Vanitas no Carte – 16 – Mettre Fin au Cauchemar

Vanitas no Karte always knows the right time for a moment of goofy levity, such as when Vanitas & Co. discover the same soldiers the beast already slew, leading him to conclude they’re in a looping closed world created by a curse-bearer. Jeanne uses her gauntlet to launch herself into the air and towards Chateau d’Apchier to fight the beast, as is her duty. She wasn’t counting on Vanitas hitching a ride!

As he’s walking in a corridor with Jean-Jacques, Noé suddenly doesn’t feel so swell…turns out his food was drugged. Likely expecting more visitors, J-J wants him to sleep things off until things die down. But first he wants him to drink his blood, so that in case anything happens to him, at least one person will remember not the legends, but the truth of who he and Chloé were.

Noé thus travels down memory lane through J-J’s eyes, as he flees his home and abusive father, gets lost in the woods, and encounters the Silver Witch, only to find that they’re two peas in a pod: vampires who have done nothing wrong but have still been scorned and abandoned. The two become fast friends, and J-J devotes himself to her entirely.

The townsfolk of Gévaudan don’t give up the hunt for the “Beast”, and  Chasseurs and Bourreaus soon come to force the issue. Knowing that Chloé isn’t responsible for the deaths but not knowing who is, J-J decides the only way to protect her is by becoming the Beast. Like Chloé, the scarred and world-weary J-J was all too easy a target for Naenia’s manipulation.

One night, J-J ends up badly wounded, including from his own father, who joined the hunt for the Beast. Naenia lures Chloé out of the castle to save J-J, but the two end up cornered by Jeanne, who seems ready to do her duty here as she does in the present. That is, until she gets a good look at her big sister, her eyes fill with tears, and she hesitates.

The thing is, at this point Chloé wants death, and is happy that Jeanne will be the one to deliver it. When it’s clear Jeann won’t do it, Chloé leaps of the cliff with J-J in her arms, only to be caught by Naenia, who promises vengeance in exchange for Chloé ‘s true name. Now we’re up to speed!

Vanitas, on the other hand, isn’t, but as Jeanne fights the Beast, he finaly reunites with Noé. When he learns that Chloé became a curse-bearer willingly for vengeance, Vanitas deems Chloé unsuitable for treatment—no point saving someone who doesn’t want to be saved, right? But Noé insists, and Vanitas agrees to treat them—provided Noé can inspire his help.

Vanitas reaches the library and finally meets Chloé, telling her he’s there to save her and demanding his book back. In the funniest gag of the episode (and indeed the season so far), Chloé pleads genuine ignorance. She liked the shiny jewel on the book, but when she couldn’t rip it off she just tossed the book…somewhere among the literal mountains of books. Yes, in this arc the titular Vanitas no Karte is naught but a MacGuffin…which rules!

As for what exactly Chloé is doing with her newly operational, keyboard-controlled Alteration Engine, Naenia claims she’s going to use it to wipe Gévaudan and its environs from the face of the earth, a potentially fatal bit of tampering with the World Formula Vanitas cannot allow.

But Chloé, it would seem, had other plans that even Naenia didn’t know about. To whit: Chloé uses a command “Perpetuate Existence” to give Naenia a physical body, which is to say, imprison her within one. Is Chloé officially showing her colors as someone who doesn’t want the world thrown into chaos, but rather wants to end Naenia’s reign of chaos? I am very intrigued to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 21 – A Spot of Bad Luck

Rudeus, Eris, and Ruijerd’s journey continues, and along the way Eris continues to train. She becomes so good, Ruijerd declares she’s no longer a child, but a warrior, and shall be treated as such. Eris asks Rudy to pinch her to make sure she’s not dreaming; naturally, Rudy pinches her chest and she slugs him. That is pretty much the sum total of the comedy in this episode.

From there on, things get pretty grim. First of all, the group’s travels take them up onto a desolate snow-covered mountain. Then they cross paths with a pair of fellow travelers. Ruijerd and Eris react viscerally to their presence before Rudy even sees them, and their pack ox literally leaps of the mountain to its death to get away from the guy. As for Rudy, he’s just wondering what the heck is going on, and who this guy is.

Turns out he’s the Dragon God Orsted, and the moment Rudy mentions he knows the Man-God, Orsted tries to kill him. Ruijerd comes between them, but is quickly defeated, beaten into a crumple heap unable to move. When Orsted goes for Rudy again, Eris tries to stop him, and ends up slammed against the wall, coughing up blood.

I don’t believe Rudy has ever come across someone more powerful than him, but that time has finally arrived, and it’s terrifying. With Ruijerd and Eris dealt with as easily as if they were two helpless kittens, Rudy unleashes his most devastating magical attacks, only for Orsted to easily nullify, deflect, or divert them into a portal. Then he puts his hand through Rudy’s heart, essentially killing him, telling him to give the Man-God a message: he’s going to kill him too.

The newly-dead Rudeus returns to the Man-God’s realm in his original form, only with the hole in his chest Orsted gave him. The Man-God tells him he couldn’t sense if or when Rudy was going to cross paths with Orsted, only that as the Dragon God, Orsted is “wicked”, and since the Man-God is “good” Orsted has it out for him.

He also makes sure to clarify that Orsted would win in a fight against the number one Technique God, curses and all. All this new information aside, Rudy is ready to accept his second death, thankful he got a second chance even if he’s upset he couldn’t fulfill his promise to Eris.

But the Man-God tells him he’s not actually dead, Rudy looks down to find his chest hole is gone, and he wakes up in a distraught-but-alive Eris’ arms. Ruijerd is also alive and simply unconscious. According to Eris, Orsted’s companion Nanahoshi said something that made Orsted cast a healing spell on Rudy, restoring his life.

Thus the trio escape the very closest of calls to date. While it’s understandable they should feel humbled and grow more vigilant in the future, they also shouldn’t feel too bad, considering they crossed paths with the most dangerous, powerful, and feared being in the entire world…and survived. The question is, what’s next?

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 06 – Warrior Priest

Will’s first episode On His Own is a good one. It starts out quiet and contemplative, as we just watch a tiny Will traverse grand vistas. He’s searching for humans, but finds only more dead cities and towns. He can always pray for bread and purify water, but he’ll soon need other things for sustenance. Sure enough, his patron saint provides—just not in a straightforward way.

The first person Will meets who isn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus is the extremely pretty half-elf Meneldor, an hunter who was pursuing the giant wild boar Will kills in self-defense. They agree to split the boar and share the liver, which spoils fastest. Whether Menel is Will’s age or much older, the two have an immediate easy rapport…right up until Menel says he wants nothing more to do with Will, and warns him not to follow.

Will was just going to follow the river to the nearest settlement, but he receives a divine vision in his dreams from Gracefeel which seems, at first, to depict Menel’s village being attacked. When Will arrives, it turns out Menel is doing the attacking. Here we see just how well-trained and ready for anything Will is thanks to his three parents, easily neutralizing all the bad actors.

Repeatedly addressed as a warrior poet by the grateful villagers, who are a collection of adventurers, bandits, fugitives and various outcasts, and thus always at each others’ throats. Their no-nonsense elder is barely keeping it together, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the half-elf and his five co-bandits should all be hanged.

Will, who wants to avoid any more killing due to the edicts of his goddess and teachings of his family, negotiates a fine compromise: the village will be compensated in gold, while Will hires Meneldor to help drive the demons out of his village. When Will proposes they just rush in and take care of it, Menel is skeptical, but again, this is Will, who we’ve already seen kill a god. Clearing the village should be a piece of cake…but that won’t make it any less fun to watch him do his parents proud. Who knows, maybe Menel will become his official first friend in the process.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

The Faraway Paladin – 04 – Divine Protection

Gus manages to fight off Stagnate, but it turns out Stagnate split himself in two. Stagnate’s second half arrives and puts Blood, Mary, and Gus out of commission, and gives Will an ultimatum: join him, or lose them all. He’s clearly the more charitable, patient half, because he gives Will 24 hours to decide. Will uses that time to sulk.

It’s at this point that the show reminds us that Will was, as he calls it, a useless garbage person in his past life, something he’s kept from his parents to this point. But when he wakes up and starts ranting about how useless and garbage-y he still is, Mary won’t hear it. She slaps him, tells him to stand up and get ahold of himself. Will may not have cried for his parents in his first life, but the fact he’s so shook up about his new parents proves he’s not the same person in this life.

Will turns Stagnate down, then has to fight a bunch of skeletons, which he does successfully, leading Stagnate to once again ask Will to join him. Will can tell Stagnate is genuine in his passion for and desire to create world without life or death, but simple everlasting…stagnation. The thing is, Will already had his fill of that in his past life, and is now in a position to reject it.

That’s because, even after Stagnate offers Will a cup of his blood, Will cuts of Stagnate’s hand holding the cup, and then the hand turns into a snake that injects Will with the blood like venom anyway, Will wakes up in the divine domain of Gracefeel, Goddess of the cycle of death and rebirth. A caring, benevolent God not unlike Mary in personality offers Will her divine protection.

All he has to do is what he wants to do anyway: move forward. Live. Not stagnate. When Will comes to, he’s able to use the Divine Torch, which spooks Stagnate into launching an emergency destruction spell. But Will realizes almost too late that Stagnate was using that as a smokescreen so he could get to his true target: Mary and Blood. Will Will make it in time to save his parents? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 01 (First Impressions) – Enduring the Holy Flame

When we meet Will, looking every bit like the little brother of Chise and Shirayuki (which is very apropos), his world is very small. There are only three people in his life: Gus the ghost, Mary the mummy, and Blood the skeleton. You will note that none of those creatures should necessarily classify as “people”, but here they do, because they’re raising a little boy they could have easily killed…or left to die.

While I know if I was three years old I’d probably be scared out of my mind by the presence of three monsters in my life, but that’s only because I was raised by human parents. Will has never known anything in this world other than these three. The twist is, he’s not originally from this world, but from ours. This adds a wrinkle to a premise that, frankly, could have been just fine without the Isekai angle.

That’s because the idea of these three classic enemies of humanity were responsible for leveling the nearby human city taking pitting on the sole survivor and raising him like their own child is an attractive one. Unlike, say, Golem in Somali and the Forest Spirit, they all have a good grasp on humanity and raising children because all three of them used to be human.

Of course, Gus, Mary and Blood are not simply emulating three human parents; they’re imbuing Will with the wisdom and experience only three undead beings can. Gus helps Will unlock his affinity for magic; Blood toughens and hones him into a man who can kill when he needs to (for survival) and defend himself so he won’t die. Mary teaches him everything else about life—including empathy and unconditional love.

Inevitably, Will grows older (eight to be exact) and his curiosity about what his three adoptive parents haven’t disclosed or are currently hiding from him grows exponentially, as does his ability to investigate. Again, this is nothing different from what regular human parents go through—you try to hold off on explaining certain concepts until the kids are old enough to properly understand. But Will is already at that point, whether they like it or not, and it’s due in no small part to how well they’ve raised him.

To that end, when he spots Mary sneaking into the chapel to pray and finds her surrounded by white flame, Will runs in and grabs her to try to pull her out, causing severe burns that may scar his hands and arms for life. But when he comes to and Mary apologizes for keeping secrets, Will apologizes right back, for prying.

Mary also tells Will that she keeps praying to the goddess Mater she betrayed after death because she still reveres her, and because Mater provides bread to sustain Will. By all indications, Will didn’t live the best life back in our world, but these three undead monsters seem to be teaching him to be a better human.

Good-natured, charming, optimistic, possessing just the right hint of darkness lurking beneath the surface (that city looked pretty dead) and a kick-ass English title, The Faraway Paladin is promising slice-of-life Isekai, perhaps different enough from Mushoku Tensei to keep it on my watchlist.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 05 – Girl Out of Time

The Kirihara brothers escape with the FSA and Masayuki Miki, who wants to go right back to rescue her boy. But Naoya believes it was Miki’s friend Futami Shouko who guided them to meet Miki.

From there we flashback to Miki’s friendship with Shouko back in 2014, when she saw with her own eyes what Miki could do. Shouko compulsively wrote strange symbols in a notebook which literally jump off the page and send Miki into a kind of hallucinatory trance spanning time and space.

But according to Miki of the present, one day she was just…gone. Of course, we know she’s still alive, kinda, in the future, and either the willing or unwilling guinea pig in a lab’s desperate attempt to do…something. Correct the timeline to make 2041 less of an anti-fiction hellscape? Perhaps.

Miki also mentions how when she was 26 she received a package from Shouko, postmarked before she disappeared. In it she found the notebook and some instructions, which Miki followed, spending a single night in a small shrine but emerging the next morning to find three months had passed.

We also flash back to when the Kirihara brothers were first brought to the lab where they’d spend the next few years. While they awaken in what could be described as a gilded cage, Naoto still tries to escape with Naoya, only to be stopped by a barrier that only seems to affect psychics.

Back in the present, one of the FSA members bristles at Kimi’s story about seeing the future and skipping time, continually calling it a bunch of lies. How he can say this after what he’s seen psychics strains credulity a bit; it’s as if he’s only there in the room to complain and dispute Kimi’s testimony.

Meanwhile, while the SWE lost a number of people, HQ is back up and running, and they consider it a net win since it resulted in the awakening of both Reika and Michio and the progression of Yuuya’s powers. Takuya ended up psyching himself into a coma, but he soon recovers.

Kimie gets to work as a guide for Yuuya and his powers, as both she and the SWE boss believe he could be the most powerful of all of them if he’s able to control that power. All we know from the boss is that they’ll “use that  power to achieve their goal”, which I presume means rooting out all psychics who aren’t SWE soldiers. Kimie calls it “protecting the order of the world.”

Back at the old factory, the FSA’s leader Kazama has a proposition for the Kirihara brothers, and Naoto in particular: they’re going to execute an offensive operation on the FSA, and they need Naoto’s power to help. When Naoto refuses, they pull a gun on Naoya and threaten to kill him if Naoto doesn’t obey. Emily, the voice of reason and temperance in the FSA, definitely didn’t want it to come to this, but Kazama and his commandoes are the ones with the guns.

Takuya and Yuuya are chilling in their cold, sterile apartment when visions of the past start flowing through Yuuya, including a scene of their mom and dad being taken by…er…someone.

Between the SWE crew not doing much this week and the FSA immediately and disappointingly showing their true colors, it was overall a pretty listless downer of an episode. My favorite part was the inter-dimensional joyride Shouko sent Miki on with her symbols, but that was all too brief, and that part of the story still carries more questions than answers.

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