The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

The Faraway Paladin – 04 – Divine Protection

Gus manages to fight off Stagnate, but it turns out Stagnate split himself in two. Stagnate’s second half arrives and puts Blood, Mary, and Gus out of commission, and gives Will an ultimatum: join him, or lose them all. He’s clearly the more charitable, patient half, because he gives Will 24 hours to decide. Will uses that time to sulk.

It’s at this point that the show reminds us that Will was, as he calls it, a useless garbage person in his past life, something he’s kept from his parents to this point. But when he wakes up and starts ranting about how useless and garbage-y he still is, Mary won’t hear it. She slaps him, tells him to stand up and get ahold of himself. Will may not have cried for his parents in his first life, but the fact he’s so shook up about his new parents proves he’s not the same person in this life.

Will turns Stagnate down, then has to fight a bunch of skeletons, which he does successfully, leading Stagnate to once again ask Will to join him. Will can tell Stagnate is genuine in his passion for and desire to create world without life or death, but simple everlasting…stagnation. The thing is, Will already had his fill of that in his past life, and is now in a position to reject it.

That’s because, even after Stagnate offers Will a cup of his blood, Will cuts of Stagnate’s hand holding the cup, and then the hand turns into a snake that injects Will with the blood like venom anyway, Will wakes up in the divine domain of Gracefeel, Goddess of the cycle of death and rebirth. A caring, benevolent God not unlike Mary in personality offers Will her divine protection.

All he has to do is what he wants to do anyway: move forward. Live. Not stagnate. When Will comes to, he’s able to use the Divine Torch, which spooks Stagnate into launching an emergency destruction spell. But Will realizes almost too late that Stagnate was using that as a smokescreen so he could get to his true target: Mary and Blood. Will Will make it in time to save his parents? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

Let it be said that the system the yuki-onna employ to keep the Snowy Village arrive is patently awful, not to mention extremely inefficient. And yet, with many a human tribe throughout history relied on the suffering and sacrifice of a “special few” in order to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity survival, it’s certainly nothing new, on either side of the human-kemono spectrum.

We take a look back at Yui and Akira’s past in the village throughout this episode, as Yui becomes the chief and is studded out to all of the 200 women of the village, a duty he keeps secret from Akira. Akira assumes he has to deal with difficult paperwork, and cheers him up with sasanqua camellia blooms when they’re able to talk to each other in the night.

Until a woman produces a male heir, his duties will continue; no mention is made of what happens to any new female children produced in the meantime. But Yui’s burden goes beyond simply being the physical tool with which to keep the village going. He has to deal with the constant competition for his favor, which adds to his emotional toll.

Back in the ice castle Yui built for his pure brother, Akira’s plushie informs him the others are frozen, but they are still alive. Kabane even manages to burst half of his body out of the ice. And while his bottom half grows back, the fact remains he, along with the still-frozen Shiki and Inugami, are still at Yui’s mercy.

Not sure what else he can do to protect them, Akira decides to scorn Kabane, saying he hates them and wants nothing more to do with them. When Yui returns, Akira shields Kabane from his frozen wrath and, knowing Yui will do whatever he asks, says he wants to move with him to a new place.

Kabane is left in a state of shock, thinking Akira really means what he said. Then Inari shows up in all her saxophone leitmotif-having glory. She assures him she’s not here for the Lifestone, but the Nullstone, which among other things could provide answers about his parents.

Seeing Inugami sealed up like a Thermos and reduced to communicating through the plushie (which can read his mind waves), Inari remarks that he’s gotten weaker…probably due to how he “makes too much” of “those useless children.”

Inari, meanwhile, uses her children like tools and discards them when they’re no longer of use. But like Kon, Nobimaru is all too happy to serve his mistress in all things, including going toe-to-toe with Yui, who encases Akira in a protective ice cage while he fights an ice-vs.-fire battle with the kitsune.

As the circumstances of Akira’s banishment are revealed—he had his first wet dream, so Yui sent him away before any of the women found out—Yui will do anything to preserve Akira’s perceived “purity”. And while both Nobimaru is hanging in there and the unkillable Kabane is on his way, it’s still looking like Akira will have to be the one to stop his twin brother from causing more harm.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love Stage!! – 02

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Izumi makes it to the photo shoot, has somewhat understandable panic attacks, which only make Ryouma fall for him harder. As he did 10 years before, Ryouma helps calm Izumi down, which also wins a bit of Izumi’s heart. The commercial is filmed and both characters have a strong respect, tipping on affection, for each other. Then Izumi’s secret is blown and Ryouma runs off angry, hurt and sexually confused…

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This week opens with a dream sequence I was way too dim witted to catch onto until it was over and, Man! What a hoot! Cute, artsy sequences, magic girls fighting plant monsters hand me going… and then back we went to the real show and I sure felt sheepish.

Beyond the obvious, this week also gives us a lot more of Shouga, Izumi’s older rock star brother. He pretty much controls Izumi, but not in a bad or creepy way. Shouga’s just the only one who can motivate Izumi in the first place… usually with creepy magic girl body pillows.

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What I liked last week remains the same: the cast is up-beat, nice and positive. Izumi pretty much shrugs off the social chaos of his gender reveal, his parents are supportive and happy regardless, and the family manager is beginning to understand how Izumi works (and cared about Izumi before hand, regardless).

Even Ryouma, who has a totally understandable name-calling freak-out moment after learning Izumi is a boy, also has a serious “What the heck does this actually mean to me?” moment, sans dialog, as he’s driven away by his manager.

I also really really appreciate that the show just jumps right in and reveals Izumi’s gender by the second episode. It tells me the show will be about consequences and “what’s next” more than a when will it all come crashing down house of cards event.

Also, body pillows!

7_ogk

Love Stage!! – 01

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I am RABUJOI’s resident Pessimist Reviewer. I’m impatient, hyper critical, caustic and, as an artist myself, particular about what makes a show visually worth watching. So, it is only fitting that my punishment for trash-talking Rail Wars!, Sailor Moon and Glasslip be to unearth ‘what is good’ about several shows on our B-roster.

My first show is Love Stage!!, a water color style rom-com about Izumi, a directionless, effeminate college boy and his struggles to find an identity within his massively tallented show-biz family.

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Love Stage!! is about consequences, decisions and misunderstandings. You see, 10 years ago Izumi played the ‘little girl who catches the bouquet’ in a wedding commercial and his co-star Ryouma, who was never told Izumi was actually a guy, has carried a torch for Izumi all this time. Fast forward to today and the wedding company wants to film a reunion commercial with the original cast, now with Izumi as the bride to be.

The ensuring chaos is fairly predictable: Izumi obviously doesn’t want to be a trap, his parents want him to take the job because he hasn’t figured out what to do with himself yet, and Ryouma is an episode away from experiencing a serious surprise!

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What is not predictable, and what makes Love Stage!! worth watching, is how Izumi comes to realize his crack-pot dream of becoming a manga artist is never going to happen unless he actually works on it — and he does really start putting work into it. In this way, Izumi himself is the first character to realize his own misunderstanding, and we see him make a decision to correct it and live with the consequences.

What also makes Love Stage!! enjoyable is how sincere and positive all the characters are. Izumi’s parents, while pushy, never shout at him for falling short of their expectations or making poor life choices. Nor does Izumi mope too long over the mess his life has been and the mess his life is about to be. Love Stage!! is just a warm, happy show and I respect that in a sea of otherwise broody or whiny rom-coms.

Also, i swear Izumi’s dad’s mustache is glued onto his face!

7_ogk

Hanasaku Iroha – First Impressions

Hanasaku Iroha was instantly enjoyable, wisking you along with Ohana on a semiepic journey from the cramped and monotonous big city to the sprawling grandeur of the countryside, then into a fircely strict and unyeilding work environment the likes of which she’s never seen, experienced, or expected. I also found the character instantly appealing; easily moreso than many others Kanae Ito has voiced.

That her mother essentially abandons her and makes her move away from her life and friends to the home of a grandmother who wants nothing to do with her (and slaps her) and it all happens so fast. Still, as we listen to her inner monologue, she is acting quite mature for a 16-year-old: certainly unprepared for her plight, but keen enough to know it and be ready to adapt, which she’ll have to do.

And while this introductory episode was just about perfectly paced, with nary a dull or wasted moment, it felt like an hour (and I say that as a good thing); so dense was the narrative. It was also exceedingly good-looking, with loving attention to detail and some truly gorgeous vistas, both urban, rural, and, er, town-y. Immediately this series establishes itself as both coming-of-age tale and slice-of-life, and I haven’t seen one as good as this since Working. The bathhouse also brings to mind Spirited Away, though Ohana is older and far less bratty than Chihiro, and its role as a world in and of itself, where everyone has roles to play.

We got a sneak-peak at some of the people who will help shape Ohana’s life, including Minko, a taciturn girl who immediately takes a dislike to her (and is voiced by a toned-down-for-once Chiaki Omigawa) and Nako (voiced by Aki Toyosaki, also voice of Railgun’s Uiharu). These three girls will likely form the nucleus, but the creepy uncle and battlaxe grandmother should prove entertaining supporters. I’m definitely stoked about this one. I don’t often toss out “4”s to first episodes, but this one’s deserving. Rating: 4

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