TenSura – 31 – Bad News First

I never want to hear the good news first. The positive effects of hearing it would be nullified by the bad news, and who wants that? So here it is, a bad news-packed episode of the usually light and fancy-free TenSura with the title “Despair.” Subtle it ain’t, but the more serious shift in tone and heightened stakes are just the shot this show needed after a sputtering start.

First, kudos for presenting an opponent in Hinata so tough she not only makes Rimuru resort to the last trick up his slimy sleeve, but she seemingly obliterates him even in his final form with an apocalyptic Ultima-like spell. For a second there it looked like Rimuru had been taken off the board. While that was only a second, it was a wonderfully tense one!

We learn that when he summoned Ifrit, Rimuru made a doppelganger of himself to take the punishment, deeming retreat to be the better part of valor and turning out to be exactly right: had it been him under that Desintegration, he estimateshe’d have been toast, Holy Field or not. Ranga pops out of his shadow and greets his master like the good dog he is.

One detail we’ll just have to live with is the fact that someone as otherwise shrewd as Hinata simply left the scene without inspecting the crater where Rimuru apparently met his end for possible remains. Then again, she only told Rimuru she sold him short, not that he was anything to worry about. That arrogance led to her getting sloppy in this instance.

Rimuru and Ranga are perplexed when they can’t teleport to Tempest because the “destination doesn’t exist” due to the barrier. Instead they teleport to the nearby caverns, where he meets with Souei and his scouts, Gabiru, and Vesta, who explain the situation as they see it; Souei, bless him, immediately calls out Falmuth as one of the culprits.

We learn that the enemies have taken off, leaving the barriers in place, and while Gabiru’s men managed to save the young children, the city is wrecked and filled with casualties. Rimuru passes through the barriers without a problem, and is shocked by the sights he’s seen, which we must note he’s never seen…not against his capital, his nation, or his people.

Everyone seems to want to keep him away from something horrific in the central plaza, but before he can check it out he hears Benimaru’s attack. He rushes to the ally to find that Beni was attempting to capture Mjurran, but she was being protected by Grucius and Youm. Rimuru ends the confrontation before Beni can do any permanent harm, and when he’s told of Mjurran’s role, he asks to tell him exactly what she did.

She shows him instead, leading him to the plaza, strewn with dozens of dead goblins. Mjurran’s guilt over conjuring the barrier pales in comparison to the guilt Rimuru feels after having given standing orders to the Goblins not to attack humans. Mjurran seems to want to be the fall girl for everything, but Rimuru knows and the Great Sage confirms that there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

This Mjolmire guy from Blumund…he just puts off a very suspicious vibe, doesn’t he? The episode seems to go out of its way to make him far more prominent than he’d otherwise be. Sure, his task to send word to Blumund of Tempest’s situation is an important one; Rimuru should also contact Dwargon. But yeah…I wouldn’t be surprised if he betrays Rimuru at some point.

In an emergency meeting, Rimuru gets the remaining details about the situation, including the fact that the Knight Commander from Falmuth declared the capital “contaminated by monsters”, and that he’ll return accompanied by King Edomalis himself in seven day’s time to accept their surrender and dispersal from the city, or else be “eradicated.”

After his interactions with Hinata, it’s clear now to Rimuru that Falmuth and the anti-monster Western Holy Church have been conspiring to bring his nation down. Mjolmire points out the economic reasons Falmuth is determined to eliminate Tempest. Judging from that knight’s ultimatum, there could already be far too much distance between the two sides for anything other than all-out war.

But what of Mjurran? Rimuru demands to know everything she knows, and she’s happy to tell him, starting by telling him she serves the Demon Lord Clayman. As the ultimate puppet-master swirls his wine and smirks as he glances out the window of his gaudy castle, all the bad news has been laid out on the table and spilled over the edges.

It’s a long, hard road ahead for Rimuru & Co., but knowing they’re in a mess was the first step to getting them out of it. Soon it will be time to start making some good news, and it will be all the more satisfying thanks to the depths of despair plumbed here.

TenSura – 30 – The Shizu Hits the Fan

Rimuru bids goodbye Ingrassia and to the kids, leaving them with parting gifts: Chloe gets Shizu’s mask, while everyone gets cool cloaks made by Shuna. He’s about to teleport home with Ranga when the Great Sage announces a massive barrier is in place preventing that. Huh…that’s odd!

One of Souei’s clones appears telling his master to run. Rimuru orders Ranga into his shadow, and another barrier goes up: he’s unable to use skills. He casts Resist successfully, but all magic skills are severely limited, which is just what his opponent wants.

Back in Tempest, things do not go well for Rimuru’s strongest generals. Hakurou steps in to save Gobta , but due to the effects of the barriers, he’s easily defeated by Kyouya. Shion hangs in longer than Shougo expected, but in her weakened state she too is no match for the otherworlder.

Falmuth’s vanguard of knights arrive in the city, and Shougo immediately accuses Shion of attacking him, leading the knights to invoke “human law” and essentially sack the city. It is truly gutting to see children crying in allies, the capital in flames, and a bloody shoe in the streets.

Rimuru needs to get back, but that’s just not going to happen anytime soon. His opponent is Sakaguchi Hinata, Chief Knight of the Imperial Guard and Captain of the Holy Knights. Titles aside, her only master is the god Luminous. Rimuru tells Hinata he’s Japanese too, but she’s not there to listen to a monster, she’s there to avenge Shizu, her dearest friend.

Both we and Rimuru soon learn Hinata is not all talk, and is not fucking around. It’s been ages, if ever, since we’ve seen Rimuru so consistently on his back foot. Hinata’s attack and defense is so quick and precise, Rimuru feels like he’s fighting the Great Sage herself—who helpfully points out that seven strikes from Hinata’s Dead End Rainbow will kill him…and she’s already struck him four times!

Rimuru’s crucial error was walking so recklessly across the Holy Field, the Western Holy Church’s “ultimate anti-monster barrier.” Even a high-level spiritual monster such as himself has most of his strength sapped, and much of what’s left is spent sustaining his existence within the barrier. When Rimuru summons Ifrit to even the odds, Hinata uses her unique skill Usurper to try to frikkin’ steal him, forcing Rimuru to call him back.

Her Usurper reminds him of his final trump card, Gluttony. Great Sage accepts his Awaken! order just before Hinata runs him through, so while he’s not dead, because he’s given way to Gluttony, he loses consciousness, which he describes as sinking into darkness.

That’s not good! None of this is good! Rimuru, his generals, and his capital are all in serious trouble, and he never saw any of it coming, while the baddies are only just getting started. If ever a Milim ex machina were needed, it’s now!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 10 – Growing The Party

Naofumi has been scarred by the injustices he has suffered throughout his time in this world. And since a large quantity of those injustices were perpetrated by the Melromarc royal family, he’s instinctively distrustful of any Melromarcs, even Melty, who has shown him nothing but kindness.

As a result, he turns Melty away, despite the fact the Queen sent her to him explicitly to reconcile and undo the harm the King and Malty have done to him. It’s in Naofumi’s best interests to actually trust Melty and allow her to help him, but he just can’t, due to his history and stewing resentment.

But as the next Wave approaches, Naofumi still manages to run into a bit of good karma, as three warriors and two mages whose families he saved in Lute Village offer to join his party and fight beside him. He’ll only trust them if they cough up 150 silver pieces; hardly chump change.

He’s not the only one stiffing people: the cathedral charges fifteen gold pieces per person for the “class upgrades” he, Raphtalia and Filo will require in order to continue efficiently leveling up. When he produces enough for just Raph to be upgraded, an elder sister steps in presenting a decree from the king prohibiting them from providing any upgrades at any price.

If only Naofumi had heard Melty out rather than turn her away, he might’ve found an easier way around the king’s decree. Instead, he has to seek an upgrade through the slave dealer, who doesn’t provide that service but does offer to relieve Naofumi of five gold pieces in exchange for wyvern talons for Filo’s feet.

Filo’s new talons, combined with Raphtalia’s sharp new sword, make quick work of a job request to defeat a monster in the capital’s sewers. That night, as Naofumi dresses Raph’s wounds with holy water, Raphtalia worries about Naofumi’s vow that once all of the Waves are dealt with, he’ll return to his world, leaving her and Filo alone. The discussion is sidetracked when Filo wakes up and accuses Raph of getting “lovey-dovey.”

The next day they head out, encountering a village whose scant inhabitants are starving to death thanks in no small part to the actions of the Bow Hero Kawasumi Itsuki. Once again, the supposed heroic actions of a hero who isn’t Naofumi has appalling side effects.

Naofumi gets to finally confront both Kawasumi for what he did to the starving village, and Amaki Ren for the plague he caused by slaying the dragon. For their part, neither of them stuck around those places long enough to witness the consequences of their actions, and while Ren believes Naofumi, Itsuki doesn’t.

Naofumi’s distrust for everybody that isn’t Raph or Filo is matched only by the other heros’ continued animosity towards him. It’s a vicious cycle, and so far only Ren has taken a logical approach resembling reconciliation. The other two seem like lost causes in terms of ever seeing Naofumi as anything other than bad news.

We’ll see if despite that there will be any improved collaboration between the four heroes when the second Wave appears, which it does by episode’s end. By this time, the five Lute villagers scounge together the silver for Naofumi, who gives them the accessory they thought they were buying without taking their silver.

He tells them instead to use the cash to buy better equipment. They’ll need it in the battles to come. Naofumi doesn’t even trust these people, who owe their lives and those of their families to his heroics. But maybe, in time, he can, and that will lead to him trusting others who mean him no harm, like Melty and her mother the Queen.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 09 – In Need Of A Good Heart-Melting

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo continue mopping up the beasts and healing all the villagers, they come across a nobleborn-looking girl among a pack of lesser filolials (which Filo thinks look tasty, the cannibalistic little imp). The girl, who introduces herself as “Melty”,  falls in love with the far larger and talking filolial, and the two become fast friends.

That night, she comes to Naofumi’s inn, requesting an escort back to the capital. As she’s nobleborn, Naofumi assumes he’ll get a handsome reward for returning her to safety, and so accepts.

But one of the queen’s spies is watching. While there’s more to Melty than meets the eye, she ends up loving riding in the Filo-drawn carriage, and at night strips down so she can sleep within Filo’s dense, thick, luxuriously soft feathers (great Foley work on those feathers).

When they reach the capital, Filo escorts Melty home, while Naofumi and Raph make a beeline to the cathedral, where they meet a particularly haughty and patronizing Pope.

He (or rather one of his nuns) tries to sell Naofumi a bottle of crude holy water for the exorbitant price of one gold coin, but his HUD detects its cheapness, and he ends up with a bottle of the pure stuff. So mission accomplished: Raphtalia should be good as new in no time.

Unfortunately, since they’re in the capital, Naofumi is naturally uneasy about anyone approaching him. When a young, flustered guard does so, he and Raphtalia run away, eventually splitting up to lose him.

In the process, Motoyasu and Malty find Naofumi, and challenge him to yet another duel, since Motoyasu has fallen in love with the girl with angel wings following Naofumi around. He assumes she’s another slave and demands he free her.

This results in a huge dust-up, in which the many city bystanders not only have to dodge Motoyasu’s deadly attacks (he causes quite a bit of collateral damage, the bastard) but end up fighting each other over whether it’s cool for the two heroes to go at it in such a crowded public space.

Ultimately it’s Melty who breaks up the fight, and in the process reveals she’s not only Malty’s younger sister, but heir to the throne, as Malty is a problem child deemed unworthy to succeed the king.

She seems poised to join Naofumi’s party…right up until Naofumi tells her to get lost. He presumes that anyone related to Malty and the king cannot be trusted, and is trying to lull him into a false sense of security so she can stab in the back later.

There’s absolutely no evidence or indication Melty’s intentions are anything other than earnest and good, but I guess Malty did quite the number on Naofumi. There’s really no one he trusts other than Raph and Filo…which could well end up being detrimental to him.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 04

Like GenesisVirgin Soul is about two opposing sides who aren’t willing to compromise in the slightest, thus requiring a third party, impartial or not, to negotiate and avoid disaster. Only this time, the cooler prevailing heads are super-outnumbered, or in Nina’s case, is too much of a wild card herself to enact any change. When Nina hears what the king is doing to innocent demons, she makes a beaten-down Azazel hug her so she can turn into a dragon and put a scare into Charioce.

Instead, all she does is make the king stand in awe of her power, meaning he probably wouldn’t mind using her as a tool in his fight against gods and demons. Nina is, as Azazel says, like a  little Bahamut, which means as chaotic as she can be, she’s far more controllable than the titular beast. She causes plenty of property damage, but she’s in no danger of bringing down the world.

After Azazel’s ill-conceived standoff and Nina’s attack, things slow down considerably, as both are carted away by Rita in Bacchus’ wagon. It’s as good a time as any for Nina to let Azazel (and us) in on who and what exactly she is and how she got to be this way. Unlike other half-dragon children, she wasn’t able to transform easily.

Only when her heart raced from a cute guy does she transform, and then, exposively so. She treats it as a curse and a burden, which it most certainly is from her perspective, as she can’t even remember what she does while a dragon. That kind of loss of control probably isn’t that pleasant, to say the least.

After a half-hearted attempt to seduce Nina (by telling him if she can’t control herself, she should make love to him and let him try), he disappears, leaving Mugaro in Rita and Nina’s care.

Charioce, not totally believing Kaisar’s version of his relationship to Azazel, lets him live regardless since our favorite prettyboy saved the king’s life. Another familiar face is then introduced in the imprisoned Jeanne d’Arc, who won’t join Charioce’s crusade, and may just be the mother of Mugaro.

Then we learn where Azazel went off to: to find the headquarters of the organized demon army that’s itching to go to war with the humans. Azazel is only too happy to lead them in battle.

While there was more exposition and piece-moving than previous episodes, there was still the usual things to like about this Bahamut, not the least of which Nina turning into a dragon again, and her great reactions before and after she does (and her seiyu Morohoshi Sumire is knocking it out of the park). We’ll see if the cooler heads can make any progress with the extremists next week.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 03

Three weeks in, Nina continues to be the season’s MVP, as she lights up the screen with her ebullience. Hamsa puts the freeloader to good use taking the money of men who hope to best her in an arm wrestling match.

While this is going on, Bacchus is approached by the angel Sofiel, brought to Anatae on a mission from Gabriel herself to retrieve the boy we know as Mugaro. If Bacchus can find him, he’ll be welcomed back to Heaven.

Nina’s winning streak nearly ends when a handsome, reluctant young man wearing a hood gives her a run for her money. Still, she’s a dragon, and so summons the necessary reserves of strength to defeat him, going a little too far in the process

But when she lifts her blindfold, the look of him nearly has her transforming, and she has to flee into the carriage.

That night we get a lovely suppertime scene with Nina, Rita, Rocky, Hamsa and Bacchus enjoying a huge meal. Well, Nina enjoys most of it, proving that a body with her strength and speed requires a formidable amount of food to maintain. I don’t think I’ve ever been more entertained by the animation of Nina polishing off an ear of corn.

Nobody at the table is surprised by her ravenous appetite, but when she tells them a bit more of her story, she lets slip the name of her ‘bounty-hunting teacher’ who gave her her bracer: Favaro. Everyone’s reaction to this is priceless. I was surprised too, but it makes sense.

I also liked how when Rita said someone in Anatae knew Favaro better than her, Nina first suspects an old lover, only for that ‘old lover’, Kaisar, to come running towards them, looking desperately for Azazel.

Desperately, because King Charioce, frustrated that neither Orleans nor Onyx succeeded in nabbing the Rag Demon, has decided the next step is to put on a huge show of military force in the city square and start indescriminately torturing and slaughtering demons in order to lure the Rag Demon to them.

Kaisar isn’t at all okay with continuing to brutalize demons or gods, since he considers them friends (whether they do or not). But there’s little he can do; he’s already on thin ice with Charioce, along with one of the younger fellow knights.

As for the king’s plan, it works swimmingly: Azazel makes a dramatic entrance, perched above a tower. A battle is inevitable, but who will be involved? Nina and Kaisar are racing to the scene, and Mugaro looks poised to assist again if Azazel is on the ropes (which he probably will be, as he’s far from 100%).

And if Mugaro uses his power, there’s no doubt it will draw Sofiel to his location. Lots of different interests look ready to interweave. It ought to be quite a battle, as one would expect of Rage of Bahamut.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 02

How did Nina end up safely in Rita’s lab? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Not that I care; pairing the listless, sardonic Rita with the hyper, naive Nina is a great move. Rita’s assistant Rocky was fun too. But like last week, this episode of Virgin Soul ably juxtaposes moments of levity, comfort, and optimism with scenes of unspeakable horror, destruction, and dread.

First, the levity, comfort, and optimism: Nina is still crashing at Bacchus’ carriage with Hamsa, and in her letters to her mom back home we see she’s from a Dragon Village full of dragons in human form who transform into dragons when upset—or in Nina’s case, gets too excited over an attractive man. And there are a lot of those in Anatae.

Yet she insists to her mother that she’s just fine, and having a blast in bustling capital. The montage that accompanies her letter doesn’t seem to suggest otherwise; everyone she interacts with on a daily basis in the city seems to love Nina, and so they should.

Then the Rag Demon, AKA Azazel had to go rain on Nina’s parade, confronting her and demanding she join his cause as a kindred demon. Nina doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and in any case can’t actually look at his face too long lest she turn into a dragon, so it makes for a very interestingly staged discussion.

Azazel has little patience for Nina’s coyness and confusion, so he takes her to the hind end of the city, scattered with suffering, starving demons. Ever since Good ol’ King Charioce sacked the Demon capital Cocytus, the demons have been brought to the human world and sold into slavery.

Azzy is perhaps too zealous too soon (he fully deserves the flying arm punch Rita sends his way to rescue Nina), but I’m glad he puts a crack in Nina’s pristine view of her city life. She didn’t know anything about this horrible stuff because she never looked.

I’m not sure how likely Nina is going to suddenly join Azzy’s cause, which would require her to do the thing she least wants to do: be a dragon. But he provides her vital food for thought, and more importantly, she’s no longer completely oblivious to the very real and very unfortunate situation demons find themselves in.

Kaisar somehow ending up at the manor of some particularly awful aristocrats (who like to do all manner of awful things to demons they presumably buy) seems a bit convenient, like Nina ending up at Rita’s lab safe and sound, but again, I don’t mind. Kaisar and his Orleans Knights were dismissed from Rag Demon hunting after they failed Charioce for the last time. Maybe he was reassigned to security detail?

In any case, he walks in on Azazel killing the humans, and begs him to stop, because revenge will only lead to more hate, etc., etc. Even when Azazel tells him to actually take a second to look around at the despicable doings of the men he’s killing, Kaisar is firm in wanting to stop the killing first and foremost.

Azazel basically warns him to stay out of his way: he’s a human, after all, and humans are Azazel’s enemy. He hates them, and that hatred is as pure and deep as Kaisar’s chivalry.

Little does Kaisar know the king ordered him followed and watched, which leads to Azazel’s location being ascertained by the Onyx Soldiers who replaced the Orleans Knights in the hunt. It’s not a dragon rampage, but Azzy’s battle with the Onyx soldiers is another good one. When his ranged attacks fail against the soldiers’ armor, he goes with straight-up brute strength, delivering brutal blows and stabbing out eyes.

But the Onyx soldiers have the abilities appropriated/borrowed/stolen from the Gods, and they use those powers to bind Azazel. He’s saved by his mute companion Mugaro, a former slave himself, using a power that makes him seem like more of an angel than a demon, and sporting blue-and-red eyes in the process. When Onyx reports back about the kid with the powers, Charioce is intrigued. He believes he knows who Mugaro is.

Another strong, fantastic looking episode, sporting the show’s OP (another stylish, badass, metal affair) and ED (a super-cute 16-bit sidescroller featuring Nina and her entourage). Virgin Soul continues to be top-notch entertainment, with its new star Nina all but stealing the show. Honestly, if it keeps up at this clip, I won’t even mind if Favaro only shows up at the very end, Luke Skywalker-in-The Force Awakens-style.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 01

The age of man revering the gods has ended.

Bold, resonant words from a leader of humans invading and destroying the godly sanctuary of Temple Ark. That’s right, it’s not the gods and demons going at it, but humans, all hepped up on power they’re not supposed to possess. Now we’ve gotten to the good stuff…Shingeki no Bahamut has returned, and it’s just as lush, gorgeous, and engaging as I remember it.

Whither Favaro Leone? That’s one of many questions left unanswered in the season two premiere of Virgin Soul. Instead, we have a new heroine in Nina Drango, who is as adorable as she is tough as nails. She has superhuman strength, speed, and stores of energy, which not only make her very popular in the burgeoning Royal Capital of Anatae, but also give her the idea to take up some bounty hunter work, provided by Bacchus and Hamsa, who grudgingly allow her to crash there.

Nina also has an interesting little quirk that seems like just that at first: she’s extremely bashful around handsome men. And who’s more handsome than King Charioce XVII’s right-hand man Kaisar Lidfort? For chrissakes, he’s got better eyelashes than Nina. The two meet while both on the lookout for the “Rag Demon”, a wanted vigilante who seems to be in the business of freeing his fellow demons from bondage, and also bears a striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite fallen angel, Azazel.

The Rag Demon literally bumps into Nina, sending her flying through the air, and we’re treated to a steadicam shot of her appearing still as the world around her spins around and around and she realizes who it was who bumped into her.

The gorgeous setting is matched by even more masterful direction and camerawork, with lovely organic sweeps, zooms, pans, yaws, pitches POV shots…look, I’m not a cinematographer, okay? I don’t know all the jargon. But I know what’s good, and this is very very good stuff.

Turns out, that little quirk of Nina turns out to be much more than that. Climbing to the top of a tower inspired by the Canpanièl de San Marco in Venice, she comes under attack from the city’s dragon knights, beleiving her to be in cahoots with the Rag Demon. She falls and is caught by Azazel, and her close proximity to him finally causes her to blow: streaking through the sky in a pink flare that lands in a building, then emerging…as a really cute, precocious, cool-looking red dragon.

The city defenses give her a fight, but she’s ready for one, and gives as good as she gets in a virtuoso display of destruction. Even the mecha-like giant fighting suits the humans have are little match for her power, which is just as considerable in dragonform as it was when she was in the form of a 16-year-old girl trying to make it in the city to support her mom back home.

The carnage and destruction continues, until suddenly everything goes quiet and white, and Nina wakes up on an operating table, fan blades spinning above her, and none other than Rita at her bedside, sporting her characteristically ambiguous expression. Bored, tired, unimpressed? Probably none of the above; Rita seems aware she’s got herself a rare specimen on her hands: a girl who can become a dragon.

As for the illustrious and well-loved King of Anatae, Lord Charioce XVII: he is the man we see in the beginning, raiding a sanctuary of the gods and no doubt pillaging divine tech, ignoring warnings that humans will never be able to control such power. Nina, in her naivete, goes along with her fellow citizens in voicing her gratitude for the king.

There’s lots of juicy meat to sink our teeth into in this new Shingeki no Bahamut. Familiar faces and places, an instantly rootable new heroine and a fantastic battle combine to get things off to an auspicious start.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 18

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This week Sorey & Co. finally make it to Pendrago, but not before Sorey meets with Emperor Doran of Rolance, who is sympathetic to Sorey’s cause because he’s been informed of the existence of malevolence, just as have all of his predecessors, by storytellers like Mayvin. Sorey even learns about Velvet Crowe, some of whose exploits we saw in the first season.

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While chatting with the emperor, who has decided to accompany Sorey to the capital should there be any problems with access, Rose is wondering what to do next. She’s done so much in the name of justice and righteousness, and yet she’s never seen the malevolence that is the true cause of the world’s ills, nor has she ever seen her “guardian angel” Dezel. She wants to rectify that.

To do so, Dezel tells her she must become the shepherd’s squire, as Alisha has done. Lailah goes over the pros and cons while everyone is en route to Pendrago, and while Sorey seems reluctant to tie his life to Rose’s (if she fails and he dies, she dies too), Rose is pretty adamant, and there’s never any doubt she’ll be Sorey’s squire.

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When she finally does, it’s pretty abrupt, and in the middle of the city’s main church where the malevolence is intense and focused around a dead dragon. It’s a nice transition from what Rose sees before her transformation to after, when she can not only see the malevolence oozing from the dragon, but Dezel and all of Sorey’s seraphim pals.

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When trying to purify the dragon on his own fails, Sorey pairs up with Rose, who takes on some of the malevolence flowing into him, and after some spirited synchronized yelling, and some tactical support from the seraphim, the blue flames overcome the red, the dragon is purified. The rains cease, the clouds part, and the sun returns to Pendrago. Not too tricky a mission, when all’s said and done.

Of course, the next crisis is just around the corner in a tornado-filled Ladylake, as Alisha reports to Sorey using her squire-telepathy skills. Rose is ready for her next mission as his squire, so they seem poised to head out immediately, having proven beyond doubt to the doubters that the shepherd’s power is not only real, but vital.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 01

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(Disclaimer: I have never played any of the Tales games; my RPG experience is limited to Final Fantasy and Skyrim. Therefore I have no knowledge of Zestiria, its story or its characters.)

Last week’s prologue started relatively upbeat but grew very dark and sinister and apocalyptic very quickly. This week’s episode isn’t quite done torturing Princess Alisha, who faces grief, loneliness, a sea of bugs (which a cute little familiar she apparently can’t sense tries to help keep away), and then upside-down water she drops out of, as if passing from one world to another.

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I love the Alice in Wonderland sense of awe and, well, wonder in Zestiria’s many imposingly beautiful-vista money shots. Alisha gets a brief respite on a sunlit grassy cliff beside a dramatic waterfall. She inadvertently activates a pillar that reveals an entrance to another ruin behind that waterfall, and her lonely quest continues.

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Meanwhile, good friends Sorey and Mikleo have a hobby much like Alisha and her friends of yore: exploring and investigating ruins. On this day they discover what they believe to be the mythical capital of Seraphim, breathtakingly perched off the face of a mountain. At this point, it’s pretty clear these two and Alisha are on opposite sides of this ruin, and will ultimately meet at some point.

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The thing is, Mikleo isn’t human, and Sorey a human raised by Mikleo’s kind, while Alisha is human. That doesn’t stop Sorey from having the same book Alisha has, and the same thirst for ancient knowledge about the Seraphim who foster him.

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Their aged master warned them not to stray too far into the ruins, but curiosity gets the best of the lads, who end up being attacked by lightning that seems to be summoned by the ruins themselves as a defense system. But their only escape from the lightning is to go inside the ruins, where a platform Alisha was standing on was obliterated by the same lightning.

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The ruin is a great RPG-style dungeon with multiple levels, obstacles, and hidden paths that are revealed with Mikleo’s magic. As predicted, Sorey and Mikleo do spot an unconscious Alisha and Sorey rushes to help, against Mikleo’s warnings to stay away from humans.

When Ali comes to, her first question is whether Sorey is “The Shepherd,” and with that, the party swells to three, and she’s not alone anymore. But it’s also clear she’s far she was in the smoke-and-flame-wreathed prologue, down (or up) the proverbial rabbit hole; a stranger in a strange land; etc.

I’m eager to see who she fares here, with the two who will become her quest companions, as well as the assembling of the rest of the colorful party we see in the OP and ED. So far, it’s a fun, gorgeous, richly-detailed show that is still managing not to bury me in lore or jargon.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 14

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It stood to reason Subaru wouldn’t quickly or easily fix things with Emilia, or even determine how. As disheartening proof, Emilia doesn’t so much as appear this week. Her absence creates a yawning void considering where she and Subaru left things. Still, I had no idea things would get so much worse so quickly. And yet they do: Re:Zero lets the shit fly free into a very big fan, and nobody comes out clean.

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What’s devastating about what transpires centers on some intentionally harsh words from Felix that sort of echo what Julius had to say (and what he risked his career and chivalry to try to teach Subie, to no avail): Even if Subaru had a plan, even if he involved himself, even if he risked everything to try to do something to protect Emilia, it wouldn’t matter.

That’s how out of his element he is: those who would be his enemies (or at least the political rivals of Emilia) are doing their utmost to simply keep Subaru out of it, not because they’re worried he’d make things worse, but because he’d only end up dead, accomplishing nothing.

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Subie being Subie, he respectfully dismisses stern warnings from both Crusch (who if nothing else was a decent host) and Felix (who had been healing his gate) and heads back home to Roswaal Mathers’ domain as soon as he hears of reports of suspicious movement near the mansion.

The one bright light in the yawning abyss this week was Rem, staying by Subaru’s side no matter how pathetic he gets (indeed, largely because he’s pathetic), not due to any contracts or obligations or honor, but simply because she wants to.

We know what that means even if Subaru isn’t particularly receptive to it: Rem cares about him, at least as much as he cares about Emilia, and Rem won’t leave his side. Her “save a tiny bit of that for me”, talking about his feelings for Emilia, might be the saddest line of the show so far. She deserves so much more than a tiny bit.

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But as far as she takes him, even Rem can’t find it in her to take Subaru to whatever is going in the Mathers lands. Instead, she leaves for the mansion in the night, leaving a note pleading Subaru to heed her words: Stay behind; wait for her return; trust in her.

He can’t. He uses every means at his disposal to get closer and closer to the place no one wants him anywhere near for his own good. He takes Rem’s note as another endorsement of the “Subaru can’t do anything” narrative.

When he’s running in the dark and becomes suddenly surrounded by a circle of sinister-looking mages who don’t even bother to kill him before racing off, it’s clear that Yup, he can’t do anything…not about this.

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In case he didn’t get the message there, he finally arrives at the village near the mansion, and it’s the site of a massacre of men, women, and children. Was this the result of the intense public prejudice against Emilia’s half-elf lineage, which she barely ever mentioned to Subaru? Was it the work of those mages? I don’t know, but I’ll admit the sight shocked me.

But the village was nothing compared to Subaru entering the Mathers estate, seeing a bloody flail, and then coming upon the lifeless, bloodied body of Rem, as she recites her letter to him. I can’t believe Rem is dead any more than Subaru wants to, and though I wouldn’t put it past Re:Zero to make these myriad tragedies stick, one can’t discount the fact Subaru can do something no one around him knows he can do: Die, and by doing so, blow up everything that’s transpired to this point.

Will he do that? If he does Return by Death, where and when does he wake up, and what the hell can he do to prevent this? As for if he doesn’t RbD, well…I don’t particularly want to think about that.

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