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.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 04 – Part of the Gang

The night after the battle, Rishia tells the rest of the party how she and her parents lived happy unassuming lives as poor nobles until a neighboring noble abducted her as payment for debts unfairly levied against her family. She thought she was a goner, but was rescued by Itsuki, who exposed the evil noble. Ever since, Rishia has vowed to repay the Bow Hero (also, she’s probably in love with the guy…I mean look at that face.)

Naofumi’s party, along with Ost, Eclair, and Elrasla, take it upon themselves to finish off the Spirit Tortoise by traveling onto its headless body and finding its weak spot. On the way, Ost wonders why all of the soldiers are saluting and praising her when she’s technically a servant of the Tortoise. The answer is simple: because she fought alongside them, and saved their lives.

After hours of traveling through dense fog with no weak spots in sight, Naofumi decides to stop and camp for the night. While Raph and Filo sleep together, Rishia admits to Ost that she’s a little jealous of their sisterly bond as she was an only child. But throughout the episode and especially here, Ost serves as a big sister figure.

Ost assures Rishia that even though she’s no longer in the Bow Hero’s party—and maybe precisely because she isn’t—she’s able to accomplish something for his sake. The next morning, when they meet up with Queen Mirelia at a village decimated by the Tortoise awakening, Ost provides a soothing presence for Rishia, who is not used to being around such death.

After being comforted by Ost, Rishia pays it forward by telling an also-distraught Raphtalia that she doesn’t have to “get used to” death an destruction. That’s after Mirelia leads Naofumi’s gang to a large dilapidated shrine further within the Tortoise’s back, into which they all brave despite the constant risk of total collapse.

Once there, and there is an ancient language written on the wall to translate, Rishia really comes into her own, both in enthusiasm and competence. Naofumi wonders if from now on she should focus on honing her scholarly skills, but Elrasla tells Naofumi that might yet be a waste of Rishia’s potential, which remains as yet untapped. She then comes upon some writing she can’t ready easily, which Naofumi immediately identifies as Japanese.

Mirelia calls it the “hero’s alphabet”, and while some of it is worn away or obscured, he can make out something about breaking a seventh seal. When the shrine collapses, Ost finally remembers something important: the key to defeating the Tortoise is to travel within its body.

Naofumi prepares to head in with Raph, Filo, and Ost, asking Eclair and Elrasla to keep the armies together should thinkgs go sideways. He’s ready to ask Rishia to stay behind as well, but she refuses: she’s a member of his party; where he goes, she goes.

It’s a brave, bold gesture by someone who, along with Ost, have become my favorite characters in this second season. That said, when she heads into the dark and spooky “large intestine” of the Tortoise, she still needs Ost by her side to keep her wits about her.

That’s when the party suddenly encounters what appear to be three adventurers who claim to have been sent by the queen. Nobody buys that, and when Raph uses anti-mirage magic to nullify their disguises, they’re revealed to be Naofumi’s old pals L’Arc, Therese…and Glass. Now they’re not a trio you come across any ol’ day in a giant turtle colon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

Tokyo 24th Ward Dropped

Somewhere between the far-fetched lightning episode, the flashback episode that didn’t move the story forward, and the show not airing at all last week, I lost interest in this show. The first half of this episode did nothing to re-spark that interest.

The ham-fisted political commentary now dominates everything, leaving our characters nothing but pawns darting across a breakneck plot while two bad guys on opposite ends of the spectrum weave their respective webs. I’d have preferred more of RGB solving trolley dilemmas interspersed with slice-of-city-life moments of earlier episodes.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 09 – Sowing and Reaping

You said it, Cowboy Man. Nothing like a prequel three quarters into a show to kill the momentum. RGB, who flailed around independently last week during an improbably destructive thunderstorm. Rather than follow up on those events, we flash back to 1999, when Kanae was still working on autonomous driving tech with her colleague Kuchikiri.

When a car drives into their lane, the AI overrides Kanae’s steering so that Kuchikiri is seriously injured while Kanae and a pedestrian, a young Tsuzuragawa, are spared. When Kuchikiri comes to he finds himself unable to read words or numbers properly, and decides to reinvent himself with the name “Kuchikiri” now looks like to his eyes: 0th.

Kanae, who had just struck a business deal with Suidou Gouri, eventually becomes his wife and the mother of his kids…but the episode isn’t interested in explaining exactly how these two people with zero chemistry fell in love. But hey, Tsuzuragawa, guilty over what happened with 0th, decides to follow in Kanae’s footsteps even as Kanae abandons her research. Tsuzuragawa also meets Chikushi at college, where he once exhibited the same wannabe hero qualities as Shuuta (which explains his present-day cynicism).

Kanae also sets up the Takara Food Bank with the shopping district, which is how her kids Asumi and Kouki meet Shuuta and Ran. But while she’s chasing after someone asking if they need help, she ends up robbed and stabbed to death. Chikushi came between her and the first slash, but couldn’t stop the second. Gouri’s kids watch their dad break down for the first time in their lives, and I daresay he transformed into a different person in that hospital that night.

Determined to prevent crimes like the one that claimed his wife, Gouri turns to Tsuzuragawa to dust off Kanae’s research and complete it; the beginnings of what would become the KANAE System in the present. Tsuzuragawa probably knows right then and there that if Kanae couldn’t perfect the tech, she doesn’t have a prayer, but presses on anyway out of guilt and obligation.

Where Tsuzuragawa finds time to do this research while acting as chauffeur and personal assistant to the Suidou family is unclear, but as the years pass Gouri turns the resurrected Cornucopia Project as the cornerstone of both his mayoral campaign and his bid for the 24th Ward to join Tokyo. When 0th hears about this, he wants to fight Gouri, and I can’t blame him. Kanae’s tech was flawed and she knew it, but he’s going to use it anyway?

Perhaps too conveniently for the completion of Gouri’s descent, Tsuzuragawa is unable to make the system work without a human brain at its core, and as you’d expect, you can’t buy living brains on Rakuten. But when Asumi is severely injured at the school fire, Gouri decides to turn her into the 24th Ward’s “Guardian Angel”, which even for him feels like too large a leap to Super-villainy.

Ultimately, while this flashback episode colored in some of the broad strokes and made some connections regarding the adult characters of the show, the fact remains RGB are still flailing about in the present day, with one less episode for them to figure shit out. Meanwhile, Gouri’s monstrous decision was decidedly not justified here, while Tsuzuragawa comes off as the misguided protégé. The grown-ups have left a big mess for the kids to clean up!

P.S. Episode 10 is delayed; a recap episode is airing this week.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 05 – The Princess Is in THIS Castle

I dove into into PriConne’s second season expecting a feast for the eyes as well as for the heart with its lovely slice-of-life lighthearted comedy with a formidable budget. What I was not prepared for was the sheer scope and scale of this season. We’re only five episodes in, but this could have been a penultimate episode or even a season finale!

Peco has been teleported to Landosol by the big bad—whose name I don’t believe has crossed anyone’s lips thus far, but is known as Kaiser Insight—to be “assessed”. Peco is defiant and doesn’t show fear, but the bottom line is Kaiser took everything from her, and has been letting her soul “ripen” to maximum despair.

While that happens, the battle continues without Peco, and Kasumi and Yuuki discover that the Shadows and the golem are headed in Kiiri’s direction. After saving her, Kiiri is gung-ho about being Kasui’s assistant; one on the fast track to being a fellow great detective.

While the others stand by as the shadow army pivots, Karyl stands atop a bluff, knowing full well what just happened: Kaiser teleported Peco away. There’s so much emotion in this little scene, as Karyl struggles with worry over Peco and guilt over the means by which she’s been taken. It’s not like she could have crossed Kaiser, but she still feels awful about doing it.

Kasumi, Yuuki and Kokkoro quickly come up with a plan to use Kiiri as a lure so the golem and army will end up in a lake to be defeated. Kokkoro even has the leaf glider she can now conjure all gassed up, but they hit a sudden and heartbreaking snag: Kiiri, a copy of Kasumi without a soul of her own and thus an anomaly, is erased by the self-correcting systems of the world.

I have to hand it to PriConne, which is no stranger to quickly introducing characters, but it was able to wring a lot more pathos out of me than I’d have thought with the death scene of a character who had just been introduced last week. Now I know why they didn’t cast Minase Inori as Yuni the scholar; instead she does yoeman’s work as both Kasumi and Kiiri.

Kiiri’s erasure from the world leads to Yuuki remembering a previous life he lived with Peco, Karyl and Kokkoro, before being killed in battle protecting Peco. At that point he is sent…somewhere where Ames and Labyrista give him a choice: return to the hopeless battle from whence he came, or “cast his eyes downward and start anew”, re-building his bonds from scratch.

It’s at this point when I remind readers I’ve never played the source game and have no idea how much of this expansive story comes from that and how much is original, or even how deep it goes. Yet I don’t really mind that sometimes I’m lost, because it just means I have to use my brain to fill in the blanks. With a show that looks this good with characters this lovable, that’s not a chore at all.

You could say Yuuki and Peco have experienced similar fates: both lost everything, but are absolutely defiant and determined to get it all back. Kaiser thinks she’s won when she gets Peco to make a despairing face over the prospect of being forgotten again. But it will take a hell of a lot more hardship and despair for Peco to give up.

Obliterating the gaggle of Shadows Kaiser sicced on her, Peco invites Kaiser to share a meal so she can understand her better. Kaiser declines, but Peco reminds her she’s no longer just Princess Eustania of Landosol; she’s also Pecorine of the Gourmet Guild. Kaiser concludes that Peco still isn’t quite “ripe” enough and teleports her back to the battle…but not before vowing to take everything Peco has left.

Back on the scene and falling from the sky, everyone revels in Peco’s return, and Yuuki powers her up so she can deliver the mother of all Princess Strikes, defeating the golem and the army in one beautifully-animated explosion that really packs a punch. It’s Gurren Lagann-level coup-de-grace, and it reminds us just how determined and capable Peco is of following through on her promise to get everything that’s been taken from her back.

Once the dust clears, the search for Peco among the golem rubble and rent earth commences. It’s very fitting that the first one to spot her is Karyl, who cannot hide the fact that her worrying about Peco brought tears to her eyes. When Peco sees those tears, she gets emotional too, and simply says “I’m home” and “I’m starving.”

Some rubble gives way, and Karyl slides right into Peco’s waiting embrace. She calls Peco a dummy like usual, but also says “welcome home.” She’s not talking about their cozy cottage, either: for Karyl, home is wherever the people you love happen to be. Kaiser may have sworn to destroy that home, but as long as the Gourmet Guild are together—and flanked by all manner of colorful allies—she’ll have a hard time fulfilling that pledge.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 22 – Home Alone

Following his extremely close brush with death by Orsted’s hand, Rudeus has a series of disturbing dreams while unconscious, which are something of a culmination of his journey and his yearning. All this time he’s not only sought to keep his beloved Eris safe and restore Ruijerd’s rep, but to return home to his family. These dreams give him a glimpse of what that might look like, but also show him his old reality of being alone in a dark, cluttered room, only to be impaled once more by Orsted.

He awakes to find Eris dozing peacefully beside him as usual, and Ruijerd sitting by the fire keeping watch. Ruijerd is still trying to wrap his head around a Man-God and the fact the Seven Gods of ancient times are still kickin’ it. For a second, I thought Rudy was going to tell him that he came from another world. Instead, he says the Superd curse has been fading since Ruijerd shaved his head, and is all but gone; this moves Ruijerd to tears. Ruijerd!

After many travels and trials and tribulations, Dead End have come to their destination, Rudy and Eris’ home, only to find it a grey, dreary ruin, lacking all the green vitality it had before the disaster. As Rudy walks pasts spots where he, his mom, dad, Roxy and Sylphie once shared simple moments made so much more meaningful by the fact those moments are no longer possible; only in memory. Again, it feels like the series summing things up.

Now that Rudy and Eris are home, and no longer children, Rujierd declares them them as no longer needing a babysitter. He treats them like children once more by patting them on the head, then says goodbye, hoping they’ll meet again someday. It’s a perfect farewell for Ruijerd, as there’s little more he can teach Eris. Now that she and Rudy are back home in their new, more adult-ish form, it’s time for them to stand on their own, just as Ruijerd must walk on his own, after Rudy helped him take the first step.

The good news: Ghislaine is in town, as is Alphonse, both alive and well. The bad news: Eris’ family is dead. We know her gramps was executed, but her parents passed away after being teleported. Alphonse is primarily concerned with the future of the Boreas family and the fate of their lands and people. To that end, he mentions an alliance whereby Eris becomes the concubine of a neighboring lord in order to secure that future. Ghislaine is against it. Eris needs time alone…not even Rudy can stay by her side.

Later that day Rudy learns that Sylphie is among the missing, but not confirmed dead, so she’s out there somewhere. That was the first hint that his and Eris’ paths would diverge, but it didn’t come into focus until later that night when Eris visits Rudy in his tent wearing a flowing nightie. Eris mentions that she just recently turned fifteen—of age in her society—and for her birthday she wants a family. She wants Rudy to be that family; she wants them to sleep together.

Rudy hesitates, his head swimming with all the reasons he shouldn’t; Eris is feeling hopeless and needs connection; he’s not fifteen yet…but then Eris draws closer and tells him all the reasons they should, and so they do. What ensues is one of the more tasteful lovemaking scenes you can pull off considering the ages of the participants. In any case, it’s a long, long time coming, considering how much these two have come to love each other.

Alas, that night was just another dream. In the morning, Rudy only gets a few magical moments of having “gotten it made” as a normie before he realizes Eris isn’t in the bed, has chopped off her hair, and left him a note stating “You and I aren’t well-matched right now. I’m going away.” Rudy learns from Alphonse that Eris set out on a journey with Ghislaine, and told him not to tell Rudy where.

So Rudy finds himself back home, totally alone but for Alphonse, with whom he never had the closest or warmest relationship. No more Ruijerd, and more devastatingly, no more Eris, on whose proximity day and night he’d become so accustomed. He wanders the tent city aimlessly, wondering what Eris meant in her note. I suspect she meant for it to sting so he wouldn’t follow, as she has things she needs to do without him at her side to rely on.

But Rudy doesn’t know. He’s not back in his smelly apartment in Japan, but he’s just as alone now as he was then. The question is, what will he do and where will he go next? His mother and Sylphie, for instance, are still missing; does he set out alone to search for them? Does he rejoin his dad and Norn and aid their efforts?

His possibilities are as endless as the horizons of this sprawling world, but just right now he’s paralyzed with sudden, crippling loneliness—the end of one journey marks the start of a new and far more difficult one.

86 – 19 – No-Face and the Pale Rider

In a thrilling opening sequence, Nordlicht is parachuted en masse from the Nachzehrer’s hold as Lt. Col. Wenzel distracts the Legion. We hear a yelp and the last we see of the aircraft it is taking heavy fire. But Wenzel’s job was to get her troops in position to take out Morpho, and she did that job.

…That is, until it’s revealed that the damaged “Morpho” in the middle of town isn’t the Morpho, but a decoy. Rather than repaired, the active core was transferred to a spare Morpho still out of range of Shin & Co. As a result, they’re left as sitting ducks as the Real Morpho, the core of which is Kiri’s mad murderous head, fires its main railgun into the town.

All of the allied observers are wiped out, but Nordlicht manage to survive the blast. Back at the command center, the generals, who aren’t yet aware Shin and the others lived, recommend they fall back and regroup now that Nordlicht failed. Ernst says to do so would be amoral and cowardly. He adds that the people of Giad elected him to uphold a higher set of ideals, which means not abandoning the soldiers they sent in to save them.

While Ernst has Shin & Co’s back, there’s obviously something else going on with him. As Shin races to Morpho’s position, Kiri spots the headless reaper emblem and identifies Shin as a surviving member of the Nouzen Clan. Kiri wants nothing more than to destroy everything and everyone Shin knows and cares about, but his Legion superior “No-Face” orders him to stand down. When he won’t, the railgun is remotely deactivated.

It seems the Legion brass doesn’t want Shin dead…and part of me also suspects that “No-Face” is really Ernst Zimmerman. Why he’d send his nation and all other surviving nations to the brink like he is may be explained by his desire to uphold ideals humanity has abandoned. Meanwhile, on his way back to his designated district, Kiri spots a red flag and is reminded of the robe of the young Empress he once protected.

Nordlicht regroups at an abandoned forward base, remaining deep in Legion territory and preparing to pierce even deeper to finish Morpho off. Shin’s briefing is interrupted by weird sounds emanating from one of Fido’s cargo containers. Turns out Frederica stowed away to serve as the unit’s “hostage”, ensuring they upheld their duty to come back alive.

Raiden agrees to take her back to safety, and tells Frederica that there was no reason to put herself in danger; they don’t want to die and are planning not to. But as Shin told his superior during the briefing, retreating now to die tomorrow is pointless. Morpho is on the run, and pissed off by its pragmatic boss to boot. The only way everyone goes home—or even has a home—is to finish what they’ve started.

Mieruko-chan – 08 – Let Sleeping Moths Lie

While shopping with Kyousuke for a birthday gift for their mom, Miko comes across a very cute dress and decides to try it on, since she and her mom are pretty much the same size. Unfortunately, a ghoulish store rep who says “It looks great on you!” kinda ruins the mood…not to mention Miko wears the dress out of the store, basically nixing it as a gift for mom.

While she and Kyousuke find another gift, the trip home is less than stress-free, thanks to a spectral axe murderer walking down the subway car, swinging its axe right into peoples’ heads. Miko has every right to be scared about what the axe might do to someone like her who can see them.

Thankfully, the axe only hurts other ghouls, and goes right through her head without incident. We don’t see Miko and Kyousuke giving their mom the gift of couple mugs. Rather, we watch as their mom makes two cups of tea with them: one for her, and one for her dearly departed husband.

The balance between creepy/gross/spooky/sinister ghosts and benevolent ones continues when Miko and Hana see off their pregnant homeroom teacher, learning that the child she’s carrying is her second try. This explains the odd white specter that’s so interested in the teacher’s belly: it’s the ghost of her dead child.

This was one of the best and most powerful segments of Mieruko-chan to date, because it once again subverts expectations. At first I thought the ghost was a threat like Miko did. But when we see how it interacts with his mother’s hand, it’s as if we and Miko can see the healing love emanate from her. I was well and truly choked up.

Contrast that with just regular choking due to one of the grosser ghouls Miko has come across. With a dozen slithery three-nostriled tusks leaking snot and some unsettling googly eyes, this particular specimen is not the first ghost Miko decides to face “head-on”. Perhaps she’ll face a less gross one later. For now, Miko joins Senpai’s Futaba as a Fall 2021 character who is partial to canned oshiruko.

The final segment brings back two very different cat people. First, Miko and Hana’s substitute homeroom teacher is Toono Zen, the guy Miko wouldn’t let adopt the stray kitten. Between those nasty demonic cats surrounding him and his blood red eyes, I wonder if he has “the sight” like Miko and Yulia, and knows that Miko can see too?

Whatever his deal, homeroom is not going to be pleasant for Miko for the foreseeable future. As for the tough yakuza-looking guy, he takes his time finding just the right cat food and cake to celebrate his late wife’s life, their anniversary, and the lives of their two beautiful white cats, who continue to watch over his new fuzzy companion as benevolent spirits. Mieruko-chan continues to spook me out and melt my heart.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 18 – A Bat Into Hell

There was no new episode of 86 last week, nor will a new episode air next week. Instead, this eighteenth episode whets our appetite for the final desperate struggle of an alliance of human nations to defeat the apocalyptic Legion the Empire of Giad created. It starts out pretty subdued, with a pair of conversations, once again underscoring the unfortunate production issues apparently plaguing the show just as it nears the home stretch.

Ernst wants the commander’s promise he’s not sending the Eighty-Six to their potential deaths simply because he said they were too dangerous to keep around to begin with. In this particular case, it’s more that they have no one better for a mission that must succeed, or everyone dies. We also learn that Wenzel, who lost someone dear in the war (a spouse, perhaps), isn’t ready to give up on the kids living normal lives after surviving this.

Part of surviving means having the best equipment available, and both Wenzel and her boss know the slow military helicopters won’t get the job done. Instead, she requests and is granted access to an old prototype ground-effect vehicle or ekranoplan, one of the strangest and most nerdy of aerospace inventions.

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one of these contraptions depicted in anime (if anyone knows of another, shout it out in the comments), but the long, foreboding journey through darkness into its hangar feels like Wenzel and the Nordlicht are descending into a dungeon to wake a dragon that may either help or kill them. It’s also named after a Giadian legend of yore: Nachzehrer, a vampire that drags its shadow along the ground.

Ekranoplan or no ekranoplan, Frederica wants to know what the plan is for getting out of enemy territory if and when they destroy Morpho. Everyone loos around until Shin says getting home alive is secondary to destroying the target and saving human civilization as they know it.

That’s not enough for Frederica, who refuses to return to the rear lines and has a “tantrum” in her room. Shin visits her, and is not particularly sympathetic, saying he’s not her knight, and even expressing doubt she wants him to kill her old one. Frederica hits back that she simply doesn’t want Shin going down the same path as Kiri. She doesn’t want to lose another brother.

But Frederica doesn’t convince Shin not to go, and probably never would have succeeded. He and the other four Eighty-Six might only be doing this for their own pride and because they known nothing else but being bloody swords on the battlefield, but in this case there is literally no alternative; the enemy isn’t someone that can be surrendered to or asked for quarter.

Ernst, donning his army uniform and taking command of the operation, gives the Eighty-Six a pep talk, telling them no one in Giad wants them to die, and that their most important mission is to come back alive. It’s at this point I was almost ready to say “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all”…but then the lighting changes, his smile vanishes, and he adds that if they don’t come back alive, he’lls “destroy this world.” So yeah…still evil.

Regardless, Ernst gives a stirring speech to rally the troops as the clock counts down to zero. The always-on point Sawano Hiroyuki score swells, the diversionary forces successfully clear a path,  Wenzel hits the throttle, and the bat-shaped Nachzehrer blasts out of its hanger like, well, a bat out of hell.

Only they’re actually heading into hell. Regal Lily’s “Alchemila” hits different when the sounds of weaponry the diversionary units holding their ground and being massacred mixed in. This heartens the Eighty-Six, as the soldiers of their adopted nation aren’t turning tail and fleeing like the drunk and arrogant San Magnolians almost certainly would. They’re not giving up, so they can’t let them down.

Ernst’s under-his-breath threat aside (does the blue light hint that he’s somehow secretly controlling the Legion?) this battle really is for all the marbles. As the voices of the damned fill Shin’s head and a smirk grows on his face, will he be able to keep his and lead Raiden, Anju, Kurena, Theo, and Giad to victory?

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait at least two weeks to find out. But I’m not bitter over the lack of an episode last week or next. I’m just happy we got this one, and all things considered, it ruled pretty damn hard.

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