The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 08 – Happy Wife Happy Life

For the second straight week Shin no Nakama wades deeper into plots, false identities and shadow players. But what keeps me engaged and coming back is the wonderfully tender and naturally progressing romance between Red and Rit. The double bed has arrived, and while both blush like beets, they still jump into bed together.

They almost go too far with their flirting (considering the walls are thin and Al’s a guest). Between gestures and facial expressions, the animators put a lot of love into the scene, and I love the detail about Rit being self-conscious about her hand callouses, only for Red to say he likes them, or how both display catlike reflexes when they hear Al stirring.

The scene carries a lot weight, both emotionally and critically, especially considering all the external forces tugging on these lovebirds. Are we being set up for heartbreak? I don’t know; all I know is I’m just not the biggest fan of…any of the show’s various plots, other than Red and Rit’s romance and the plight of Ruti and her party.

Whether it’s the axe murderers ending up as the pawns of axe demons forming contracts with them due to the drug (or something) or Bighawk capturing Al so he can use him as pawn to spark a rebellion against the powers that be in Zoltan…it’s all very meh and distant, in stark contrast to all the good relationship stuff.

Mind you, with the OP and ED this show has, I was fully ready for a show that didn’t have a central plotline, but instead focused on the main couple’s growing love and the details of their new slow life. As new characters and villains are introduced and more things happen in Zoltan, the less interested I become. It’s a weird contradiction.

Take Albert: I knew he laid claim to the strongest adventurer in Zoltan, and had the Champion blessing, but I still didn’t know him well enough as a character to care about the many twists and turns he goes through this week. This more dramatic stuff like Albert saying Red joining him will change the course of the entire world…it mostly just rings flat.

I care about Red, Rit, and Ruti, and that’s pretty much it. Normally that’s not enough for me to stick with a show, but I’m genuinely curious to see how far their romance goes, just as I’m constantly worried for their future.

That’s a tension the show could lean into, but it genuinely seems more interested in Bighawk turning into a goofy white goat man, breaking Albert out of jail, then meeting with Ruti. The show wants to keep expanding the world, while I just want to soak in the warm tub with a cup of mead!

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 11 – Nightmare on Sunshine Street

If I haven’t already, I’ll go on record now: Thus far I’ve always enjoyed the IWGP stories that aren’t directly related to the G-Boy/Red Angel dispute, like when Mikoto gained a sister in Guo, or last week’s dive into restorative justice. That said, if the show wishes to close things out by refocusing on the Red-vs.-Blue divide, there are far worse ways to do so than what we got.

This week takes what had been a volatile tinderbox and blew it up with a few bold strokes. What keeps this episode out of four-and-a-half star territory—aside from the fact it’s only part one of two-part story—is that it takes a step back from the earnest urban realism and relies on predictable action-drama anime tropes.

Red/Blue tussles are becoming more frequent ever since the Angels helped the G-Boys put quell an internal dispute. A border dispute on Sunshine Street could quickly escalate into full-on gang warfare, so Makoto does his thing: works with Kyouichi and Isogai to arrange a peaceful meeting with King.

As soon as the Angels’ hotheaded number 3 Utsumi is introduced, we’re invited to believe he’s trying to up his team’s aggression against the G-Boys, just as King’s underling Hiroto tried to do the opposite. But there’s the additional element of a young Watanabe Kazumasa looking like he wants to say something to Makoto, but hesitates…then ends up with a knife in his heart.

The border dispute meeting is off, as the Angels are convinced the G-Boys killed their kid. Mikoto learns of the murder on TV, and rushes to meet with Takashi, who assures him he didn’t order the hit, while not ruling out that a hot-headed underling might have.

Then a bad-case scenario gets even worse when a drugged and clearly out-of-it Mizuki guns Takashi down and flees. As Takashi checks for vitals and calls an ambulance, a man in a white suit and glasses sits in a car watching while someone in the back seat snaps photos of Takashi standing over the gunned-down Takashi…someone with Isogai’s hairstyle.

Takashi is alive but unconscious in the hospital, but the misleading photos are posted online, and the general consensus among G-Boys is that Makoto betrayed their leader and tried to kill him. Their retribution is swift, as some of them launch a van at Makoto’s family produce stand, hitting his mom and nearly hitting him and Guo.

Guo, knowing her brother didn’t shoot Takashi, urges Makoto to start running and find out who’s responsible for this. That brings us to the episode’s cold open, in which Makoto felt like he was having a bad dream. While hiding from various roving bands of G-Boys, he gets a call from Makoto, who uses the call to get a fix on his location.

Judging from the look in his eyes, at this point I was convinced Isogai was responsible for Kazu’s murder, Mizuki’s drugging, and Makoto’s framing. By using Kyouichi and Utsumi’s rage over Kazu’s death, he creates a fine smokescreen in which to freely operate while all hell breaks loose.

As blood starts to spill on the streets, Chief Rei insists Makoto come to the station for questioning, as he was at the very least a witness to Takashi’s shooting. Makoto isn’t ready to do that quite yet, as he won’t be able to solve this riddle from the police station.

Meanwhile, as a satisfied man in white lounges on the bed of a hotel room enjoying a (possibly post-coital?) cigarette, Isogai takes a shower and grins like an evil villain. Which, fine…it’s an interesting turn for a somewhat dull but likeable character, but I was kinda okay with him being somewhat dull and likeable? Not to mention the unpleasant undertones of the only gay guy in the show being the big bad…

Makoto meets with Zero One in their usual café—which seems odd considering all the G-Boys are after him—but then again, most of the G-Boys are probably busy fighting Red Angels. Here is where Makoto is portrayed as perhaps a bit too ignorant of modern smartphone technology, as the hacker explains the spy app that allow his pursuers to pinpoint his location.

They’re interrupted by Detective Yoshioka, who politely asks Makoto to come with him for questioning. Makoto gets in Yoshioka’s car and explains what he knows so far, but instead of going into the station, he asks that Yoshioka let him go to track down the culprit as only someone with his skills and connections can. Yoshioka doesn’t endorse Makoto’s actions, but also can’t exactly legally detain him.

So off Makoto goes, through dark alleys and across the neon-lit boulevards of Sunshine Street, in the middle of a nightmare from which there is no waking. His mother and his best friend are laid up, and thanks to a devious setup job his neutrality has been utterly destroyed. While this episode took some sensationalist leaps to get to where it is, everything that has unfolded so far remains not only plausible, but inevitable.

I’m just not particularly elated about Isogai being the presumptive Big Bad, because this was a show that didn’t really need one, and in fact always thrived in the gray area between good and bad that best reflected real life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 19 – United Front

The Pope packs a whallop with his attacks, but turns out the first couple were just “trial runs”, to unleash the full power of the weapon he transforms it into a spear and draws upon the mana his holy army of followers, who number in the thousands despite not having any kind of supply train. Did these people just walk out here from wherever they came from without provisions of any kind? Seems like a logistical nightmare.

That weapon turns out to be a replica of the Cardinal Heroes’ own weapons, able to transform as needed. Melty is shocked to learn it still exists, believing it had been lost long ago, while Motoyasu condemns its use as “cheating.” As for Naofumi, he asks why, if they could make such powerful weapons, did they bother summoning heroes at all?

However, Motoyasu’s weapons, nor combo attacks by him and his party, have any effect thanks to Popey’s magical barrier, which enables said Pope to laugh and bray on about delivering judgment and such.  What he didn’t count on, however, were the Sword and Bow Heroes not being dead after all.

Turns out Itsuki and Ren never trusted the Three Heroes Church, and were investigating it when they learned that the church had possession of the weapon. They were led to a false shrine where the church tried to assassinate them, but failed. Now, with all the four Cardinal Heroes, assembled, it’s time to turn the tables as one unit…right?

Wrong. Naofumi isn’t fighting with other three. Not after the shit they gave him and the trouble they caused which he and his party had to clean up. And who can blame him? They’ve demonstrated they’re no better than the Pope, taking and doing whatever they want without regard to the lives they affect.

This results in roughly six minutes of the heroes bickering among themselves and pointing fingers before Naofumi finally gives in and joins the others, but only until they deal with the Pope and the Queen’s Shadow Punitive Force arrives (which, by the way, where the hell have they BEEN?), and because he promised Fitoria he’d at least try to make up with the other heroes.

However, by the time they’re ready to fight as one, The Pope has already prepared “Cathedral”, a high-level spell that encases the entire crater in a magical barrier that he maniacally declares will be their “final destination.” Somehow I doubt that. I have to say, I’ve had quite enough of our ambitious pontiff and his seemingly infinite supply of mana.

But at least his actions led to the other three heroes finally learning not only how wrong they’ve been about Naofumi, but how harmful their own actions have been. Here’s hoping the lessons stick, even if the alliance is only temporary.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 18 – Some Messed-Up Logic

I’ve probably said it before, but since it happens this week I’ll say it again: nothing is less entertaining than watching someone berate or attack Naofumi for actions we know for a fact he didn’t commit. The entire premise of the discussion or fight is faulty, so it just feels like we’re wasting time. I’m long since out of patience waiting for Motoyasu to realize he’s being manipulated by Malty.

Malty uses the made-up term “Brainwashing Shield” as her own version of “Fake News”—two words to dismiss whatever defense Naofumi may field. Her story is that Naofumi is responsible for the death of Rin and Itsuki. Motoyasu won’t listen to Naofumi, or Melty, or anyone else but Malty, so the reconciliation Naofumi promised Fitalia he’d attempt is just as impossible as he thought. Instead, Malty creates a Lightning prison around Motoyasu and Naofumi so her puppet can fight the “Devil of the Shield.”

This entire fight, which takes up a lot of time, is utterly pointless. These two have already fought before, and Malty should know from the last Wave that Naofumi & Co. are more powerful. Simply attacking him again and again under false pretenses when you know Motoyasu will lose is folly. And yet we, the audience, still have to watch them go through the motions.

Not even Penkin’s score could make either this fight, or the lead-up to it, interesting. We get some participation from Motoyasu’s other party members, but even 19 episodes in they’ve been given precisely ZERO personality, so I could care less about them.

Once Motoyasu and Malty are defeated, once again, as expected, they continue twirling their mustaches right up until Filo kicks them all into a pile and demands Naofumi conjure as much mass above them as he possibly can, because something’s coming. That something is very similar to the phenomenon that fell on Ren and Itsuki, and we learn it was produced by the Pope, who calls it “God’s Judgment.”

Popey McGee has bad news Naofumi and Motoyasu: using the receipts collected from their actual deeds, as well as those of Ren and Itsuki, they’re being eliminated as “false heroes.” He has bad news for Melty and Malty too: the church is staging a coup, tossing the Melromarc monarchy into the bin and presumably replacing it with a theocracy.

No doubt his forces are already in the process of capturing their mother Queen Mirelia, whose utter absence in, well, all of this remains almost show-breakingly baffling.

While we at RABUJOI are all card-carrying non-fans of the Lame One-Dimensionally Evil Religious Organization (LODERO) trope common to fantasy anime, the Pope crashing another lame fight with Motoyasu and Malty actually saved this episode for me. His evil is there for everyone in that pit to see, and directly contradicts the lies Malty was telling Motoyasu, who listened because she’s hot and he has a hero complex.

But the Pope’s plans also provide the first real opportunity for Naofumi to make some headway with Motoyasu, who as terrible as he is, is still necessary to defeat the Waves. I can’t really say much about the Pope’s coup—one would think the next move would be Mirelia’s—but it’s encouraging that circumstances have finally put Naofumi and Motoyasu in the same boat. If they want to live, they’ll have to row together. So…Thanks, Pope, I guess?

As for whether Ren and Itsuki are really dead…like Naofumi, I’ll need more concrete confirmation than the word of a power-hungry, coup-starting pontiff. One thing I know for certainty: If and when they all get out of this mess, Malty will still treat Naofumi like utter shit. Take it to the bank.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 14 – Glowing Fists For All!

Carissa’s Coup Arc is brought to a suitably ostentatious and splendid end, as Index III truly BRINGS IT this week. As Itsuwa safely delivers Touma and Vilian to the gates of Buckingham Palace, Touma gives Vilian his typical spiel of helping out for “no special reason” except that he won’t abandon all of the people “running around for their lives”, trying not to lose what’s important to them.

Carissa awaits with Curtana Original, which she uses to summon a fleet of unmanned aerial fortresses. Touma has a bear of a time keeping up with her sword’s pandimensional fragmentation, but while he was thrust into the final boss battle far quicker than he’d hoped, he’s obviously far from alone. Kanzaki, Index, Amakusa, and Sherry all arrive in turn, though Carissa isn’t cowed by any of them.

Even a Saint like Kanzaki has trouble against Carissa and Curtana, while Touma has to time his right arm just right since the weapon has a brief lag between slash and effect. He manages to strike true before Carissa can kill Vilian, who uses her crossbow to rediredct the flash bombardment from Coven Compass to land a direct hit on Carissa’s position.

Unfortunately, it only gives her a couple light scratches; more will have to be done to defeat her, which means more allies must take the stage. As Carissa picks up the idea of bombardment by having bunker-buster cruise missiles launched on the palace grounds, elder Princess Rimea broadcasts a message bringing the forces of Knights back to their feet…including Knight Leader.

Carissa soon finds she can’t launch any more missiles, since Acqua has destroyed all military antennae. This is why you have a magical backup to a vital scientific device, or vice versa, but of course Carissa hasn’t thought anything through beyond “I have Curtana Original, I am invincible.” Now she has three Saint-levels fighting her in Kanzaki, Acqua, and Leader.

And then Mom shows up. Queen Elizard casts aside her own Curtana Second, knowing it’s powerless against the original, but whips out another magical treasure of the royal family: the Union Jack, which she uses to redistribute all of the power imbued within Curtana to each and every one of the millions of British people.

This essentially turns every British citizen into a hero in their own right, with the mandate to “do what they will.” It’s essentially a re-imagining of that iconic signal from Admiral Nelson’s ship during the decisive Battle of Trafalgar: England expects that every man will do his duty.” Only this time it isn’t just England, nor is it just men.

With over 90 million now aligned against her, Carissa can’t help but hesitate for a moment, which is the one thing she can’t do. In that moment, Index (yeah, her!) delivers a simple incantation to cause Curtana to swing upward and hold in place just long enough for Acqua to launch Touma at it with his right arm. He shatters the sword and delivers a devastating punch to Carissa, and suddenly the coup d’etat is all over.

Unfortunately, Touma’s troubles are not. The beaten Carissa is confronted by Fiamma of the Right, who is there only to check on those items which he desires to possess: Touma’s own right hand, yes, but more importantly, Index. A magical item he steals before heading off to Russia was a kind of safety device that allowed Index to live a normal daily life despite having memorized 103,000 grimoires.

In the Tower of London, Stiyl, Elizard, and Touma look over a bedridden, unconscious Index. If Touma is to save her, he must get that device back, which means he’s headed to Russialand. No rest for the weary.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 13 – Preparing the Countercoup

The good guys (or rather, the folks we typically follow) have had their backs against the wall since Carissa’s surprise coup, but this week they start whittling away at the upstart princess’ power. Touma and Floris survive and run into the fleeing Vilian, who is picked up by Amakusa in their plane.

William continues his fight against Knight Leader, who believes he has Acqua’s number thanks to a spell that nullifies or “zeroes out” the sharpness of his opponent’s sword, but like Imagine Breaker works on all magic.

Thankfully, William’s Ascalon has enough hidden bells and whistles to overcome the ability. William doesn’t kill his old friend, but he knocks him out of the fighting.

William and Touma meet up right by the coach in which an unconscious Index resides. Just as they’re down one less thing to worry about, Carissa arrives with some of her knights, and decides to give them a demonstration of the power of Curtana Original (none of that Diet Curtana crap!)

Even Touma’s Imagine Breaker can’t nullify the sheer force of Carissa’s attack before he’s flung way up into the air amongst the debris from the ground below; Curtana can cleave through the very dimensions of space and beyond, after all.

William, seeing that Touma is also trying to lesson the destruction and thus on the same side (at least in this scenario) saves both Touma and leaves Index with him, who naturally wakes up confused…and in need of some supper!

Amakusa picks them up in the plane, where Kanzaki and Tatemiya discuss the next stage of their mission. Touma, Index, and Princess Villian will head to the secret underground station under Buckingham Palace, where they believe Carissa has gone. In that station lies a special train car that contains magic that stabilizes the power of Curtana Original, which is unbalanced and prone to overload.

Not only does Touma need Villian’s royal blood to unlock the way to the car, he relies on advice through a quick phone call to this season’s mascot, Misaka (who is having a bad day, eating lunch in a restaurant full of women with big boobs). When a golem appears and reconstructs every time Touma cancels him, he also leans on Index’s not inconsiderable magical know-how.

Villian distracts the golem with a physical attack (she has no offensive magical skills, only potential) while Index recites an incantation that makes the golem re-expose Touma’s right arm, allowing him to cancel it once and for all.

The seal is broken, the car is released, and the Puritans’ Coven Compass aerial fortress prepares to cast a debilitating large-scale flash spell. Bottom line: Curtana Original’s power is dampened, and Carissa herself is injured.

 

Still, she’s not going to give up so easily. It’s going to take a sustained assault on Buckingham to wrest control of Curtana from Carissa, get her in custody. Her alliance with the knights is already weakened by the forceful withdrawal of their leader from the battlefield (courtesy of William).

But first, Amakusa and the Puritans sit down for a great al fresco feast, while both Kanzaki and Itsuwa consider changing into something more alluring for their mutual crush Touma. Knight Leader warns William that if he’s taking Carissa and Curtana on head-on, he’d better be prepared for an attack no one can block or nullify.

Just as news comes the Compass is in position, the feast cut short, and preparations for the counterattack begin, Queen Elizard arrives at the outskirts of London with her “calculating” elder daughter Rimea and Laura. Their destination? A museum where a flag—secretly a magical item that is likely to prove useful to their cause—is stored. The battle for the Untied Kingdom is about to begin!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 12 – Who Had The Better Ten Years

Princess Carissa’s mother Queen Elizard remarks how impressively fast her second daughter’s invasion has unfolded, though it’s in no small part due to the power of Curtana Original (woe betide them all if she ever found Curtana Honey BBQ or Salt & Vinegar).

Her knights crawl out of the woodwork, but at every turn are met with resistance, either from witches, nuns, or…Sherry Cromwell. Carissa’s main goal is to legitimize her claim to the throne by killing her mother and sisters and then launching an attack on France (determined thanks to a captive Index’s analysis). She claims to be doing all of this for the survival and independence of her country.

Kanzaki Kaori makes one hell of an entrance by jumping out of a passing plane to stop Carissa, but she more than meets her match in Knight Leader, who let’s just say has a huge homefield advantage.

After quickly dispatching Kaori (making me wonder whether she’s become the Worf of Raildex: a strong character constantly getting owned to demonstrate an enemy’s power) KL and Carissa locate Princess Villian’s coach and prepare to behead her, but she’s saved at the last second by Acqua of the Rear, AKA William Orville, back in Britain after ten years.

Orville flees with Villian, puts her on Bayard, and sends her off to a Necessarius safe house. Knight Leader shows back up, and he and Orville have a duel. Considering how well he fared against Kaori, it’s no surprise even Orville has trouble with him. But as the episode closes he’s still in the fight.

Also in the fight: Touma, who passes Lessar off only to get cornered on a regional train. He finds Lessar’s comrade Floris in a cargo car, undoes her magical binds with Imagine Breaker, then takes her hand and leaps out of the train and off a bridge…into a river far shallower than he expected.

With Touma probably still alive and on the move with Floris, Orville and Knight Leader locked in battle, Villian headed to safety, and Queen Elizard and Laura Stuart also free and making their way back to London, the quick start to Carissa’s coup suddenly isn’t going so smoothly. Better still, there are plenty of players on the board who can make it even rougher.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 11 – A Blatantly Obvious Explosion of Suspiciousness

After that harrowing flight (during which Touma never answered the “beef or fish”, resulting in Index being served no food at all), Kaori and Knight Leader escort the pair to an audience with the British royal family, led by the very laid-back Queen Elizard (who carries herself more like a mafia don and would rather do business in a track suit) and her three daughters: Rimea, Carissa, and Villian.

The assembled individuals lay out the threats to Britain, both external (from France) and internal (a four-woman group called “New Light”). Index has been summoned to assist in the analysis of the magic used so that they can more properly locate the threats. As for Touma? Kaori doesn’t want civilians involved, but unless he wants to pay room and board in Buckingham Palace, he’s strongly “encouraged” to actively serve the interests of British peace.

That night (or thereabouts) New Light springs into action, which involves the four of them splitting up and taking up positions while carrying checkered magical storage cases. The clumsiest of the quartet, Lessar, nearly mixes her case up with that of a drunk at a pub where she’s enjoying a repast of fish and chips (good thing Index wasn’t watching), and ends up being chased by the always lovely Oriana Thompson, backed up by Touma.

Meanwhile, the New Light leader is cornered by Amakusa then chased through the London Underground by Itsuwa, before brandishing the weapons of Thor (though not his famous hammer) and slipping away. The two other members are taken down, so Touma and Oriana believe they only have to deal with two more.

They then learn that the four were carrying out a relay, magically transferring the true contents from one to the other. Before the relay can be broken by Oriana and Touma, Lessar completes it to a fifth case, which is held by Knight Leader, working for the second princess, Carissa.

The box contains “Curtana Original”, the powerful ceremonial sword wielded by Britain’s sovereign which contains the power of the Angel Michael (her mother only has “Curtana Second”, which presumably isn’t as powerful).

And so, Touma finds himself in the middle of a battle between British princesses and their allies for control of the kingdom, and with both Curtana and the legendary Norse ship Skidbladnir, Carissa seems to have the upper hand, having used New Light as glorified couriers.

It’s an exciting, action-packed romp in a vibrant new London setting where none the players, not even the royal ones (I liked their selfie with Touma) take themselves or anything else too seriously. This is all a bit goofy and ridiculous, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 05

Souma beat Kuga in sales on the fourth day, but there’s still one day left, and I, fool that I am, thought that that would be the main thrust of this episode. Instead, the final day goes by in montage form, and Kuga ends up taking first place in total sales in their section.

It’s a disappointing result for both chefs, especially since we learn Kuga lost a secondary bet with 1st Seat Tsukasa Eishi: a second Shokugeki if he leads in sales all five days. What happened in the first? When Kuga was coming up, Tsukasa cheerfully accepted his brazen challenge, then proceeded to crush him without mercy.

That Souma was able to best Kuga in sales one of the days and maintain his composure despite considerably psychological warfare on Kuga’s part basically tells Kuga what Kuga’s 5-0 loss told Tsukasa: that his challenger has lots of talent and potential, they just need growth.

2nd Seat Kobayashi Rindou (voiced with gusto by the great Itou Shizuka) is the only Elite Ten member to not have a booth (Eizan is managing twenty), instead choosing to visit all 120 booths and stuff her face.

Impressed by his one-day defeat of Kuga, Rindou invites Souma and Megumi to the Yamanote Area for a very special nine-course dinner personally prepared by Tsukasa. His “booth” is really a super fancy restaurant with only three tables, suggesting Rindou was probably planning this, and her interest in Souma wasn’t merely due to his connection to Kuga.

It’s a real eye-opener for Souma to watch, see, smell and taste something on an entirely different level that he is. Forget leagues, Tsukasa is out of Souma’s galaxy, and to his credit, Souma knows it. He may be a brash, confident fellow, but he knows when he’s outmatched.

Naturally, the clothes come off Souma, Megumi, and Rindou upon tasting his food, and Tsukasa’s title of “White Knight of the Table”, pledging absolute loyalty from his ingredients and getting absolute loyalty in return, adds to the legend that is 1st Seat Tsukasa Eishi.

Meanwhile, at her “booth”, Erina still waits for Souma’s dad to come and sit at the table. In her thoughts she makes it plain that he’s the only reason she’s come this far. It was heartwarming to see Lil’ Erina so smitten, but the atmosphere of the scene, as well as the very scope of the episode and show itself, suddenly changed upon the sudden, unexpected arrival not of Jouichirou, but Erina’s sinister, vampiric dad Azami (voiced by the same guy as Toosaka Rin’s dad!).

It’s obvious beyond doubt that Azami is Just Plain Bad News; his presence is immediately upsetting and overwhelming to Erina, and Hisako is at a loss at how to help. Azami throws his weight around, shitting on Erina’s customers and telling her that serving these clowns is beneath her.

Just then, to Hisako’s relief, Souma barges in, pepper bun in hand, asking Erina if she has a free table (which, until her father showed up, she did). Not reading the room at all (as usual), Souma saunters up to Azami, asks if it’s possible to share his table, and Azami withdraws.

Souma to the rescue, right? Eh, not quite. Remember when I said Souma had a lot of growing to do? He and his friends are going to have to grow up quick, because mere minutes after arriving, Nakiri Azami completely upturns the power structure at Totsuki.

His father, Erina’s gramps, shows up to demand Azami leave at once, and they enter a little philosophical argument. Suffice it to say, Azami’s standards for both accepting students and serving customers at Tosukis are far stricter than his father’s.

One would think “Well sure bro, good talk, but you’re not in charge, so get back to your coffin before the sun comes up!” But by the episode’s closing moments, Azami IS in charged, as decreed by six of the Elite Ten: 4th Seat Akanegakubo Momo, 5th Seat Saitou Soumei, 6th Seat Kinokuni Nene, 9th Seat Eizan Etsuya, and in a twist I did not see coming, 1st and 2ns Seats Tsukasa and Rindou.

It’s a COUP, baby…and Rindou wants Souma to join their side, the side of Azami, and “crucial reforms” that will stamp out the “anyone can be a great chef” mentality that had defined the school to that point. This is bad guys! And absolutely crazy. This is some Captain Aizen-level shit right here! And I, for one, am stoked at the possibilities.

I would imagine that rather than join the Dark Side, Souma will ally himself with Erina, and perhaps the three other seats who didn’t vote for Azami – Megishima Tousuke, Isshiki…and Kuga. They’re outnumbered and possibly outgunned. It’s looking like Rindou’s booth-hopping was a means of deciding who stays and who goes in the purge that is sure to come.

If having Souma sample Tsukasa’s cooking was some kind of a means of luring him to their side…they don’t know Yukihira Souma! He’s loyal to his friends, even if they’re not—especially if they’re not the strongest.

Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 06

With its sixth episode, Akashic Records has unfolded in a steady pattern: a first episode of setup (in this case the magical competition) a second episode that raises the stakes (the attempted plot to kill Rumia) and a satisfying third episode that brings everything together with style and panache.

Last week ended with Re=L trying to kill Glenn, but that’s just her nature: rush in headfirst without thinking. Fortunately for Glenn and Rumia, Albert is there to hold Re=L back, and the two court mages decide to help their old buddy out with protecting Rumia and foiling the Imperial Guard’s plot.

Many times, we cut away from the end of the competition to Glenn simply running from the Guard with Rumia in his arms. Albert and Re=L take over for Glenn, with Albert saying everything Glenn would say if he was there, keeping Class 2’s heads in the game. Everyone performs like he hoped when he selected them, including Sisti, who makes use of his altered spell advice to defeat her opponent in a duel and grasp victory.

From there, a nifty little twist takes place: the representatives of the winning class get to be presented their award by Queen Alicia herself. In this case, that’s Albert and Re=L…only it ISN’T. Albert and Re=L switched places with Glenn and Rumia back when they met, using self-illusion magic to assume each other’s forms.

That puts Glenn, The Fool, right where he needs to be to (quietly) unleash his Fool’s World spell, nullifying the conditional cursed necklace around Alicia’s neck. Before that, Alicia has to say some very harsh lies about ordering Rumia’s execution and that she never loved her.

That really puts poor Rumia through the emotional ringer, but Rumia’s a tough gal, and once it’s no longer deadly to do so, Queen Alicia lets her true feelings be known, and that in turn leads Rumia to accept and return her mother’s love in a tearful, cathartic embrace.

As for the ringleader in the Guard’s treachery, Eleanor Chalet, a heretic mage of the Researchers of Divine Wisdom, is surrounded by the real Albert and Re=L in a dark alley, but uses a spell to escape before they can place her in custody, offering only one vague, if titular clue, about why she was so keen on killing Rumia AKA Ermiana: “Akashic Records.”

If a RDW traitor could pose as queen’s chief handmaiden, it means the good guys will have to exercise constant vigilance. Albert and Re=L bid goodbye to Glenn, though considering she’s featured heavily in the OP and ED in an academy uniform, I wouldn’t be surprised if Re=L returns, posing as a student in Glenn’s class to assist him in keeping Rumia safe.

After thanking Glenn for helping to save her, along with her mom, and for keeping his three-year-old promise to have her back, Rumia and Glenn head to the tavern where the rest of Class 2 has already gotten the victory celebration started. In fact, I was totally caught off guard yet delighted by the fact Sisti managed to get wasted (on brandy cake of all things!) and is in full-on Lovey-Dovey Shironeko Glom mode with Glenn.

That would be enough discomfort on his plate, but as a final insult, the class ended up spending his entire reward, as well as the three-month salary he won in the bet with his fellow teacher, on the night’s food and drink bill. Not to worry, however: he’s sure to get more homemade meals from Sisti.

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