t able to fire off a single attack, and along with the ogres, are obliterated when Alice finally unleashes the destructive power built up within the sphere in a terrifying beam.

Alice gathered the spent lives of thousands in order to craft an attack to destroy still more thousands, all for the sake of one. To her, protecting Kirito is paramount, but as we know, it is she who is most important and in need of protecting, as she is Gabriel’s primary target.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 06 – Spitting in the Wind

After a comprehensive layout of the order of battle on both sides, the flatland goblins, giants, and mountain goblins advance on the three sides of the first unit, led by Deusolbert, Fanatio, and Eldrie, respectively. Eldrie falls victim to his inexperience and lets the goblins get too close, and their smoke bombs turn his flank into confusing chaos.

But Sir Deusolbert has a big ol’ quiver of giant arrows, each one of which is capable of blasting away dozens of foes in an instant. It’s impressive firepower…but there’s a limit to it, and when he runs out of arrows, he’s badly exposed and must rely on his men to protect him by essentially throwing their lives away—lives the Human forces cannot afford to lose.

Fanatio also looks poised to make quick work of the charging giants, until their chief starts to glitch and enters a kind of savage berserk mode that catches Fanatio off balance. Fortunately, her loyal lieutenant Dakira steps in and blocks the giant’s attack. Unfortunately, Dakira dies of her injuries, and Fanatio uses up a lot of time and energy eliminating the chief.

The episode ends with the front lines just barely holding together after just the first wave of Dark Territory forces, with Eldrie’s unit in particularly bad way. And that wave is nothing but cannon fodder; it felt like the knights were throwing their best weapons at this enemy without much thought to preserving some of that power for the tougher waves.

Then again, they don’t have a choice. Their regular soldiers are under-trained and untested, and even one of the younger Integrity Knights demonstrates he has no integrity by fleeing the battle to hide in a storage shed. The battle has barely begun, and the forces of the Human Empire have already taken a serious hit in manpower, energy, and morale.

Alice glides over all of this, holding her powder for the next waves to come, and summons a massive ball of…something. Destructive energy, I guess? Hopefully she can slow the enemy’s advance at least somewhat to allow the units to regroup, but it still feels like the Humans are going to need a lot more help, either from Kirito finally waking up (or at least instinctively contributing somehow) or the timely arrival of Asuna.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 05 – The Eve of Reckoning

With a title like “The Night Before Battle”, it was clear there would be one more calm-before-the-storm episode before that battle took place, but in this case, it was not only earned, but welcome. After all, there a lot of reunions that need to happen before battle is joined. That starts with Alice’s protege Eldrie and her “uncle” Bercouli.

Eldrie is concerned about the dead weight that is Kirito, but Bercouli demonstrates that he’s still capable of defending himself through sheer willpower. That means he may yet come back to them, hopefully in their hour of greatest need. That’s coming soon, by the way—their forces are outnumbered more than 16-to-1.

Alice considers that perhaps Kirito can’t hear or react to her voice because she’s still suppressing her feelings, and that maybe a gesture of those feelings may finally wake him up. She comes close, but is interrupted by Tiese and Ronie, who heard Kirito was at the camp. I suppose kissing him wouldn’t have mattered; the conditions haven’t been met for him to come back yet.

The pages are beside themselves upon learning of Kirito and Eugeo’s fates, and Alice can’t help but notice they act as if they loved the boys. They rebut that assertion by saying they don’t deserve the right to say they love him, citing their traumatic experience that led the boys to break Axiom law to save them. Alice rejects their position, transforming to “peacetime” Alice Zuberg that would have been had she not been kidnapped.

Her lesson to the two is that bodies are unimportant compared to the hearts and their souls. If they feel they love someone, or that they can and should do something, they need not be ashamed to carry those feelings with pride. It’s something she learned from Kirito and Eugeo and is happy to pass on.

Alice is less enthused by Lady Fanatio carrying such feelings with pride, especially when she asks to see Kirito so she can “try various things” in an attempt to revive him. Alice betrays her own personal feelings for Kirito by barring Fanatio from seeing him. But such bickering has to wait; it’s time for the war council.

Administrator truly screwed the Human Empire in her management of their military forces. The remaining Integrity Knights must make do with what little they have and pursue a strategy of bottle-necking the enemy’s superior numbers in a narrow, barren ravine, hoping that location will also prove challenging to dark mages, who require material in order to cast their arts.

After saying what could be her final goodbyes to Kirito (leaving him in the pages’ care) and Eldrie, Alice mounts her dragon and the forces move into the ravine. The gate resolves, heralding the “Final Load Test.” The good guys are at a huge disadvantage against Miller’s massive forces.

I don’t doubt they’ll need to rely on a last-minute intervention from…someone; maybe Kirito answering the call in their greatest need, maybe Asuna, finally arrived in Underworld and ready to fight to save her fiancee. As for Alice…we just saw a lot of death flags… :(

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 02 – He’s Not That Bad?

With the placid Enkidu as their guide, Ritsuka and Mash would seem to be on easy street, but even after several previous excursions to singularities across time, the duo isn’t above someone getting one over on them. Fortunately for them, you can’t kid a kidder—in this case, Grand Caster Merlin, whom they meet in a forest.

Merlin tells Ritsuka and Mash that King Gilgamesh just returned from a quest to attain the herb of immortality—a quest he didn’t begin until after Enkidu died. Exposed as an impostor working against Chaldea, “Enkidu” attacks Ritsuka and Mash, but Merlin’s companion Ana protects them while Merlin creates an illusion to force him to withdraw for the time being.

Like last week’s tilt with the demonic beasts, Ana and Mash’s fight with Enkidu provides the action highlight of an otherwise talky episode, with the dense forest providing a new venue for the lightning-fast kinetic combat.

While back at Chaldea Romani is perplexed to find Merlin in Mesopotamia considering he’s supposed to still be alive in Avalon, the fact that the current time period precedes his birth meant he could be summoned there.

Merlin also sports almost zero offensive power, so even Fou—who apparently hates his guts—can fight him on even footing. Merlin claims to have a Master, while Ana is a rogue Servant. They’re there to assist Chaldea in saving humanity.

Merlin and Ana escort Ritsuka and Mash to Uruk without further incident. Ana has a cute human moment with one of the sentries, and they pass through the gates with ease and head to the massive central ziggurat. The size and grandeur of the city surprise the pair from Chaldea, which is saying something considering all the places they’ve seen.

Once in Gilgamesh’s throne room, Ritsuka is equally impressed by how level-headed, detail-oriented, and downright on top of things the king seems to be; far cry from the arrogant tyrant of legend. However, when Merlin interrupts normal business to introduce Ritsuka and Mash, Gilgamesh is done talking, and immediately challenges them to a duel.

It’s just as well. If the two are going to easily fall to the king right then and there, they weren’t going to be of any use to him in the first place—nor could they ever be the true saviors of humanity.

DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!

DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!