BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 14 – Unfinished Business

Despite being aware of her elder daughter’s movements and actions through her Shadows network, the queen still sees fit to let Malty run wild—and run she does, setting a massive goddamn wildfire and informing all the local lords that the “Devil of the Shield” is responsible. I’m not sure what the queen’s game is, but she seems content to wait for Naofumi to come to her. The fire blocks him from Siltvelt, so they head the other direction.

That takes them to the domain of Seyaette once ruled by a lord who was sympathetic to the plight of the demi-humans (as well as Raphtalia’s homeland). That lord was killed in the First Wave, and his efforts went to waste. Indeed, Raphtalia and her family and friends were all victims of the resulting oppression and enslavement of demis under the orders of…Melty’s dad, the king. Again, presumably the Queen was fine with all of this…I guess?

The new lord of the domain, Van Reichnott, is thankfully a friend of Melty’s, and invites them to his mansion where he agrees to harbor them. Naofumi warns that they can’t stay more than a night lest they get sniffed out by those loyal to Malty and the king.

So they have one night of tasty meals and soft beds, taking turns keeping watch. Melty thinks she should be doing something, anything other than continuing to run and hide, but Naofumi tells her her life and safety must come before any of that, and in time she’ll do what must be done; what only she can do.

Naofumi also tries to comfort Raphtalia, who is suddenly having the nightmares she suffered when she was small. Being so close to her home where she witnessed and endured so much is affecting her on both a psychological and a visceral level.

As Naofumi feared, they are found out the next morning, as a neighboring lord, Idol Rabier, accuses and arrests Reichnott for harboring the “Devil.” Naofumi hides with Raphtalia (who has an itchy sword hand at the sight of Idol) as Melty says what needs to be said to get rid of Idol and enable Naofumi, Raph and Filo to escape.

They do so, but while Melty believes her name and title will protect her from Idol and that he’ll safely deliver her to father for a proper dialogue, her determination to clear the Shield Hero’s good name probably strikes the wrong tone with a lord who is a member of the church that considers Naofumi the Devil himself.

Naofumi wavers at the opportunity to get away thanks to Melty’s gambit, abandoning her in the process…but only for a brief moment. At the end of the day, bad rep or not he can’t call himself a hero (not to mention look Raph or Filo in the eye) if he left Melty to mercy of that lord. So the trio infiltrates his castle start methodically taking out his guards.

They arrive in the nick of time, as Idol has tired of Melty’s refusal to disclose where Naofumi is and declares her to be in league with the Devil, which makes her fair game to torture and worse, even taking a nasty pleasure in threatening her and “making her face warp.” This dude and Malty truly deserve one another.

But Melty is rescued, and despite her “plans” being “ruined”, she still thanks Naofumi for coming for her. Naofumi then leaves Lord Idol to Raphtalia to do with as she pleases. He has a lot of demi-human blood on his hands.

We’ll see if she gives in to her rage and takes revenge (for which she’d be entirely justified), or if she stays her hand out of a desire not to go down that road. Like Naofumi with his Rage Shield, there are places you can’t come back from.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 11 – This Wasn’t In The Game…Because This Isn’t One

With his wagon bursting with medicines, spare weapons, and other supplies, Naofumi and his suddenly larger party teleport to the site of the second Wave, teleporting us from the safe, familiar capital to another chaotic and brutal magenta-skied war zone.

The rapid transition and immediate dive into the battle is effective, and now that they have more numbers, Naofumi’s team can more quickly and effectively evacuate and defend the village closest to the Wave. Naofumi, Raph and Filo handle the tougher baddies while the others handle the small fry.

Once the village is cleared out, the underlings stay behind with the ex-adventurer Granny who Naofumi once saved, enabling the core trio to join the other three heroes, two of which are already locked in a heated battle aboard a flying pirate ship with a kraken attached to its keel. And immediately, there’s a problem: nobody’s working together.

When Naofumi arrives, Kawasumi is on the ground, while Motoyasu and Amaki are bickering over whether to defeat the Skull Captain or Kraken bosses. Naofumi attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation, and determines that the bosses themselves aren’t the proper targets; their shadows are.

Once Raph and Amaki have stabbed those shadows, numerous soul eaters emerge and combine to form one big nasty one that’s immune to the Shield, Bow and Sword Heroes’ fire-based attacks. Naofumi orders Filo to use wind and speed magic to attack the boss, but between her and Raph, there simply isn’t enough damage being done.

They’ll be there all day and there’s no telling how much destruction will occur in that time, so Naofumi reluctantly whips out his Rage Shield, knowing full well how hard it is to control. Raphtalia offers her moral support, and Naofumi ends up back in that “in-between space,” where this time he’s confronted by the enraged soul of the zombie dragon he defeated.

Once he has his Dragon Zombie Shield, Naofumi begins to press his attack on the soul eater, all while the other heroes and their parties are standing around twiddling their thumbs. Raphtalia reprimands them, basically shaming them into finally finally assisting Naofumi—and in a support role, no less.

With help from Raphtalia, Naofumi doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the dragon’s hatred, and regains his composure, rebuking Malty’s comparison of him to nothing but a wild beast. He summons Iron Maiden, a titanic prison of spikes that closes in on the boss and crushes it.

The other heroes can only look on in awe at Naofumi’s power, as they don’t have anything like what he just demonstrated. Motoyasu backs down from his sore loserdom when Filo transforms into the cute little girl he loves so much, but the Waves are curiously not going away.

Turns out that mega-soul eater wasn’t the final boss for this particular Wave. Instead, it’s another maiden—a raven-haired on with two fans who introduces herself as Glass. She was watching the four heroes and only deems Naofumi to be worthy of going against her.

This was not only a return to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of a Wave (accompanied all the excellent Kevin Penkin music), but some decent development in the relationship betweeen the heroes. For the first time, they’re all fighting in the same place, and it’s clear they’ll need each other to defeat some of the tougher foes the Waves throw their way.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 10 – Growing The Party

Naofumi has been scarred by the injustices he has suffered throughout his time in this world. And since a large quantity of those injustices were perpetrated by the Melromarc royal family, he’s instinctively distrustful of any Melromarcs, even Melty, who has shown him nothing but kindness.

As a result, he turns Melty away, despite the fact the Queen sent her to him explicitly to reconcile and undo the harm the King and Malty have done to him. It’s in Naofumi’s best interests to actually trust Melty and allow her to help him, but he just can’t, due to his history and stewing resentment.

But as the next Wave approaches, Naofumi still manages to run into a bit of good karma, as three warriors and two mages whose families he saved in Lute Village offer to join his party and fight beside him. He’ll only trust them if they cough up 150 silver pieces; hardly chump change.

He’s not the only one stiffing people: the cathedral charges fifteen gold pieces per person for the “class upgrades” he, Raphtalia and Filo will require in order to continue efficiently leveling up. When he produces enough for just Raph to be upgraded, an elder sister steps in presenting a decree from the king prohibiting them from providing any upgrades at any price.

If only Naofumi had heard Melty out rather than turn her away, he might’ve found an easier way around the king’s decree. Instead, he has to seek an upgrade through the slave dealer, who doesn’t provide that service but does offer to relieve Naofumi of five gold pieces in exchange for wyvern talons for Filo’s feet.

Filo’s new talons, combined with Raphtalia’s sharp new sword, make quick work of a job request to defeat a monster in the capital’s sewers. That night, as Naofumi dresses Raph’s wounds with holy water, Raphtalia worries about Naofumi’s vow that once all of the Waves are dealt with, he’ll return to his world, leaving her and Filo alone. The discussion is sidetracked when Filo wakes up and accuses Raph of getting “lovey-dovey.”

The next day they head out, encountering a village whose scant inhabitants are starving to death thanks in no small part to the actions of the Bow Hero Kawasumi Itsuki. Once again, the supposed heroic actions of a hero who isn’t Naofumi has appalling side effects.

Naofumi gets to finally confront both Kawasumi for what he did to the starving village, and Amaki Ren for the plague he caused by slaying the dragon. For their part, neither of them stuck around those places long enough to witness the consequences of their actions, and while Ren believes Naofumi, Itsuki doesn’t.

Naofumi’s distrust for everybody that isn’t Raph or Filo is matched only by the other heros’ continued animosity towards him. It’s a vicious cycle, and so far only Ren has taken a logical approach resembling reconciliation. The other two seem like lost causes in terms of ever seeing Naofumi as anything other than bad news.

We’ll see if despite that there will be any improved collaboration between the four heroes when the second Wave appears, which it does by episode’s end. By this time, the five Lute villagers scounge together the silver for Naofumi, who gives them the accessory they thought they were buying without taking their silver.

He tells them instead to use the cash to buy better equipment. They’ll need it in the battles to come. Naofumi doesn’t even trust these people, who owe their lives and those of their families to his heroics. But maybe, in time, he can, and that will lead to him trusting others who mean him no harm, like Melty and her mother the Queen.

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 05

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Ai moved up fast this week, having met the retainer of the Princess of Ortus in the back of the van, then Pox, Rex, and the royal doctor Diva, and finally Princess Ulla Eulesse Heckmatika herself (that’s a mouthful, but she’s royalty, so we’ll allow it.) She finds all of them to be friendly, kind, and hospitable. So she wonders: why can’t the living, dead, and gravediggers live in harmony in Ortus? Why is death only way to become a citizen?

There’s no straight answer, but history, trust, and fear clearly all play a role. The dead had been oppressed and forced to wander the earth because the living feared they’d turn into monsters. That oppression rendered most of the dead unable to trust anyone who wasn’t. Finally, it’s precisely because Ortus is so large and grand and happy a place that the dead who live there fear losing everything they’ve built if they’re not constantly vigilant.

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As a practical issue, that fear seems misplaced: they’ve been able to handily deal with any gravediggers who came by, while gravediggers are too rare to muster a force large enough to overpower the city. Yet the fear remains. Moreover, the living who wish to remain so either stay away or limit their contact to trade, while the living who wish to be citizens of Ortus must give up their lives. In short, Ortus’ system is working out just fine…for them. Why should they change it?

This episode wasn’t quite as strong as the last five, juggling lots of plot less elegantly as previous outings (plus Dr. Diva was kind of annoying). Still, there was lots to like: the lion-mask guy’s warning preceding a large group of cloaked people approaching Ortus, only to learn they were peaceful migrants, not raiders? Nice misdirection. Also, the show’s unrelenting truth onslaught on Ai continues, showing her new friend Princess Ulla participating in the “acceptance” (read: killing) ceremony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)