Vinland Saga – 18 – Their Own Paradise

While the long-awaited rematch between Thorfinn and Thorkell is everything it should be, and doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t take up the whole episode by any stretch, and it doesn’t impress because of the blows exchanged, but because of the words. It doesn’t take up the whole episode because more than half of the episode takes place at the site of the crashed sled Finn abandoned to rescue the man he means to kill himself. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

When we return to Prince Canute, he can hear Bjorn’s mushroom-enhanced savagery, doesn’t want to open his eyes, and strays into a dream. There, Ragnar says goodbye, but also asks forgiveness for his crime of raising him like a son, and not a jarl. Thors tried to raise Thorfinn as a son and not a warrior, and we see how that turned out. When he awakes, Canute laments to the priest that with Ragnar dead no one in the world loves him.

Then the priest procedes to explode Canute’s brain by telling him what Ragnar showed him wasn’t really love. True love, by the priest’s admittedly extreme standards, is the corpse of a dead raider, whose remains will never steal or kill, but will nourish the animals and the Earth. Ragnar’s love, and the love of any father for his son, is simply discrimination—assigning an artificial hierarchy to what should or shouldn’t be protected.

When Eve bit the apple, man attained knowledge in exchange for expulsion from paradise, but what they lost when they were expelled is something they’ll never know and never attain again. With that loss comes questions—what is love, what is death, what is the purpose of life—that will never be answered.

Mirroring this philosophical exchange between Canute and the priest—and in some ways reinforcing its points—is the duel between Thorfinn and Thorkell, in which the hulking giant is able to best throw his opponent off balance not with the swing of an axe, but with a question that came to him while thinking about Thors, the one man stronger than him: what does it mean to be a true warrior?

Thorfinn can’t help but remember his father’s words: the ultimate warrior need not even hold a sword. It was an ideal he tried and failed to attain, and rather than paving a path for his son to follow, only inspired rage and a thirst for revenge. Thorfinn ultimately dodges the question like he dodges Thorkell’s strikes. Failing to dodge even one of those strikes could prove fatally punishing to his body but contemplating his question means having to reckon with the fact that all these years have been pointless.

Ultimately, what makes the moving back-and-forth between the fight and the talk work so well is that it puts the needlessness and pointlessness of Thorfinn’s actions into perspective. He needs to hear some of the things being said between Canute and the Priest. However the fight turns out—and getting thrown a hundred feet in the air and coming down hard isn’t going to help his cause—Thorfinn will still be hopelessly lost.

With Bjorn growing more and more mindlessly violent and running out of enemies to slay, Canute comes to a revelation: stop fighting needless battles when the Paradise of old will never be attained. Instead, he aims to create a new paradise on Earth, something that he as a member of a royal family can actually do. When Bjorn sidles up to him, Canute manages to disarm him with a look he’s never sported before…the look of someone from whom the fog has finally lifted.

Canute tells Bjorn and the last man standing to stop fighting. He’s going to chase down the horses, and orders the priest—named Williband—to tend to Bjorn’s wounds, and for the other man to help him. This is no time to fight or die. He asks the two to become his vassals, and he will do what, on Earth, he believes only a king can: give meaning to their battles, their lives, and their deaths.

Assuming Thorfinn survives his fight with Thorkell, will Canute be able to give him those things—and will Thorfinn be able to accept them? He has only six more episodes to work with.

Assassins Pride – 05 – Just a Step in Front

Keira Espada tells her underclassman Salacha Shicksal that she’d rather an inter-family fued like the Angels’ not interfere with the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament, but there’s nothing she, Melida or Elise can do about it. White Night’s ongoing investigation into Melida’s ability and Othello’s insistance on Elise’s superiority means there’s no way the tournament won’t be affected. Indeed, it already has.

That’s thanks both to Othello’s rigging of the cadet selection and the fact that Black Madia is not only on the loose in the school, but assuming the form of a student, meaning she is everywhere and nowhere. Still, the host school’s headmaster would apparently prefer both a tainted final result and the mortal danger of a lurking assassin rather than cancelling or even postponing the tournament. She puts tradition and propriety before truth and the safety of her students. Shame on her!

Anyway, the show indeed goes on, by which point Melida has been encouraged and galvanized by both her tutor Kufa and her teammates Nerva and Shenfa, who buck the trend of believing Melida will never measure up to Elise. When the two finally meet for the fateful duel, Elise finally expresses that she didn’t want to win against her “big sister” because she didn’t want everyone’s assumptions—including her own—that Melida was weaker than her to be true. She wanted to continue being second-best.

Deeming that to be impossible to keep up the charade any longer, all Elli can do now is prove that which everyone assumes and which she always feared: that Melida can’t beat her. Only…Melida hasn’t been sitting idle all these weeks with Kufa. She’s learned quite a few new tricks that optimize her mana, and Elli has been too busy with her own preparations to keep up with her big sister’s training.

Turns out Melida not only believes she can beat Elli, but she goes and does it. With everyone watching, Elli doesn’t take the fall, she loses fair and square to a disarming attack, and Melida makes it clear she’s determined to stay a step ahead of her little sister…if only just a step.

While the sisters’ fight didn’t last long, it did pack a punch, and I appreciated that Ishikawa Yui got some spirited dialogue to sink her teeth into, almost channeling her best-known role, Mikasa Ackerman, in the process (both Mikasa and Elli both being cool, powerful, yet reserved beauties).

As they fight, Kufa is on the lookout for the disguised Black Madia, and thinks he’s found her when he encounters her all alone with something suspicious in her bag. Turns out he’s mistaken: it’s not Black Madia at all, but a student from the other school who spoke with Melida last week: Mule la Mor. Her mana-absorbing Diabolos class is too high a class for Madia.

Soon after Melida and Elise’s big catharsis, Madia steps in to try to finish the job Kufa won’t on behalf of White Night, who disguised herself as Nerva to get as close as possible to her target. The glass palace’s giant sentries initially stops her, but she destroys their weapons. Turns out that’s an unforced error, as it allows other non-cadets to enter and save the day: specifically Kufa, with Rosetti backing him up.

Kufa slashes away all of the Clown-class’s illusions until she’s stripped down to a revealing outfit that makes her self-conscious. At this point she completely loses her nerve and becomes submissive to Kufa, almost acting like she likes him, which may be the case. In any case, Kufa suggests a compromise: she can return to their boss with his “supplementary report”, thus not returning empty-handed in shame. In exchange, she’ll withdraw without further trouble.

After the credits, however, Madia is right back at the school, this time entering the front door as an instructor. Her transition from fearsome adversary to potential ally and supporter of Melida is awfully quick, but I’ll allow it. As for the tournament, Keira Espada wins, and Mule la Mor shows Salacha Shicksal a “mana analyzer” containing all the mana info of every girl who fought in the palace—including Melida’s—for Salacha’s brother. As the OP hinted, looks like we’ll likely see more of Mule and Salacha.

Vinland Saga – 17 – Not Everyone’s Afraid to Die

The normally cautious Askeladd lashes out at his mutineers, throwing them off balance and allowing Bjorn to escape on the sled with Thorfinn, Prince Canute, and the Priest. But as he contemplates what could be the last moments of his life, he remembers a moment from his childhood when his dying mother told him about King Arthur, who is not only still alive and recovering in the mythical land of Avalon, but will return someday. When he does, she told Askeladd to serve him.

Mutineers manage to catch up to the sled, and realize that there’s no bargaining with Bjorn; if they want the Prince, they’ll have to kill him. Thus, they take the less sporting route by killing his horses, sending the sled and its occupants flying. Finn kills one of the pursuers and mounts his horse, abandoning the prince because killing Askeladd is more important. If Askeladd should die by someone else’s hands, I doubt Finn would ever forgive himself.

Askeladd fights of many of his men, who fall back and shoot him with several arrows, none of which immediately threaten his life (though infection could set in if his wounds aren’t tended soon). Then his life is saved…by Thorkell of all people, who has arrived, and orders his men to kill everyone but Askeladd. The mutineers reluctantly pick up their weapons and die as something resembling warriors, but Thorkell pushes Torgrim too far, and Torgrim simply…goes bye-bye.

That’s when Thorfinn rides in, plowing through mutineers and English alike with his horse and charging towards Thorkell, who without hesitation charges up and uppercuts the goddamn horse like it was nothing. I’ve harped in the past about some of the more supernatural feats of Thorkell and others, but in this case the silliness is a good complement to the seriousness of the situation. Finn tells Thorkell that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t give him Askeladd, and Thorkell is all to eager to let Finn try. Here’s hoping for Finn’s sake this isn’t like London.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 12 – Fake Servant, Real Prayers

For the at times jumbled and confusing but generally thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the Rail Zeppelin arc, the rule about no one uninvited boarding the train is again cast aside, as it was for Melvin Wains. For one thing, both the train and Lord El-Melloi II were initially fooled by Dr. Heartless, who disguised himself as Caules with intel from Yvette and murdered Trisha by controlling Karabo.

The real Caules then appears, along with another uninvited guest in Reines, with Luvia’s research in hand. They were able to fly to the train using something called Touko Travel.  What finally got El-Melloi wise to the fake Caules was the fact he was able to heal him so easily; something he knew his student wasn’t quite capable of. The Lord asked Adashino to put on an act so Heartless would think they were at odds.

But gaining mystic eyes wasn’t Heartless’ only objective. By placing both Rail Zeppelin and the Child of Einnashe on the same Leyline, he was able to create a fake Holy Grai. He used that to summon a fake servant, “Hephaistion,” of the “Faker” class, based on the residual image of Iskandar. She appears beside him when Heartless uses a (fake) Command Seal.

Having no intention of being caught, he has the conductor open the oculus to the auction room allowing him and Hephaestion to leave, giving them and Gray/El-Melloi more space to fight. Heph and Gray cross swords again, while Heartless summons the Child of Einnashe once again.

At this point, Karabo emerges from the train with his Mystic Eyes restored, and he delivers a number of blows to Heph by bringing past slashes into the present, all while El-Melloi uses his own experience in following Iskandar to deduce Heph’s story.

Others get into the mix, with Olga-Marie leading a big astromancy spell that rains green flames down upon Einnashe’s twisted branches, while Rail Zeppelin’s staff transforms the train into a weapon that projects and amplifies the power of loaded Mystic Eyes to fire a massive rose-colored beam of energy that damages Einnashe and forces it to retreat.

In the midst of all this chaos, El-Melloi is preparing a spell, one using the amorous pendant worn by Trisha. He’s able to cast it once Heph freezes both Gray and Karabo with her Mystic Eyes, and that spell allows Gray to bring her scythe down in a critical blow across Heph’s chest.

Still, she’s one tough cookie, as she summons the Gordius—er, Hecatic Wheel in order to escape with Heartless. El-Melloi is out of gas, and leaves the rest to Gray, who is steadied by Karabo. He urges her to hear the prayers embedded in her weapon, and to add her own: her desire to protect Sir and everyone else. Those prayers are answered, and the third restraint is rescinded the use of Rhongomyniad is approved, and she blasts Heph and Heartless into the ionosphere.

I have to hand it to this show, despite how much last week’s table-setting and mulling around annoyed me, I knew it had it in it to deliver a powerful climax, and so we have here. Like I said, there were a lot of moving parts that weren’t necessarily made clearer by last week’s preparations, and quite a bit of jargon tossed around, but there’s no denying I was entertained.

DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

Vinland Saga – 08 – Bound by Past and Pride

Thankfully there are no goofy-looking generals or ships overladen with treasure falling down waterfalls without damage this week, as Askeladd’s crew returns home to the Jutland peninsula and settle down for the winter. When they arrive, there are boys eager to join the crew to replace those who died in battle, and girls eager to give Askeladd a warm welcome—and get some pretty jewelry in return.

These lands are owned by the feudal Lord Gorm, who micromanages every quarter-piece of silver it will cost for Askeladd and his men to live, eat, and drink on those lands. Askeladd is rolling in dough, so that’s not a problem. He also meets Gorm’s slave Hordaland, named after her homeland in Norway. Gorm blames her noble upbringing for her ineptness as a servant, but Askeladd thinks he’s just not using her the right way.

Oh yeah, there’s also that tiny little matter of the duel between Askeladd and Thorfinn; the time has finally come. Now that he’s older and harder, a couple women actually take notice of Thorfinn’s mild cuteness, though he once again needs a good barber…and probably a bath too.

Like last time, Askeladd treats the start of the duel rather casually, but Thorfinn immediately demonstrates that if he lets his guard down too much. He’s killed many people and gotten a lot of training and battle experience since their last duel, and it’s on full display in his less erratic, more deliberate and thoughtful fighting style.

However, in those same years Finn has gotten older and better, Askeladd is still as good as he’s ever been at using not just whoever but whatever he has to win, and he also happens to know exactly how to push Thorfinn’s buttons.

He pretends not to remember Thors’ name or whether he actually killed him, with a condescending and disrespectful tone that causes Finn to quickly lose his temper and make an ill-advised charge that Askeladd is all too ready for.

Since no one said anything about a fight to the death, and surely Askeladd has no interest in taking the life of one of his best scouts, he simply knocks him out after neutralizing him with a stunning move. Thorfinn may have become a better warrior, but he’s still no match for his captain.

That night at a huge feast, one of those eager boys sidles up to Askeladd seeking a job, and asks his possibly future captain why he risks keeping someone like Thorfinn around when he could easily kill him in his sleep? Askeladd is categorical: Finn would never do that. He is a warrior, like his father, and would never accept victory devoid of honor.

Askeladd can sleep soundly because Finn is held back by the twin binds of past and pride. He also can’t help but laugh as he watches Lord Gorm, a slave to money, beating Hordaland, not just a literal slave but a slave to her past and pride, being a former noble who had no say in her present situation.

As Thorfinn sulks aboard his father’s ship, Thors comes to him in a vision, and upon placing his hand on his son’s head, Finn turns back into a boy and bursts into tears. Thors knows nothing he can say can stop his son from seeking revenge, but reminds him again that no one has any enemies, and the most honorable warrior has no need for a sword.

When Hordaland surprises Thorfinn with some dinner, we finally get to hear how she feels about her situation, rather than just assume from how she acts around Lord Gorm. She believes, rightly so, that she and Finn aren’t that different: both are where they are because they have nowhere else to be. In her case, she believes even if she ran away and kept running, she’d just end up someplace just like Gorm’s lands.

As the snow starts to pick up, Finn tells her about Vinland, and in doing so attempts to give her some hope that it does matter whether or not you run and/or fight (Horda would never kill, and probably doesn’t want to start, but she can still run if she chooses to). True to Thors’ words of wisdom, both Finn and Horda have no real enemies—only their own self-imposed binds.

In the August of the next year (1013), King Sweyn’s armies mount a huge invasion of England, burning, pillaging, and raping their way all the way to London…where their momentum is suddenly halted by a stout defense, including someone who looks like Askeladd’s wilder English brother. Sweyn also gives his son Prince Canute a chance at valor, who along with his other son Harald, are candidates for succeeding him.

While it’s exciting to see an early London come into the picture and other big-world developments, what made this episode was the duel (and how it was won) and its more intimate moments: those between Askeladd and Gorm, Askeladd and the wannabe fighter, and between Thorfinn and Hordaland. Vinland Saga has some shiny toys to toss around, but those smaller human interactions pack a far meatier emotional punch.

Vinland Saga – 07 – Getting a Head in France

The Danish King Sweyn orders his armies’ English advances halted to give them time to rest for the winter. That means Askeladd’s crew’s contract work with the army ceases, which means they have to do as the birds do: migrate south in search of food.

It turns out there are already various factions within France fighting one another, including a siege on the Loire river in which a numerically superior Frankish force is unable to take a fort held by only a handful of their enemies. Askeladd sends in Thorfinn, older but still a kid, to make a deal with the besieging army.

Their general—who has a distorted cartoony design that resembles a fat toad, and with a weird voice to match—reluctantly agrees to ally with Askeladd’s men for the siege. The general’s out-of-place appearance is another sign that while Vinland Saga can be very realistic when it wants to be, it’s still depicting a highly stylized version of history and reality.

A more overt sign is when Askeladd’s men join the Frankish general’s armies in the siege the next morning, they come lugging their three boats on their shoulders and running at full speed; at least 25mph (the current record for human speed is Usain Bolt’s 27.8mph; he was not carrying a viking ship).

So yeah, even if the Vikings did carry their ships around on occasions when it was necessary to take land shortcuts, they certainly didn’t carry them that quickly, and I imagine when they were done carrying them they didn’t have enough energy remaining to not just fight a battle, but absolutely dominate in it.


Of course, challenging realism in this show is a slippery slope, so I’ll stop there, as it’s more plausible that after however many years Thorfinn has trained and killed for Askeladd, he’s become a finely-honed, ninja-like killing machine. There’s a long line of soldiers between him and their commander, but he cuts through them all like butter. Unfortunately, when he beheads the commander, the head falls into the lake, and the whole reason he went up there was to claim their leader’s head.

The Frankish general/prince was planning to betray Askeladd when it made the most sense to do so, but Askeladd betrays him first, pillaging the village of all treasure and leaving the worthless empty fort, and the victory, for the general.

Presenting the head of the commander, Thorfinn formally challenges Askeladd to the duel he’s owed once more, and Askeladd formally accepts…but only after they’ve escaped to safety. That means rowing their three big viking ships—likely overladen by treasure and other spoils—down a steep waterfall. Not only do the ships make it down without a scratch, but not a single gold coin spills out.

Despite all the action in this episode, it still felt rather static, in that Thorfinn and Askeladd’s unresolved conflict hung over everything, and the fact it was once again delayed despite Finn meeting the requirements feels like another artifical delay, for which their French excursion felt like so much window dressing. The comic-relief buffonish toad man and questionable physics further undermined the outing.

Vinland Saga – 05 – A Duel Deferred

Despite Askeladd and his crew being sure Thorfinn would eventually die of hunger, thirst, and/or exposure on the captured ship, he survives long enough for them to sail into the Humber for a brief stint in England. At first his thirst for revenge outweighs everything, but he slips on some moss and gets knocked out by a tree trunk. Defeated by his surroundings before he’s anywhere near the enemy.

He awakes in a gorgeously lit forest and finally drinks some fresh water. He’s so surprised to still be alive he even manages to smile and laugh, but that cheerful mood doesn’t last when he starts to hear screams and spots flames in the distance. Askeladd’s men have decided to spend their “resting time” doing what they apparently do best: rape, burn, and pillage.

Once things die down Finn sneaks into the village and finds the hut where Askeladd is sleeping, unprotected. Eschewing his dagger for an unwieldy longsword, he raises it in preparation to behead his father’s murderer, but stops and retreats, much to the surprise of Askeladd (who was briefly roused before going back to sleep.

In the morning, it’s confirmed why Finn stayed his hand: he’s his’ father’s son. Stabbing a sleeping man in the back isn’t his style; he wants a proper duel with Askeladd. Unfortunately Finn is absolutely no match for Askeladd, especially when he’s letting his sword swing him. He gets a brutal kick to the gut, but that’s all he gets.

Back in Iceland, Leif and the rest of the crew return and inform Helga and Ylva of Thors’ honorable death, and promise to not rest until they’ve found Thorfinn. Ylva, bypassing several stages of grief, flies straight to detatched acceptance and gets back to work, reacting to the news with little more than a shrug and by admitting she figured he’d get killed one of these days.

Neither Ylva’s friends nor her mother are buying what she’s selling—that she feels nothing for what has happened and merely wants to move on—and this is most powerfully illustrated when Ylva is working on a loom late into the night and Helga puts her hands on hers to stop her.

Only then, when Ylva stops—working, busying her mind, simply stops—do tears start to flow, almost despite herself, from her crystal blue eyes. Then Helga draws her into an embrace of shared grief and comfort. Will Ylva stay with her mother, perhaps the only family she has left, or join Leif on the search for her kid brother?

As we know, she still has a brother, who simply refuses to die. While Thorfinn won’t accept scraps from Askeladd’s men when they’re offered, he comes back later to eat what little meat is left and suck out the marrow. He has a chance encounter with Bjorn (collecting mushrooms), who treats him as little more than an irritant, but tells him that while his father was indeed strong, he was also naive. Finn isn’t even strong, not yet, which means he doesn’t have a chance.

Taking that to heart, Thorfinn continues training in the forest, and one night encounters a hungry wolf. Remembering Askeladd’s words about being swung by his own sword, Finn ditches the huge weapon for something much more suited to his size: the dagger Thors gave him. He then kills his first wolf, learns to throw a dagger, kills his first rabbit, feeds himself, recovers some strength.

As Askeladd and his men prepare to depart, having stayed longer than originally planned, Thorfinn confronts him one last time with yet another duel challenge. This time, he shows Askeladd a lot more, and even surprises him with the thrown dagger, but Finn is still nowhere close to being a threat.

Demonstrating he has at least some heart and empathy for the kid’s plight, Askeladd refuses to kill him, and instead makes a promise: if Finn becomes stronger and distinguishes himself in battle, he will honor the duel at a later date. The implication is, he must first join Askeladd’s crew. Knowing that as much as he might want to avenge his father, he’s still too young and weak, Finn agrees, and a truce is struck.

Vinland Saga – 04 – The Warrior Without a Sword

Even Askeladd’s biggest, toughest warrior Bjorn, tripping balls on “berserker mushrooms,” can’t make Thors so much as draw his sword. He defeats an entire boatfull of Askeladd’s men with his bare hands, then smells him out as the leader and challenges him to a duel.

Askeladd shows why he commands such a large group of unruly pirates—he’s really good in a swordfight, relying on speed, surprise, and trickery to get the upper hand. When Thors starts wearing down Askeladd’s sword at the cost of his own, Askeladd takes the bait, swinging wide and paying for it.

If Askeladd were an honorable warrior like Thors, he would have accepted defeat. But things aren’t that simple. Thors is outraged that the rules are being broken, but Askeladd has clearly made a life out of doing just that—not to mention Thors also broke the rules by deserting in the first place.

Now, while it’s been great hanging out with the Troll of Jom and seeing the awesome things he can do, we’ve known pretty much since the start that he wasn’t going to last long, and sure enough, as Thorfinn watches helplessly, he’s run through with a good number of arrows from above.

In the end, Thors was as much a victim of his own pacifist ideals, and the expectation everyone he dealt with would follow the warrior’s code to the letter, than those arrows or any cheating on Askeladd’s part. Men like Askeladd almost always outlast men like Thors because they understand that rules don’t mean a damn thing if you’re dead.

In Thors’ case, he’s also incredibly lucky that Askeladd decides to honor Thors’ duel victory by withdrawing and sparing the rest of Thors’ crew. But his one final miscalculation was that Thorfinn would go quietly back to Iceland after watching his father cheated and killed before his eyes.

Thors’ death now sets up Thorfinn’s quest for vengeance, as he stows away the villagers’ ship Askeladd’s crew took as a prize and basically stares the man down, promising he’ll kill him. Askeladd is unimpressed, and tells his men to leave him to starve. If he manages to survive, he could be useful down the road. After all, his whole crew saw the fire in the kid’s eyes.

I won’t lie; it was tough to blast through three fantastic episodes of Vinland Saga in the first week, then wait three weeks for the fourth, especially when we knew full well Thors was doomed and his son is going to join Askeladd’s crew. It would have been better if this introductory arc had been completed before the long hiatus, but alas. Still, while telegraphed, Thors’ death was still well-executed. Now we move on to the next phase.

Dororo – 21 – Dororo Has a Bad Feeling About This

The title of this post says it all: Dororo has stayed alive as long as he has for two reasons: She’s pretended to be a he, and he’s had very good instincts for danger. Sure, he’s gotten himself into innumerable tough spots, but has had the luck to slip out of them, thanks to Hyakkimaru, Biwamaru, and other allies along the way.

So when Dororo says he has a bad feeling about heading to Daigo, Hyakkimaru should use those new ears of his and listen. He doesn’t, and grave misfortune follows, just as Daigo is dealing with the worst misfortune since before he made his demon pact. As epidemics and blights plague his lands, Asakura has fielded a 2,000-strong invasion army, far larger than anything he can muster.

As such, what few troops he has left are forced to recruit any able-bodied men and boys from the healthy villages (leaving too much work for the women and children, which will have serious consequences) and burning the infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to escape. It’s time for desperate measures all around, and not a place Hyakkimaru and Dororo should go anywhere near.

Short-handed as he is, Lord Daigo cannot refuse his son’s demand to hunt down Hyakkimaru with no one but Mutsu and Hyougou—there’s no talking Tahoumaru down—but still assigns his “fixer” to follow them. Speaking from experience when their village was raided, their parents slain in front of them, and taken captive by samurai, Mutsu and Hyougou voice their extreme dislike of war in all its forms. More distressingly, Mutsu’s malady is worsening, and can no longer be hidden.

Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru’s mother also laments that despite being the wife of a great lord, she is helpless to stop the path of destruction upon which both of her sons have set themselves. Nothing Dororo says can convince Hyakkimaru to reconsider his quest to get all of his body back, not matter how much death and destruction it might cost; not matter how much it might change him into someone Dororo can no longer walk beside.

Hyakkimaru counters by saying he wants to see Dororo with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands, but in the grand scheme of human suffering, it doesn’t seem enough to justify his actions, no matter how unjustly he was treated.

Those looking for two-dimensional heroes or villains will find none in this episode. People may be fighting for or against Hyakkimaru’s interests, but everyone has good motives for doing so. In Mutsu and Hyougou’s case, their loyalty to Lord Daigo and Tahoumaru in particular is the consequence of Lord Daigo having saved them from both from a fate worse than death: to starve as captives among corpses.

I couldn’t help but cheer when Daigo entered that pit of hell and dragged the feral, mangy kids out of there. Yes, he put them to work as Tahoumaru’s official friends and protectors, which might not have been their choice, but theirs are still infinitely better (and longer) lives than they’d have lived had Daigo not saved them. Both have long since made peace with the fact that they won’t always like the orders their lord gives them, or the choices their young master makes, but their loyalty is absolute all the same.

So Mutsu and Hyougou join Tahoumaru in their latest confrontation of Hyakkimaru, as their master’s right and left hands. In a bout of sickening irony, those are the same hands Hyakkimaru chops off of the two of them, now more powerful and enraged than ever. It is Tahoumaru who has to save his own bodyguards from his wrath, and receives a nasty gash on his brow for his trouble.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about thorughout Tahoumaru’s efforts to rid the world of his older brother is that how does he know killing him will solve anything? The demon pact was broken, full stop. Those parts of Hyakkimaru they took were taken from a living baby; killing him won’t necessarily automatically return those parts to them. All of Tahoumaru’s rage and single-mindedness on his destruciton, and it may not end up making any difference. His father’s lands may simply be doomed regardless.


Things look bad for Tahoumaru, but we were never meant to forget about Lord Daigo’s fixer, who arrives on the back of a prized white horse named Midoro stolen from one of the villages and pressed into military service. What does the fixer do with this splendid horse? He blows it up in a cynically efficienty attempt to kill Hyakkimaru.

Yet even this fixer is not an evil man. He’s obeying his lord’s orders, protecting his lord’s son, and defending his lord’s domain and its people the only way he knows how.

Even if it means using Dororo as a hostage, something the maimed Mutsu and Hyougou strongly protest (no doubt because the child reminds them of themselves—and of history repeating itself—neither of them have an alternative for dealing with Hyakkimaru, who is still alive at the bottom of a gorge.

About that gorge: it is filled with the corpses of samurai and their armor, as well as the parts of poor Midoro the horse, all of which undergoes some kind of demonic transformation down there. Like Dororo said: he had a bad feeling about this. Maybe next time someone will listen…if there is a next time.

One parting nitpick: the quality of the horses this week is iffy at best, suggesting limited skill and experience rendering them on the part of the animators. Considering the importance of one particular horse, that was a rather distracting shortcoming, though not a deal-breaker.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 18 – Some Messed-Up Logic

I’ve probably said it before, but since it happens this week I’ll say it again: nothing is less entertaining than watching someone berate or attack Naofumi for actions we know for a fact he didn’t commit. The entire premise of the discussion or fight is faulty, so it just feels like we’re wasting time. I’m long since out of patience waiting for Motoyasu to realize he’s being manipulated by Malty.

Malty uses the made-up term “Brainwashing Shield” as her own version of “Fake News”—two words to dismiss whatever defense Naofumi may field. Her story is that Naofumi is responsible for the death of Rin and Itsuki. Motoyasu won’t listen to Naofumi, or Melty, or anyone else but Malty, so the reconciliation Naofumi promised Fitalia he’d attempt is just as impossible as he thought. Instead, Malty creates a Lightning prison around Motoyasu and Naofumi so her puppet can fight the “Devil of the Shield.”

This entire fight, which takes up a lot of time, is utterly pointless. These two have already fought before, and Malty should know from the last Wave that Naofumi & Co. are more powerful. Simply attacking him again and again under false pretenses when you know Motoyasu will lose is folly. And yet we, the audience, still have to watch them go through the motions.

Not even Penkin’s score could make either this fight, or the lead-up to it, interesting. We get some participation from Motoyasu’s other party members, but even 19 episodes in they’ve been given precisely ZERO personality, so I could care less about them.

Once Motoyasu and Malty are defeated, once again, as expected, they continue twirling their mustaches right up until Filo kicks them all into a pile and demands Naofumi conjure as much mass above them as he possibly can, because something’s coming. That something is very similar to the phenomenon that fell on Ren and Itsuki, and we learn it was produced by the Pope, who calls it “God’s Judgment.”

Popey McGee has bad news Naofumi and Motoyasu: using the receipts collected from their actual deeds, as well as those of Ren and Itsuki, they’re being eliminated as “false heroes.” He has bad news for Melty and Malty too: the church is staging a coup, tossing the Melromarc monarchy into the bin and presumably replacing it with a theocracy.

No doubt his forces are already in the process of capturing their mother Queen Mirelia, whose utter absence in, well, all of this remains almost show-breakingly baffling.

While we at RABUJOI are all card-carrying non-fans of the Lame One-Dimensionally Evil Religious Organization (LODERO) trope common to fantasy anime, the Pope crashing another lame fight with Motoyasu and Malty actually saved this episode for me. His evil is there for everyone in that pit to see, and directly contradicts the lies Malty was telling Motoyasu, who listened because she’s hot and he has a hero complex.

But the Pope’s plans also provide the first real opportunity for Naofumi to make some headway with Motoyasu, who as terrible as he is, is still necessary to defeat the Waves. I can’t really say much about the Pope’s coup—one would think the next move would be Mirelia’s—but it’s encouraging that circumstances have finally put Naofumi and Motoyasu in the same boat. If they want to live, they’ll have to row together. So…Thanks, Pope, I guess?

As for whether Ren and Itsuki are really dead…like Naofumi, I’ll need more concrete confirmation than the word of a power-hungry, coup-starting pontiff. One thing I know for certainty: If and when they all get out of this mess, Malty will still treat Naofumi like utter shit. Take it to the bank.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 17 – Rite of Succession

The next morning, it’s No More Mrs. Nice Fitoria. She binds Melty in a wind prison and demands once more for Naofumi to make up with the other heroes. When he refuses, she once again threatens to kill all four heroes, but first gives his party the chance to prove they can take on the waves on their own. She’ll determine this by fighting Filo.

As expected, the spirited but woefully under-leveled Filo is absolutely no match for Fitoria…at first. But with continual pointers and encouragement from Naofumi, Filo keeps getting back up dusting herself off, and trying again. Eventually, she’s able to summon enough power to literally put a scratch on Fitoria’s face. That’s enough to satisfy the queen: Filo wins.

Not only that, but Fitoria names Filo her official successor, conjuring a crown to place on Filo’s head, which is replaced by an ahoge of which Filo very much not a fan. She opens a new Filolial-themed section of Naofumi’s sphere grid—albeit all shields he’s of too low a level to access—and increases Filo’s stats (though she still can’t break Level 40 quite yet).

She also apologizes to Melty by giving her a ride in her giant filolial form (of which I wish we could have seen more), and throws a huge party. Throughout these events, and the episode itself, Kevin Penkin’s marvelous score really asserts itself, elevating the images on the screen. This show’s music is just a pure joy to listen to.

Once the festivities have wound down and everyone else is asleep, Naofumi finds himself in a similar situation as the previous night: alone with a Fitoria committed to getting him to reconsider his hard stance on not playing nice with the other heroes, which she actually manages to achieve when she points out that his refusal to defend himself against Malty’s lies is as saying the lies are true.

While Fitoria doesn’t have the best memory, on two occasions Naofumi says something her hero once said to her, and the nostalgia leads to her tearing up and placing her head in his lap to be patted. The reason Fitoria works so hard to make Naofumi repair his reputation and relationship to the other heroes goes beyond the fate of the world: she knows he’s a good man by dint of raising the next Filolial Queen. It’s time the rest of the world knew it.

As for those other heroes, both Sword and Bow enter a cave seeking some kind of treasure, only for it to be a trap that incinerates the entire cave. I highly doubt they didn’t survive, though it’s not like I’d care if they didn’t…

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.