Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

KonoSuba 2 – 05

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No matter how much ass Aqua kicks, she always finds a way to negate every positive contribution she makes to the party. To whit: the magic circle she set up in the dungeon a couple weeks ago is causing monsters to pour out and cause a big to-do. So the gang has to go back to the dungeon and sort it out.

Megumin continues to wisely stay out of dungeons, and this time Aqua joins her in passing on the adventure, so this time Kazuma is paired up with Darkness. Both of them have complicated feelings on the matter of being alone together in dark places.

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In a twist, no less than a commander of the Demon King’s armies, Vanir, has set up shop in the dungeon. Vanir is your typical blowhard villain, though he brings some vibrant enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheekness to his role.

After some initial success making contact, Darkness is unable to land a hit, and only manages to defeat Vanir when Kazuma trips on a bit of stone, crashes into Vanir, who by sheer dumb luck ends up getting slashed. With his body gone, the mask that remains latches itself on Darkness, and the fun begins, as Vanir is shocked to find Darkness is actually pretty okay with being possessed by a demon.

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She’s so okay, in fact, that every time Vanir thinks he’s achieved “full domination”, Darkness chimes back in. The back-and-forth repartee between a defiantly turned-on Darkness and an increasingly flustered Vanir should get old quick, but never does.

Aqua is ready with exorcism magic, but due to Darkness’ intense magical resistance, it’s a big chore bringing him down. Darkness ultimately has to consent to being blown up by Megumin, who, after all, has been practicing as is pretty good at making a big-ass explosion.

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In an even bigger twist, in light of defeating Vanir (and the mobile fortess earlier), Sena and the state she represents lifts all suspicion from Kazuma (who did, after all, help defeat a Demon King Commander right before her eyes) and the party still clears 40 million eries after their debts are taken care of.

Not a bad night’s work in the dungeon, and entertainingly done in the zany, hyper-caffeinated way I’ve come to expect of earlier KonoSuba. I had grown a bit weary of Kazuma & Co. being broke and miserable; it’s good to see them enjoy a victory, even if something might come up early in the next episode that’ll slap them back down into the muck.

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Shounen Maid – 02

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Wherein Chihiro takes on an eager student and resolves to make better eggs

Like Tanaka-kunShounen Maid introduces a new female addition to the cast in the person of Ootori Miyako, who is arranged by her father to marry Madoka when she turns sixteen. The arrives at Madoka’s home having reached another impasse with her father, and we quickly learn she actually prefers Keiichirou.

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Miyako wants to prove to Keiichirou that she can be a dependable woman and future wife, and after learning Chihiro’s story, decides he’s the best person suited to teach her, being pretty hard-working, dependable, and independent himself.

Predictably, things don’t go so well on the housework front, and though she has fine cooking skills, she makes a mess in the process. Her depression washes away at first sight of Keiichirou, but soon returns, only for her to be cheered up again when Chihiro tells her what his mom told him: compromise is fine, but don’t betray yourself by doing anything against your heart.

It’s not about being selfish; it’s about making your own choices in life, something everyone should be able to do in this day and age.

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When Miyako’s father shows up to find his daughter and Chihiro a bit too close to Madoka for comfort, he drags her back home, but she returns again soon to continute her training with Chihiro. Overall Miyako is a pleasant addition to the cast, as someone both inspired and encouraged by Chihiro’s unique life story so far.

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While generally feel-good in nature, this show is tinged with the grief of the premature loss of his mother, who was by all accounts a strong-willed but kindhearted woman who never looked down at her son or sugar-coated things. Sure, she put too much sugar in her tamagoyaki back when she made them for her brother Madoka back in the day, but by the time Chihiro came around, Chiyo was an omelette expert.

As part of a bento, tamagoyaki becomes a dish Chihiro decides he’ll practice and perfect, after trying to determine what, Madoka’s favorite food is. Even when he screws up the omelette on his first try, Madoka is reminded of his sister doing the same thing.

IMO there’s few foods better than nostalgia-evoking foods, for even if they remind us of someone who has passed, that’s simply proof a part of that someone is still alive in us. So having lost the one in charge of folded omelettes, he’ll strive to become a worthy substitute.

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Shounen Maid – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shounen Maid seems like a high-concept excuse to, well, put a boy in a maid costume…for some reason, and so I wasn’t optimistic about this show from the start.

But when the titular future boy maid Komiya Chihiro attempts to burn the letter his recently deceased mother wrote him because it’s too vague, I knew we were dealing with something with a lot more wit and nuance than I initially suspected.

There’s also something great about introducing his uncle and new ward Takatori Madoka by showing him cowering in fear from a little puppy who got away from its owner.

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Chihiro may be in elementary school, but he’s had to grow up much faster than most of his peers, both with a busy mother who was always away, leaving him to do the housework, and then dying, leaving him alone in the world…or so he thought.

In reality, Chihiro’s mother Chiyo chose exile from her very wealthy family in order to have and raise Chihiro—to live the life she wanted, not one chosen for her. Learning this makes Chi feel partially responsible for his mom’s death, which is ridiculous, but he is just a little kid, and this is a lot to take in.

I also liked how big and grand and imposing Madoka’s mansion is portrayed when Chihiro first arrives. His exposure to this kind of gaudy lifestyle is completely alien to him, but imbued in his personality is a desire not to accrue debts from anyone, even his uncle.

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But more than big and imposing, Madoka’s manor is a pigsty of the highest order, something Chihiro learns by accident when hiding in the kitchen, then noticing the appalling mess. Detail-oriented, fastidious youth with a solid work ethic that he is, Chihiro pulls up his sleeves and cleans like there’s no tomorrow.

All the while, it’s clear he’s not just cleaning because he can’t tolerate messes (though that’s part of it); he’s also staying busy in order to not be a burden to anyone, as well as to take his mind off the fact he’s homesick for a home that no longer exists.

Inspired by his hard work, his Uncle Madoka makes him a frilly uniform, of a design informed by Madoka’s work as a costume designer. There’s clear contrast between Madoka’s carefree attitude and Chihiro’s serious-beyond-his-years, “Those who don’t work don’t eat” philosophy; both guys are products of their upbringing.

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But when Chihiro is too exhausted to clean anymore, Madoka and his assistant Shinozaki Keiichirou take over, cleaning a room meant to be his. He makes them clean it over again when it’s not done to his satisfaction, but he appreciates the gesture and is glad, if a little overwhelmed by suddenly having a room and a (HUGE) bed all his own. This big, unfamiliar house is gradually becoming his home.

He also sees Madoka working hard on his costumes; often so hard he neglects food and sleep, so Chihiro fixes him a snack in the night. Sure, sometimes Madoka’s “hard work” is composed of indulgent little side projects like a cat mascot suit for Chihiro, but the arrangement that has been struck is beneficial to both parties. Madoka gets a maid (and occasional model), and Chihiro gets a home and a job to avoid feeling indebted.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 12 (Fin)

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AW eschews its OP to allow for some final moments between the Urzaiz sisters and the pair of Ayato and Julis before the big battle, and they were appreciated. This is the final episode for some time, so rushing right into the battle would have seemed too rote. No, this is more than a good-guys/bad-guys battle. Both sides have honorable reasons to fight, and all four are characters I’ve come to like.

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But once those moments are over, AW gets right down to business with a long and epic battle packed with powerful moves and counter-moves. And yet it’s a very personal fight, between pairs of people who could otherwise be friends but for the fact they’re in the way of each others’ goals. I particularly liked Irene shooting down Ayato wondering out loud if she’s “doing this the right way”, i.e. draining her sister dry to keep up.

Ayato and Julis broke bread with these two. They heard the sisters’ story, so Ayato knows why Irene is doing this, and why Priscilla is letting her, and she doesn’t want to hear him questioning her now. This is for all the marbles; no time for half-measures.

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But it becomes clear that Irene’s earnest and pure desire to protect her sister at all costs is being exploited by her Ogre Lux Gravi-sheath, and as the battle progresses it transforms her more and more into an overpowered demon. And yet, a measure of the real Irene remains, trying to hold back so she doesn’t harm the one person she never wants harm to come to. She just needs a little help.

She gets it as the battle comes to a furious climax, with Ayato pulling out all the stops with his dwindling time with Ser Veresta. He wrests Gravi-sheath from the berserk Irene and shatters it, winning the battle. Before being defeated, Irene grasped at the light of his powering up, as if yearning for a source of power less corrupting than the sheath. Well, she won’t have to worry about that now!

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It’s a brilliant victory for Ayato, but it incurs a cost as well. He may not have to suck his sisters’ blood, but the seal his own sister placed on him is activated before he’s able to leave the arena. The cameras capture what happens when he fights for more than five minutes, and all the rival schools lick their chops at the opportunity to fight him. Even knowing this vulnerability, they realize it still won’t be an easy fight…but they’re glad for the opportunity for a proper challenge…and those challenges will come next season.

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By the time Priscilla wakes up, Irene is totally over losing the sheath—shit happens, right? No point crying over spilled milk (or shatted Ogre Luxes). Pris is just glad the weapon that made her sister scary is gone, and Dirk content not to reprimand Irene, though he won’t be paying her debt down any since she lost. That doesn’t matter to Priscilla: from now on, she’s not just going to hang back while her sister protects her; she’s going to become stronger and fight by her side. I hope we get to see that next season, too.

As for Ayato and Julis, when Ayato, barely able to move, still insists he’ll keep his promise to have her back, Julis takes his face in her hands and tells him she’ll have his back too. Like the Urzaiz sisters, the two of them are stronger when both are pulling their weight, and I have no doubt in Julis’ capability to pull hard. Unfortunately their would-be kiss is interrupted when Saya, Kirin, and Claudia enter, but hey, when you have a harem, you gotta make sure the doors are locked!

Finally, in the post-credits teaser (and the show wisely stuck to its “Waiting for the Rain” ED, the best of the Fall), a man picks up Haruka’s bloodied glasses, saying she’s made him fall behind on his plans so far, but now…IT’S TIME. For what, we’ll just have to tune in next season and find out. If it’s lifting the seal she placed on Ayato, well, Ayato may be in for more suffering. He’s never had more people gunning for him, but he’s also never had more people who have his back.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Noragami Aragoto – 11

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Of all the things to go down once Hiyori and Yukine arrived at the entrance to the underworld, I did not expect for Yato’s mercy to bite him in the ass, but that’s almost what happens, as Kugaha tries to capture Hiyori and kill Yukine. Kugaha tries to weaken Yato’s newly-minted exemplar by bringing up Hiiro and the fact he went to the underworld with her instead of him.

This works, but only briefly, as Hiyori grabs Yukine and counteracts Kugaha’s negative words by telling him how much Yato means to him, and to have faith in him. Yukine manages to fire off a borderline that shatters Kugaha’s and slams him against a tree, and well…that’s the last we see of him!

Then again, perhaps his being there wasn’t a mere coincidence: if he’s to be believed, Kugaha seems to have been keeping track of Yato’s movements and actions all along, and while Yukine is able to neutralize him here, I’m sure he’ll still want to confront Yato.

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Of course, after this week that may not be such a good idea, because his former master Bishamon ultimately decides to go all-in on rescuing Yato. Before that, we see Yato’s in a bad way, falling back into those damned caverns. As Hiiro tenderly treats his foot, Yato starts to lose hope, matching Hiiro’s sentiment that this being the end for them isn’t so bad if they’re together.

It’s clear Hiiro is far more than a temptress to the “dark side” for Yato. They were, and remain, family. But he shakes off thoughts of giving up; not while Yukine and Hiyori are still up there.

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Hiyori and Yukine bump into Bishamon and Kazuma (she’s also wearing Aiha as armor and another regalia as a whip; prepped for battle), Kofuku and Daikoku arrive, and options are weighed. Hiyori absolutely can’t go into the vent (which quickly closes anyway), while Yukine can’t go without disguising himself as someone else’s regalia, in effect becoming a Nora.

Bishamon makes the decision for him: she’s going to go down with Kazuma, Aiha, and the other girl, and save Yato herself. Kofuku opens a fresh vent and down they go.

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She’s not just doing it for Yukine and Hiyori’s sake, but because she owes Yato. She actually owes him twice over, first when her Ma clan of regalias almost killed her, and again when dealing with Kugaha. She admits she hated Yato in order to move forward, and you could even call that a third debt. Regardless, she intends to repay them, which means saving Yato from Izanami here.

Even Bishamon and some of her top regalia struggle against the mighty Izanami, but they’re not trying to defeat her, just grab Yato and escape, so they have a chance. Of course, they’ll also need a way out, but Kofuku’s vents keep closing too fast. Enter Ebisu, who comes to and says there’s a way to open a gate to the underworld, but it will require someone from the Near Shore…namely Hiyori.

That’s pretty foreboding, but you know what? In keeping with the theme of having faith, be it Yukine in Yato or Yato in Yukine and Hiyori, I’ll have faith she’ll be alright, and things will work out fine.

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