Bofuri – 12 (Fin) – Oh, the Atrocity!

When Payne exacts [Sword of Judgment] on Maple, it looks like the end of her fun has come at last, but she survives with 1 HP thanks to [Stout Guardian]. When her mech’s [Counter] connects, Payne reveals he also has [Stout Guardian]. Maple breaks the stalemate with [Atrocity], transforming herself into an eldritch beast and simply eating all of the Holy Sword members in the cave. When they re-spawn, they accept their loss at Maple’s fairly-acquired mega-skill, especially since they still have their orbs and remain in the lead.

Now that all of Maple’s secret skills have been revealed, there’s no reason to hold back anymore. All of Maple Tree rides Atrocity!Maple as they mop up the remaining guilds. But when they spot the Flame Emperors being attacked from all sides, they don’t add to the piling-on. Instead, they defeat all of the Emperors’ attacking enemies, preserving the big guild to assist in whittling down the smaller guilds (and earning a bit of goodwill).

The third day of the event has barely begun when the admins decide to call it with only six guilds remaining, all receiving the same reward. After debating whether to re-nerf Maple, one of them is consigned to the fact that whether they like it or not she is the face of the game, and an inspiration to other adventurers who hope to one day face her. So they let her be, checking in to see what weirdness she’s up to: being a woolly mech volleyball for May and Yui!

Maple Tree, meanwhile, claimed the third spot, just below the Emperors and Holy Sword. Maple graciously invites both guilds to Maple Tree’s hall in order to share in an end-of-event party. While everyone was all-business during the event, it’s good to see there are no sore losers or grudges, just pleasant conviviality and mutual pride in battles well-fought.

It’s a good way as any to end a show that, for its protagonist, was first and foremost about having as much fun as possible, and sharing that fun with as many friends as possible. Its upbeat outlook is most welcome in these trying times.

 

MAPLE WILL RETURN IN BOFURI II

Bofuri – 11 – Maple’s Inferno

BOFURI shifts seemlessly to Shounen Battle Mode as Maple sends May and Yui off on MegaSyrup and fights Mii, Misery and Markus. At first it’s largely a stalemate, with the Emperors’ attacks unable to do much damage and Maple unable to go on offense. Mii forces the issue with her Noble Phantasm ultimate attack [Prison of Flame], forcing Maple to bust out [Machine God] earlier than she wanted.

Overmatched by Maple’s firepower and with her support KO’d, Mii uses [Self-Destruct] while riding Maple’s back, only to learn upon re-spawning that Maple wasn’t harmed by her suicide attack, leading to another patented Mii-Tantrum. Both the tough and crybaby sides of Mii were well-performed by Satou Rina. As for the Emperors’ orb, it was snatched away by a grunt in the midst of the chaos, so Maple Tree comes away empty-handed.

That proves strategically costly, as Maple Tree couldn’t afford to spend that much effort on one foe with no payoff. Both small and medium guilds are dwindling as Maple Tree barely hangs on to the bottom of the Top 10. While that feat is impressive, it only intensifies the target on their back as one of the last remaining small guilds. Subsequent raids prove fruitless, and Sally senses an attack from one of the big guilds coming, so prepares to move their orb off-base.

Those plans come too late, as Sally miscalculates that a big guild like Holy Sword would take forever to mobilize. Instead Holy Sword only sends four, led by Payne, perhaps the game’s most powerful player. Maple stands ready to test that title as the other three Holy Swords battle the rest of Maple Tree.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Payne, ultra-buffed by his comrades, does critical HP damage to Maple. If she’s KO’d it’s probably all over. Can Maple recover and can her guild snatch some kind of consolatory victory from the jaws of certain defeat? We’ll find out in the finale.

Bofuri – 10 – The Little Guild that Could

Maple Tree’s haul totals ten orbs, but that’s only good enough for 17th place. To reach the Top 10 they’ll need more, and the easy pickens from smaller guilds like theirs will be gobbled up quick. That means an already tired Sally must sally forth into the night, where her style of attacking is most effective. Kasumi, Kuromu, Iz and Kanade also strike out to gather more orbs, confident Maple can hold the fort with May and Yui.

But the pitfalls of a tiny guild like theirs trying to compete with the big dogs becomes clear when a nearly gassed Sally bites off more than she can chew and is surrounded by Frederica’s Holy Sword soldiers. She messages Maple that she “might die, sorry”, and Maple rushes to her rescue in Angel Mode and mows the Holy Sword columns away with her Hydras and mech beams.

Maple saves Sally (and her haul of orbs), but leaves the base defense to just May and Yui, who are ambushed by Shin of the Flame Emperors Dread of the Holy Sword, who was watching the guild’s movements. Though he picked the perfect time to strike, the twins manage to avoid KO just long enough for Maple to return with Sally.

Maple KOs Dread, who promises he’ll be back with friends. Frankly, Kanade leaving the base for a mere handful of orbs wasn’t worth it. Had the twins died just a few minutes sooner, Dread would have made off like…well, like a bandit! Kanade, with her insta-spells, would have been ideal backup.

Still, everything turns out fine this time. Sally unveils Maple Tree’s “Plan B”, which essentially swaps who’s on offense and defense. Maple, May and Yui are a three-boss demolition team that mercilessly carves through the guilds Sally mapped out, while the rest of the guild stands by at the base. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the interplay of their cute appearance and mild manners with the utter ruin they dole out.

It’s not long until the next victim on Maple’s list are the vaunted Flame Emperors, led by the legendary Mii. Neither Markus nor Misery—neither of them exactly pushovers—can do much more than slow her down a little. Anything that traps Maple in her tracks is quickly reduced to rubble by the twin hammer girls.

In fact, once they’ve thrown everything they can at Maple to no avail, Misery and Markus resign themselves to death and defeat…until their commander Mii arrives in a streak of flames, just as Maple came to Sally’s aid. Thus the stage is set for the biggest showdown of NWO so far, something everyone watching on the sidelines has been waiting for.

Will Mii’s presence enable Markus and Misery to regroup and keep the twins busy, leaving Maple more vulnerable? Or will Mii fall to Mega-Maple’s might just as so many others before her, and have a big ol’ whiny tantrum about it? We shall see!

Bofuri – 09 – Capture the Orb

On the eve of the fourth event, a guild competition, the members of Maple Tree train, level up, and in the case of Maple, the twins, and Sally, relax a bit on the water. The competition is essentially a five-day capture-the-flag battle, which means small guilds like theirs will have little time to rest.

Just before the event begins, Sally catches Fredrica of the Order of the Holy Sword scouting them, and challenges her to a duel. Freddie yields before the battle gets too serious, but both she and Sally gain valuable information about each others’ skills, or Freddie would, if Sally wasn’t using her “coax” ability to send inaccurate information.

Once the event starts, 5/8ths of the guild remains in their base to defend the orb, while Kasumi, Kuromu, and Sally go on the offense. Sally in particular proves adept at both obvious frontal attacks and sneaky stealth attacks in capturing multiple enemy orbs. She also faces off with a Holy Sword member who, like her, is essentially a super-ninja.

At least this week, Sally is the busiest member of Maple Tree, as she darts from one base to another snatching orbs, including right out from under the Flame Emperor’s leader, Mii (voiced by Satou Rina, AKA Railgun’s Misaka Mikoto!). Mii is able to catch up, but Sally uses Vanish to escape. Mii spams Flame and Flame Lance to no avail, and with no one around to see, she drops the facade of steely confidence and sobs about not wanting to be leader anymore—immediately rendering her more interesting!

When a guild attempts to get their stolen orb back from Maple Tree, everyone is under Angel Maple’s ultimate defense, so the poor intruders can do nothing but get slaughtered by the might of Maple’s comrades. Maple doesn’t have to lift a finger, and the direct strike of a sword bounces right off her cloak.

In all, it’s a good start for Maple Tree, but as the small fry are weeded out the tougher players will turn their focus on her. There’s a well-struck balance between total ownage and the challenge of making the top ten with such a tiny guild.

Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a masterful story, masterfully told by Askeladd’s seiyu Uchida Naoya, who deserves all the awards.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

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.