Engage Kiss – 03 – What He’s Losing

Before greeting the day, Shuu has a dream about his parents and sister Kanna being killed by demons—Kanna while begging her brother to save her. This is apparently a frequent dream, and he reacts to it as he probably always does: with a kind of grim gratitude. Clutching a photo of his family, he tells them it’s alright: he still remembers them.

There’s a new caterpillar-like demon crawling around Bayron City’s ever-important energy production sector. They mayor’s office learns of this prior to any auction, while Shuu receives a photo of the demon to show Ayano. They meet in a park of some significance, and she makes a point to dress as cute as possible, but also points out all the times he’s betrayed him when asked.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that Shuu should have leave to take this new demon out. He wins the auction to do so by underbidding everyone, but his winning bid is nullified when new info suddenly comes in stating that because the demon is holding a core equivalent to a week’s worth of the city’s electricity, it is not to be eliminated.

Since Shuu doesn’t have the resources to capture, the job falls to AAA. Through Miles explaining the situation to detective Mikami Tetsuya, he once fostered Shuu, and Shuu became the city’s best and only true hope at demon extermination thanks to his contract with a demon. That said, the government only grudingly recognized his new company.

Ayano leads the AAA operation, but the effort to capture the demon goes pear-shaped when the huge caterpillar transforms into a huge moth that shoots powerful lasers. One by one, Ayano’s support is wiped out. Shuu calls Ayano’s mom, who quickly signs him to a contract to clean up the mess. To do so, we see that Shuu has to do more than simply make out with Kisara.

For one thing, we learn definitively that Shuu doesn’t love Kisara; even she knows that. We also learn that due to how “troublesome” this foe is, Kisara’s going to need something extra. Shuu thus decides to sacrifice another set of memories—the ones from when he an Ayano happily lived together—to give Kisara the power she needs.

The kiss is merely a conduit through which Kisara receives and consumes his memories. No sooner do their lips part does a mass of rubble start descending upon an injured Ayano, only for Kisara to save her at the last moment. The soundtrack gets down to business as she takes the fight to the big moth, dodging its laser beams and delivering brutal blows to its thorax.

Shuu wakes up very out of it, but is reoriented by a note on his hand (“Aim at Kisara”) and a locket containing a photo of the family he lost. He readies his rifle, aims and fires where his note told him, which is at the core Kisara already cracked open. It takes not one but two of his fang-bullets to shatter said core and defeat the demon.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ayano limps to where Kisara is inspecting the corpse of the demon moth, asking if she has to thank her for saving her life. Kisara says no…but she feels she should apologize to Ayano. After all, she took Shuu’s happiest memories of him and Ayano together, which he willingly sacrificed in order to keep Ayano safe (and to further his objective). Watching flashes of these memories hit me hard.

Earlier, we learned from Kisara that the outfit Ayano wore at the park meeting was the same one she wore on her and Shuu’s first date. As the keeper of Shuu’s stolen memories, these latest ones related to her “rival” Ayano, it’s no surprise Kisara has adopted a kind of vicarious romance with him. This is not your usual love triangle, and I really dig this dynamic.

The last two episodes established what an unappealing, miserable wretch Ogata Shuu is, while this latest one went a long way towards explaining, if not excusing, why that is. He’s not only “the worst”; he’s the product of a lot of shitty circumstances: the loss of his family, the city government’s combined dependence on and disdain of him, and most importantly, the fact he’s just not the same Shuu anymore.

He’s lost more than his family; he’s lost parts of himself. I daresay I sympathize with the guy. He, Ayano, and Kisara are tragic figures: him because of what he’s lost and will continue to lose, Ayano because she in turn lost (most of) the man she loved, and even Kisara because Shuu will never love her. It’s kind of a bummer, but I respect the show going to these dark places while also delivering top-notch action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 06 – Blessed Are the Weak

Just when this second season of Shield Hero was flagging and reminding me of another series that crashed and burned in its second season (cough-cough PROMISED NEVERLAND cough), it puts out one hell of an epic mid-cour finale. A lot is owed to the persistent mugging of Mid-Big Bad Kyou Ethnina, whom I thought was pretty generic at first—and kinda remains throughout—but there’s such a goshdarn charisma to him. Dude just loves being evil as shit and does not care.

Another welcome addition to an already packed stage? Queen Fitoria, AKA Tange Sakura in giant regal bird form, arriving in the nick of time to press the fight against the regenerated Spirit Tortoise. Through Filo, she tells Naofumi and the others to destroy the heart while she destroys the head. If they do it at the same time, the shield around the core will fall and it will be Bye-Bye Tortoise.

It’s a simple plan, but our boy Kyou isn’t about to let them pull it off without resistance. When Ost tries to open a way to the heart, Kyou stops them, and it’s a testament to his arrogance that he doesn’t bat an eyelash even when his fellow heroes from another world show up, having come up empty in finding the real heart, poised to team up with Naofumi’s party.

While L’Arc, Therese and Glass are deferent to their Vassal Weapons, Kyou treats his book like he stole it (which may be he did?). He doesn’t worry about being vastly outnumbered because he has the power of his book and the Tortoise and the other three heroes he captured at his disposal. With that power, he casts a supergravity spell that presses everyone to the ground. But as he gloats and stomps on Naofumi’s head, the seething magma within Rishia’s timid exterior finally erupts.

Rishia alone is able to rise to her feet and walk towards Kyou, mastering her ki manipulation just as her sensei knew she could. When her goofy bird costume gets burned away, she burst forth from the flames a dazzlingly cool avenging knight, taking the fight directly to Kyou embracing her weakness while exposing his, and then breaking the heroes free (though it must be noted they remain unconscious while Rishia does all this cool stuff).

Crucially, Rishia’s unexpected outburst buys the others time to move. Ost bestows the power of the Spirit Tortoise in Naofumi’s shield, allowing him to cast the all-powerful All Liberation Aura, freeing everyone from the gravity spell. Filo joins L’Arc & Co. to destroy the heart, while Naofumi prepares to use his Evil Shield, and the cost that comes with it. Ost repeats her wish for Naofumi to kill her…

A multi-cast spell, the destruction of the primary shield and the creation of an emergency backup shield later, and Naofumi can’t bring himself to summon any anger or hatred for Ost. But she played a little trick on him, already having embued and now fully awakening the Tortoise power within his shield. As the emergency shield and core are blasted away, Ost collapses, but the threat of the Tortoise is neutralized, and the lands are safe.

At this defeat, Kyou simply shrugs, as he’s kept “the bare minimum” of souls he collected within a vial that he uses to open a portal back to his home world. He tells Naofumi and Rishia “smell ya later” and hops. in. Ost, fading fast, tells Naofumi the Tortoise shield was only unlocked because he wasn’t swallowed up by rage or sorrow. He won’t have to use the evil shield anymore.

L’Arc, Therese, and Glass hop into the portal to chase after Kyou, but when Naofumi tries to follow, he’s stopped by “game rules” that say Cardinal Heroes can’t invade other worlds. However, Ost gives him one last boon by granting permission to go through the portal to help the others. Perhaps out of habit, Naofumi calls for Raphtalia and Filo to join him and tells Rishia to stay behind with Itsuki, but again she refuses.

She’s on the Shield Hero’s party now; they’re her comrades, and her rightful place is through the portal with them. Just like that, Naofumi has left one otherworld and is bound for another. It’s an unexpected but intriguing development here at the halfway point, and this episode just singlehandedly salvaged the season.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 05 – The Ost With the Most

Berg, Therese, and New-Look Glass are not in the bowels of the Spirit Tortoise to fight the Shield Hero and his party. No, they’re there to deal with one of their own: a fourth Hero from their world who is only causing shit for his own personal gain. Berg proposes a truce and team-up; Naofumi refuses, but says if they don’t want to fight, they can do whatever else they want.

Just like that, they part ways, even though both parties are looking for the Tortoise’s heart. Instead, Naofumi & Co. come upon a dragon hourglass. Ost recalls that it’s used to indicate how many souls the Tortoise has consumed and converted into the power that would create a barrier against the Waves. Berg & Co. seemingly find the real heart first.

Naofumi’s party soon finds what they believe to be the heart, but encounter the fourth Hero from Glass’s world, who clearly matriculated at Generic Anime Bad Guy U. Long, wild gray hair, glasses, a quasi-military uniform, and a devil-may-care attitude…he sucks, and I just want to punch him. But he is the wielder of the Book vassal weapon, and even Ost’s attacks go right through him.

When this guy doesn’t heed Naofumi’s order to release control of the Tortoise and give back the souls he stole, he lets the heart’s defense system kick in, forcing Naofumi to protect everyone with his Meteor Shield. Filo and Raph fan out and attack the heart, but as they do, they cause Ost to cry out in pain, and she eventually passes out.

This whole time inside the body of the Tortoise, Ost has been doing some serious soul-searching. Once her existence was so simple: collect souls with the greater good of protecting the world from Waves. But then why does she empathize and feel with the people whose souls she’s supposedly designed to take?

The answer, it would seem, is that she isn’t really the Tortoise’s familiar. Even with the Tortoise’s head and heart destroyed, she remains, and opens a path to its deepest depths.

The Book Wielder is there, annoyed they’ve made it this far, and reveals that Ost could be more accurately described as the Spirit Tortoise itself. She is its very core, which means if Naofumi & Co. are to succeed, they must kill her…which is exactly what she asked them to do when they first met.

Deca-Dence – 11 – Being a Mistake is What Makes It Right

Spoilers: Natsume does not meet her maker by Hugin’s hand this week. Instead she’s saved by two things: Hugin’s momentary distraction with the new Gadoll bug, and Kabu managing to log back in as the orange Gear and shoot Hugin through the chest, thus logging him out of Deca-Dence. It’s a bit convenient and plot-armory, but fine, it’s not like I wanted Natsume’s story to end in that trailer.

After that, Natsume must quickly wrap her head around the fact that the Boss she knows who is lying dead on the ground is just an empty avatar, and the Boss himself is in the orange Gear body. Minato’s crew determines the massive Gadoll to be a bug that survived the GGS. The System designates it Gadoll Omega, and orders Deca-Dence to take it out.

But while this Gadoll bug isn’t that much larger than the largest Gadoll they’ve fought and defeated in the past, it’s much tougher, not only absorbing Deca-Dence’s fist blow in its crab-like claws, but shoving Deca-Dence back, doing critical damage to its movement apparatus. When Solid Quake’s orbital HQ uses its Solid Cannon from orbit, the Gadoll meets that beam with its own red one…and wins.

It’s the first time we’ve seen the pristine Solid Quake HQ ship damaged, and it’s enough to spook The System into pure Self-Preservation Mode. To that end, the entire Deca-Dence program is being shut down. Hugin is replaced by Munin, who politely announces to Minato that all Deca-Dence facilties are to be reverted along with Omega via the spacial decompression device—a fail-safe in case the game ever threatened the System.

Suddenly, there’s six hours until the end of everything on the planet surface, including what remains of humanity. But Jill, reestablishing contact with Kabu, says there’s still a way for a user to log in with Deca-Dence itself as their avatar. She knows this because prior to being designated a bug, she helped build Deca-Dence’s core.

Kabu and Natsume go their separate ways, but Natsume assumes they’ll meet up again at some point, while Kabu is ready to not return, as he’s volunteered to take the reins of Deca-Dence. His jeep passes Natsume, marking the first time she’s seen his cyborg form. Of course, she only gets a brief glimpse and has no idea it’s him.

At the epically huge and cool-looking core, Minato confronts Kabu, telling him there’s still time to run, to which Kabu asks where to? When Minato admits he has no idea what he should believe or do anymore, Kabu tells him he was once the same way, and simply waiting to be scrapper, until he met Natsume the Tanker Bug, who taught him he can make his own choices.

Then the best thing ever happens: Natsume meets Kabu’s cyborg comrades…and after a few moments of profound confusion, accepts it, finds them adorable, laughs, and introduces herself. Now Jill sees why Kabu has gone so far for a human bug’s sake. Jill herself has a bug still within Deca-Dence she’s hoping will make a difference.

Minato decides to help Kabu log in as Deca-Dence after all. While it’s true Deca-Dence is an absolute wreck, perhaps being under Kabu’s direct control (rather than the System’s) combined with Jill’s surprise bug, could conspire to unlock heretofore unseen abilities.

They’ll need everything they can get in the forthcoming finale, as the twin existential crises of the still-evolving Gadoll (and its brood) and the countdown to self-destruct will both have to be dealt with if anyone is to survive.

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