The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

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The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

Fate / Apocrypha – 02

While still not quite exciting enough to fully recommend, the second episode of Fate/Apoc is nevertheless an improvement, as things move from the explanation of the mechanics of this new Grail War to all of its various players. There are many little scenes in which a master and servant introduce themselves.

That interaction ranges from Gordes yelling at his Black Saber, Siegfried, to Celenike licking her new “toy”, Black Rider AKA Astolfo, 12th Paladin of Charlemagne. The servants are represented not just from historical heroes, but a fictional monster like Frankenstein’s, or Jack the Ripper.

Kairi meets and gets to know Red Saber AKA Mordred, “son” of Arthur. Kairi gets off to the wrong start when he calls her a woman, but as long as she’s able to pull an Excalibur-like sword out of the stone and become King, she’s willing to work with the guy. Aside from Caules testing Black Berserker (Frankenstein)’s power, Red Saber and Kairi’s raid of the Yggdmillennia stronghold of Trifas is the only sustained action we get.

It’s a quick fight, only meant to test both sides of the conflict, and Red Saber and Kairi find a nice rhythm. I also liked Saber’s ability to add and shed armor according to the situation (she seems prefer wearing as little as possible)

We’ve got two Sabers, two Archers, two Assassins, two Berserkers…you get the idea. But there’s also a “watchdog” in Kotomine Shirou, who is planning to kill the fifteenth servant to make an appearance in this war: Ruler, who bookends this episode and is established as being Jeanne d’Arc (the second one I’m watching after Baha Soul) and being on her way to Trifas.

We’ve yet to met her master, but as he and she are listed as the two main characters (and displayed as such in the promo art) this is still very much another piece-introducing and arranging episode. Other than the deliberate pace, the animation still sticks out as lacking compared to ufotable works, but at the same time the characters seem to have a lot more “punch” to them, particularly the more fiery Red Saber.

Fate / Apocrypha – 01 (First Impressions)

Full disclosure to new readers: I have never played any of the Fate games, and my only exposure to the franchise’s anime was Unlimited Blade Works seasons 1 and 2. UBW was quite entertaining, but didn’t really leave me chomping at the bit for a spinoff that doubles the number of participants in the Holy Grail War.

Apocrypha is the spinoff we got, whether I asked for one or not, and it offers a decent soundtrack but bland masters (at least so far) who spend much of the episode sitting around in rooms talking after four minutes of heated battle. And even those four minutes, while exciting, only serve to emphasize this is not a ufotable anime, as is much less smooth and sophisticated in both character design and animation.

That’s…somewhat problematic right off the bat, as I’m already getting more than my fair share of fun knights-and-magic battle from MAPPA’s Baha Soul (empty calories and all) as well as Re:Creators (when it deigns to include action in its episodes, that is). Unbacked by the ufotable pedigree, this looks more to someone like me (who has only seen ufotable Fate) like, well, a poor imitation.

Take out all the familiar terminology like Holy Grail War, Servants, Masters, etc., and we’re left with a simply okay-looking magical fantasy drama that hopes to capitalize on the cache of the Fate brand. That may prove to be enough for passionate (or at least completionist) followers of the franchise, but I’m just not that enamored with the alternate King Arthur milieu to overlook this spinoff’s technical shortcomings.

Bottom line: this premiere told me a lot, but didn’t show me enough to warrant an enthusiastic dive into its 25-episode span. However, I may still tune in to see if a second episode can capture my interest.

Kekkai Sensen – 03

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Leo isn’t one to freak out when confronted by a ghost, especially if she’s cute. Instead, he takes her picture to confirm if she’s a ghost, but she shows up in the photos. White tells him she likes him and draws nearer, only for Leo to wake up in his apartment. The transition has us wondering how much of his interactino with White is in his head, but there’s no time to ponder such things, as he’s being evicted and has forty seconds to vacate or, presumably, be eaten. Just another day in the ‘Lot!

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From there, we see him dozing on the couch in Libra HQ, refusing a stipend any higher than the standard rate even though he’s still delivering pizzas and sending money home. But this week Leo is on the sidelines, as the bulk of the episode follows Klaus on his quest to satisfy his fix of Prosfair, which is perhaps best described as “Chess on Acid”. It’s a game as intricate and bonkers as the world that conceived it.

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Initially, the game is introduced as a little joke, with the physically imposing yet cultured Klaus getting way to into it on his original Macintosh(!), to the bemusement of his colleagues. But when Zapp and Chain’s efforts to investigate the distribution of an advanced (and world-unbalancing) new drug called Angel Scale, it rises to the utmost importance, since one of the most powerful overbosses in the Alterworld, Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (what a name!), happens to be a huge fan of Prosfair.

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When he arrives with his comely colleague K.K., Klaus is shocked to find Prosfair grandmaster Ulchenko has also come to challenge Fulgrouche. In the Russian’s mind, he has risen as high as he can amongst mankind in the game, and so playing a non-human is the next logical step. Also, he wants his country to have nuclear weapons, something Fulgrouche can make happen.

Alas, Ulchenko is no match for the don, coming up two minutes short of the nine hours he had to survive in a game. The exponentialy increasing speed and complexity of the game as it drags out nearly kills Ulchenko, and as per their agreement, since he lost, Fulgrouche will take the rest of that life.

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That’s when Klaus finds his opening to finally connect these events with the mission to uncover the Angel Scale ring. If Klaus lasts 99 hours straight, Fulgrouche agrees to not only reveal the trafficking routes of the drug, but also spare the Russian. And doggone it, the guy does it! As K.K. chain smokes and Ulchenko waits in stunned disbelief.

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Klaus doesn’t win, but he hangs with Fulgrouche for the full 99 hours, and all to the lovely stylings of Ludwig van’s vaunted Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, an inspired use of a classic piece of music that really lends the duel otherworldly grandeur, as befits a prosfair battle taking place in the Alterworld.

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Klaus gets the trafficking routes, Ulchenko is freed, and K.K. makes sure Libra takes out all the cells pushing Angel Scale. It’s all made possible thanks to Klaus’ unparalleled strength, selflessness, and perseverance. Yet, to hear it from Leo, book-ending the episode with his interactions with White, he has no idea what Klaus did for the firm, and he may never know.

All Steve Starphase said is that “anything in this world can happen”, which has so far proven true. For Leo, those words must be pretty reassuring, because the one thing he wants most in the world is to heal Michella.

10_magRABUJOI World Heritage List

Aldnoah.Zero – 15

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As Captain Magbaredge and Inaho’s pre-battle match so subtly implies, this episode is a game of chess being played by Troyard Slaine, and his opponent doesn’t even know he’s playing until it’s too late.

The match is also a chance for Darzana to note just how valuable Inaho has become to Earth’s defense, now that he has the Aldnoah activation factor. Even so, she’s doesn’t feel it’s right to keep him away from battle.

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A couple of garden variety racist counts try to put Sir Slayne in his place, but Saazbaum stops them, going so far as to name Slaine his son. Sure, it sounds sudden, but he’s surely been thinking about this in the last ten months since Slaine came back to him, and the situation called for a gesture that would make any action the counts take against Slaine a act of war against Saazbaum, something they’re far to cowardly to try in the open.

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Now that Slaine has been named Saazbaum’s son an heir in the presence of witnesses both common and elite, his manservant Harklight congratulates this next step towards achieving his dreams, to which Slaine responds above. Sure you don’t, Slaine.

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With his new skills, Inaho isn’t just a hero. He’s become The Hero. With Vers’ overwhelming military superiority, if they lose him, they lose everything. Some have expressed frustration that Inaho and Only Inaho is the only one who can do much of anything, but that’s the natural result of the events.

Earth’s survival dangles by a thread, and he’s that thread, grabbing and clawing and maintaining his grip, finding every advantage and blind spot…yet as his quips indicate, the same old Inaho is still in there somewhere. Inko, Rayet, Calm and Nina are there to keep him grounded, but he’s always threatening to float out of their reach.

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Then the battle dawns (last week was just a glancing taste), and, well, A/Z has always been pretty unassailable when it comes to combat, and the orbital setting continues to dazzle. Here we see the UE kats protected (for a time) by energy-absorbing umbrellas, along with Inaho’s Space Tarzan-like use of swinging cables against the rocks to speed up his maneuvers.

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Still, Inaho’s out here to fight Slaine, as Slaine is apparently out here to fight Inaho. Inaho suspects Slaine is able to somehow see a hint of the near future in order to dodge attacks, so he tries to launch an attack he won’t be able to totally dodge in time But events force us to consider the possibility that Slaine allowed Inaho to hit him (an outcome that surprised even Inaho), so that Saazbaum would come to his son’s aid.

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He does, right on cue, aboard his new kat Dioscuria II, and suddenly Inaho is a bug being swatted at by a raging papa bear. When Inko flies in to offer relief, my heart sinks, warning A/Z “If you kill Inko here, I’m through with you”, but she obeys Inaho and stays put, which is wise, because Inaho gets Saazbaum into the precise position to be pelleted by high-speed debris he detected was incoming.

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What Inaho didn’t know is that the debris was a cloud of bullets, fired by Slaine in the Tharsis using the maximum extent of its time-bending ability. Originally a gambit meant for his face-off with Inaho, Slaine pivots and instead uses Inaho as a chess piece in order to cripple and destroy…Count Saazbaum.

The count might have shout “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”, if he weren’t simultaneously heartbroken and proud of how Slaine played him. Saazbaum, in his typical Versian arrogance, believed he’d won Slaine over, but Slaine wasn’t going to serve under the man who shot his princess a second longer than he needed to.

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As Inaho is busy becoming the Savior of Earth, Slaine ascends to the rank of count, vowing via broadcast to exterminate all remaining Earth resistance in the name of Princess Asseylum before slipping on the burgundy coat. Both lads have risen higher than ever…but even this only feels like one more step on a long road for Count Slaine. Those dreams he claims not to have: what are they, truly? And will Inaho be able to divine a way to stop him?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 23

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The Sports Festival “Super Playoff” becomes an interminable, all-night marathon of totally non-sporting events such as trivia, whack-a-mole, eating, and chess. But what matters is that both the Red and White Teams agreed on something: that they should keep fighting for victory.

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In the process, neither side really achieves victory, but they do achieve a kind of détente, which is what Momo wanted all along. The festival thus a success, the President nods off on Tenchi’s shoulder and her head gradually slips into his lap…drawing the ire of Ryouko, who retaliates…against Tenchi.

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Some time in the wee hours of the morning, as Sasami patches him up she brings up how Tenchi will be overseeing the dorms soon, though she was told to relay the warning that any member of the opposite sex caught there will be beaten severely. It’s quite the Catch-22 for the already-bruised Tenchi…but it’s also par for the course.

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Zankyou no Terror – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_bravRABUJOI World Heritage List

No Game No Life – 12 (Fin)

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As I’ve said in past reviews, NGNL was never really about whether Blank would win—they were always going to win—but rather how they win; and how they manage to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, which in their final game of the series are the adorable jaws of a Warbeast girl with Limit Break.

For me, the show didn’t even always have to make perfect, airtight logical sense in delivering its wins, as long as they were complex, fun, and entertaining, which they have always been; in particular this week. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a gamer (I prefer cooking), so just as Izuna ultimately had fun even though she lost, I had a lot of fun jumping through the shows hoops even when I got lost.

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Events in the show’s past were always enough to build a good case for Sora and Shiro’s victories, and this week was no different. It’s no accident that Sora Steph, who was a complete non-factor last week, is the complete opposite this week, being the one to fire the decisive shot. Even better, she wasn’t even aware of how many spells and equations she was a variable in; indeed, that’s why she was effective.

With Izuna beaten and all Eastern Federation lands on the continent returned to Elkian control, Sora’s gang then meets Miko, the elegant leader of the Warbeasts. A bespectacled golden fox shrine maiden with two gigantic, fluffy tails (Miles’ sister?), she’s the latest of the show’s wealth of stylized, whimsical character designs. She immediately challenges them again, ostensibly for revenge, but also because she fears Warbeast subjugation.

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That’s because she believes Kurami and Fil transmitted the particulars of the game just played to the Elves, and that Jibril will bring the might of the Flugel to bear in alliance with Imanity and the Elves. But because she makes the challenge, Sora gets to pick the game, and he picks the simplest game of all: a coin toss. Quite anti-climactic for the final game of the show, no? Well, not quite.

First of all, there’s a nice symmetry for the show to start with rock-paper-scissors (a game that’s more about the relationship of the players than anything else) and end with something even purer. Miko calculates the coin will land on tails (a side I thought she’d pick anyway, because she has tails and is thus partial to them), but at the last second Sora moves a flagstone and the coin lands upright in the crack. A draw.

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Whether you believe Miko could have seen him move the stone with her limit break senses, or could accuse him of cheating to cause a draw is irrelevant; Miko accepts the draw, and Sora makes her decide whether they both win or lose, with both winning meaning a cooperative alliance in which the Warbeasts would maintain the right to self-rule. To quell her concerns about Elven aggression, Sora reveals that he altered Fil’s memory (the ability he won when he beat Kurami) so she gave the Elves false intel.

Again, even if you had a problem with him gaining control of the mind of a character who didn’t participate in that past game, the fact remains Fil might’ve delivered that false info anyway, maintaining Miko’s paranoia about Elven aggression for the very specific time it needs to be maintained. Once the game is over, he came clean, and it’s another example of how Sora treats this world like the world it is, a world without true death and suffering. It’s all just a game.

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Gaining the Warbeasts as geopolitical partners is the first step to beating that game, which means a seat at the table with Tet The One True God, and to take him on personally. While the sixteen races of Disboard have always fought amongst each other, Sora sees the key to getting to Tet: following the tenth pledge: “Let’s all have fun and play together!” A bit trite, but honest: if games aren’t fun, why play them?

If all the races are united, their race pieces will populate the opposing sie of Tet’s chess board. Then it’s just a matter of Shiro playing chess against him…and she beat him once before! And that takes us back to inevitability: even if we never see it actually happen in a second season, Shiro will surely win that chess match. What will matter is how Blank united the races to get there. It’s all about the process; the journey…which was occasionally flawed, but never boring.

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Final Cumulative Score: 8.08
MAL Score: 8.84 (Yikes…that’s a bit high!)

No Game No Life – 05

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When it comes to games, say Blank, “They’re always serious.” The same, ironically, can not be said of the show they’re in. NGNL showed a glimpse of its serious side in reiterating the importance of—and difficulty in—saving mankind from subjugation at the hands of the Exceed, and even though there’s no war, the pledges have done plenty of damage all the same, to the point where the three million people of Elkia are scared and anxious about the future.

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But like I said; only a glimpse of seriousness, and just a teensy one. The majority of the episode is devoted to Steph challenging, losing, and being humiliated over and over by Blank, in an intermittently humorous effort to make Sora a decent person. But it’s unnecessary because despite looking like they’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and play games (as NEETs are wont to do), Sora and Shiro have been working furiously for their new kingdom. Their only problem is, they’re not sure how to proceed.

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While Steph’s string of consecutive losses to Blank in supposed games of chance forces her to act the goat (or rather, the dog)—and a very skimpily-clad one at that—it’s revealed she’s not as much of an idiot (or a “steph”) as Sora and Shiro thought. Before they arrived on the scene and after when they researched in seclusion, she was ruling Elkia, gathering support for their reforms and neutralizing the opposition. When it comes to Imanity (the ones not being supported by outside nations), she’s done pretty well.

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What she hasn’t been able to do is regain any of her country’s lost territory, and that’s where Sora and Shiro come in. Sora first targets the Warbeasts (or “Animal Girls”, even though there are guys) for conquest; a gutsy move considering their vast land holdings and ability to read minds, nullifying strategy and bluffs in any games. However, Steph happens to have a “Flugel” up her sleeve (convenient, that) who could help them in the coming fight, which will most likely be seasoned with more rapid-fire, spaghetti-on-the-wall comedy.

Oh, one more thing: the Castle In the Sky reference was most appreciated.

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No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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No Game No Life – 03

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Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

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Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

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But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

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In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

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When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

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No Game No Life – 02

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Rock-Paper-Scissors is a very simple game, and a lot of psychology goes into its play. Stephanie Dora loses because she gets lost in analysis of her own strategy, and doesn’t consider the fact that Sora has a pretty good idea what it is. She fails to figure out that he had it all figured out, and loses. But the win isn’t particularly impressive (and Steph’s inner strategizing goes on a bit too long for my taste), because as Sora says: there was no way she was going to win; she’s just too emotional and easily riled.

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She was also coming off a fresh and devastating loss to Kurami and wearing nothing but a sheet over her panties, which couldn’t have helped her confidence. Sora may not have gotten a challenge, but he didn’t want one: he merely used a bet with Steph to test the power of the ten pledges. When he commands her to fall in love with him, she falls under his spell, but only intermittently. I liked the idea of the pledges being that ironclad, but it stumbled a bit in execution, Steph’s constant smashing of her head against things in an effort to shake off the spell got a little old after a while.

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That being said, I appreciated the manic energy both Hisaka Yoko and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu brough to Steph and Sora, respectively. Lest we forget, Sora’s not a normal human being, nor is Shiro; a point beautifully reinforced when they grow too far apart from one another. That intense co-dependence may make a future romantic pairing between Sora and Steph a bit tricky, but on the flipside, their absolute trust in one another makes them such a powerful gaming duo, Steph starts to believe they could be the key to saving the kingdom of humanity. More to the point, Sora’s thinking big, aiming squarely at the throne.

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