Attack on Titan – 50 – Keep Hope Alive

Part Two of Titan’s third season picks up where Part One left off: Eren, Mikasa, Armin are part of a force of 100 scouts led by Erwin, Hange, and Levi, tasked with nothing less than retaking Wall Maria, starting with Shiganshina.

On the way they encounter a motionless Titan that is apparently asleep, but they have no way of knowing for sure, do they? It’s only the latest instance of them having to do the best they can with the information they have…which still isn’t much, and may never be anywhere near as much as they know about humans.

Eren, Mikasa and Armin note the reutrn to their hometown for the first time since they were forced to flee and eventually joined the Scout Regiment that brought them back. But there’s no time for reminiscing (or checking out basements yet); they now stand in enemy territory, and the mission takes precedence. Besides, they’re responsible for preserving humanity’s hope it can survive and be free.

It’s a simple matter of plugging both the inner and outer gates of Shiganshina, then mopping up the Titans within. Throughout the trip there Eren remained dubious of his abilities and usefulness, but his two best mates help get him through that apprehension, and he successfully seals the outer gate with his Titan hardening ability.

Mikasa has steady praise for Eren as they move on to the next gate, but something isn’t right; Armin found signs that people were camping, but they had more than enough time to prepare for an attack…so where are they?

To answer that question, Erwin puts Armin in charge of a whole squad of scouts, confident that Armin has proven himself capable of leading men and women in the field. While initially nervous and hesitant (and far too polite to subbordinates), Armin grows more and more confident in himself as he runs through all the possible ways the Titans could be messing with them this time.

Remembering the Titan-in-the-wall, Armin orders everyone to inspect the wall for hollows. Once scout strikes paydirt, only to be killed by Reiner emerging with sword drawn. Levi in turn swoops down and delivers what would have been a couple of fatal blows to anyone but Reiner, who transforms into the Armored Titan upon hitting the ground.

Thanks to Armin, the enemy has revealed itself sooner than it had planned, but that’s not exactly a good thing for the scouts, as Reiner’s reveal spurs the teleportation of the Beast Titan and a host of other Titans who had been hiding nearby.

With that, the battle for Wall Maria—and indeed for the survival of humanity itself—begins in earnest. With just Eren the only one on the good guys’ side able to transform, and the need to plug that second gate, this is not going to be an easy fight. And there are sure to be more curveballs in store for the scouts courtesy of the kooky Titans.

One Punch Man 2 – 02 – This Isn’t Normal

When the ruffians get predictably rowdy, Sitch sics his heroes on a couple of them, leading the werewolf-like Garo to step to and waste everyone; only Sitch is spared as a witness; Garo promises to be back “in six months.” Hey, even human monsters have to manage expectations!

Meanwhile, both Hellish Blizzard and Sound-o’-Speed Sonic are headed to Saitama’s house. The former is flanked by two goons, while the latter is first detected by Geno’s cybor-sense. Saitama, meanwhile, is just having fun playing with King’s PSP, which he stole and accidentally erased King’s data.

Saitama would much rather spend his afternoon playing games than dealing with anyone, but as usual he doesn’t get his way. Blizzard arrives first, asking Saitama to join her faction, and threatening reprisal if he declines. Naturally, Saitama refuses, and flings her so-called goons off the damn balcony.

Even though he’s just met her, Saitama can tell that Blizzard isn’t hero material as long as she uses weaker people to prop herself up while bullying others into joining her. Saitama doesn’t care about rankings (nor should he, considering how under-ranked he is), and proves Blizzard can’t make him do anything by easily weathering her esper attacks.

In the middle of their spat, Genos and Sonic show up, and Saitama and Blizzard are witnesses to their street brawl. Blizzard is astonished that someone like Genos is calling Saitama his “master”, while she considers Sonic to be another S-Class monster far beyond her abilities.

Genos and Sonic proceed to show her just how powerful they are, with increasingly fast and devastating attacks, but it leads to nothing but a big ol’ stalemate. When Genos loses his temper and prepares to blast the whole damn area to smite Sonic, Saitama intervenes…because he doesn’t want his area blasted.

Sonic thus gets what he wants: another one-on-one round with his “rival.” But again, Sonic is put in his place all too quickly and easily, thanks to a “side-stepping” attack by Saitama that multiplies Sonic’s ten afterimages exponentially. Defeated, Sonic retreats, but promises this isn’t over, because of course he does.

Back at Saitama’s place, Blizzard explains why she’s so obsessed with keeping the top B spot and gathering followers: she’s never been anything but second-best in a family that also contains Terrible Tornado, her older sister. She’s then overwhelmed again when King arrives…only to ask Saitama for his game back.

It’s clear to Blizzard that not only is Saitama no normal Class B hero, but has a preternatural ability to draw the strongest monsters into his orbit, where he can then demonstrate how much stronger he is than those comers. And that’s his appeal: overwhelming power, minimal ego and ambition. He’s a hero for fun. Why do people have to keep making it not fun?

Speaking of which, Garo comes across a Class A hero by chance and ends him without breaking a sweat. No doubt Garo will soon find himself another one of Saitama’s satellites…perhaps they can make each other break a sweat for once.

One Punch Man 2 – 01 – How Did it Come to This?

“The first sequel in three and a half years…I’M FEELING THE HYPE!”

—King, breaking the fourth wall

I too am feeling the hype for the first OPM sequel in three and a half years…it’s a lot of years! That seems like several RABUJOI rating tag designs (not to mention presidential administrations) ago. But here we are, and perhaps wisely, OPM takes things nice and easy, offering a mostly quiet and laid back return in which Saitama’s only action in the episode happens so fast we miss it.

He and Genos are crossing off items on the errand list on a beautiful day, inspecting figurines for heroes like “King” (while Saitama goes unhonored) when a reptilian pervert appears. At the same time, the real Class S, Rank 7 Hero King shows up in the flesh. The crowd immediately recognizes their imminent savior, while the low-level baddie is so scared of his mere reputation, he surrenders without a fight.

That’s just as well, because King privately would rather be anywhere else…specifically, playing the newest sequel to Heartthrob Sister. So King’s a reluctant hero who’d rather laze around, right?

Well, there’s more to it than boredom or will to fight. When a giant, advanced robot called G4 appears and challenges King to mortal combat, King asks if he can use the bathroom (so he can go full strength and make sure the robot gets the best data from the fight). That leaves Genos to deal with G4 while King…cowers in the bathroom.

Turns out King isn’t a real hero at all; he simply keeps ending up near giant monsters who are dealt with by someone else, leaving him to suck up all the credit. And that someone else turns out to be Saitama. Genos assures his master he’ll be fine on his own, so Saitama leaps up to King’s 22nd-floor apartment to play some games.

Of course, Saitama is there for more than games—he wants answers, like why King ran away from a fight. When a giant bird monster appears and Saitama stops it with one hand, King wets himself and confirms that his entire reputation is a lie. And King can’t very well claim to be the victim of mass public misunderstanding, since he’s always had the agency to correct the record.

He’s just lacked the courage to do so, and at this point, when he’s been credited with so many victories he’s regarded as The Strongest Man Alive, who can blame him? To come clean is to face unimaginable backlash from the public, who may in turn come to distrust all heroes, worried there may be other frauds.

Genos incinerates G4’s outer body, leaving the feistier, laser-ridden inner body to contend with, which he does thanks to the cloud of an exploded fire extinguisher and the fact Genos is simply the stronger party. Meanwhile, King realizes it’s this Saitama guy who keeps saving him again and again then rushing off, leaving people to credit King with the wins.

Saitama is very magnanimous about this whole ordeal, though part of that is simple realism: no matter what the truth is, the public thinks he’s the Ultimate Hero. So rather than let them down, Saitama suggests King start to live up to the title he never wanted, by becoming stronger.

He also invites himself to future video game sessions, no doubt to check and see if King can follow through or will continue to cower in the corner. After all, just because he was found out by Saitama doesn’t mean the “coincidences” that caused all this will end.

Genos presents Dr. Kuseno with the remains of G4, asking him if any of them can be integrated into his systems to become stronger. The cyborg that destroyed his home is still out there, and while Genos is more focused on his hero duties and living up to his Class, his hatred of his nemesis has not dissipated, but continues to fuel his drive.

From there we’re invited to an “Explanation Meeting” by the “The Earth is in Danger Prophecy Emergency Countermeasures Team”, led by Sitch. He has gathered dozens of criminals and n’er-do-wells (and protected himself with Class A heroes) because the disaster the prophecy fortells will surely require everyone’s fighting abilities, not just good folk. Among the “ruffians” is our old friend Sound-o’-Speed Sonic, who still thinks he can take Saitama on.

Also suspicious of Saitama’s quick C-to-B rise is Class B’s Rank 1, Hellish Blizzard. Both of them have Saitama in their crosshairs, but Saitama is content to wait for all comers while gaming with his new buddy King. There’s also one more lad at the very end who I’m probably supposed to remember, who seems excited about the prophecy of the End of the World.

It’s a strong return from one of my favorite action/comedy shows of recent years. There was a lot of exposition and people talking about fighting Saitama without actually doing so, but proper table-setting must precede a good feast. I’ve also heard this doesn’t look as good as the first season (the studio shifted from Madhouse to J.C. Staff), and perhaps that’s true, though it’s been so long I didn’t notice. I’m just a man of simple tastes, and I’m glad it’s back.

TenSura – 24 (Extra) – Conqueror Of Flames

This being an extra episode and all, I had no idea what to expect, so it was a nice surprise to get a story about one of Shizu’s exploits, which takes place before Rimuru even appears in this world. As she arrives at Filtwood Castle to join a host of other adventurers in an effort to defeat a recently summoned demon, it’s made clear Shizue Izawa is already a legend among her peers and in Filtwood’s court.

But she’s weary that even the formidable Silver Wings have recently fallen to the demon, suggesting it at least has a name that lends it more power (as we’ll witness later with Rimuru’s namings). It’s also odd that the less bold adventurers aren’t allowed to leave when they hear of the strength of their foe.

After one of them is killed and a lesser demon extracted, it’s revealed they’ve all been gathered there because more of them are suspected of being possessed by demons, so they’ll all be rooted out for the good of the kingdom.

Their execution of this plan is interrupted by a cloaked mage, whose immense power Shizu only then detects (suggesting it’s an extremely powerful mage who can mask such power). The mage is himself a demon calling himself “Kuro”, and is willing to kill everyone in the hall to find the demon he’s after.

Needless to say, Shizu isn’t about to let that happen, and so…they fight.

And what a splendid fight it is! At least as good as anything TenSura has served up. Shizu is a tough customer, but even she seems to be aware that Kuro is merely toying with her, and actually holding back quite a bit. Even her special finishing move only causes as slight amount of discomfort, yet even that is the most pain Kuro’s had the pleasure of feeling in some time.

What ultimately forces Kuro to withdraw, at least for the moment, is when he gets serious and attempts to behead Shizu. Her mask protects her and relieves Kuro of his arm, making him exclaim that the mask “surpasses time.” The assembled adventurers cheer for Shizu when Kuro departs in a black cloud…but this is only the beginning of the already exhausted Shizu’s busy day.

A knight comes to her quarters to escort her to an audience with the king, and while en route, this knight expresses both his gratitude for her heroism and awe at said heroism’s form…only the ever-observant Shizu doesn’t recognize him as someone who was present for her fight. Turns out she’s right.

The “knight” is actually the real king of Filtwood, and a demon at that. Not just any run-of-the-mill demon, either: a “legendary-class Greater Demon General,” which I assume is a real thing and not something he made up in a sudden chuuni fit. His name is Orthos, and he is revered by the people as a demon-defeating hero, giving him more strength.

Orthos thanks Shizu for being a “sacrifice”, something she has no intention of doing (and also obviously won’t die as Rimuru meets her much later). That said, Orthos is a tough customer, and Shizu has had no time to replenish her strength, magic, or stamina, which is of course Orthos’ plan all along.

Unfortunately for him, Kuro reappears in the nick of time to save Shizu. Before she was summoned into this situation, she recalled what Leon told her about demon “Progenitors” who are named after colors. Kuro is one of them, an identifies Orthos as an underling of another Progenitor, Red. That means Orthos is absolutely no match for Kuro, who utterly ends him.

In the end, Kuro is credited with killing the public king and minister of Filtwood (who were really Orthos’ puppet) while official records credit Shizu with defeating Kuro. In reality, the two agree to go their separate ways and forget they ever saw each other, and in exchange, Kuro won’t end Shizu like he ended Orthos. Still, Shizu predicts “someone will do something about that demon someday”…and that someone turns out to be Shizu, summoning him as “Diablo.”

This extra episode took a while to get going what with the need to set up an entirely new setting and scenario, but once Shizu drew her sword, good things started happening. It was a fun, exciting outing that added texture to the vast world of TenSura, not to mention demonstrated that it can do just fine without Rimuru or any of his entourage.

TenSura – 23 (Fin*) – Problems Solved

Rimuru and the five students enter the Dwelling of Spirits and…pretty much absolutely everything goes swimmingly! Seriously, one by one Rimuru either creates a superior spirit from hundreds of inferior ones with the Great Sage’s help, or in the case of Kenya and Chloe, a spirit is summoned by the kids themselves.

Bottom line, with superior spirits within them, the immense magical power is now under control, and will no longer send them to early graves. Mission Accomplished! The only problem is, there’s a lot more runtime to the episode after that, but it’s clear that’s all the story TenSura cares to tell, so the remaining ten minutes or so basically runs out the clock.

We get montages of How Far We’ve Come, followed by a number of Long, Tearful Goodbyes, as well as hints of Challenges to Come Next Season. As fantasy/Isekai anime go, TenSura almost always kept things light, breezy, and above all nice and easy for Rimuru.

I don’t see a second season messing with that formula too much, but rather expanding Rimuru’s powers, understanding of his world, and of course, introducing a smorgasbord of new characters who will then interact with his already vast crew. The MAL score of 8.36 is definitely overzealous in my book, but colorful, upbeat, and full of charm and good humor: that’s been TenSura through most of its run, and it should continue to be so in the future.

*An “Extra” episode will air next week.

TenSura – 22 – The Extra Fairy

Rimuru, Ranga, and the kids head deep into the green and lovely Ulg Nature Park, and enter a palace-sized tree hoping to find the Queen of Spirits. They find themselves in a sneaky labyrinth that appears to be a straight path, but Rimuru requires his mental map in order to properly navigate through it.

They all hear a voice in their heads that must be some kind of telepathy, and before you know it they’re in a new chamber, which looks curiously like an arena.

Rimuru’s challenger appears: a magisteel golem controlled remotely by one of the labyrinth’s spirits. He easily defeats it with thread fetters and a flare, and its controller (and the voice in their heads) reveals herself as the fairy—and Demon Lord—Ramiris.

Voiced with great energy by Haruno Anzu, Ramiris is a delightful trip and a half, somehow even more hyperactive than Milim, and with a lot more voices. I found myself reveling in her many changes in mood and tone, as well as Rimuru’s growing impatience and incredulousness.

She’s also heard of Rimuru Tempest, leader of Jura…and slime. It’s the first time the kids learn Rimuru is actually a slime, and they’re suitably impressed and delighted. When Rimuru gives Ramiris some cookies as a peace offering, and tells her why they’ve come, she reveals that she’s the Queen of Spirits, who “fell from grace” into a Demon Lord, like Leon, who summoned both Ifrit and Shizu.

I enjoyed the gradual transition of Ramiris from obnoxious pest into someone to be admired (she completed the magisoldier Vesta’s team couldn’t…all by herself) and even venerated (she’s able to bestow divine protection). She empathizes with the kids’ plight, and shows them the path to the Dwelling of the Spirits.

Even if they can’t summon any interested superior spirits, they can always make new ones there. As for Rimuru, he’s proud he’s finally well on his way to fulfilling Shizu’s dream to free her students from premature demise.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 06 – Threads for Filo: A Sidequest

This week, Naofumi needs to solve a problem. It’s a problem that may be minor in the grand scheme of things (compared to defeating the next Waves or repairing his rep), but any game-like isekai scenario worth its salt is going to have sidequests, and this is one of them. Filo needs clothes that won’t tear to shreds whenever she transforms from human to giant bird form.

The Armorer doesn’t have magical clothing, so Naofumi goes to a dressmaker. The Dressmaker needs magic thread, so Naofumi goes to the Mage. The Mage needs a gemstone for Filo to spin magic thread, and gemstones are rare and hard to come by. They’re also expensive, so as the Mage searches for one, Naofumi strikes out with Raph and Filo to make some money.

After helping a man race home to deliver a healing potion for his mother, Naofumi learns he can make a nice buck ferrying people to various locations, like Lyft, and can charge more if the clients are in dire need.

Take a wealthy and connected accessory seller: when a rival trader directs a group of bandits to mug him, Naofumi (or more precisely, Raph and Filo) make quick work of them.

It’s a nice reminder that in addition to Raph, who is no pushover, Filo is not only a good carriage-puller but fierce in battle as well, with powerful wind-based magic at her disposal.

When Naofumi spares the bandits’ lives, but only if they pay for those lives with everything they have, the trader takes a shine to him, lauding his entrepreneurial spirit. As payment for being saved, he offers Naofumi all of his knowledge and connections, including how to use mana to imbue gems, and connecting him to all of his fellow traders.

Finally, he gives Naofumi a deed that he shows to a mining foreman, who grants him permission to search for the veins of gemstone. Those veins are located in a particularly dangerous part of the mine swarming with monsters, so Naofumi goes in ready to rumble, along with the party of Raph the swordswoman, Filo the filolial, and the Mage. (Part of the mine looks just like Petra in Jordan).

After overcoming monsters who use illusory magic to make the party members think their allies are saying the last things they want to hear (Naofumi doesn’t need Filo; Raph only got close to Naofumi to kill him; Filo wants to eat Naofumi), they finally discover the vein, but it’s being guarded by a boss: a compact chimaera called a nue.

As Kevin Penkin’s awesome battle music plays, Raph and Filo rush headlong at the beast, but Raph ends up knocked down. The Mage offers support with fire-based magic, and the party regroups. Naofumi exploits the nua’s sensitive hearing by having Filo screech into his newly-acquired bat-shield. The mage fires more fire at the nue, then Raph rushes in and impales it. Filo delivers the coup de grace with a brutal kick to the skull.

The nue thus defeated, Naofumi retrieves the gemstone they came for, and back in town, Filo uses it to spin magic thread from her mana. They then deliver the thread to the Dressmaker, who spares no energy or passion crafting the cutest possible number for Filo: a frilly white dress with blue accents that crucially won’t be torn to shreds when she transforms.

It was great to see Naofumi & Co. face a problem and solve it in a logical yet interesting step-by-step process. It was also nice to take a step back from Naofumi’s ongoing feud with Motoyasu and Malty. And like any good sidequest, in addition to achieving the main objective, Naofumi gained a lot of new knowledge and experience points, making him that much more prepared for when the next Wave appears.

TenSura – 19 – Rimuru Can’t Lose

Well, that was underwhelming. Sure Charybdis is huge and heals quickly, but it was never a match for Milim, while its Megalodons were nothing more than small fry plucked out of the sky one by one by Rimuru’s many subordinates.

Even compared to past foes like the Demon Lord Geld, Rimuru kinda phones it in, making me realize there’s only so many times I can watch him and his forces win easily before the formula becomes stale and boring.

The only hiccup in this episode is that Rimuru thought Charybdis was coming for him, when it really had its eye on Milim, since deep within its carapace lurked a very pissed-off Sir Phobio.

But all this really means is Rimuru wastes the better part of an afternoon halfheartedly hacking at the boss before sending in Milim, who was on the sidelines the whole time begging to be let in on the fun. Milim barely has to rub the sleep from her eyes before Charybdis is nothing but a cloud of dust. Her biggest challenge was showing enough retraint to not kill Phobio.

Rimuru removes Charybdis from Phobio and heals him, then Demon Lord Carrion arrives to punch him anew and then take him away. For his part Phobio is foolish and contrite, and can’t believe Rimuru is so merciful. Throughout all of this, Rimuru just kinda shrugs everything off as “alright, that’s over with” and moves on to the next potential challenge: those annoying harlequins.

We’re constantly reminded in the OP: the only thing Rimuru ever lost in this world was Shizu, and even she’s somewhere inside him. I’m here to say that yes, I am tired of all the winning, especially easy winning. If there’s never going to be any chance of Rimuru losing anything or anyone else of value, it’s going to be a long final five episodes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 02 – Being Served By Power, Not Serving Power

Gaining Sayoko and Nozomi as friends only added both to the list of things Asuka has to lose and the things she must use the power she had laid down to protect. Iizuka admonishes her for battling in downtown Tokyo so brazenly, and repeats his desire for her to join Spec-Ops. Asuka isn’t budging; she’ll protect herself and her friends, but she won’t go back to that life.

As we learned last week, however, there’s no way to have one foot in this world and one foot out. You’re either all-in or not, and Asuka not using her power last week would have meant Sayoko buying it. For her part, Sayoko remains subconsciously traumatized by the terrorist battle; the magic that occludes ordinary peoples’ perception must not have worked on her 100%.

We also learn that unbeknownst to Nozomi, her “boring desk work” policeman dad is actually a top interrogator (read: torturer) with the National Police Agency, and is torturing the terrorist leader for info on future attacks. One such attack is being facilitated by a group of “bad” magical (badgical?) girls, who possess an enhanced Disas from the bad old days.

Sayoko’s incomplete memory wipe aside, she is feeling terrible about having not been able to do anything to help her fellow bystanders, which means while she got to go home safe and sound, some people didn’t. Asuka tells her it’s better to be cowardly than to pretend you’re stronger than you are. Naturally, Asuka’s not telling her friends she’s Rapture, and you can’t help but wonder how long she can keep them in the dark.

A call from Iizuka warns Asuka that a powerful Halloween-class Disas has been deployed by the terrorists, and “War Nurse” is the only active Magical Girl in Japan who can engage it. That doesn’t sit right with Asuka, who after all was the one who recruited War Nurse, AKA Mugen Kurumi. Kurumi was perhaps the weakest of the Magical Five, and her success in combat relied on the cooperation of the other girls beside her.

Kurumi is confident she can deal with the Disas herself—she doesn’t have any other choice—but it proves more powerful and dangerous than the Halloweens of yore, and it isn’t long until she’s in the same position as the mother and young daughter she saved: about to be slashed to bits by a giant evil plush bear.

While I maintain the resting states of the Disas are hella goofy, when this bear version gets serious it’s actually pretty goddamn creepy-looking, what with its giant claws, buzzsaw-like teeth, and the bloody carnage it unleashes. Fortunately, Asuka is Just In Time to bail Kurumi out.

While the bear is tough, it’s no match for Asuka, who dispatches it with ease, angering the badgical girl who lent it to the terrorists (she works out her anger by stabbing a passing policeman in the eye). As her catlike familiar fights pigeons for food crumbs, Kurumi tells Asuka that she has been and will continue to be a “terrible person” for recruiting her while knowing she wasn’t strong enough to fight alone, only to abandon her.

She’s not wrong. Sure, it was Kurumi’s choice to make, but she made it believing Asuka would remain by her side, and that hasn’t been the case of late. Still, she’s willing to forgive Asuka as long as Asuka keeps her promise “from now on.” When Kurumi then transfers to Asuka’s school and class, it’s apparent that Asuka has some trust to rebuild with her friend and comrade. She’s strong; stronger than Kurumi. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 09 – Saint v Saint

Kaori crosses swords with Acqua, whose birth name we learn to be William Orville, a former mercenary for the Anglicans but moved to the Roman Orthodox church. We also learn that Kaori, on her own, is absolutely no match for him.

His attacks have her flat on her back and spread eagle across vasts fields of rubble and debris, though to her credit she never stops getting up and dusting herself off, a resoluteness he admires even if he’s quite certain there’s nothing she or anyone else can do to keep him away from Touma.

As for Touma, he’s limping towards the battle when Misaka encounters him, and insists that he allow her to help. That might well have made the fight an easy one for him, but he declines the offer, and while she’s not happy about not being able to fight, she can understand there’s significance in him going it alone.

That’s ironic, since Kaori, who left the Amakusa church in part to protect her comrades, categorically can not stand alone and survive against Acqua; he’s just too goddamn talented and powerful, and the more beat-up she gets, the more his confidence in victory soars.

But he didn’t count on Kaori calling to Amakusa to jump down to the level of the battle and combine their powers to help her. Itsuwa was just getting done talking about how she and her group’s fighting was child’s play compared to the scale of a saint-on-saint battle (and it was), but Kaori doesn’t need them to defeat Acqua, she just needs a little help.

She gets it, and Acqua is sufficiently distracted in trying to bring the hammer down on all of them that he completely misses Touma slipping him below him, in the direct path of the attack, which Imagine Breaker nullifies in a very satisfying moment.

In Acqua’s moment of vulnerability, Itsuwa comes back at him with Saint Breakout and this time it works. The multi-pronged attack on him actually reminded me of the Avengers in one of their attempts to use teamwork and elaborate tactics to bring Thanos down on Titan. They failed, but Touma, Itsuwa, Kanzaki and Amakusa succeed: Acqua is defeated.

After a brief flashback to when William Orville left England, Touma wakes up back in the hospital, under the gentle ministrations of Itsuwa. The two get a little too close for Index’s comfort, especially considering she was by his bid longer.

Kanzaki wants to thanks Touma for his help, but is a bit squirrelly about it until Tsuchimikado breaks out a “fallen angel maid” outfit for her to wear. Unfortunately we never get to see it in all its glory, but it certainly makes an impression on Index, Itsuwa, and Touma! Glad to see the lighter side of Index closely follow the stern and serious climactic battle.

From there we’re shown the next threats to Academy City in Fiamma of the Right, apparently the leader of the Right Hand of God. While Acqua took out a pillar in the Vatican, the damage Fiamma causes attacking the Roman Pope cracks the dome like an egg. That is not going to buff out!

After Fiamma takes off with Index as his target, the Pope orders the fourth member of RHoG, the pierced-up Vento of the Front, to go after Fiamma. Of course, Vento doesn’t take orders from the Pope, but she’s going anyway.

Finally, we also get a glimpse of Mr. Academy City himself, Al Crowley, upside down in his office-cocoon thingy telling his computers to do various things relating to Imagine Breaker. Looks like we’ll have plenty of material to work through to fill the remaining sixteen weeks.

SSSS.Gridman – 05 – Wear Some Damn Clothes!

SSSS.Gridman 05 is a swimsuit episode, but only peripherally. It doesn’t matter how skimpy the outfit or how piercing the male gaze, this was also an excellent episode; the best since the first, because of how it shook up established formula of previous episodes.

It did so with a savvy understanding of the universe it’s built so far and how those who live within it should feel and act. The fanservice, while abundant, never distracted from that.

Shinjou Akane is regarded not just as the idol of the class, but its goddess. So its ironic that we see her resplendently reclining…on a giant pile of bags full garbage she’s too lazy to take out. Her class is going on a rafting field trip, and the only way she sees it not being a complete hassle/waste of time is if she can manage to finally beat her nemesis Gridman.

Just as Akane is looking forward to confirming that Gridman is Yuuta and then mopping the floor with him, Yuuta is looking forward to sharing an activity with Rikka, to whom he has yet to confess his feelings. That hesitation leads to a distance between them; there’s little screen time with just the two of them.

Heck, in the first half of the episode, Akane spends more time with Rikka, even getting her to rub sunblock on her back (and jokingly asking if she’ll do her front too). Shou is embarrassed when  Rikka’s cool friends mock his paunch, but when Akane does it, he turns beet red, only seeing the surface of Akane and not the evil lurking just beneath it.

Akane also ends up spending a good amount of time one-on-one with Yuuta, remarking how they’re alike in “not being used to things like this”, this being the rafting trip and all the physical and social calisthenics involved. But again, Akane is trying to get Yuuta to admit he’s Gridman, and in a way, succeeds when, in the middle of a string of questions, she asks if he’s “transforming” and he answers in the affirmative.

One day, Yuuta, Rikka, or Shou (or heck, maybe even Hass) will confront Akane about who she truly is…but not this week. Akane’s weird question sticks in Yuuta’s head, but he has more pressing issues, like the absolutely humongous Leviathan Akane has Alexis conjure shortly after getting her confirmation.

Akane admits it might not be fair or sporting to scale up her kaiju so dramatically, but considering the losing streak she’s endured I can totally understand her desire to take the proverbial gloves off. Unlike previous conjurings, not only is this one bigger than ever, it’s in a non-urban area, and indeed is created from the lush natural landscape; a mobile mountain with jaws and two beady red eyes. Honestly…it’s kinda cute.

We’re also in uncharted territory with the Gridman Alliance nowhere near the kitbashed computer terminal that enables Yuuta to transform. They can call the shop in hopes Neon Genesis folk are there (and they are; just waiting around), but they left their cell phones in the lockers.

Yuuta and Shou run ahead (leaving Rikka to escape with the others), but while Shou has change when they find a payphone, neither knows the number to the junk store. But Rikka does, and in catching up to provide it, she demonstrates that she won’t easily break the bonds of the alliance by leaving her comrades behind so easily.

The cavalry gets the message, buys the computer from Rikka’s mom, boards the same train as Yuuta and Shou, fall asleep on that train and almost miss their stop, and set up the computer at the station where they plan to rendezvous with Yuuta.

While he takes a tumble down a hill and gets a bit scratched up, he manages to make it, and he and Borr transform into Gridmand and Buster Borr, respectively. At first glance they look comically outmatched against an opponent of such lopsided superiority in mass. The only advantage they seem to have is that the kaiju’s attacks are very slow and inaccurate.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with, Item shows up, determined as always to fight and defeat Gridman, regardless of what Akane wants or doesn’t want. However his time on the stage as an effective combatant is brief, as Borr has a projectile for every need, from forest fire-extinguishing water missiles to super-adhesive projectiles that immobilize Item’s kaiju.

That gives Gridman and Borr time to combine and unleash a vicious barrage of weaponry at the giant kaiju, culminating in a Double Buster Grid Beam that finishes it off. From closeups to extra wide shots of exploding giant monsters, SSSS.Gridman continues to make a strong case for best-looking, most visually-imaginative anime of the season, if not the year.

Akane, once again defeated, nonchalantly slips onto the last train back home, while Yuuta, Rikka and Shou reunite and celebrate the victory. However, Rikka spots Item, and some strangely floating rocks suggest they may be celebrating prematurely.

Still, it’s good to know that whether they’re in skimpy swimsuits or not, the Gridman Alliance is strong…and that Hass doesn’t have some weird perpetual cold, but only wears her mask for show. I love little details like that (or Borr saying the words I reused in this article’s title when she spots Yuuta in nothing but swim trunks). SSSS.G is full of them.

As for Yuuta getting Rikka to notice him, well…perhaps he should see her repeated instances of catching up to be by his side—be it for practical or emotional support—as a positive sign that she might be receptive to his feelings…if only he managed to successfully tell him what they were…