Dororo – 24 (Fin) – Proof of Existence, Proof of Humanity

In the end, the brothers Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru only had to endure one last thing: the missteps of their parents. When Hyakkimaru was born, Daigo decided to sacrifice him to the demons. Nui would have Tahoumaru later, but she never stopped loving her firstborn, and that ate at her second in its own way. Even Mutsu and Hyougou couldn’t replace the love of a mother that he always lacked.

As they continue their swordfight in the castle, Tahoumaru goes on about how the likes of Hyakkimaru doesn’t belong within the walls, and that unlike the post where Mutsu and Hyougou marked their heights over the years, there’s nothing there to prove his existence. This is ironic, as the castle itself is burning and crumbling around them, and all of that physical proof Tahoumaru values so along with it.

But even though Tahoumaru still has his human eyes, Hyakkimaru can still see the void in his brother’s heart; the same sense of lacking something as himself. They are no different, and despite their crazed fighting and bizarre modifications, they are both humans who have simply forgotten themselves, lashing out to fill those voids.

As Nui and Jukai enter the castle to try to stop the fighting, Hyakkimaru ends things on his own, not by killing Tahoumaru, but by sparing him. The demon eyes in his head still burn even after Tahoumaru accepts defeat, but he rips them out and offers them to their rightful owner. Hyakkimaru’s false eyes are ejected and his human eyes restored.

As a mass of demonic crystal surges with anger, the castle starts to come down, but both Nui and Jukai arrive in time to save him from being crushed by burning debris. He plunges his swords into the crystal mass, apparently exorcising the residual evil energy, but that also completes the destruction of the temple literally kept up by the power of those now-forsaken demons.

Jukai, Nui and Tahoumaru do not escape, but perish in the flames, while Dororo finds Hyakkimaru and the two climb up the well Nui used to gain access. Hyakkimaru sees Dororo with his own eyes for the first time and calls him—calls her—pretty, which really throws Dororo off. Biwamaru, who helped get them out of the well, stands with the two as they watch Daigo’s castle and surrounding lands burn in a purifying fire.

Once the flames recede and the smoke clears, Dororo is back in the village of survivors and invalids led by a few able-bodied individuals, including those he suggested start to live life without depending on samurai, using money instead of swords to maintain that life.

When they ask where that money will come from, Dororo says he’s got it covered. Dororo has decided, then, what to do with that fortune: use it to realize a community that runs itself, without fealty to some stern-faced lord.

As for the lord, Daigo is not quite ready to give up his quest to restore his lands to prosperity, no matter how many people, including Hyakkimaru again, he has to sacrifice to the demons in a new pact. That is, until Hyakkimaru takes a sword and instead of plunging it into Daigo’s back, pierces his helmet instead.

The helmet is a powerful symbol of Daigo’s status as something other than a mere human, so its destruction is a symbol of Hyakkimaru’s hope his father will live on as a human, something he too plans on doing. In the end, Daigo laments ever making the pact, as he now realizes he might have achieved prosperity simply by raising Hyakkimaru and letting him succeed him.

Bittersweetly, it’s not Happily Ever After for the duo of Dororo and Hyakkimaru. The two go their separate ways; Dororo to lead a new community in keeping with the legacy of her rebellious parents, and Hyakkimaru to learn how to walk the path of humanity after a lifetime of survival-and-revenge mode. With his new eyes, heart, and purpose in life, he has truly been reborn, and until he finds his way, it’s not safe for Dororo to be beside him.

However, the ending suggests that one day the two are reunited, as the young “boy” Dororo runs across a pier with a hopeful smile, he transforms into Dororo the older and more beautiful woman. At the end of the pier is a slightly older-looking Hyakkimaru, in all his human glory, welcoming her with a warm smile. It’s a shame a passing look is all we get, rather than an after-credits scene of the two conversing—but then again, perhaps their reunion is meant more symbolically, as something to which they both aspire.

In any case, both souls, once having lost and suffered so much, seem to be in a much better place, and have stepped out of the darkness and doubt and embraced their respective selves. While I wish we’d seen more of Dororo-as-a-leader, considering where we started, this was a logical and satisfying enough place to end.

Dororo – 23 – Chicks Fed by the Hen

Dororo, Nui, and Biwamaru can only watch as Hyakkimaru and Midoro battle the newly demon-possessed Tahoumaru, Hyougou and Mutsu. The latter two meet ignominious ends as Midoro lops Hyougou’s head off and kicks Mutsu to death, but Mutsu at least dies a human.

As the young foal finds and calms her mother, Nui laments her inability to calm either of her sons, as they run off fighting together. Hyakkimaru notably regains his arms, which bleed profusely as he grasps the blades that had up until only recently been his arms.

The three men who were chasing the foal agree it’s wrong to rely on Hyakkimaru’s parts being eaten by a demon – but neither they nor Nui are wrong in valuing an entire domain over one man.

As Lord Daigo abandons his castle and leads his troops to fight the advancing Asakura, Tahoumaru and Hyakkimaru turn the place into the venue of their final battle, setting the place ablaze in the process. Jukai also seems to have one last task to perform, perhaps depending on the outcome of the duel. As for the fighting itself and the dialogue between the brothers…it unfortunately grows repetitive and dull as it drags on.

As for Dororo and the three men who chased the foal, they all agree right then and there not to rely on the samurai (i.e. the strong) to take what they want out of live, but to rather acquire it with their own hands. If three men can get on board with that concept, rather than continuing to mooch on a demon pact (sorry Daigo, you did make the wrong choice) that only ever created only a very fragile prosperity, perhaps the rest of the domain can as well. One way or another, the lands of Daigo are going to change.

TenSura – 24 (Extra) – Conqueror Of Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goblin Slayer – 02 – Not a Man’s Man, but Maybe a Goblin to Goblins

This week begins from the perspective of a rose-haired farm girl who is going off to the city. She gets into a fight with her childhood friend, a boy who can’t go with her. Jump forward to the present, and the farm girl is a very buxom farm woman who prefers to sleep in the nude.

She’s friends with the Goblin Slayer, who rents a place to stay at the farm. He has a routine of inspecting the entire area for signs of goblins, keeping her and her dad uncle safe for no charge. He never removes his mask—not even for breakfast—but it’s clear the farm girl knows who’s behind it.

When they go into town, she can see that while she admires the Goblin Slayer a great deal, neither he nor his singular task of goblin slaying are particularly well-regarded. His fellow Silver-rank adventurers look down on his shoddy arms and armor and his weak chosen opponent, while the Porcelains wonder if he’s really worthy of Silver.

And yet, while they’re all jockeying for position to get the highest-paying or most dangerous quests, he waits until the end, when all the goblin-slaying requests remain unclaimed. The priestess is there too, and will stay by his side even though he refuses to go to the aid of another party of rookies.

Turns out those rookies come back alive, well, and victorious; it’s often just the roll of the dice out there. As for Goblin Slayer and his new companion, together they bring down an entire mountain goblin fortress. The priestess uses a new miracle, “Protection”, but to trap the goblins to choke and burn in the flames.

The Priestess doesn’t much like using the Earth Mother’s miracles for such heartless slaughter, but as the guild admin opines, the Goblin Slayer is doing something that needs to be done. There has to be someone out there culling the herds of the weakest rung of foes, or else they won’t be so weak for long. That makes him, and anyone who aids him, a net good for society, methods be damned.

The farmer’s daughter niece knows this, and also is simply glad her childhood friend is still by her side, even if he never takes off his mask. Her father uncle warns her not to get too involved with the guy, whom he believes “lost it” ever since their village was raided by goblins, introducing the GS’s motivation.

While certainly unglamorous, the GS’s adventures are known by at least one bard in a city, who tells the tale of how even after he saved the fair maiden from the goblin king, he left her to keep wandering the wilds the rest of his days, slaying and slaying and slaying some more goblins.

A tough-looking she-elf approaches the bard after a performance to ask if it’s all true, and he answers in the affirmative, letting her and her party (an old dude and some kind of lizard-man, also tough-looking) know where they can find him. Do they seek a fight with our tortured, single-minded slayer…or a team-up?

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 06

The third level, the “Nameless Forest” is a totally different animal than the ones that came before, both in design and purpose. First of all, it’s way trippier, as Shinbo creates a lush and textured wonderland inspired by the aesthetic of the illusory worlds witches created in Madoka.

These bizarre, whimsical surroundings make for a great backdrop as Hakuno, Saber and Rin attempt to find the Floor Master. According to Rin, the third level is the land of dreams where “ghosts” gather, ghosts being souls transferred into information by Moon Cell.

Rin also kinda answers my question from last week, in that Death Face is “something different” from the other ghosts,embodying a “different concept of death.” She also calls it a thousand-year-old legend, apparently unaware that Hakuno is that legend (or feigning ignorance for some reason).

Things get increasingly weird in terms of time and space, with Saber almost instinctively taking Hakuno’s hand to ensure they won’t become separated. Even so, with all off the multi-colored drawers, tanks containing thousands of playing cards, and most concerning, a preponderance of mushrooms, Hakuno eventually finds himself somewhere other than Saber’s side.

That place is in the presence of the Floor Master whom Hakuno says goodbye to in the episode’s cold open; we see his victory and ascent to the fourth level so we know it happens (or happened in the past); it’s a question of how.

This Master is a ghost named Alice, and this wonderland is where she’s been ever since a war that killed everyone else, and after her life of illness was ended by excruciating pain caused by adults in a hospital.

Alice wants nothing more than to have someone like Hakuno to play with forever and ever. Quite suddenly, Hakuno “snaps out of it” and is once again in Saber and Rin’s presence. A vision.

Rin and Hakuno each have one more vision while in the midst of the mushrooms – both involving Amari Misao, their “classmate” in “high school.”

If ghosts are reproductions of people’s states at the moment of death, Amari’s regrets come through strong and clear; both her insufficient strength (which Rin can sense) and when she tried to seek the week to defeat her enemies, only to find there was no one weaker than her.

Having returned from their visions, Hakuno and Rin find signs of a battle, and Saber goes after a shambling, scissors-shooting construction of various objects as if it were like any other opponent. She manages to slash it in two, but the moment she does she and the other two are instantly transported all the way back to where they started, next to the ladder that brought them there. Even time has seemingly reverted.

Rin surmises this is the work of the Noble Phantasm known as “Nursery Rhyme”, which is being used to ensure they keep repeating the same day forever. With such a power, in such a place, being wielded with such a character as the Alice we met, it’s pretty obvious we’re dealing with Caster. Swords and bullets aren’t going to do the trick this time.

Attack on Titan – 30

In true Attack on Titan momentum-killing fashion, we cut away from Titan-Ymir’s impending brawl with the other Titans to the fateful night Krista and Ymir shared back during Winter Training. There, it wasn’t Titans that threatened their lives, but the freezing cold of the blizzard they found themselves caught in.

Krista is determined to drag their injured comrade Daz back with them, but he’s half-dead already, and he’s slowing them down so much they may all freeze before returning to base. No, Ymir doesn’t think Krista is trying to save Daz. She thinks she’s trying to end her own life and pass it off as heroism.

In a flashback within the flashback, we learn why, and the root of Ymir’s interest in Krista: she learned that Krista was the illegitimate child of a noble, and thus ineligible to succeed him. Rather than just killing her, they changed her name and forced her into the cadets. Considering Krista a kind of kindred spirit, Ymir doesn’t think Krista should make the people who cast her aside happy by dying just yet.

As the flash indicates, Ymir transforms into a Titan to carry Daz back to base, having conveniently buried Krista in the snow. By the time Krista returns to base on her own, she’s stunned to find Ymir and an alive Daz beat her there. She asks Ymir how the hell it’s possible, and Ymir tells her…but only if she keeps an important promise.

Back in the present, it would seem that Krista either Ymir’s secret, after being plied with wine by Ymir shortly after learning the news. As it happens, Reiner and Bertholdt’s friend was killed by Titan-Ymir, so for a moment Reiner takes his blind rage out on Krista’s slender leg, before pleading ignorance of Ymir’s secret form.

Meanwhile, Titan-Ymir is kicking ass, but in her efforts to keep the tower from falling, is at a distinct disadvantage. You can’t play offense and defense at the same time, and noticing Ymir’s attempted heroics, insists that Ymir not die here, and instead tear the dang tower down, which she does. After that, everyone grabs Ymir’s hair and she flies them to safety.

“Safety” being out of range of the crumbling tower, but once all the stunned Titans get back up, they find themselves sitting ducks. There’s a horrifying oment when a Titan confronts Krista and goes for her head, but just then, Mikasa blazes in to take the beast down.

The cavalry has arrived, and their arrival brings a huge jolt of adrenaline to what had become an increasingly hopeless scenario. Eren even manages to sneak in “his first kill”, though I assume he’s talking “as a scout”, as he’s killed plenty as a Titan.

Once the remaining Titans are mopped up, everyone turns to Ymir, who has returned to human form, but is in rough shape. Krista talks hold of her and fulfills her promise, telling Ymir her true name: Historia. Then Ymir closes her eyes and smiles.

While I’m not left 100% sure this means Ymir is dead, with missing limbs, and a chest wound, she’s certainly not fighting anytime soon. Still, it was another emotional journey that deepens two more scouts, even as it seemingly takes one of them away.

Ymir clearly isn’t a saint (from the looks of what she did to Reiner’s village) but she’s not quite the devil, either. She decided long ago she’d go her own way, and that way included supporting Krista whenever she could, even at the cost of her life.

And Krista, who never made that deep of an impression in the first season (though I briefly mistook her, not Annie, being the Female Titan) really comes to life, both through her backstory and the passion she exudes. That character work makes this a solid outing, despite not touching on any of the show’s other, arguably larger extant mysteries.

Attack on Titan – 29

Titan, you can only zoom in on the pained-looking eyes at some one so many times before I start thinking to my self well, she’s definitely hiding something, and in this show, ‘hiding something’ usually means ‘they’re a Titan’.

And so it’s the case with Ymir, who laughs about Conny’s report on his village a bit too much; specifically the part where the fallen Titan on his house reminded him of his mom.

But before her Ymir’s big telegraphed reveal, she, Krista, and the other gear-less rookies play a tense waiting game once the Titans show up.

The elite scouts show off their stuff, but considering the Beast Titan is arranging this siege, watching them exert so much steel, gas, and energy to what will likely be the first of many waves was a bit disheartening.

Not that the scouts have any choice but to fight, mind you—A., it’s their duty; B., they’re totally surrounded.

Inevitably, the Titans get in the castle, and the few moments before Reiner opens a cellar door to reveal a particularly creepy one are absolutely dripping with tension and dread. It’s so quiet down there, but as most Titans don’t speak, silence doesn’t mean safety.

The rookies make use of what they have—a pitchfork, an old cannon, scrap wood—to kill this Titan, but a second one shows up, one that gives Reiner a vicious arm wound before he picks him up and places him in a window so Ymir can kick him out.

Krista rips up her skirt to make Reiner bandages and a sling, and he contradicts Ymir’s claim he’s not interested in girls when he thinks “gotta marry her” (Krista, not Ymir).

But more distressingly, they’re just about out of effective makeshift weapons, and the barricade for the door into the castle seems laughably flimsy against the onslaught of Titans outside.

Those Titans just keep coming, and when the Beast tosses some horses and rocks at the castle towers, two of the four scouts are killed instantly. It turns out they were the very, very lucky ones. Titan goes Full Sadist in depicting the visceral demise of the final two elite scouts, both of them, by the end, reduced to crying and screaming like young children before being disembowled and devoured.

All the one poor guy hopes for before the end is to have a drink from the bottle of booze he found, but to add insult to fatal injury, Krista used it all up disinfecting Reiner’s wound. Titan doesn’t just drive the knife in and twist it, it pulls the knife back out, then drives it back in, twists again, then drops an anvil on you for good measure. Brutal.

In the face of all that casual brutality, the arrival of dozens more Titans, and the fact the tower they’re standing on will certainly crumble and fall within minutes it’s kind of amazing that none of the rookies want to give up yet, although Krista specifically wants weapons so she can die in battle like the four scouts. Ymir doesn’t like that attitude, so she decides: she’ll be the weapon.

She takes Conny’s dagger and leaps off the tower, confusing everyone (except Reiner, who found it odd Ymir could read the language on the canned herring label), then transforming into a wild-looking Titan. The cavalry didn’t come from without for this group of rookies, but from within. But will she be enough?

It’s another strong outing from Attack on Titan to close out its first quarter, and it’s a close call between this and the Sasha episode for best episode so far. This week the claustrophobic pressure was kept up by remaining at the castle and only at the castle for the entire duration; no cuts to see what was going on elsewhere.

That extra focus, and the increased horror elements made this a must-watch, even if there were times when it was hard to watch.

Attack on Titan – 28

Conny’s village is full of questions. If the Titans attacked, why is there no blood? If the villagers evacuated, why did they leave all their horses? And what’s with the emaciated Titan on top of Conny’s house? Why did he hear it say “Welcome home?” There are all intriguing mysteries on top of the ones we already have, but the squad has to keep moving, and Conny has to forget about what may or may not have happened to his family and continue his duty.

Krista and Ymir, like Conny, must feel pretty vulnerable without their battle gear, but they’ll simply have to trust that the soldiers around them will keep them safe. Instead of fighting, Krista & Co. will be called upon to bear witness and send reports. Krista is fine with staying, and feels bad that she’s made Ymir join the scouts, but Ymir insists she’s here “for herself and nothing else.” Another Titan in hiding, perhaps?

This is often a creepy show, what with all the bizarre-looking naked humanoids running around eating people, but Titan manages to up that creep-factor not with Titans, but with a lack of them, or anything at all. Two units travel in the pitch black darkness, not knowing what could be just out of range of their light. Turns out, it’s another unit also looking for the gap in Wall Rose…but neither unit actually found one. What exactly is going on here?

Eren & Co. finally reach Ehrmich District, and Levi makes sure Pastor Nick gets a good long look at the faces of the masses of people and families being displaced due to the wall falling. It seems to work, at least a little, as after being harangued again by Hange, he finally gives up one name: Krista Lenz—who he and his order were instructed to monitor, and who may “know the truths which even we cannot perceive.”

Hange believes that Eren may be able to repair the wall breaches…with hardened Titan skin, of the same type that didn’t evaporate after Annie returned to human form. Sasha also re-joins her comrades.

Krista, Ymir, & Co. end up spending the night in an abandoned castle none of them knew about until the moon came out. To their misfortune, a hoard of Titans besieges them, the first instance of Titan night-fighting. It may well have something to do with the fact this is the same group that hangs around the Beast Titan…maybe he trained them?

In any case, Ymir looks shiftier than ever, but she and Krista can only sit back with the other rookies and hope the pros get the job done. Meanwhile, Hange mentions an abandoned castle which I assume is the same one here, and heads there with Eren & Co.

KonoSuba – 05

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I’m compelled to borrow my illustrious colleague Oigakkosan’s “My Goodness!”, as there’s so much good stuff to unpack in this latest  KonoSuba (the first episode I’m actually watching on time!).

First, as Kazuma is lamenting how differently the reality of his dream of cutting it up in an awesome fantasy world has turned out to be, Aqua seems to pick up on that frustration by requesting the party strike out on a new quest. The thing is, she also proves his point, because the main reason she wants a quest is money: she’s tired of working part time in the market and being in debt, not of the fact she’s not on a heroic odyssey.

Fortune would seem to smile on Aqua as she discovers a quest that is right up her water goddess’ alley: lake purification, with a chance of scattered alligators. For that latter bit, she intends to depend on Kazuma and the others, which is when Kazuma borrows from his past world by suggesting Aqua perform the purification from within a sturdy cage (a la shark researchers).

Two problems: transporting her in said cage really makes it look, as she puts it, like some rare beast taken away to be sold. And once she’s been dunked in the lake, where nothing of note happens for hours she likens the sensation to being a tea bag steeping. These are wonderful metaphors borne of a very bizarre and specific situation.

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Of course, those alligators do eventually arrive, but Kazuma, Megumin, and Darkness do nothing in response, part bored into a state of apathy, part confident the cage will hold, requiring no action from them. The cage does hold, the lake is purified, the alligators withdraw, and Aqua completes the quest all but single-handedly…

…but there’s a cost: her nerve. She’s profoundly traumatized by two-plus-hours of being harassed by the beasts as she frantically accelerated her purification. So traumatized, in fact, that she won’t leave the cage even when it’s time to do so, deeming the world “too scary” to return to just yet.

I tellya, if I’d experienced what she had for as long as she had, I’d probably be in a similar state!

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Thankfully, that state doesn’t magically disappear in the second half of the episode, 4-koma anime-style. The episode not only remembers it, but adds a fantastic new variable to the equation: the gallant Mitsurugi Kyouya, who is a veritable wellspring of fantasy tropes KonoSuba puts thoroughly through the wringer, to my surprise and delight.

Kyouya, like Kazuma, died (likely in a less hilarious fashion, though we don’t learn that), and was sent to this world by Aqua with her blessing and the mission to defeat the Devil King. Rather than bring Aqua along with him, Kyouya requested Gram, the Cursed Blade that has made him a very rich and powerful adventurer, complete with fancy armor, jewelry, and a couple of loyal groupies constantly bickering over him.

You don’t get any more cliche’d than Kyouya’s kind, but the show squeezes a lot more out of Kyouya than I expected, turning lemons into delicious lemonade. That’s because Kyouya happens to spot his goddess and muse Aqua-sama being paraded in the streets in a horse-drawn cage, which is decidedly not where he thought he’d see her, ever.

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What follows then, is a glorious clash of Kyouya and Kazuma, or rather Kazuma’s party. While Aqua snaps out of her funk when Kyouya reminds her that she is, in fact, a goddess, she wants nothing else to do with the cat. None of Kazuma’s girls do! It’s as if they’re inoculated against the fantasy hero archetype. More than that; they’re allergic to him!

When faced with his arrogance and presumptuousness for just a couple minutes, Aqua just thinks something’s off about the guy; Megumin thinks he’s rude and wants to explode him, and he evokes a rare and undesirable urge in Darkness that flies in the face of her usual instincts: she wants to hit him. She must realize that if she were in Kyouya’s party she’d never have her masochistic desires properly addressed.

Pissing them all off even more is that Kyouya won’t drop the matter and let Kazuma pass. Instead, he challenges Kazuma to a duel, one Kazuma accepts, starts, and ends in the space of a few seconds, with a few lightning-quick yet fluid moments, Kyouya is on his back.

Kazuma’s inner monologue predicted a duel would eventually take place, but I’m so used to that being a bad thing, that fact that Kazuma wasn’t the underdog here didn’t occur to me until he Stole Gram right out of Kyouya’s hands and bonked him on the head with it (great sound effect on that).

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Then, when his two groupies show up to avenge him, Kazuma continues to fly in the fact of convention by threatening to steal their panties if they press him further, really turning the sleeze up to 11 until the girls are running away crying. It’s harsh, but Kazuma didn’t approach them or their honey; they approached him. Mess with the perverted bull, you get the perverted horns.

One would think Kyouya Team would have learned its lesson, but Kyouya can’t help but be the valiant knight standing up against “Kazuma the Brute”, as he’s known in some circles for his inappropriate conduct with girls. He also seeks to “rescue” his goddess from Kazuma’s clutches, but Aqua responds to his second offer by cold-cocking him, delivering on her earlier vow to sock him if she saw him again.

But even if Kyouya is eminently punchable, Aqua’s violence isn’t senseless, it’s justified. She was looking forward to a 300,000-Eris reward for purifying the lake, but the guild deducted 200,000 for “cage repair” – a cage rendered useless when Kyouya prized the bars. Aqua also shows off her sneaky-playful shrewdness by demanding not 200K, but 300K from Kyouya, which he pays her on the spot.

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Now that she’s rolling in cash, Aqua treats herself to a feast. And as if Kyouya hadn’t been stomped on enough, when he asks for his cursed sword Gram back, Kazuma informs him that he doesn’t have it; he sold it! That’s right; “our” hero didn’t ever even want the damn thing, even though it was part of his original dreams.

I’d like to think getting a good look at the “pathetic cheat” Kyouya has changed his thinking a bit on whether or not things have turned out bad. I mean, sure, he still wants to take on the Devil King, but there are worse things than having three not unattractive women by your side, not fighting over you at all! Plus, think of what all that Gram cash could buy. He could snatch up the stables and convert them into luxury lofts, with bidets and a pot-filler…and a trash compactor!

As for Aqua’s true identity being revealed…well, it isn’t, because Megumin and Darkness simply don’t believe her (having food on her face couldn’t have helped her credibility any). The matter is interrupted by another “emergency”, but at this point I know better; there’s no real emergency. Just the Dullahan, who’s really miffed they haven’t come by his place yet. This guy’s reminding me more of the Black Knight all the time…

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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Attack on Titan – 15

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Eren’s first big mission as a newly-minted member of the Scout Regiment is…cleaning a dusty old castle that once served as the Regiment’s HQ. It’s not glamorous, but it is a good opportunity for him to meet his new comrades, among them Petra, Oulo, Eld, and other people with funny names.

But despite those funny names, they’re all elite soldiers with dozens of Titan kills and perhaps hundreds of assists between them. Whatever his status is here (and it’s not high), he intends to soak up as much as he can from these veterans of his calling.

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After dinner, those veterans clear out when Eren shows curiosity in Hange Zoe’s activities experimenting on Titans. Hange ends up talking to Eren the entire night before she’s to perform some tests on him to get a better idea of what the regiment has to work with. She also proves to be the most knowledgeable person on the Titans either he or we have yet encountered.

Not only that, Hange is a very odd duck in a regiment full of ’em, but there’s a method to her madness. As she tells Eren, she enlisted and was once driven solely by hatred for humanity’s “mortal enemy,” but the closer she got to the Titans, and the more she learned about them, the more the hate faded and the desire to learn still more grew. They may be a voracious plague on mankind, but that doesn’t change the fact that Titans are inscrutable, wondrous creatures.

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Part of that wonder is derived from the fact that Titans are so light for their size, which makes Hange consider the possibility that they way humans perceive Titans and the way Titans really are may be two completely different things. The show has been so extremely stingy with solid info on the Titans, so theories of this nature burnish their mystique.

Fear and rage haven’t gotten humans far, so she has always strove to study them from a different perspective, and with that has come an ungrudging admiration of and affection for her “subjects”. I never thought Titans could be portrayed with something like compassion, but Hange’s interaction with them does just that.

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So when, the morning after the whole night she talked Eren’s ear off, those subjects, named Sonny and Bean, are discovered having been murdered, she’s genuinely devastated and flips out. Meanwhile, Erwin seems to have a plan that diverges from the “company line”, which Mike has sniffed out. No doubt Eren is integral to that plan, whatever it consists of.

Eren has learned in no time at all that he’s in a strange place full of intrigue among strange people who want to use him for one reason or another. He’s passed the Don’t-Get-Eaten-By-A-Titan Test, but surviving in a swirling sea of eccentric, erratic, and ambitious personalities is a whole new ballgame.

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Ushio to Tora – 19

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Big change of gears this week, as the focus shifts from the women in Ushio’s life back to Ushio and Tora, who waste no time exploring the suspicious-looking cave with a temple and a really nasty demonic aura all about it. As the very creepy youkai Tokisaka informs them, this is where a piece of Hakumen no Mono landed when he retreated many centuries ago when humans and youkai joined forces to fight it. But it’s not dead, only dormant.

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U and T have a lot more questions, but rather then tell them the whole story, Tokisaka decides to send them back in time 2,200 years to the village where it all began. There, outside the castle walls, they meet a young Jiemei, who bares more than a slight resemblance to Mayuko (likely with good reason).

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They save her from youkai, but because she can’t see Tora, she thanks only Ushio, and invites him to her house. It’s a nice house, warm and loving and happy…but there’s also a fair amount of sadness to it, both the fact Jeimei’s clothes are rather tatty, and the house is outside the walls.

Turns out Jeimei’s father was once the court priest and swordsmith, but he and the family were cast out when a distant relative tried to assassinate the king. Her father and brother Giryou (whom Ushio also met while within the Beast Spear) are eager to forge a divine sword that will grant them access back into the castle.

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When elbow grease doesn’t do the trick, Giryou suggests they use dark arts in the forging process, and hey presto, they churn out one fine-looking sword. Turns out Hakumen no Mono has been in the castle all this time, disguised as nine concubines. His transformation is, shall we say, extremely disturbing and creepy? Because it was, as is his voice.

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Hakumen lays utter waste to the court and all who charge him with their divine weapons, including Jeimei and Giryou’s father. Then their mother gets the top half of her body blown off by Hakky’s ice breath. In a rage, Ushio rushes him with a spear, but not the spear we’re used to seeing him wield. That’s because the Beast Spear hasn’t been forged yet. Also, he seems paralyzed by the evil eye of the great messed-up looking beast.

While it’s a bit odd for Ushio to suddenly end up going back in time to relive history, it’s certainly better than a straight narration. It’s also interesting to see Jeimei and Giryou at this early stage, and a glimpse of the happy, simple lives they led before dark arts, fate, or both, thrust them onto far different paths, not to mention see Hakumen no Mono in all his terrifying glory.

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