The Eminence in Shadow – 04 – World of Shadow

When Alexia awakens to find herself chained to a bed in a cell with a failed demon experiment sulking in the corner, she doesn’t panic. When a bone-stock mad scientist character comes in to draw blood, she doesn’t panic. Hanazawa Kana nails Alexia’s detached calm and faux sympathy for this lunatic.

Cid is also captive, since he’s the prime suspect in Alexia’s abduction. Internally, he’s not concerned about the physical torture he’s enduring, but doesn’t want his two interrogators to “out-unshine” him as Background Character A, so he responds as an NPC would: begging for his life.

Five days pass, and he says nothing, and under Zenon’s suggestion, Alexia’s sister Iris has him released, but followed. His tail is soon taken out by Alpha, and we learn from Cid that members of Shadow Garden have been paying him periodic visits to indulge him in the “game” he’s playing.

…Except it’s not a game for them. I couldn’t tell you why Alpha positions herself like she’s about to make out with Cid, but she announces that the Garden is planning a major op to rid the city of Diabolos.

Cid also spent all the money Alexia paid him to deck his place out like an Eminence Boss. When Beta’s face lights up at the sight of it and the sound of Cid doing his chunibyou voice, I have to admit, I lol’d!

But it’s not that Beta isn’t taking this seriously, just that she and her comrades are so powerful that she can afford to be more nonchalant, and revel in, say, quickly recording events as they unfold, like when Cid serves as the vanguard for the op and takes out the knights who tortured him.

Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and 110 other members of Shadow Garden are going all over the place raiding all the hideouts of the Fenrir Sect of the cult. When the Mad Scientist learns of these raids, he’s forced to accelerate his plans and inject his failed demon experiment with a prototype serum.

Alexia lazily warns him not to do that as she “has a bad feeling” about it, and sure enough, the massive berserk demon he creates kills him instantly. However, it doesn’t kill Alexia, it frees her. She grabs a sword and makes for the sewers to escape, but is stopped…by her sword instructor and betrothed, Zenon.

Like Alexia, I kinda knew there was something off about him; now we know, he’s a member of Diabolos. And while he has a little fun out-fencing her and punching her into the sewage, that fun doesn’t last long, as Cid emerges from the shadows in purest black, ready to hunt—and perhaps save his fake girlfriend as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 03 – Background Boyfriend

On their own initiative, Cid’s Shadow Garden one day decided they needed to leave him and spread out to fight against the Cult of Diablos, but he suspects they grew out of playing along with him and set themselves free.

Whatever the truth is (and it sure seems like the cult is real and they’ve gone out to fight them in his name until he’s old enough to join them) he’s not that bothered by being alone; such is the life of one who strives to become … The Eminence in Shadow.

It also sure looks like he threw himself into Truck-kun while trying to will magic into being, so there’s that!

Cid ends up attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights like his far more famous and popular sister, but blending in will do just fine for him. He even finds himself two perfect best mates for Background Student A: Skel and Po, and fits right between them in terms of both height and unattractiveness.

When Cid loses a bet to his two friends, he must confess to the most sought-after-girl in school: Second Princess Alexia Midgar (Hanazawa Kana), who has become famous for her curt yet brutal rejections of the most elite male suitors. But where they failed, Cid succeeds … quite by accident!

Cid puts on an act to appear as loathsome and pathetic, but little did he know Alexia was waiting for a guy like him to come around, and accepts his offer. She also learns that he’s into fencing, and uses her royal clout to get him into the elite Section One class … where Cid learns that her fencing style is well-studied and practiced, but bland and utterly unexceptional.

Did I mention that like Cid, Alexia’s older sister is far more accomplished and revered? That doesn’t come up, but it’s clear from their chemistry that these two are used to toiling in the shadows. That may sound strange considering Alexia is the most popular girl at school, but compared to the greatest dark knight in the kingdom, she’s totally in a shadow.

She’s also betrothed to their fencing instructor, Zenon-sensei, whom she hates. Hanazawa Kana brings an interesting dimensionality to Alexia. She is at times incredibly cynical and even has a sadistic side, making Cid into her dog—something Cid’s all too willing to do in exchange for that sweet sweet Eminence seed money.

Cid is handsomely compensated in exchange for being a bit of unremarkable eye candy Alexia can use to try to make Zenon give up on marrying her, but two weeks pass and not much progress is made. That said, he and Alexia grow a bit closer in spite of their dispassionate relationship of convenience. Alexia prefers the company of people with flaws like him (or like the person he’s posing as).

At the same time, I wonder if she can somehow sense that there’s a lot more to him beneath the surface Cid is showing her. While on a train at sundown, she is vexed by the fact she can’t take her eyes off his fencing style, even though it’s just as ordinary as hers.

It’s apparent Alexia hates her style, and possibly herself, so when Cid challenges her by saying he likes her fencing style, and would be pissed if anyone dissed the things he likes, she draws a sword on him. When he doesn’t flinch or take back his words, she alights from the train with a final-sounding sayonara.

The next day, Cid and his pals are surrounded by knights who inform him that Alexia never came home last night, kidnapping is suspected, and the last person reported to be with her before she vanished was Cid. Fate seems to be pushing Background Character A into the foreground, and the mystery of what happened to Alexia is an enticing one to ponder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 08 – Into the Briar Patch

Anya’s adventures at Eden are placed on hold this week as the adults navigate various difficulties. Miss Handler warns Twilight that the enemy is stepping up their game, which is to say they’re intensifying their investigation of suspected spies and rounding them up wherever they are, including at city hall where Yor works.

Yor’s brother Yuri, whom she believes is working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has actually been working as a Second Lieutenant with the State Security Service, AKA Secret Police for about the same amount of time Yor and Loid have been married.

Just like Yor’s co-workers, the SSS’s chief thinks he’s adorable, but like Yor, he’s definitely got a mean streak, as we see when he interrogates Yor’s boss after he’s caught passing documents to an enemy agent. Let us just revel in the delicious fact that both Briar siblings secret unpleasant jobs they are keeping from one another.

But for as competent as Yuri is, all logic and moderation go out the window where his sister is concerned. He is obsessed with her, to the point he likes how his ribs still hurt after she broke them while hugging him as a child. He also brings what looks like four dozen red roses to his first time meeting Your’s new husband.

Loid knows that close relationships like family can cause trip-ups, so he and Yor have practiced being a lovey-dovey couple…to an extent. In a hilarious sequence, Yuri and Loid and Yuri and Yor interact and speak to each other out loud, then we hear their inner monologue overlapping.

When Yor explains to Yuri that she simply forgot to tell him she got married, and then forgot that she forgot, that seems to be enough for him. But when talk turns to how they met, Yuri instinctively enters interrogation mode, for which Loid and Yor are fairly well prepared.

Loid, in turn, did some digging on Yuri and learned he’s in the secret police, confirmed when he starts telling a story about going abroad that’s straight out of his agency’s deception manual. Still, he plays along, since someone like Yuri could be a valuable source of intel if a cordial relationship was forged.

As Yuri drinks more wine he gets a bit looser and more honest, and while can’t deny that Loid is tall, handsome, a good cook, a doctor, and has good manners, he still can’t accept the marriage, or “Loidy” as a brother. Yor is his only family, and she provided for him when he was young and helpless.

We see this in the form of a flashback where a young Yor arrives at home covered in blood and not even trying to hide it from Yuri. But whenever she came through that door, it was with something Yuri either needed or wanted. Ever since, Yuri has strived to not only be someone worthy of that devotion, but someone able to protect her, as she did him.

When Yuri accidentaly knocks over a glass, Yor and Loid start cleaning it up and their hands touch, and they both recoil and blush like teenagers. This would be suspicious behavior from a couple married for a year even for someone who wasn’t a trained, ruthless spy-hunter.

So Yuri gives the two an ultimatum: either they kiss, or he has their marriage license revoked. All of a sudden the stakes are ratcheted up to eleven and the whole game is on the line, and all for something as innocuous as a kiss. Such is the spectacular unpredictability of a Briar.

While Loid has extensive experience seducing women, it’s different for Yor. Unlike those past women, I believe he actually cares about her, hence the blushing. And Yor? I’m certain she’s never kissed a guy. Combine that with the fact Yuri is tipsy and probably doesn’t want to see his sister kiss someone, and next week’s cliffhanger resolution should be interesting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

%d bloggers like this: