Assassins Pride – 06 – Kick Back, then Run for Your Lives

Since the tournament ended so abruptly last week, I was glad for some kind of epilogue, which happens to come in the form of a belated Halloween episode. It starts with Rosetti entering Kufa’s room at night with ominous news, and then we see Melida and Elise meeting up with Salacha and Mule and heading to a secret underground pajama after-party held by the seniors of the two schools.

It’s a welcome opportunity both for the characters to relax and for this newly formed quartet to interact and bond some more. I also liked how they all admitted they had no love lives to speak of, but Mule still didn’t even bother asking poor Elli!

Then Mule and Salacha regale Melida and Elise with the harrowing legend of the Gray Witch, and how there’s a murderer in Flandore copying her M.O. of cutting out the hearts of her victims. It’s enough to make Elli faint, confirming her Little Sister status.

When the lights suddenly go out on the party and a witch appears, wreathed in pink mana, there wasn’t really any doubt was was going on: Rosetti found out about the secret party, and decided to have some fun by putting a scare into them as punishment for breaking the rules.

Of course, the girls don’t know this, and end up getting chased by the witch through wet underground waterways and getting covered in a strange squishy pink substance. It’s enough for Elli to consider simply tearing off her robes, but the others hold her back.

Personally I thought Rosa and Kufa went way too far with their fright-fest…at times it bounded on straight-up cruelty. These girls just went through a very stressful ordeal (the tournament plus Madia) and just want to kick back and relax for one night…haven’t they earned that much?

Once the Witch catches up to them, there’s a wonderful comedic moment when Salacha sprouts winged feet to fight her, and the others make a collective impressed noise…only for Salacha to bonk her head on the ceiling, followed by the others making a collective…unimpressed noise.

When they finally exit the waterway to street level, they’re relieved to find Kufa there, but the adults aren’t quite done with their tricks, as he reveals he’s bleeding from the chest and mouth, having had his heart ripped out.

Thus thoroughly terrified and chastened, Kufa has the girls apologize for breaking curfew and whatnot, but then they turn on him for his liberal use of the pink goo, which they see as perverted.

After all that running around scared, when the girls try to rise from their kneeling positions, they find their legs are asleep, so Kufa has to carry them all to a bed to sleep, only for Melida to grab his hand while he sits beside the bed, ensuring he won’t be sleeping tonight.

While the identity of the witch, and thus the stakes of the episode, were never in doubt or particularly high, respectively, this was still a fun, well-executed, seasonally appropriate episode that got to let its hair down and provided an extended intro to Salacha and Mule.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 05 – The Wild Hunt

When attempts to contact the recently deceased Waletta fail, Adashino swiftly declares Wills as the culprit, since he stood to gain the most from her death. Lord El-Melloi II contents—quite reasonably—that in the world of mages, it doesn’t matter who does something or how, because both of those things can be controlled via magecraft. Rather, it’s the why that matters most.

Since the storm has not ended the original agreement is still in place; Adashino will allow Lord El-Melloi to continue his investigations. He hires Shishigou Kairi to assist him, but as Kairi and Gray collect reference materials, they are attacked by a Black Dog—the final form of the lightning outside—that punches right through Adashino’s Bounded Field.

This incident not only confirms the “murder weapons” used in the string of killings, but piques Shishigou’s interest in Gray, and why the Black Dog seemed to fear her Mystic Code. With her okay, El-Melloi explains that the code is Rhongomyniad, the spear of King Arthur (Arturia), disguised and sealed by both Add and its scythe form. He calls Gray “a portrait of King Arthur created by a certain family.”

The Arthur connection confirms it for Kairi and El-Melloi: the storm of lightning, wind, and spirits surrounding the workshop is the legendary Wild Hunt, once led by Arthur, but which led to defeat and his departure to Avalon. El-Melloi bids that the others indulge him in carrying out a ritual to test his new hypothosis.

Using Wills Mystic Eyes (with Reines’ as a catalyst), El-Melloi is able to summon a fairy in the flesh—the same one that has been appearing before Wills as if to warn of an impending death. The fairy can speak, and admits that she herself killed Trevor as punishment for essentially disrupting the balance between worlds for his own selfish desire to build an army of “false fairies” (i.e. Black Dogs) that he can command.

Now El-Melloi has the “why” as well as the ultimate means: the Marburry Workshop itself being the murder weapon with its ability to summon the murderous Black Dogs.

In his shortsightedness, El-Melloi’s demonstrative ritual ended up activating that weapon, sending an entire army of Black Dogs (led by one large boss-sized one) at the mansion. Adashino stays inside to protect Reines while the others head out to meet the dogs of war in glorious battle.

And I have to say, despite it being a bit dark, it’s quite a battle to behold. Wills shows his prowess with mystic daggers, Kairi has a mystical shotgun, and even El-Melloi pops off a few magical bullets, if you will. But obviously the battle’s MVP was always going to be Gray, taking care of business with her scythe and saving El-Melloi from a premature end.

Ultimately Gray must rescind the second seal and unleash the true power of Rhongomyniad in order to defeat the boss. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sequence, as her “Lance that Shines to the Ends of the World” not only obliterates the boss but blasts away the storm clouds as well. Gray may only be a “portrait” (her name perhaps a reference to Dorian as well as her main color) but she can still bring it when called upon.

What her attack does not do is close the gate to the fairy realm from which the Black Dogs first emerged. To do that, Wills decides to do something he always suspected he’d had to do: walk through the gate himself. El-Melloi begs him not to go as it would be a one-way journey, but Wills is prepared, and knows that not only will he not really “die”, but that his father and Waletta are waiting for him there.

With the gate—and case—closed (and El-Melloi’s favor to Sophia-Ri fulfilled), all that’s left is to head back to London. But before parting ways, Adashino hands the lord some material she found in the aftermath relating to the origin of Wills’ Mystic Eyes, with which he wasn’t born as El-Melloi assumed. They were acquired via Rail Zeppelin, a legendary phantom train that buys and sells the eyes.

With part of the lengthy show title now in play things look to only get more interesting as Lord El-Melloi’s case files continue to flow. Meanwhile, before parting with Gray Kairi tells her to keep a close eye on El-Melloi, since he senses the former Waver to still have a strong connection to his now-dead servant. Since connections to the dead only draw people backwards into the past, it’s on Gray to ensure El-Melloi resists that pull and keeps moving forward.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Golden Kamuy – 11 – And Now, Some Light Eyeball Licking

It all starts with a coincidence, as Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kiroranke decide to spend the night at the Sapporo World Hotel, where Ushiyama also happens to check in. Both Ushiyama and Shiraishi are immediately smitten with the comely proprietess Ienaga Kano; unbeknownst to them, she’s running a murder hotel.

Ienaga takes an interest in Ushiyama due to his superhuman strength, and so dangles him along as she settles Sugimoto & Co into their room. While pursuing Ienaga, Siraishi almost crosses paths with Ushiyama, but doesn’t, thanks to a trap door that leads to Ienaga’s torture and dismemberment chamber.

More importantly, the Immortal Sugimoto and Undefeated Ushiyama finally meet, and test one anothers’ prowess with Judo, leading to this hilarous quote from Ushi: “At this rate, we’ll end up killing each other…I like you. Drinks are on me.” With that, Ushiyama treats Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Kiroranke to drinks and dinner, including a dish Asirpa believes to be poop, leading to another one of her priceless faces.

They all get ruinously drunk; Asirpa and Kuroranke pass out, but fortunately Sugimoto can hold his alcohol enough to stop Ienaga when she starts licking Asirpa’s eyes. Shiraishi remembers who “Ienaga Kano” really is: a fellow prisoner from Abashiri, a mad doctor who believed he could achieve perfection by taking the best parts from others.

It’s left up in the air is whether Ienaga is simply posing as a woman or has actually completed full gender reassignment as a result of their quest for perfection. One thing’s for sure, Ushiyama doesn’t care who Ienaga was or is; he’s just committed to screwing them.

That doesn’t happen, as Ienaga triggers the hotel self-destruct system, blowing the whole place to kingdom come. Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kuroranke escape in one piece (albeit lightly singed) and decide to continue their journey to Abashiri to meet Nopperabo.

They assume they lost not one but two tattooed prisoners in Ushiyama and Ienaga in the blast, but after the credits Ushiyama emerges with an apparently alive (or at least intact) Ienaga, which means Team Hijikata just became one tattoo closer to completing the map.

This episode managed to move the overarching story forward while confined within one crazy kooky hotel and threw together a lot of strong personalities to see how they’d mingle. And it was an absolute riot.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 04 – It’s Party Time

Oh man, I do love a good big Tokyo Ghoul raid. This week, we get the start of a doozy. Things start out quietly yet ominously, as the pageantry of the Eyes Wide Shut-style human auction commences with a washed up actor and then Tooru in disguise.

As a one-eyed Ghoul, Tooru induces a huge 200 million bid, much to the scantily-clad Nutcracker’s delight. That winning bid belongs to the Doves’ primary target tonight: Big Madam, just beating out Master Shuu’s servant.

One of the trio of Ghoul “Clown” MCs whispers to Tooru that no one is coming to save him, but that’s nonsense, as the very next lot is Juuzou, who’s already seen enough of the auction and decides to get the real party started, unleashing a fusillade of daggers at all the Ghouls around him.

Outside the venue (and shouldn’t the Ghouls have picked a less conspicuous place?) The CCG raiding parties are ready to commence the operation, including the Quinx Squad. Their primary goal: Eliminate All Ghouls—but Big Madam in particular—and rescue any human captives.

As Juuzou ditches the wig and attracts the attention of Rabbit (now Ayato, not Touka), Tooru sheds the Nutcracker and runs, but is pursued not just by Master Shuu’s servant, still sore over losing the bid, but by Torso, who splits off from Ayato (and Hinami, who’s with Aogiri Tree now) who simply wants Tooru’s torso all to himself.

What we don’t see much of at all is the Quinx Squad in action. What we do see is pretty much everyone else. We see how the new young blood among the Doves are the source of some resentment from the old “fogeys”, but when a young hotshot over-confidently rushes into the Clowns and gets himself killed, it’s up to the fogey to clean up the mess, even though he’s also killed by the sudden arrival of Owl.

There’s a lot of pieces being set up this week, as new and old faces prepare to go at it. The whole raid is crackling with electricity. And this is just the beginning, with no clear victor yet in sight. Should be a fun resolution.

Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

3-gatsu no Lion – 32

Perhaps I denounced Junko for playing dirty against Nikaidou; turns out he respects the hell out of the round little guy, and was fully prepared to lose to him…until Nikaidou collapsed.

Between his clueless drinking buddies with their boorish questioning, his two downgrades, and losing his prized racing pigeon Sliver, we see that Junko’s loss to Rei is only the latest of many setbacks in his personal and professional life.

However, things look up after he sends hydrangeas to Nikaidou. Silver also returns, and with it, Junko’s fighting spirit, which he aims to use in the 12th Lion King Tournament.

While ostensibly a detour from the season’s main narrative of Hina’s predicament, it’s still an enjoyable and at times moving character study.

Back to Rei, who celebrates his Newcomer victory by treating the Kawamotos to anything they’d like at a sweet shop.

Akari and Hina end up scaring both Rei and Grandpa by managing to put away prestigious amounts of delicious dessert in complex combinations of texture, temperature, and flavor.

By the time they leave the restaurant, the girls can barely move, and Momo, in classic kid form, waits until they left the nearest restroom to declare she had to pee.

With Akari unable to exert herself too much, Rei carries Momo, while Hina stays by his side. Akari notices that ever since Rei visited Hina in Kyoto, she’s been smiling a lot more.

We flash back to their encounter by the river, where Rei is so kind and accommodating, Hina feels as if she’s back home. Rei and Hina are lovingly framed an rendered in this scene, looking for all the world like a romantic pair, particularly when Hina tries on Rei’s glasses.

But whatever the vibes they emit, Hina has been thoroughly cheered up, to the relief of both Akari and Gramps.

Kakegurui – 11

When Yumeko gives up two queens, it convinces Kaede she’s going for the choice to make the “weakest” hand win. When Itsuki fronts 100 chips for Yumeko’s cause, Kaede stays on the “high road” and simply continues to raise, knowing he has enough funds to best them and choose “strongest.”

Just as he expected, Yumeko raises and raises until there’s no more money left, until she brings up life plan she got from the council when she was in deep debt, stating one’s “life” in terms of the value appraised by such plans should be a bet-able commodity.

While Itsuki initially struggles with offering the value of her own life for Yumeko’s sake, she realizes she can’t win and stop Kaede and others from looking down on her if she isn’t willing to bet everything she has and everything she is and ever will be. As a symbol of her wager, she tears out her fancy nails with her teeth – which really would hurt more than she lets on!

Kaede doesn’t accept the raise at first, as he considers the life plans given to livestock to be mere collateral until debts are paid. But as dealer the Vice President gets to decide, not him or Yumeko, and she decides the bet is valid to the tune of 10 billion yen. When Kaede bristles at her authority, she removes her mask to reveal she is President Momobami; she never left.

This is where Kaede, in a desperate bid to regain control of the game, decides he’ll raise Yumeko and Itsuka once more by betting his own life, thus straying from the high road he was assured would take him all the way to the national finance minister’s office. He believes this can only happen if he usurps Momobami, and Itsuka’s funds are a crucial means to that end.

Having raised his life, Kaede is awarded choice, and chooses “strongest.” Itsuka’s initial reaction looks like one of shock over putting all her hopes in Yumeko and losing again…but Kaede’s three 8’s are no match for Yumeko’s three Jacks, and Yumeko and Itsuka are victorious. All because he left the high road…and couldn’t stop looking down on Itsuka, inspiring her to defeat him at all costs.

The loss leaves Kaede unconscious, with hair as white as snow, as if bled dry of all vitality. As he’s carried off by medics, Itsuka feels bad for him, without whom she’d never have gotten into the council, or stood where she stands now. Yumeko can’t help but think how beautiful is the sight of someone who bet everything…and lost.

That leaves Momobami and Yumeko boring holes into one another with their blue and red eyes, respectively. Having beaten Kaede (and drawn out a side of him she’s never seen), the president has all but confirmed that the one gambler who has a snowball’s chance in hell of standing beside her is this Jabami Yumeko person.

Yumeko seems to be similarly interested in what Momobami is capable of, and deduces her the root of her discontent all along, even as she watched the life escape from countless gamblers: What Momobami wants most of all is to see herself in that position…and that requires someone other than herself; someone who can surpass her. She can’t wait to see if that’s who Yumeko is, and Yumeko can’t wait to show her.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 20

The Demon assassin is eager to fight a dragon, as I assumed he’d killed one or two in his checkered past. However, his true beef is with the fact that Nina is a mongrel and a pathetic abomination for having a human parent. Nina transforms into the Red Dragon, but the assassin transforms into a bigger one. A much, much bigger one.

The resulting fight is one of the cooler, more impressive battle sequences—after all, two dragons are better than one—but Nina is completely outclassed and the assassin’s attacks quickly transform her back into human form.

Naked and beaten up, the Onyx Commander looms over her and tells her the order to kill her came from His Majesty himself, twisting the proverbial knife before killing her with a real one.

Favaro and Kaisar have heard enough, and spring into action, breaking free from their captors—but they’re pretty outmatched themselves, so it’s fortunate the cavalry arrives in a timely fashion, in the form of El, Sofiel, Azazel and Jeanne. The lads are…humbled by the sight of the surpassingly ethereal, angelic Sofiel, but she’s not here to dilly-dally.

Summoning a giant avatar to match the assassin dragon’s scale, she launches a devastating ice-based attack that turns the dragon into a solid chunk that shatters under its own weight. And to think: she is of those who have found themselves flummoxed and beaten back by Charioce.

With the dragon eliminated and the Onyx Soldiers tied up with magical binds, all that’s left is to finish saving Nina, who appears down for the count not due to any physical exertion, but because she’s suffering from a broken heart.

Kaisar leaves the Onyx Commander and his men alive, but the Commander makes sure he knows there’s nothing he or his friends can do to stop Charioce, so there’s no point in continuing to oppose him, aside, I supposed, from a death wish. Alessand also takes note of the fact that El is the “holy child.”

Back at base (which is surprisingly still intact and safe after all that) Sofiel insists that it’s time to go: Her, Jeanne…and El. But El is reluctant; he believes he was born for a greater purpose that can only be served on the surface world. Bacchus, for once given some dramatic meat, tells him he’s being foolish; that all he his at the moment is a child, a gift from his father to his mother. It’s enough to convince him to go with them.

Meanwhile, Nina whips herself into a rage and tosses aside the necklace Charioce gave her, trying and likely failing to get over the guy who not only rejected her, but tried to kill her. She neither needs nor wants these feelings, but unless Rita has a spell or potion for it, they’re not going anywhere. El stops by to say goodbye, and can tell Nina isn’t alright, even though she puts her usual cheerful face on in front of him.

The next morning, the Onyx Commander informs Charioce, who is headed to Eidos to finish opening the rift, that the dragon has been eliminated; Charioce, like Nina, may well be hiding his true feelings on the matter from the world. Ready to set off back to the Land of the Gods, Sofiel admits to Bacchus that she left without permission, and furthermore, can why he stayed on this world: there’s never a dull moment, after all.

After El says his final goodbyes to Azazel, he walks back through the caves alone, and is confronted by Alessand, who stabs him in the chest, making his holy blood pour onto the ground and surround his black ocarina. Alessand, who was humiliated and judged as worthless by the Onyx Commander, still wishes to prove the man wrong.

So Al chose to make himself worth something by eliminating a potential weapon of the Gods. Whether he’ll get any acknowledgment—or even get out of the caves with his life—remain to be seen.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 19

Fancy Royal Ball Caper, anyone? Nina and Al’s big arrival is briefly interrupted by a flashback to Rita going over the plan to snatch Charioce’s bracelet. Everyone plays a role, including El, if the Onyx Soldiers get involved (with Azazel watching his back).

Nina realizes that as the ‘getaway vehicle’ her role is crucial to success (just as she trips on the palace steps). She’s been able to transform at will, but Favaro (paired up with Dias and tasked with actually swiping the bracelet) doesn’t think she’ll be able to when the time comes.

That’s not Favaro not having faith in his student; it’s Favaro knowing how Nina feels about Charioce, and how the King isn’t going to give up that bracelet easily. Al doesn’t have to pretend Nina is his fiancee or sister for long, as Nina ditches him the moment Charioce enters.

This is the Charioce who allowed the Onyx Commander to proceed with the plan to assassinate Nina, so with that in mind I couldn’t help but feel, like Favaro, that there was simply no way Nina would transform into a dragon, and thus no way he mission would succeed.

Nina is, however, able to ask the king to dance and draw him to her, and they become the center of attention as they cut a mean rug all over the ballroom. The CGI extras are a bit stiff, but the dancing animation is as crisp and smooth as it was during their first dance at the festival, and just as adorable. It’s almost enough to make you forget that this love story can only end in tragedy and despair.

On a secluded balcony, Nina waits for Charioce to come out and tell her “everything”, as he promised to do the next time they met. But instead, he dumps her like she’s never been dumped before, without even a hint of empathy or compassion. Just “we’re done, don’t come back, go before I have the guards seize you.”

Being subjected to exactly the opposite treatment from him she expected, Nina is a wreck, but Favaro emerges from the shadows to scold “Mr. King” for hurting his student, and demands he give up the bracelet. When Charioce says it can’t be removed as long as he lives, Favaro says he can fix that, but Nina comes between them, not able to betray the man she loves as he was able to betray her.

The guards arrive, but Favaro tosses some smoke bombs, which are also the signal that the plan has failed. Everyone evacuates without any trouble, but Al tries to go off on his own, only to be intercepted by Azazel and El; the three later encounter Jeanne and Sofiel in the streets.

Nina, Favaro and Kaisar end up at the waterfront, where they are quickly surrounded by Onyx Soldiers. Then the burly assassin arrives, prepared to kill the dragon. The look in Nina’s eyes suggests he’s welcome to try.

This was a fun and often thrilling episode, but its impact was somewhat lessoned by the certainty that the caper would ultimately fail. It’s too early for the good guys to possess the means to rob the bad guy of his power. But (please) let there be no (or very little) remaining doubt: Charioce has made his choice: to let Onyx run free. He is the bad guy, however much Nina may love him.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 18

Baha Soul finally returns to airwaves and breaks from the action and the central romance to focus on all the various relationships characters have developed over the course of the last 17 episodes (and the 12 of Genesis before that).

Nina “gets home” late, worrying/annoying her “parents”: Rita, Bacchus, Hamsa and Rocky. She’s giddy as a schoolgirl, and her master Favaro already knows why; she can deny it all she wants but he knows her.

Things get awkward when Nina and Azazel meet for the first time since she failed to transform in aid of his rebellion, leading to the death and capture of every demon he convinced to fight for him.

Not particularly interested in catching up, Azazel responds to Nina’s apology by saying he never expected anything of her anyway…which we know is a lie. He even gives poor Mugaro the cold shoulder.

The team’s next plan will involve attending the palace ball to be held in three days. Nina quickly volunteers to sneak in and steal Charioce’s bracelet (the one that controls the superweapon) and proves she’s up to the task by spontaneously leaping behind a wall of crates, transforming into a dragon, then transforming right back (without even losing her clothes to boot).

Everyone is impressed…except for Azazel, who is disgusted and enraged beyond belief. That he had to lose so much and so many because the timing of Nina “learning what it feels like to be loved” was just a little too late…I’d be grinding my fallen angel teeth, too.

Continuing Nina’s practice of not staying well-hidden, El goes out the next day to look for Azazel, who stormed off in a right tizzy. El inevitably attracts the attention of guards and runs himself into a dead end, but Azazel swoops in to rescue him.

Afterwards, it takes El apologizing to Azazel for Azzy to snap out of it and stop directing his anger at someone who doesn’t have to apologize for anything. Azzy saved El, but El kinda saved him in the process, by proving there was more in life than…oneself.

Alessand and Dias continue to pop up now and again, with the latter remaining fiercely loyal to Kaisar (even worrying about being in a gentleman’s club would look) while Al resents him more every day for ruining their careers, abandoning them, and becoming a fugitive.

Well, it isn’t until a drunk Al confronts a tall, suspicious-looking “demon” that turns out to be Kaisar in disguise that we see that however else Al feels about Kaisar, his misses him, and misses the Orleans Knights, and how good it felt to be together.

After the Onyx commander dismissed Al’s request to transfer by basically saying he’s worthless, here comes Kaisar to tell him he has a great deal of worth, and if he would find it in his heart to set aside his superior’s transgressions, together they can make a difference.

Nina is still giddily drunk in love by episode’s end, to the point she’s yelling “I LOVE YOU” at the moon. Favaro joins her, though his words aren’t for Charioce, but Amira. He has Nina all but drop the pretense, as he knows Charioce is the object of her affections, whether she “can say” she truly loves him yet or not.

Drawing from his experience in helping to quell the threat of Bahamut years ago, Favaro still wonders if the choice he made was the correct one, and urges Nina to think carefully about how she’ll choose, because the way this world works, you can’t gain anything without losing something in the bargain.

Then Favaro gets back to playfully yelling “I love you” at the moon and Nina struggles to stop him, the Onyx commander is paying a mercenary/hitman to eliminate the dragon; an order the commander gave himself more than Charioce gave him. From the looks of this guy, Nina’s toughness is about to be tested.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 17

“Kill it on sight,” Charioce says to the Black Knight leader, referring to the red dragon…but is he saying that because that’s what he’s expecting to say, knowing Nina will doubtless put up a good fight? The two sides of Charioce come out again, bringing his roller-coaster romance with Nina to the fore.

Once the whole group is reunited, “gathering intel” is the order of the day. Those of you who were waiting for Rita and Nina to dress up as sexy demons, you got your wish this week. It’s not really that great a disguise, but Nina runs out alone anyway, eager to try it out.

It isn’t long before she runs into the other person in a bad disguise, Charioce, AKA “Chris.” Specifically, he’s visiting the grave of his dead mother (killed by Bahamut’s fire, like Nina’s father).

This, and playing football with the little demon children in the slums, is all meant for Christ to score brownie points with both Nina and us the audience. But for me, those points won’t be easily doled out, and even then are highly provisional.

The moment we all knew was coming: when Chris opens up enough that Nina wants to get closer and closer to him until they embrace and eventually kiss for the first time. It’s a very romantic scene (again, if you buy what’s happening, more on that later).

Things get even more Disney-esque when Nina realizes she can now transform into the red dragon at will, perhaps because of Chris’ kiss. She takes him on a moonlit ride over a calm, peaceful Anatae.

When they land (and Nina finds a robe), Chris gives her a token of his affection: a necklace with a red claw, before sending her on her way, promising the next time they meet he’ll explain more clearly what he’s after. I for one am waiting with baited breath for him to please, for the love of God, explain how all of the monstrous stuff he’s done will be worth it, and how having a dead mom justifies it?

For now, I’ll work with this theory: Charioce is literally two distinct personalities, and becomes the kind and gentle Chris when he is around Nina. We saw his change in expression after she left, so unless he continues to play her, that must be the case. To be redeemed, Chris would have to have no control over the horrific things King Charioce has done.

It’s thin, but another piece of evidence comes post-credits: The Black Knight leader, suspicious of Charioce’s “kill on sight” order, is convinced the king is “under the red dragon’s spell”—the spell that makes him Chris. Considering Nina is, in a way, under his “spell” as well, enabling her to transform at will, it would seem that spell is love, and the only thing holding Charioce back from attaining his goals.

Though even as Chris, it’s clear he still has every intention of carrying through with his plans. So is the Black Knight right, and his king is wavering due to Nina? Or is Charioce in full control after all, fully intending to use Nina, who has well and truly fell for him?

Is Chris real, and can he prevail over Charioce? That is apparently the question on which the fate of many people, demons, and gods now rests.