The Eminence in Shadow – 17 – Moonlight Oriana

While sneaking away from his sister (by again flying out a window), Cid notices Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata being played in a concert hall. It’s Epsilon at the keys. Like Gamma and Beta, she’s using knowledge from Cid’s world to advance her position in this one. He doesn’t mind, and even compliments her figure, because he loves the Moonlight Sonata. And why the hell wouldn’t he? It’s the perfect theme song for Shadow.

He asks Epsilon about Rose’s whereabouts, but all she knows is that she is in the underground labyrinth. That’s all Cid needs to know. Alexia is already leading Beta down there, the former by now completely unconvinced that “Natsume” is a weakling. Alexia doesn’t know how fortunate she is that Beta is capable, because they’re heading into a totally unknown and potentially fatal situation.

When an exhausted and bloodied Rose catches her breath, we finally see what she encountered when she met with her father and Lord Perv. The king was clearly not in his right mind, and he and all of the assembled nobles and courtiers were under Perv’s control. Rose lashed out with violence, but now regrets that decision as a princess shouldn’t be so reckless and shortsighted (though considering that’s Alexia to a T, maybe they should?)

The nasty wound on Rose’s chest wasn’t caused by her pursuers; rather it is the early effects of possession; before long she’ll be consumed like Alpha & Co. were before they were freed from their curses by Cid. Just as Cid wishes he could have been there to see Rose go all “rock-n-roll”, Rose wishes she could get rid of Perv and his ilk, marry Cid, and live happily ever after. Now she’s not even sure how much longer she’ll live, period.

Throughout her monologue, which is spoken aloud, I kept thinking Cid would emerge from the shadows to tell her he still believes in her, still has her back. Of course that’s ridiculous; Cid would never act like that. Instead of emerging from the shadows, he appears before her in disguise as Shadow, playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano he borrowed from the concert hall. A gorgeous moonlike light suffuses the hall, and thousands of white feathers fall, all adding to the theatricality. Cid is killin’ it here.

Once the sonata ends, he stands up and asks Rose if she’s going to give up or keep going. Rose isn’t sure how. Shadow tells her he’ll give her the power to do anything and everything she needs and wants to do. With few other options, Rose accepts, and Shadow not only extracts the curse, but imbues her with power comparable to the Seven Shades.

Shadow doesn’t stick around, leaving a single black feather on the piano keys, because he doesn’t have to. Diabolos assassins arrive, but the newly supercharged Rose turns them all into red mist with a single slash of her sword. With this power, perhaps she truly can save her father, her kingdom, and all the other nations threatened by the Cult.

When she encounters Alexia and Beta, the former demands to know what’s going on, but Rose won’t tell her. She doesn’t want Alexia to get dragged into it, and telling her will do that. Alexia won’t take no for an answer, and starts a fight with Rose. While she fights better than Rose expected, she’s obviously no match for her.

Rose leaves an unconscious Alexia with Beta, who doesn’t offer any resistance and even expresses her support for Rose’s future ventures. Their alliance may now be shattered, but Beta suspects they’ll meet again. Beta is hardly one to question Lord Shadow’s actions—if he bestowed upon Rose the same power as her and the other Shades, he must’ve had a good reason.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 16 – Gesundheit!

With one third of their alliance suddenly a fugitive, Alexia and Beta ponder what do do about it. Alexia wants to get at it, but Beta warns caution. At this point in their frenemy-ship Alexia can tell Beta is putting on an act, and doesn’t like how Beta is keeping stuff from her. But in the end, Beta is looking out for the headstrong Alexia, not just as a friend, but as Lord Shadow’s Number Two.

While Cid departs from the arena as himself in order to get into character for his match, an elf woman passes by him, and can smell elf on him. She asks if he knows any, particularly one that looks a lot like her. Her name is Beatrix, and she is Alpha’s aunt. But Cid isn’t about to tell a stranger about Alpha’s whereabouts. While likely no match for her niece, Beatrix can handle herself with a sword, but Cid puts on a weak, normal guy act that she buys.

Two warriors who don’t quite buy Mundane Mann’s act are Annerose and Quinton, who compare notes. Quinton admits he hasn’t been able to actually see what Mann is doing to win his battles, only that he knows he’s doing something. Annerose can see, but only for a scant moment.

For instance, in Mann’s fight against the Unbeaten Legend Goldy Gilded, he cracks his neck to avoid a fatal blow and throwing the strutting golden peacock into a rage, promising Mann will never get another chance to beat him. He charges at him again with his ultimate Golden Dragon Sword attack, but Mann sneezes and Goldy is knocked out by his own momentum.

Annerose can’t quite believe what she’s seeing, but also can’t dismiss Mann’s moves as mere luck or coincidence. That said, her running commentary to Quinton is so farfetched that he storms off not believing any of it, and looking forward to his fight with Mann. Left alone, Annerose finally cuts loose a bit, cracking her neck and sneezing in rhythm before realizing she’s practically surrounded by spectators, blushes and flees.

As for Princess Rose stabbing her husband-to-be Perv Asshat, when Princess Iris visits the lord, he seems perfectly fine. Meanwhile, Rose’s father the kind looks very much not fine.

The heavy implication here is that Perv has him on some kind of drugs and/or under some kind of brainwashing or hypnosis. In any case, Lord Perv does not seem like a savory guy, and certainly not someone I’d want someone as awesome as Rose to marry!

Speaking of awesome, Annerose confronts Mann after he easily handles Quinton, to tell him that she’s “seen his evervy move” and warn him that those same moves won’t work against her. She may be several orders of magnitude stronger than Quinton or Goldy, but she’s no Mundane Mann. Still, I love how she basically bluffs in order to try to get something from her next opponent (she has no idea about his true ability).

And it works, kinda! Cid removes his armguards and when he drops them on the ground they’re so heavy they make craters in the concrete. In the funniest moment of the episode, Annerose counterattacks with an adorable neck crack and self-satisfied smile—both of which are met by Cid simply shuffling away. I love how in addition to being stoic as hell, she’s also a delightful goofball. She should have sneezed too!

The fact Perv is uninjured and also seemingly controlling her father tell me that Rose is on the run because she tried and failed to stop Perv from whatever he’s scheming, and Perv framed her for assault, a crime for which even a princess can be severely punished.

As such, she’s on the run. It also tracks that Rose wouldn’t want to burden Alexia and Beta—possibly her first and only friends—with her personal issues, but she should know better. Hopefully she doesn’t have to suffer this ordeal alone for much longer.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 15 – Riding the Wave

One thing that keeps me coming back to Eminence is that it’s just plain fun as hell watching Cid having fun. And with the Sanctuary arc all wrapped up and the Bushin Festival gearing up, he’s having a ton of fun this week in particular.

It’s also fun watching his idea of fun, which isn’t just to sign up for the festival and obliterate everyone. Nah, there’s an order to this, and he wants to build up some mystique. Gamma gives him a new face and identity for this purpose: the on-the-nose “Mundane Mann”.

Between his weak look, wan complexion, poor posture, he becomes an immediate target for stronger fighters to warn him off the festival, starting with the very polite and to-the-point Annerose, one of the favorites to win it all. She tells Cid to back out now to avoid permanent harm.

Cid asks her to kindly not judge a book by its cover, but when a much larger Quinton picks a fight, Cid exercises discipline and doesn’t show his hand. He lets the guy wail on him, which is free marketing for how unlikely a champion this Mundane Mann guy is.

Annerose asks Quinton to stop lest she step in, and apologizes to “Mundane” for letting things get so out of hand. She says it’s better for him to get his ass beat now than enter the Bushin Festival and suffer even greater pain from certain defeat.

But when Cid simply hops back up and strolls away, Annerose is confused; even after being beaten on by that guy for that long, he doesn’t seem hurt at all! It’s a subtle but very effective strategy by Cid to get Annerose thinking maybe there is something to this weakling.

Since Bushin is held in Rose’s hometown, she and Cid end up bumping into each other at a fountain, after Cid has a thorough chat with Skel regarding betting over “Tuna King” burgers. Rose reports that she, Beta (in her alias as Natsume Kafka) and Alexia have become fast friends.

She also says she has a prior engagement: her father is going to introduce her to her fiancé Perv Asshat (what a name). She’s not looking forward to it. But she’s determined to live her live as a dark knight, something she’s always wanted to be since she watched a younger cid fighting those brigands years ago. That’s right: Rose met and fell for Cid far earlier than she realizes—and she wouldn’t be the knight she is without him!

The next day, the preliminary matches begin, and Cid tags along with Skel as the latter continues to bore him with his betting strategies. Skel does end up attracting another fighter, Goldy Gilded, the Ever-Victorious Golden Dragon (Skel murders the name many times.)

Goldy tells Skel that he assesses fighters and assigns a “power level” to each of them. Cid slips away to take a dump, and moments later Mundane Mann arrives. Goldy doesn’t think much of Mundane, giving him a scant 33 versus over 1,300 for his opponent.

And yet, in the blink of an eye, Mundane’s opponent is out cold on the ground and Mundane is the winner, which means he’ll be Goldy’s next opponent. Goldy is confident, and Annerose is intrigued by what she (and likely no one else) saw—Mundane delivering a devastating double punch to the loser’s chin. All of this is just what Cid wants to create more anti-hype with a tinge of mystique.

The next morning, however, Cid’s fun looks destined to be curbed, as Skel bursts in with a newspaper article alleging that Rose stabbed her fiancé and ran off. I don’t think that’s what Cid meant when he suggested that she “relax”! I know Cid is pretty indifferent towards most people, but maybe it’s different with Rose? Will he try to track Rose down in time to make his match with Goldy?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 25 (Part 2 Fin) – The Front Line

Disguised as a professor, Loid assesses the current situation as the Eden College Social Gathering commences. There is no way to infiltrate the gathering without actually belonging there. Since Anya earning enough Stella to become an Imperial Scholar is probably out, that leaves Plan B.

Like Loid, Damian longs to be in the presence of his father (for obviously very different reasons). But while his older brother says he’ll tell their dad Damian wants to see him, he also tells Damian not to get his hopes up. Damian probably doesn’t need to be told this. But he has to try.

Anya has to try too. She can read Loid’s mind since he’s in range, and doubles her efforts to be close to Damian so that she can face the “final boss.” Of course, this gives both Damian and Becky the impression she’s stalking him. And she’s not not stalking him.

Loid, who is far better than Anya at staying hidden, watches Damian head to the place where he said he’d be waiting for his father. But when Damian reconsiders since he’s so sure his dad won’t show, he can’t do anything about it.

But Anya can. She tells Damian she can tell he’s scared (and he suspects she can read his mind…which he can…) just as she was scared to show her dad her low test scores. But she also knows her dad loves her, even when he’s mad at her, so she’ll keep showing him her tests scores. While he tsunderes Anya off, Damian gets her, and heads to the meeting place after all.

Anya waits with him from afar, and Becky waits with her, assuming she’s in love with Damian and wants to meet his dad. But Anya soon falls asleep. As Becky has Martha carry her to the car to take her home, Loid walks past in his professor disguise, carrying the same keychain she has on her backpack.

It’s that keychain that provides Loid the excuse to speak to Damian. He planted it in the meeting place for Damian to find, then takes the opportunity to take a knee and profusely apologize on behalf of his daughter, being nothing but submissive and deference.

While he’s apologizing, Desmond shocks his son by arriving. Loid then introduces himself formally apologizes. In these first critical moments, he takes as much of the measure of Desmond as he can, while formulating the right conversational path to get the most out of their encounter.

Once, then twice, Desmond cheerfully tells Loid that he needn’t go so far to apologize for a trifling quarrel between children. Loid knows not to push further against such a man as cautious and wily as Donovan, so he doesn’t. But Damian is another matter.

Loid proceeds to elegantly and expertly make use of Damian and his justified daddy issues as a conduit to open a meaningful dialogue and make himself memorable and appealing enough for Donovan to take notice. Damian is angry his dad isn’t angrier, but Loid and Donovan bond over their shared inability to truly know or understand what their kids or thinking.

Loid doesn’t really agree, but Donovan’s comments help him to better understand Donovan’s political philosophy, which is the first step to steering him towards one less likely to lead to the East-West cold war going hot. He even gets a solid dig in by assuming Donovan makes time for Damian when he’s never done any such thing.

Even so, Donovan notes that this is an oversight he hadn’t considered, but acknowledges. After Loid showers praise on Damian for a report about his father that he claims Anya really liked, he prepares to take his leave. His final request to Damian is that he try to be friends with Anya, as she likely wants to be his friend. In an unguarded moment, Damian says he feels the same way…before turning beet red and rejecting the idea.

Once Loid departs, Donovan turns to Damian and asks what he wanted. Damian says it’s nothing, but then remembers Anya’s words about having to show your test scores, and stops his dad to tell him all of the good things that have happened to him so far in class.

Then, to Damian’s surprise and boundless elation, his father says “well done, keep at it.” Simple and boilerplate they may be, hearing his father say them absolutely makes Damian’s year. And if he’s on better terms with his dad in no small part thanks to words from both Anya and her dad, then perhaps in future he’ll be less inclined to call her a stubby-legged uggo stalker.

That helps Loid’s cause. But what’s so great about his discussion with the Desmond is that he’s not simply operating as a heartless agent of the state trying to manipulate an enemy VIP and his son. I mean, he kinda is, but he’s also uses his experiences as Anya’s father, not a spy, to actually improve the relationship between Damian and Donovan.

It works like a charm, and it was thrilling to watch. As for Anya, she must’ve needed to catch up on some sleep, since she’s still out cold when Loid comes home, her having been delivered there like a package by Becky earlier that afternoon.

The long-awaited first meeting of Twilight and his primary target marks the end of Spy x Family Part 2, ending on a high note. Whenever Part 3 comes around there will be plenty to chew on, from the continued development of the Forget family and Anya and Damian’s friendship, to the potential for the family’s mutual secrets to be revealed to one another. I shall eagerly await Part 3—and hopefully not fall asleep on a stoop as Anya did while staking out Damian.

The Eminence in Shadow – 09 – Doing What They Must

It doesn’t take long for Sherry to tune the control unit, and she opens a hidden passage in a bookshelf to use the secret tunnels to get to where the artifact is so she can shut it down. She’s doing all of this for her father Ruslan, who took her in when her mother was brutally murdered.

She thanks Cid for all his help, and they go their separate ways. Once she reaches the balcony of the auditorium she finds out how bad things have gotten: the invaders are now simply picking off students for sport from above. Sherry wastes no time deactivating the anti-magic field, and when she does, Rose is ready.

Within seconds of getting her magic back, she slices the nearest invader to ribbons with a flourish of her drill-like ojou ringlets, and encourages everyone else to rise up and attack their captors; after all, they outnumber them. She tries to reach their armored boss man, whom even she isn’t sure she can defeat, but is soon surrounded and running low on magic.

Still, she fights on, confident others will fight if she dies, and eager to live up to the love Cid felt for her that led him to die for her. Things look dire until Shadow himself crashes through the ceiling and dispatches everyone around her. He’s not alone: his army of Shadows are with him, and mop up the invaders.

But the boss slips away, then hikes up the pressure of the oil lamps school-wide, causing an massive inferno. While I don’t hear a single cough from the ensuing smoke and flames, nor does anyone seem to be getting burnt by said flames … eh, whatever, maybe they’re special isekai flames.

The invader boss proceeds to start burning everything in Ruslan’s office, but Cid is there waiting for him, and knows who the boss is: Ruslan himself. Once he’d reached the absolute highest summit of swordsmanship, he became ill, and sought out a radical cure.

That’s how he ended up meeting Sherry’s mother. When she warned against using the artifact, Ruslan murdered her in a elaborate, grisly way, and while Sherry was present for that, it’s been established that she’s not very observant, and so never knew her adoptive father killed her mother.

Ruslan never gets into why he took the academy hostage, or why he set the academy on fire, but never mind, now that Cid’s there he’s not going to accomplish anything else. There’s a fun little fakeout when Cid lets Ruslan slash him right out the office window to his apparent death, only to reappear Batman-style in his Shadow form.

Ruslan fuses with the artifact in order to augment his power—as one does—but as you’d suspect, fighting him is still child’s play to Mr. Atomic, who doesn’t really have to break a sweat parrying his opponents’ lightning-fast fusillade of attacks.

When Cid has had enough, he ends Ruslan’s life in the exact same grisly way he ended Sherry’s mom’s … and just like that traumatic event, Sherry arrives just in time to witness a parent’s demise. Shadow departs as she screams out in anguish, not having the heart to tell her who Ruslan is and why he deserved this end. Knowing how much her dad meant to her, she most likely wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

While Ruslan was as two-dimensionally eeeevil as villains come (why else hire Oostsuka Houchuu to voice him?), he was never anything but a loving, supportive father to Sherry, and I was devastated watching her experience a repeat of her mother’s death. No one should have to face that. And now she’s an orphan again.

At the same time, I don’t blame Cid, because he did what he had to do. Even though Ruslan promised him that he arranged things so the real Shadow Garden would be framed for this entire terrorist attack, he shrugs that off. He never claimed he and his garden were walking the path of righteousness, but nor do they walk the path of evil.

Instead, they walk their own path. This comes as news to Alpha, who thought they were being righteous, but accepts Cid’s interpretation without hesitation, as does the rest of the organization. If Shadow is now the number one most hated and wanted fugitive in the kingdom, so be it—they’ll continue to do what they must.

As for poor Sherry, she and Cid share a muted farewell scene where she regrets not getting to know him better before heading abroad to a prestigious research institute. Before they part, perhaps forever, Cid asks her what she thinks she needs to do. A kaleidoscope of emotions fall over Sherry’s face as she’s momentarily unable to hide her emotions with a sad smile.

But she won’t tell Cid; it’s a secret. Does she, unlike so many others, know Cid and Shadow are the same person, and thus Cid is the one who killed her father? If that’s the case, is she going abroad in order to plan her revenge against him, or simply to start the next phase of her life as a researcher? It’s pretty ambiguous, and I like that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 18 – No Leash is Power

Anya attends a school, so it’s not all arts and crafts. There are quiz and test scores, and even though Anya was confident she scored well, she ends up with supplemental lessons—and having to see her smug “friendly” face perfectly imitated by the high-scoring Damian. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anya decides she’ll simply read Damian’s mind to attain a good score on the upcoming midterm exams—for which the highest scores get Stella and the failing ones get Bolts. But there’s a snag: Anya’s telepathy doesn’t work on the New Moon. To it’s credit, SxF doesn’t bother explaining why. What matters is that Anya will have to study for real.

Enter “Uncle” Yuri as a tutor. Yuri is immediately childishly envious of Loid’s “gremlin” of a spawn for getting to live with his dear sister, but when Yor give him her biggest smile, he resolves to tutor Anya gently but firmly. They study all day, and end up exhausted on the floor.

When Yuri asks Anya how she think she did on the grammar lessons and Anya asks what grammar is, his patience is exhausted and he leaves … but not before sampling some of Yor’s freshly-baked treats, which he chomps down on and then joy-vomits in the hall. When Loid comes home, he’s dismayed to learn that the whole time he was there Yuri tutored Anya in language arts, which are not even on the midterms.

This leads to the second segment of the episode, as he takes drastic measure to ensure Anya doesn’t get expelled due to failing grades. The high security North Tower of the school contains a vault where all the students’ exams are stored. Loid disguises as an instructor to infiltrate the vault and alter Anya’s scores.

However, someone had the same idea, and hired “Daybreak”, Twilight’s self-professed Number One Rival. His methods for infiltrating the tower and vault are about as thoughtful, subtle, and discreet as smashing cans of tomato soup with a sledgehammer at a funeral. And yet somehow he avoids the watching eye of guards and makes it inside without getting arrested.

Loid decides to help Daybreak get in so that his loud boorish actions will mask his own infiltration efforts. Once he opens the vault, Daybreak bonks him on the head and drags him in. Because Daybreak had his spy notes written on his hand, he knows he’s there to alter the Desmond brothers’ exams.

Once he’s done, Daybreak launches into a celebratory monologue, and when he prepares to leave an “autograph” among the scores, Loid can no longer pretend to be passed out and protests against Daybreak’s ridiculously un-spy-like behavior. To this, Daybreak simply asks Loid to tell everyone about how awesome he is.

Upon inspecting the exams, Loid sees that Daybreak doctored the Desmonds’ answers so they’d fail, an assumes one of their father’s business rivals hired the buffoon. He reverts the answers to what they were before moving on to Anya’s exam.

When she passes and ends up ranked 213th (compared to 46th for Becky and 11th for Damian), I assumed Loid only altered her scores a little so as no to rouse suspicion. But while it takes all four of her exam scores combined to exceed 100, the fact is she passed all four on her own; Loid didn’t have to alter anything. So no Stella, but no Bolts either. Meanwhile, Daybreak is fired for failing his mission. I wonder if he’ll cross Twilight’s path again …

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 17 – If You Have Love, You Can Fly (But Jets Work Too)

Anya’s initial attempt to impress Damian with news of her new dog failed, so she’s brought a new family portrait to “accidentally” drop when Damian is passing by, hoping he’ll see it and marvel at Bond’s grand floofiness.

Unfortunately it doesn’t go as planned, as Damian and his toadies ignore the photo. It flies off and is picked up by Becky, who is immediately smitten with the hot guy and asks Anya if he’s “seeing anyone”. A dismayed Anya responds “Papa is married to Mama!”

In a stroke of luck for Anya, she and Damian are paired off for and arts-and-crafts project: making an animal. Becky ends up making a model of Loid with a “battle suit” from her dad’s company, and when substitute teacher Mr. Henderson tells her the assignment was animals, she once again demonstrates her precociousness by stating “In the end, humans are animals too”, something our mustachioed paragon of elegance cannot dispute.

Anya doesn’t fair so well, as she’s as bad at arts and crafts as her Mama is (or at least was) at cooking. When she reads Damian’s mind to make a griffin, the heraldic beast of his family, she magnanimously offers to assist, but proves absolute rubbish, building legs with jet engines and uneven feathers. Damian is so pissed by her uselessness he makes her and another girl cry, inviting a scolding from Mr. Henderson, who exclaims “Not Elegant!”

Henderson understands Damian probably wants to impress his father, but he tells Damian there’s no need to rush; all he can do is what he can with the resources he has. The resulting “griffin”, with Anya’s interpretation of a griffin beside it, looks like a disaster, but it invokes patriotic fervor in one of the bigwig judges, and the pair end up winning first prize.

The griffin is proud-looking despite its sorry state, while what is interpreted as “the corpse of an innocent baby griffin” moved the judge to strong emotion. It’s a great bit of still art.

Unfortunately, Anya doen’t really make any progress in her friendship to Damian, nor does the prize include any Stella. But as big of a jerk as he often is to Anya, I couldn’t help but feel bad when he called home and had to settle with talking to the butler Jeeves, since his father is away in more ways than one, and generally disinterested in his second son.

The episode switches gears to do a brief profile of Sylvia Sherwood, AKA Handler, AKA Fullmetal Lady, so-called due to her flawless performance as a spymaster for Westalis. Varying cinematic shots of her walking down the street create a sense of paranoia, but her tail turns out to be a couple of easily-fooled guys who never considered she’d use the public pool locker rooms to change into a disguise and give them the slip.

We witness two separate meetings between Sylvia and Loid, with the episode underscoring that every meeting threatens both of their lives. So it’s amusing both that Loid makes sure not to tell the Fullmetal Lady that the tag on her dress is still on, and also that his “report” to her on Operation Strix involves Anya’s athletic progress.

The final post-credits skit, basically an omake, is a flashback to when Anya would cook dishes for Yuri to eat (all of which are pixelated and feature worryingly unnatural colors), and Yuri scarfs it down with a smile in between projectile vomiting. When he tells her she’ll make a great wife, she gets bashful and slaps him so hard he bounces off the floor and spins horizontally to the far end of the room.

This combination of being repeatedly poisoned and thrashed about due to his sister not knowing her strength is what makes Yuri the excellent operative he is today. He’s been toughened to such an extent that getting his by a truck is of absolutely no consequence. After all, Yor’s tougher than a truck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Overlord IV – 11 – Knocked Back

After a solemn scene of King Ramposa mourning Zanac’s sure demise and excusing the palace staff in hopes some might get away under cover of night, Ampetif Cocco Doll joins his fellow Eight Fingers, and notes that all of them look all gaunt like “they’re on some fad diet” or “demons wearing the skins” of his former colleagues.

Turns out they’re that way because of what they’ve endured. Shalltear arrives, matter-of-factly gathers the Fingers and their 1,000 men and stows them someplace for the time being, and then it’s Cocco Doll’s turn to undergo the “baptism” Hilma and the others have already been through. But hey, at least now they’re under the protect of His Majesty the Sorcerer King.

As the twins and Cocytus lead his armies to certain victory, Ainz and Albedo (looking menacingly hot in her full black armor) await the ones who defeated the Death Knights. Our old-boy Azuth of Drop of Red is first to arrive. Aiz orders Albedo to take him on but not kill him; this is about information-gathering first and foremost.

Azuth flies off but Albedo stays with him, fully aware he’s leading her away from Ainz-sama on purpose. When he finally unleashes both physical and magical attacks, they bounce off Albedo like nothing, and when she strikes him, she notes that he’s “like tofu.” So, decidedly not the biggest challenge for the good Prime Minister.

Azuth’s chum (?) turns out to be far more formidable. A knight in platinum armor surrounded by four spinning weapons, he introduces himself as Riku Aganeia. He’s able to actually strike Ainz with his axe, and while it does no damage, Ainz is impressed enough to propose a deal. If this Riku Aganeia fellow becomes his subordinate, he’d be inclined to cease the destruction of the Re-Estize Kingdom.

Riku ain’t having it, and a wonderful little duel ensues, with Ainz never looking like he’s in trouble but nevertheless enjoying the bemusement and novelty of an opponent who won’t just die by, ya know, standing too close to him or something. Heck, Ainz can’t even break through the World Isolating Barrier Riku puts up.

While Ainz is keeping the proverbial kid gloves on, he decides to test the limits of this opponent’s power by first summoning a Doom Lord, who trades slashes and strkes with Riku’s four weapons and gives Ainz time to think. He then unleashes an “Elemental Skull”, which we unfortunately never get to see in action but is exquisite in its simple yet dread-inspiring design.

When Riku raises his giant sword to strike Ainz down, Ainz suddenly acts more like the human narrating his thoughts, even getting down on the ground as if groveling. He tries words with Riku, asking if it’s really so wrong for a nation to respond when its food supplies meant for the Holy Kingdom were stolen; Riku simply says he’s gone too far, and must now perish as punishment.

Naturally, that ain’t happening, and Albedo comes crashing through the barrier like it’s made out of stunt glass and starts whaling on Riku, enraged by how he spoke to Ainz-sama. Ainz orders her to stop, and then once more asks Riku to become his subordinate. Instead, Riku teleports away.

He later meets up with a thoroughly defeated Azuth, who laments that the kingdom will surely fall now that they know the strength of their enemies. Ainz’s hunch that Riku was controlling the armor remotely is proven correct; the one pulling the strings was Tsa, a powerful Dragon Lord.

Tsa uses terms like player and NPC, and while he may have lost this round, he believes there is a way to defeat the Sorcerer King, and is going to give it some serious thought. As for the “Ainz” his puppet fought, it wasn’t Ainz at all, but Pandora’s Actor posing as Ainz (with Albedo doing a bang-up job acting like he’s Ainz-sama).

Pando certainly gave up the game when he acted all goofy for that one moment, but it was still a nice surprise. I love how the battle we saw was between two proxies of the two far more powerful entities sitting back and collecting the data. In this case, neither know their counterpart’s true power, only that of the proxies they fought. We’ll see how their next encounter shapes up.

Engage Kiss – 08 – The [REDACTED] is Already Dead

Engage Kiss does not care one single whit about your tonal or genre whiplash. After last week’s poisonous members and tentacle mech suits, we get what amounts to a hard-boiled detective procedural, and the results are…mixed.

While I appreciated the episode’s dedication to showing its work, that work is rarely glamorous. The monotony of what amounts to scene after scene of exposition as Detective Mikami, Miles, and Shuu try to piece things together is at least punctuated by the usual Kisara-Ayano sniping.

Last week’s MVP Sharon is tied to a chair behind bars this week, unable to unleash her full horny/trashy/sacred/profane shtick, but still wields power as someone who remembers crucial information Shuu forgot thanks to Kisara.

It’s pretty significant that Shuu thought Kisara would let him keep certain important memories, but Sharon says that it doesn’t work that way and he’s actually lost a lot more than he knows, and she’s not lying just for spite. All she offers “for free” about the identity of the big bad is an arsonist analogy.

Before Shuu can interpret the scant info Sharon gave him, Mikami has a eureka moment that seems primed to blow this case wide open…just as the trench-coated “Informant X” who’s been feeding Shuu shows up.

Mikami leaves a voicemail for Shuu, and during the recording he is confronted by someone and a gunshot rings out. By the time Shuu and Kisara arrive in the station lot, Mikami is dead, and Informant X tries to slink away. Shuu and Kisara show what a good pair they make by cornering and unmasking the guy…who turns out to be Mikhail.

I gotta say, that’s a pretty cheeky revelation—to dangle this oji-san like high school character who feels like he’s from another anime as the delusional third child in the family pecking order, only to reveal that he’s the mysterious General Director of Bayron City Police, from whom everyone gets their orders.

With his cover blown, Mikhail takes Shuu and Kisara down to his secret surveillance information center deep under the city hall, where he has over three million cameras going 24/7/365, (even on his sisters while they shower and sleep, an observation Shuu is quick to make and condemn).

The other fake-out in play is that Mikhail didn’t murder Mikami, and the camera footage proves it. The person who did is the one for whom Mikhail is merely a puppet, the second human agent who is coordinating the creation and destruction of demonically possessed.

Mikhail’s sudden major player turn takes a backseat to the emotional fallout from Mikami’s sudden murder, and it’s a good reminder of how good the show can be at occasionally taking the goofy/horny elements down a notch and letting these people be humans.

This culminates in Mikami’s funeral, always a solemn affair, followed by Shuu being picked up by his foster father and old pal Miles, who can’t believe Mikami is gone. When Miles talks about Mikami as the rare natural police who was also softhearted and guillible, Shuu drops the hammer: he knows Miles murdered Mikami.

Sure enough, a tattoo on Miles’ arm glows. While I’m hardly enthused by the only brother in the cast being the big bad, his villainous turn isn’t altogether unearned. Like us, Shuu’s had a huge blind spot for the guy, in his case due to the events and conversations he’s forgotten because his contract with Kisara takes away much more than he thought.

Shuu’s been trying to piece together a mystery when his own memory has been crumbling behind him in real time. Now he’s lost a true ally in Mikami and another main ally has turned out to be false. It’s safe to say things are going to get worse before they get better for Shuu.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 04 – Staying Put

Yume cannot possibly fathom why Mizuto asked her out on a date, but at no point does she mind that it’s happening, even telling herself it’s a healthy part of any stepsibling relationship. She’s shocked to see Mizuto in a fetching vest and with product in his hair, giving off “intellectual yet charming young man with baggage” vibes, just her type.

But while Mizuto isn’t playing a prank on Yume, his intentions aren’t romantic. Rather, Kawanami convinced him that the best way to make Minami give up her fixation on marrying into their family is to show her a couple “madly in love”. Kawanami and Minami are watching him at all times.

As the “jerk trying to win back the ex he broke up to”, Mizuto feels stiff an awkward…and why wouldn’t he? He’s being watched and all his actions and words are informed by that fact. Despite this, Kawanami assures him he and Yume look like a real couple. And while Yume is confused why Mizuto is being so nice and sweet, she knows she likes it, and it’s preferable to their more usual prickly dynamic.

But it also reminds Yume of a time she’s not proud of, when she worked up the courage to ask Mizuto out, only to get lost when they went to a festival. She also gets lost at the aquarium in the present. But while she’d never felt so low as she did that night, she also scarcely ever felt as good as she did when he arrived with a can of royal milk tea, telling her she doesn’t have to be afraid because she can always rely on him.

As they continue their date, this time acting more naturally (that is, more nerdy) towards one another, it’s Mizuto’s turn to reminisce about when things started to go so wrong in their relationship. When one by one, his love for things she’d say and do turned to hatred. He feels now that they’re freed from their romantic bond, they have no obligation to love, nor reason to hate. He believes they’re in a healthier place.

That said, the date ends with Yume heading home first still having no clue why Mizuto chose such a “punishment”, but still had a good time. As for Minami, she apologizes for sneaking into his house, but doesn’t give up on trying to marry him after all. Well, at least it was a fun date!

When Mizuto comes home, it’s Yume’s turn to issue a punishment, and he has him pose for photos (…a lot of photos) while reading one of her favorite books while still in his handsome date garb. Her final request is for him to come from behind and whisper something in her ear. He obliges, and whispers “I’ve caught you”. All she can say in return is “You’ve caught me.”

Oh, and Minami and Kawanami used to date, and he ended up hospitalized! So we’re dealing with not one but two pairs of exes. But a date that was ostensibly meant to slow Minami’s roll ended up stirring up a lot of old feelings for Yume and Mizuto. The hatred that built up before their breakup has clearly subsided a great deal.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 03 – Lettuce and Cheese

Yume looks back with no small degree of unfondness upon her “old” self—from six whopping whole months ago—as an “exceptionally introverted” girl who would save everything Mizuto gave her in a small lockable treasure box. And yet here she is in the present, with Mizuto’s boxers in her hands, and she can’t help but smell them.

Knowing that if he ever caught wind of this he’d make her submit to being his little sister, she waits until the wee hours of the night for him to go to bed so she can return the drawers. But before she can open his door, he opens it…holding her bra. Looks like she wasn’t the only one charmed by the distant past.

To their credit, Yume and Mizuto have a seat in the living room and discuss things logically. They both have the exact same excuse for how they came upon each other’s undergarments, but also both agree that absconding with underwear no matter the circumstances, isn’t appropriate sibling behavior. As such, they agree that each of them gets a free demand of the other—within social norms.

Mizuto declares that within their home they’re to be perfect brother and sister, but outside said walls, they can do whatever they plase. Yume soon learns what he means when he spots him at a MgRonald chatting with a cute girl with black hair and black-framed glasses—virtually the “old her”! She goes to Akatsuki with this information, who can’t deny that Mizuto might just have what it takes to sweep a shy girl off her feet.

The plot thickens when Yume comes home to find a pair of girl’s loafers in the genkan. Assuming the girl is with Mizuto in his room, Yume calls him to ask him to run an errand—”get lettuce and cheese”—and hears footsteps leaving the house. But when she approaches his door, he’s in his room, and doesn’t know of any girl.

…Except he does. One day he was approached in the library by the black-haired girl, who immediately asked him out with the ultimate goal of marriage. She then reveals she’s actually Akatsuki in disguise, and that she wants to marry Mizuto primarily so she can become Yume’s sister, and do sisterly things with her … like bathe her and apply lotion to her body.

Honestly I had no idea Akatsuki had this in her, but when Mizuto calls her childhood friend Kawanami, he is told that this is how Akatsuki is: once she’s infatuated with something she won’t let it go. I agree with Mizuto that Kawanami saying Akatsuki doted so intensely on a previous boyfriend in middle school that he ended up hospitalized is far-fetched, the bottom line is that Mizuto doesn’t like hassles.

He wants to make it as clear as possible as soon as possible to Akatsuki that he’s not interested in marriage. To that end, he decides to cash in his demand of Yume, and asks her to accompany her on a date tomorrow. Yume is no doubt both surprised and flattered. After all, Mizuto is an idiot but he’s her idiot, and seeing him with fake old her was a blow that this invitation helps to mitigate.

Lycoris Recoil – 02 – Gathering Acorns

LycoReco takes on a job involving two feuding hackers. Robota wants to be the top dog in Tokyo, so he hires a semi-pro assassination team to take out his rival Walnut. It’s Chisato and Takina’s job is simple on paper: Keep Walnut Alive.

Takina watches in bemusement as Chisato treats this serious, hazardous mission like she treats any other day: with casual cheer, playfulness, and joie de vivre. A jelly drink packet may be quick and efficient, but it’s no substitute for a limited express bento.

When they approach the parking lot and find a very loud red Lexus LFA, Chisato is excited and really wants to drive, only for Walnut to arrive in a modest (and far less conspicuous) Honda City. Less conspicuous is Walnut’s squirrel mascot suit.

When Robota hacks the Honda (sidebar: not sure why, a car that age shouldn’t be connected to the internet at all, but I guess in this particular world it is), Walnut works to undo the hack while Takina’s marksmanship is again tested as she must take the drone out while the car is airborne.

Walnut manages to mess up the Robohack just before the car plunges into the ocean, but once everyone exits the car it slides into the water. They head into an abandoned supermarket, which is a perfect place for the kill squad to ambush them. Fortunately for Takina, Walnut’s suitcase containing all worldly possessions is also bulletproof.

Takina and Walnut alike proceed to watch in awe as Chisato not only dodges machine gun fire, but walks towards it and takes out the baddies one by one with her non-lethal rubber rounds. But when their leader (who has no love for Robota, just their money) suffers a serious wound, Chisato has Takina and Walnut go ahead as she administers triage.

Neither Takina nor the wounded guy understand why Chisato is doing this, because both of them feel like getting wounded or killed is part of the game. Not so for Chisato; a mission isn’t a true success unless it ends with no one dead. Unfortunately, there are still members of the kill squad outside when Walnut stupidly walks out first…and gets riddled with bullets and dies in a pool of blood.

The mood is somber on the ambulance, as all the fun Chisato was having now feels wholly inappropriate and unprofessional. It’s Takina, however, who apologizes for letting Walnut go out first, only for Chisato to tell her it’s not her fault. Sometimes things just go wrong. You can’t win them all.

Except…Walnut isn’t dead.

Suddenly they start moving and pulls off the squirrel head to reveal Mizuki, who was posing as Walnut all along. The suit is not only bulletproof, but full of bloody squibs to put on a convincing show. The real Walnut is a tiny girl who was hiding in the suitcase all along; she’s safe and sound while their adversary believes she’s dead. The mission is a success and no one is dead, which means it’s a win in Chisato’s book too.

It was a fun switcheroo, as like Chisato and Takina Mizuki and Mika had me going right up until she pulled off the squirrel head. The mood back at LycoReco is thus happy and laid back, only briefly interrupted by Yoshi-san, a regular at the café who also ordered the hit on Walnut, and Walnut herself, AKA Kurumi, who is now living at the café in exchange for her hacking services.

While I’m sure Yoshi has nothing good planned for the Lycoris, I admire Chisato for simply living her life and doing her job on her terms. It almost went sideways, but as she tells Takina, their “enemies” on this job were only the enemy today. They could be clients, allies, or even friends down the line. Valuing life in every interaction is in their stragtegic interests.

The episode ends on a mischievous note as Takina removes a hair tie and prepares to playfully fire it at Chisato, only for Chisato to dodge and the band to hit lil’ Kurumi square in her big forehead. It’s good to see Takina letting her hair down a bit (literally and figuratively), and the addition of Kurumi to this quirky little family is a welcome one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

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