The Rising of the Shield Hero – 17 – Rite of Succession

The next morning, it’s No More Mrs. Nice Fitoria. She binds Melty in a wind prison and demands once more for Naofumi to make up with the other heroes. When he refuses, she once again threatens to kill all four heroes, but first gives his party the chance to prove they can take on the waves on their own. She’ll determine this by fighting Filo.

As expected, the spirited but woefully under-leveled Filo is absolutely no match for Fitoria…at first. But with continual pointers and encouragement from Naofumi, Filo keeps getting back up dusting herself off, and trying again. Eventually, she’s able to summon enough power to literally put a scratch on Fitoria’s face. That’s enough to satisfy the queen: Filo wins.

Not only that, but Fitoria names Filo her official successor, conjuring a crown to place on Filo’s head, which is replaced by an ahoge of which Filo very much not a fan. She opens a new Filolial-themed section of Naofumi’s sphere grid—albeit all shields he’s of too low a level to access—and increases Filo’s stats (though she still can’t break Level 40 quite yet).

She also apologizes to Melty by giving her a ride in her giant filolial form (of which I wish we could have seen more), and throws a huge party. Throughout these events, and the episode itself, Kevin Penkin’s marvelous score really asserts itself, elevating the images on the screen. This show’s music is just a pure joy to listen to.

Once the festivities have wound down and everyone else is asleep, Naofumi finds himself in a similar situation as the previous night: alone with a Fitoria committed to getting him to reconsider his hard stance on not playing nice with the other heroes, which she actually manages to achieve when she points out that his refusal to defend himself against Malty’s lies is as saying the lies are true.

While Fitoria doesn’t have the best memory, on two occasions Naofumi says something her hero once said to her, and the nostalgia leads to her tearing up and placing her head in his lap to be patted. The reason Fitoria works so hard to make Naofumi repair his reputation and relationship to the other heroes goes beyond the fate of the world: she knows he’s a good man by dint of raising the next Filolial Queen. It’s time the rest of the world knew it.

As for those other heroes, both Sword and Bow enter a cave seeking some kind of treasure, only for it to be a trap that incinerates the entire cave. I highly doubt they didn’t survive, though it’s not like I’d care if they didn’t…

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Zankyou no Terror – 07

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In preparation for more English dialogue from Five this week, I decided to come at it from another angle: if English is her character’s second language, then her thick accent is totally acceptable. But such realignments and caveats weren’t even necessary this week. There was so much going on I didn’t have time to give a shit how bad the English was or wasn’t.

Just about absolutely everything that went on this week was fantastic. Last week’s ending promised an intricate, precise game of Haneda Airport Bomb Chess between Five and Sphinx. It also hinted that Shibazaki and his colleagues were going to take action of some kind after sitting on their hands too long, and that Lisa would play some kind of role too. , The episode delivered everything we could have hoped for and then some.

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I remain confident in my assertion last week that Five is a cliched villain with a lame personal vendetta and all-but-unchecked autocratic power over the authorities. This week she’s taken down a peg just as Nine and the police were last week. The show sensed that we needed to see Nine land a blow, even a glancing one, on Five, and made it happen. But this episode was much, much more than just a duel between Five and Nine.

Shibazaki & Co. arrive at Haneda faced with the lofty challenge of finding a bomb in a massive, busy airport, but the more he wanders around, the more something smells rotten to the veteran detective. But even he couldn’t have predicted he’d end up helping the very terrorist he’s been chasing for six episodes stop the bombing, while unwittingly providing cover for their escape.

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That last bit is part the genius of this episode. When Shibazaki bursts into the control room and orders the bomb plane turned around, Five tells him he’s being Sphinx’s lap dog, and she’s not 100% wrong. But Shibazaki is also saving lives by picking the lesser of two evils. Five seems to be trying to appeal to his pride and ego, but after both have been trampled on so much throughout his career (most recently by Five herself), he’s not listening anymore. He’s the anti-Five, and thank God he’s here.

It’s a good thing he can, otherwise Nine, Twelve, and Lisa would’ve been SOL and lots of people would have died. Shibazaki is Nine’s trump card; he calls him to explain everything, and Shibazaki decides to believe him, because unlike the higher-ups and spooks, at least Nine is talking to him; letting him in on the loop. And once he’s in, he’s a potent ally. One great scene is how he even gets up the tower: by depending on his police colleagues to open a hole for him in their scrum with security.

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Also terrific was how Nine threw out Five’s book by placing an extra piece on the board, namely Lisa. Yes, Twelve pushed for her involvement, but she herself made the choice to participate. Both she and Nine and Twelve’s plan revolves around turning all of Five’s ample surveillance against her. Ironically, it’s not Lisa, but Nine who’s the decoy—playing chess with Five and keeping her eyes on him.

Meanwhile, Twelve makes use of every camera blind spot to sneak through the airport, while Lisa sets off a flare in the bathroom to set off the fire alarms, which create a blip in the video feed. During that blip—unbeknownst to Five until it’s too late—the real-time footage becomes footage recorded minutes earlier. It’s a full team effort by Sphinx, and as I said, a satisfying setback for the irritatingly haughty Five.

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But Five doesn’t stay down long, because, as she correctly remarks, Nine and Twelve’s new friend Lisa is a weakness, as illustrated when she’s picked up by Five’s henchman and tossed onto an otherwise empty plane with the bomb on board. I’ll admit, the moment Lisa is caught and when we realize how much trouble she’s in, I was crestfallen. But the show’s not going to kill Lisa today…so How Do They Get Out Of This One?

Very Carefully. The thrilling action set piece that concludes the episode brings everything together: Twelve’s fondness for Lisa; Nine’s sense of honor that has him helping Twelve save her; Lisa’s ability to follow directions and quickly make a cloth rope, and Nine’s ability to drive away from the plane before the explosion can engulf them. It’s some spellbinding, superbly directed stuff, and the Kanno soundtrack playing over everything really takes it to the next level, as her tunes tend to do.

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In return for his help, Shibazaki only gets a passing glance at the masked Sphinx No. 1 through a window before driving off into the night. And Five is Not Happy, and has Lisa’s student ID in hand. Which means even if Lisa remains safe and hidden with Sphinx (not a sure thing at all), her mother, wretch that she is, is now at risk.

Can Lisa throw her life away completely? Can Sphinx continue to stay a step ahead of Five? Can Shibazaki get back on the case and reign Five in? What about the plutonium? When’s the beach episode? If there’s no second cour, only four episodes remain to tackle these questions and more. We await them with bated breath.

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Zankyou no Terror – 06

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Let the great game begin…or at least the pretty good game. Just when Shibazaki was starting to sink his teeth into the case and gathering support from his colleagues, the FBI comes in with their Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) researcher, Five, along with “orders from on top” essentially neutering his investigation.

Unfortunately, Five is ruining more than Shibazaki’s momentum and the terrorists’ plans. She’s kinda hurting the show, too. The main reason being she’s a big, bland “Insane Genius Villain” (IGV) cliche plopped down in the middle of a story that was going just fine without her. Also, let it be known for now and all time, that Han Megumi is very, very ungood at English.

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Han did a fine job as Hanano Sumire in Chihayafuru 2, but then, she wasn’t the primary antagonist who is called upon to deliver a good chunk of her dialogue in English; she’s just not up to it. That’s not Han-san’s fault; frankly, Watanabe had no business making her speak English. Far from adding “international texture”, it blows all the tension out of a scene like air from a balloon.

The color her English makes would surely give Twelve nightmares. With all the intricate preparation involved in the production, you’d think they’d have at least hired someone fluent in English to do the lines for someone who’s supposed to be fluent in English. Someday, anime studios and/or directors will figure this out, but not today. /End rant.

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This week we have the rather unusual scenario of the terrorists who planted a bomb at an airport having to return to the scene to disarm it, since Five has the power and the will to detonate it, even at the potential cost of many lives, because she can just blame it on Sphinx. She’s also able to craft myth-riddles like them, which most the cops believe to be the real thing.

Most, but not all. Shibazaki, right on cue, smells something rotten in Denmark. The texts aren’t his guys. He’s technically under orders to do nothing, but he isn’t going to accept that. Hamura and three colleagues join him “for a meal.” As I said, his teeth are in this case, and he’s not letting go so easily. Please, show, let him expose Cupcake Five before she exposes Twelve and Nine!

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. This episode is also notable for being the first in which Lisa is actually used in an op, albeit in a roughly improvised op in which Nine needs an unfamiliar face for Five’s cameras. She’s unfazed by images of carnage Nine tries to scare her with (as Twelve says, they didn’t intend for the bomb to go off), and declares she “wants to be one of them.”

Part of that is because there’s nothing else she thinks she can be. Another is that despite all the crap she’s gotten, she still wants to connect with people, and to experience the close bond she sees between Nine and Twelve. With this airport job, which looks like a doozy with its chessboard layout, she’s becoming a part of that family. (Thirteen? Zero?)

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Shibazaki’s little rebellion, Nine’s feverish scurrying, Lisa’s participation and Twelve’s support of her all make this a very good episode, but we can’t call it great. Not in an episode with so much Five in it. It’s good to take your antiheroes down a peg or two, but you need the right kind of nemesis to do it, and so far, Five ain’t that. It feels like she’s in the wrong show.

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Zankyou no Terror – 05

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Despite the seemingly random (to the public at large) destruction and disorder they’ve caused, Nine and Twelve’s activities as Sphinx have been highly controlled at every level. They’re not launching their attacks to kill or even hurt people. They’re sending messages Nine hopes Shibazaki will pick up on.

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He does, but it leads him back to “old mistakes” and introduces the opportunity to make them all over again. But what neither Nine nor Shibazaki learn soon enough is that they’re no longer the only players on this board. The cat and mouse have been joined by another mouse, intent on stirring up shit and introducing chaos into what had thus far been a very orderly “courtship dance.”

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That new mouse is Five, a distinctive-looking woman whom Nine remembers from his flashbacks to the facility. Nine never sees Five’s face or hears her voice in the present, but he knows it’s her, because of what goes down this week. Namely, she Ruins Everything: his latest terror plot ends up an even bigger, smokier mess than the one Lisa made in their kitchen.

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Lisa was trying to make an honest effort to get Nine to no longer see her as useless, so she could stick around, as she has nowhere else to go. Nine is not happy to say the least that Twelve brought her home (I’m delighted, personally), but she’s too sick to be thrown out; even he’s not that heartless. But he does predict her getting tangled up with them can and will end badly.

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It can’t be understated how disruptive a force Five truly was this week; not bad, considering we mostly see her painting her nails. She negates Sphinx’s use of cell carriers by causing a wholesale cell blackout. She baits Nine with a fake backdoor then hacks into his computer. After the bomb is allowed to go off, she sends a mass text saying “I found you.” It really shakes up the status quo nicely.

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Meanwhile, Shibazaki has made the connection Nine wanted him to: the bombing targets were all big shots involved with the “Rising Peace Academy.” But targeting these people means he’ll have to investigate them, and they’re not the kind of people who want to be investigated, especially as some are cops themselves.

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So Shibazaki is again in a situation where he can’t help digging too deep until he angers the wrong people. Both he and Sphinx have been outmaneuvered and their agency curtailed. And Five, the one responsible, is right there in the office with him, smiling away. Does Five want to catch and/or hurt Nine and Twelve, or “help” them? I’m just hoping she doesn’t turn out to be one-note chaotic evil.

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Zankyou no Terror – 04

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“At the place where the king who solved the riddle received a scary prophecy, whose name would you carve on its entrance?” Let’s just say, if you’re a detective chasing Sphinx and don’t know anything about western mythology, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Shibazaki doesn’t have that problem. He’s locked in, or at least more locked in than anyone else on the case.

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He visits a town where one of the suspected culprits held a part-time job, not so much for answers, but to get a lay of the same land they saw; see the same sights and smell the same smells…to sweat the trivial details that could lead to a breakthrough. Sphinx won’t be defeated if their mind can’t be penetrated. Shibazaki is trying to get in, and he may well be the only one who can work at something approaching their wavelength.

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Shibazaki’s observations, intuition, and deductions were nothing short of brilliant this week; the rust has definitely been shaken off. But again, he finds the answer, but not the whole answer; he remains several moves behind. He doesn’t take one word or gesture for granted, which is why this time he knows it falls on them to stop the bomb, not merely find it, and certainly not storm what is believed to be the culprits’ hideout.

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Therefore, even when Shibazaki realizes one of the maxims carved into the temple at Delphi—“know thyself”—is directed at him (he did put his face out there and issue a challenge), and thus the password to stop the bomb is his own name, ‘shibazaki”, it isn’t enough for victory, because his superiors sent EVERYONE to catch the guys, which is the very “cheating” Sphinx warned them not to try. The bomb that goes off is a bomb of information: all of the documents related to he department’s investigation are released onto the web.

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Shibazaki figured out the first maxim was the password, but the other two maxims were also in play. “Nothing in excess” could be interpreted to mean “no storming our hideout with a cop army.” “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh” (i.e., “be careful what you promise”) is another stab at Shibazaki, who promised to bring Sphinx to justice. Shibazaki can know himself to a t, but if he can’t control the people around him, that justice will remain out of reach.

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This is all fantastic stuff, but that isn’t even the whole episode, as we also get a big development in Lisa’s story. Rendered up to this point as a coldly-discarded loose end, she’s run away from home and from her awful mom, which sounds like a good idea until you realize Tokyo is not the safest place for a young lady to stroll about. She’s first accosted by curs, then cops, and Twelve can’t help himself, even though Nine definitely can, and urges Twelve to stay away from her.

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Nine is right in that the more people you involve in your schemes, the greater the chance you’ll get caught, but Lisa is very much a ghost at the moment; a ghost only he and Twelve can see. I don’t think there’s any question that they can trust her, because she has literally no one else. Any shadow of doubt was erased when Twelve plucked Lisa from police clutches and onto the back of his motorcycle. Turns out someone would just take her away when she wanted them to.

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The pure, unbridled exhilaration and jubilation; the wind in her hair and the glowing skyscrapers flying by overhead; smiling and laughing out loud for the first time she can remember…why would Lisa ever betray the person who gave her that? I’m not saying there isn’t the potential for her to end up being their Achilles’ Heel (with Shibazaki as Paris delivering the arrow)…but who said the Sphinx can’t take a waif in?

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Zankyou no Terror – 03

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Twelve isn’t content to wow a bunch of dummies; he wants a counterpart: someone at least clever enough to decipher Sphinx’s riddles; someone to make a game of this, because when you’re raised in a government facility where love doesn’t exist, what is life but and elaborate games? And in any game, Twelve wants a worthy opponent.

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Well, Mouse…Meet Cat: Shibasaki is officially on the case. Every bit the Japanese Lester Freamon, “natural police” who dug a little too deep a politically sensitive case years ago. Doing so exiled him to the archives and presumably cost him his family. We also learn he’s the son of Hibakusha, which combined with his wan complexion and haggard appearance make him an object of compassion.

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Shibasaki and Twelve/Nine are a lot alike in that both had things taken from them, but they still survived and have been living on, in an almost dormant state. Now the Sphinx has awakened and is bearing its claws all over Tokyo. Shibasaki, once the force’s ace detective, nicknamed “Razor”, has been taken out of its sheath, and the rust is shaking off fast.

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Just as a great comic can make a joke out of anything around him, on the spot, a great detective can find inspiration for the case anywhere around him, as long as he keeps his eyes and ears open. The spark that leads to solving the riddle comes from Mukasa, who defeats the “green dragon” on his online phone game. In the process, he won over a skeptic in the young hotshot Hamura, who would do well to watch and learn.

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Shibasaki also muses that just as Mukasa is playing a cooperative multiplayer game, connecting with random people rather than playing alone, the young duo of Sphinx are similarly reaching out for a human connection, one sophisticated enough to solve their riddles and hang with them in a protracted chase that will sharpen both Sphinx’s claws and the Razor’s edge.

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But no matter how wounded or lonely these kids may be, Shibasaki won’t forgive them if they use the plutonium trump card they stole, and retrieving it is paramount. Twelve and Nine seem amused by the old man’s righteous indignation, but they also seem happy to have a legit playmate.

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As for Lisa, well, she’s mostly on the margins of this episode, deciding to run away from home. It seems unlikely she’ll be able to find her one-time saviors, but maybe Nine will find her. He seems more interested in her than Twelve, who seems more interested in an albino kid from the facility who haunts his daydreams.

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Rail Wars! – 02

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“The higher-ups were a good judge of my character, seeing how they assigned me to Public Safety”, says Sakurai, while kissing her enormous handgun; the handgun Iida Nana ultimately takes away in order to try to cool her jets; Public Safety at the national railway isn’t just about run-and-gun action, day in, day out. The passengers’ safety comes first—not Sakurai’s desire to beat up and/or shoot people.

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When the Special Assault Team is called away from Tokyo station to deal with the threat of explosives planted in Yokohama, Sakurai and Defense Four are basically put on standby, walking the station beat and helping passengers with whatever they need. The individual strengths of the team members shine here; from Takayama’s practiced people skills to Koumi’s way with kids. Meanwhile, Sakurai does a lot of pouting.

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Then, while she and Koumi are at lunch break with Iida, Iwaizumi saves Takayama from an exploding locker bomb. Turns out it was just a taste of a larger bomb a perp has planted in Tokyo station, having called in a false report to Yokohama to lure the NRSAT away. It’s up to Defense Four to deal with this threat, though the people in charge are prepared to answer the perp’s demands for one third of the station’s daily takings.

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That would be a hit, and Sakurai bristles at the idea of basically “surrendering” to terror, but again, it’s not about money or pride, but the safety of the passengers. Still, D4 is authorized to search for the bomb; a formidable task in a huge station with over 3,000 lockers. When Koumi is told the lost dog from last week started barking after its owner called lost-and-found, Iwaizumi’s “wild intuition” tells him the bomb’s in the unnecessarily-large dog carrier, and he’s right.

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It’s here where the very tight-skirted Sakurai, after gloomily going about her duties, finally gets a chance to shine, albeit by bypassing her supervisors and making an on-site judgement call to attempt to disarm the bomb, something her father taught her but she’s never done for real. To her surprise, Takayama stays right by her side, even if the wrong wire cut could mean both their deaths. Things get really intimate under there too, but there’s no time for embarrassment; if Takayama has to lodge his arm between her boobs to pin two wires down, so be it.

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With less than two minutes left on the bomb timer, Sakurai suddenly bolts out of the room, asking Takayama to trust her, which he does. Her solution is a brilliant use of the tools at hand: a mini liquid nitrogen gun, used for desserts back at the ladies’ lunch, which seemed like a throwaway novelty at the time but proves pivotal here. She freezes the circuitry, stopping the timer, and finishes defusing the bomb. When it’s all over, she’s so physically and emotionally spent she collapses into Takayama, a touching moment of vulnerability and closeness she tells him he can forget about later…but which he probably doesn’t want to.

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Sure, she bent protocol, but ultimately, the fiery Sakurai was the hero here, along with Takayama. Both of them, along with Koumi and Iwaizumi, put their lives on the line for the passengers, which is their job. Sakurai didn’t need her precious gun or her martial arts to be effective at her job, and Takayama isn’t as weak and spineless as she initially thought. For his valor, Takayama is made substitute leader of D4, a promotion even she can’t deny he deserves. This was a satisfying outing full of unconventional action, a surprisingly thrilling ticking time bomb, and some rather nice character beats.

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