The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Meikyuu Black Company – 05 – The Rise of General Ninomiya

After a very nervy and fun fakeout in which Ninomiya dreams he’s back on Earth but Rimu followed him and is wreaking havoc on the city, he wakes up somewhere else entirely…or rather somewhen else. He was summoned to save humanity, who have been living in the underground town of Marcia for the last three centuries. This appeal is initially clumsily made by Marcia’s “Priestess”, Ranga (voiced with great verve by M·A·O), whom Ninomiya discovers is a boy…by grabbing his crotch.

This is obviously a despicable act, but not shocking considering it’s long since been established that Ninomiya is a slimebag. The “cute girl is really a boy” trope is also particularly outmoded and tone-deaf, especially for a show spouting progressive socioeconomic theories. It also isn’t dwelled on for too long, so I won’t either. Suffice it to say Ranga is determined to make his “Lord Messiah” fall for him—Why, I cannot say—but also is mainly on board so he can get to the surface; he can’t stand living underground.

When Ninomiya bristles at helping a bunch of needy losers, Marcia’s mayor Zazel pulls an old 9mm pistol on him, only for the gun to get chewed on by Rimu. Ninomiya, a constantly snacking Rimu, and Ranga travel across the surface by motorcycle. There, Ninomiya learns this isn’t a different world, but the same old Amuria, just in the future.

Raiza’ha Mining Corp. basically destroyed human civilization and made it ripe for conquest by the Demon Lord. Now the monsters rule the surface. Ranga directs the trio to what is “probably” the Demon Lord’s castle, but turns out to be home to the Demon Lord’s deputy assistant section chief, General Ant.

This ant turns out to be Ninomiya’s old friend and comrade Ant A, who treats them to a feast while he unburdens himself with the monsters’ current troubles. These are put into relief when one of the conquered humans bursts in complaining about the horrific conditions under which he works.

These conditions are, hilariously, the norm in both Japan and America: 8 hour days, only two days off (AKA the weekend), and a scam called insurance. While it’s a pretty on-the-nose critique of our present late-stage capitalist dystopia in which we live, there’s definitely something to plainly listing all the ways it sucks through the voice of someone acting like it sucks, rather than it being the norm.

Of course, this and many of the other humans aren’t aware that it could be much worse than the status quo; it could be like the state of Raiza’ha at the height of its power, when employees were treated like dispensable slaves. Seeing which way the wind is blowing and reunited with his good friend Ant A, Ninomiya decides to ditch the mission he was summoned for and join Team Demon Lord.

By employing more draconian labor practices upon the conquered surface humans while at the same time incentivizing rule-followers and hard-workers with the ability to boss other humans around, he quickly reorganizes the entire social structure of the human subclass, while increasing efficiency, output and earning favor with the big guy.

This results in Ninomiya returning to Marcia in a gaudy Captain Harlock outfit. As the Demon Lord’s newest deputy assistant section chief, General Ninomiya declares that he’s going to be running Marcia from now on. Flanked by Ant A, Cerberus, Rimu, and a Ranga who is simply going with the flow at this point, I’m not sure the underground humans have any choice but to submit, desperately short on supplies as they are.

At any rate, Ninomiya Kinji has once again climbed to the top of his situation by being nothing more or less than the asshole he is and always will be. We’ll see how long it lasts and what form his likely inevitable downfall takes.

Meikyuu Black Company – 04 – Shiacalypse Now

Shia leads Ninomiya and Wanibe on a training expedition on the second floor, armed not just with a sword, those lovely star-filled eyes, and those diamond highlights, but a filled-to-brimming tank of enthusiasm for Being a Good Corporate Drone and Doing One’s Duty The Right Way.

Ninomiya has even less energy for this nonsense than usual because he has to produce five million gold in a month or his loan shark will take his life. He doesn’t have time to do things by the book. With his literal life at stake, one can’t begrudge him embracing methods some might call…unsound.

The team encounters a Majin, the monster of legend that causes a “Death March”—treated by Raiza’ha as an unavoidable but potentially profitable natural disaster. Turns out Shia’s employers set her up to be the latest in a long line of powerful human sacrifices to appease the Majin.

What they didn’t count on is that one of the grunts with her is Ninomiya Kinji, who has an ant army at his disposal and soon starts farming monster parts for gold.

As for the Majin, it’s too tough even for the great Shia (its laser beams really pack a punch), so Ninomiya suggests they retreat. Unfortunately the emergency magic crystal dagger used to transport back to the surface only works on one person.

Naturally, Shia gives it to Ninomiya, but her ensuing melancholy goodbye melts his cold cold heart and he not only stays behind with her, but throws the dagger at the Majin, transporting it to the surface where it becomes the company’s problem, as it should be.

The Majin, drawn to Shia’s considerable mana, eventually makes his way back down into the dungeon, where Ninomiya is ready for him in the form of a giant pit trap into which the Majin falls. Ninomiya then has his ant minions fill the pit with cement, and has Shia dry it with her wind magic. When that isn’t enough, he sets the whole thing on fire. Shia can’t argue with Ninomiya’s ends, but the means disturb her.

When the Majin still won’t die, Shia resolves to defeat it, as is her “duty and destiny”, even at the cost of her life. It’s here where Ninomiya unfortunately decides grope her, losing a lot of goodwill he’d built up recently. He admits he looked up her family history, and how her father was of the absentee adventurer variety.

He deduces that Shia has been “brainwashed by thoughts that benefit Raiza’ha”, in part because she was happiest once she joined the company. But just because it improved her life doesn’t mean that life is theirs to throw away and call it “duty”. Raiza’ha isn’t a nation, and Shia isn’t a soldier. She’s just a damn at-will employee.

After being rescued in the nick of time by Rimu, who then quickly dispatches the Majin she reports was “incomplete”, Ninomiya claims victory…for himself, continuing to cement his role as an incorrigible sonofabitch. But he made some good points to Shia about casting aside the corporate conditioning and determining what she wants to do with her life.

If that’s continuing to work hard, fine. If it’s working hard for a company that just tried to sacrifice her to an eldritch abomination, that’s not fine. We’ll see if Ninomiya’s core message gets through to Shia, despite the messenger being a cad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Meikyuu Black Company – 03 – Chekhov’s Confusion Grass

Ninomiya was hoping he and Wanibe would have more freedom once they joined Exploration Division Group 3, but instead they find themselves at a corporate training retreat on Pig Pen Island, where an orc drill sergeant makes them do backbreaking labor without food or water, all while audio discs and black mages brainwash them into buying into total devotion to The Company. Even Ninomiya falls under their insidious hyper-capitalist spell.

It’s only when Ninomiya discovers some confusion grass (thanks to Wanibe’s horticultural expertise) that the pair are able to turn the tables. By microdosing the grass, they’re able to break free of the brainwashing, which had the retreat participants emptying their wallets to buy overpriced idols of the CEO. Ninomiya gets back at them by sneaking the grass in the mages’ food, leading to Pig Pen Island’s…explosion.

After the retreat, the pair are assigned to Exploration Division HQ and introduced to their new supervisor, Kinou Shia. Between her diamond highlights and starry eyes, she’s a shoo-in for a Kill la Kill character, but while she appears to be (and fights like) your standard OP onna-kishi, she was handpicked by the CEO to whip rookies like Ninomiya and Wanibe into shape. Instead, she manages to put Wanibe in the hospital with a playful shove.

Shia shrugs off the workplace injury she caused and gives Ninomiya a tour of HQ. She’s particularly proud of the corporate store, but Ninomiya is #Unimpressed, and lets her know it. Shia is clearly a Raiza’ha True Believer, and has the brawn to back up her zealotry. All Ninomiya can do is go along for the ride when she throws him over her shoulder.

Their next destination is the third floor of the dungeon—where Ninomiya had already visited thanks to the shortcut portal he found. There, they encounter a middle-level monster whom Shia orders Ninomiya to attack. When the beast charges her instead she demonstrates her awesome power, arresting its advance dead with her blade and then cleaving it in two.

When one of Ninomiya’s communist ant drone friends appears, Shia orders him to kill it—especially if it’s lost the will to fight—but Ninomiya won’t obey. When Shia insists, and then attacks him when she believes he’s in cahoots with the monsters, he summons a very well-fed Rimu. Shia bonks her on the head with her sword, and Rimu grows into her adult form and blasts Shia several feet into a rock wall with a single fist.

Having met her match, Shia is tied up and, once Wanibe provides a Polaroid camera with which to snap a photo of her consorting with monsters for blackmail purposes, Shia is officially welcomed into the Meikyuu Black Company. Despite being far weaker than Rimu (but on the other hand, less hungry), Shia should make a fine new member. The company’s mettle shall be tested when a dragon-like eye lurking in the darkness suddenly opens…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 02 – Coasting Along in Easy Mode

Noir was accepted to Hero Academy, but the 300,000-rel tuition is too-steep for his baronet father, so he has to come up with the cash by himself. At no point did I doubt he’d be able to do so by the end of the episode. Olivia suggests he becomes an adventurer, so he registers with Odin, which just happens to be Olivia’s guild.

The receptionist Lola is skeptical of Noir’s claims, even going so far as to say she’ll lift her skirt up if he’s proven right by the Discerning Tome. Of course he’s proven right, and Lola is a woman of her word…but what a weird wager! It’s almost as if she knows she’s in an ecchi harem show.

Someone who’s known all along what kind of show this is is Emma, who soon joins Noir out in the field. He successfully catches a bunch of rainbow caterpillars to the tune of 250,000 rel, and his success seems to turn Lola on, resulting in a standoff between her and Emma. Are there, like, no other men?

Noir and Emma head back out into the field to defeat a giant evil rabbit to earn the remaining 50,000 rel he needs for tuition. Since this battle takes up the most time and seems the most hazardous, you’d think the rabbit quest would be worth 250,000 and the grasshopper quest 50,000. I guess it’s best just not to think…at all.

When Emma’s attacks prove ineffective, Noir decides to the skills Olivia gave him to increase her attributes, but Noir doesn’t feel like coughing up 700 LP, so he buffs her weapon adeptness instead to the tune of 500 LP. He gets more than enough LP to cover the magic with a slobbery ear-nibbling session with Emma. Her moans end up luring the rabbit to them, and she defeats it as easily as everything has fallen into Noir’s lap so far.

He gets the 300,000 rel he needs, he gets another hug from Lola and Emma (who make up after a rough start) and thanks to a skill he created that lets him store the dead rabbit in a trans-dimensional space, he ingratiates himself with the entire guild by offering it for a feast. When pressed for a speech, he thinks of how none of this would be possible without Olivia…only to not so much as mention her to the guild of which she was a member.

Looks like the easy times and make-out sessions are only going to continue from here. As I said last week, those looking for serious conflict, adversity, or any kind of surprises are barking up the wrong tree. This week I can add “receptionists unwilling to arbitrarily debase themselves” and “thrilling battle animation” to the growing list of stuff not in this anime.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 01 (First Impressions) – Born on Third

As a “mere” baronet, Noir Starga may be at the bottom of the noble caste pyramid of his nation. His family isn’t fuck-you rich, all the higher classes look down on them, and he has to get an actual job to support himself. But while his librarian job is stolen by a higher-ranking baron the day he’s supposed to start, life seems awfully sweet for Noir!

For one thing, he has two living parents, despite being a character in a fantasy anime! He also has a cute brocon imouto in Alice and a smokin’ hot childhood friend in Emma Brightness (excellent name), whom I’m just going to pretend is the non-masochistic sister of KonoSuba’s Darkness. Noir and Emma were going to be co-workers, but she still has a solution for the migraines he suffers: swappin’ spit!

So far we’ve got a kid with a loving fam, a future wife, and oh yeah, that Great Sage skill tells him everything about the world, including the unexplained. Again, pretty sweet life. When making out with Emma cures his headaches, Noir’s free to use it to locate a hidden dungeon just 10 klicks from town. There, he hears Horie Yui’s voice and follows it to the buxom adventurer Olivia Servant.

Olivia has been chained up for two centuries, and is just happy to talk to another person. Rather than let her considerable skills go to waste, she copies and bestows them upon Noir. They are Get Creative (conjure any skill), Bestow (give any skill to anyone) and Editor (modify any skill). The only catch: the skills use a ton of Life Points (LP), gained by, well, living: essentially enjoying money, food, and sex.

Noir tries out his new OP skills in the dungeon, but the LP expenditure tires him out. He learns lying in Alice’s lap restores a bit of LP, while embracing a more daringly-dressed Emma the next day restores a lot. When she complains of shoulder pain from her rather prodigious bust, he uses Editor to temporarily shrink it; she has him undo the change immediately.

Armed with so many useful skills and numerous ready sources of LP, Noir changes course and decides to take the Hero Academy entrance exam. The exam begins with the admitees splitting off into parties of three, and members of the higher castes mock Noir for even speaking to them, but thankfully Emma joins him, as she only got a job at the library to be with him. The haughty vicountess Lenore completes the triad.

They split up looking for valuable monster loot, and Noir heads to the hidden dungeon where he encounters a Level 99 Grim Reaper. Despite only being Level 23, Noir has enough LP to Create the Heavy skill and Bestow it on the Reaper to slow it down, then creates a giant stone bullet and shoots it at the Reaper, defeating it.

The Reaper skull ends up giving Team Lenore the edge, and then some: they scored 128,000 points when the next two teams only managed 11,550 and 5,890. Noir was misled by the fact Olivia is a master of the OP skills she gave him, to the point even a Level 99 Boss is a mere scrub.

If you’re looking for complex characters, conflicts, or drama, you will find none in The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter. If you’re looking for a competently-rendered non-isekai renaissance-y setting packed with cute characters, JRPG rules, understated ecchi, and basically a lot of the hero getting his way without much effort at all (as befits his noble station), you’ve come to the right place!

DanMachi III – 10 – The Western Door

Ever since Eina slapped Bell he’s kept his distance, which has put Eina more and more on edge. Her emotions are a jumble of regret and resentment, causing her to snap at Hermes, but he’s in a forgiving mood, so he tells her if she’s looking for Bell, he’s not at his Home.

Where Bell is is Daedalus Street with the rest of his fam. Hestia and Haruhime are coordinating the operation from a rooftop, using walkie-talkie gems from Fels. At the same time, Finn leads the Loki effort to track down the Xenos. Expecting Bell to be a diversion, he has Ais—and only Ais—follow him.

What follows is some pretty funny shit if you’ve been following DanMachi for the past two-plus seasons. From her rooftop perch Ais witnesses not one or two but four different women approach Bell in the streets, Since she can’t quite hear what they’re saying from her distance, she begins to suspect Bell is some kind of womanizing delinquent!

Those women are, in order of appearance, Raza from Miach Familia, Aisha and Ryuu from Hermes, and finally Aina, whose dialogue with him is the most misleading. Hermes had actually wanted her to give him a certain bracelet, but she misses her chance when Bell runs off.

Adding to the chaos on the streets is Lili, using her transmogrifying ability to imitate an al-miraj, which Loki children chase, breaking formation. Raza uses another of Fels’ magical items to create illusions of Bell and monsters for other children.

While Ais watches all this nonsense unfold, she ever so briefly takes her eyes off Bell, allowing him to give her the slip with his invisible cloak. Even so, she can still sense his presence—this is Ais we’re talking about—so to buy Bell a little more time, Ryuu challenges Ais to a sparring session, hoping the level boost Haruhime gave her will be enough to delay Ais sufficiently.

When it’s time for the Xenos to emerge from their hiding spot and go on the move, Lili imitates Finn to order Loki children to return to the operational base, freeing the way for the Xenos to head towards the West Gate.

Finn wasn’t aware of that gate’s existence, but judging from the Xenos’ movements, now he knows that must be what it is. After Lyd calls out to the other isolated Xenos groups, Makoto and Welf use his magical swords to create ice barriers between the Xenos and their attackers.

Everything is going swimmingly until Gareth smashes his way into the middle of things, scattering the Xenos. Makoto and Welf try to keep him on ice, but he’s a tough cookie and won’t be restrained long. Worse still, in the shockwave of Gareth’s axe strike, Wiene is separated from the others, and wanders off in the completely wrong direction.

Thankfully Hestia and Haruhime can see Wiene on the map, so Haruhime decides to go after the little vouivre, but Wiene is unfortunate enough to run afoul of one Tiona Hiryute first. Haruhime is on her way, but she has scant offensive abilities. Hestia could lead Bell to Wiene, leading to a clash between Argonaut-kun and Tiona. And then there’s Ais up on the rooftops, searching for her former dance partner…it’s one fine mess!

DanMachi III – 09 – Paying the Price

As reported by Hermes to Ouranos, the expulsion of Ikelos from Orario and the scapegoating of his Familia quelled public uproar for a time, but with Ikelos gone they have turned the blame for the recent destruction on the Little Rookie. Bell isolates himself in his room, upset not about all the scorn he’s receiving, but the fact it affects his Familia and his Goddess.

Hermes visits Casa de Hestia to report that even though Bell is the “city’s most hated person”, both he and Ouranos intend to continue supporting the Xenos. Right now they’re holed up in various locations under Daedalus Street. Finn and Loki’s other Children are combing the area, and Hermes is confident that even if Loki went along with their plan, her Children would never accept the idea of “mercy toward monsters”.

That means Bell is destined to remain persona non grata for the time being. Bell insists on paying a visit to Daedalus Street to experience the hate firsthand, and is almost ashamed that Hestia covers for him by explaining to all in earshot that all he did was to help her with her debt. They cross paths with Ais, who says nothing to Bell—though it’s not like she was ever the talkative type—and Loki, who like fellow trickster god Hermes seems amused by how lively Bell’s foolishness has made things.

And then there’s Syr Flover, who spots Bell in the street and insists on walking with him, fully acknowledging she knows what people are saying about him. Syr (and by extention Freya) doesn’t give a shit what other people say or think; she knows Bell, loves Bell, and will always be there for him. She has him rest his head on her lap as she pets his head, telling him not to worry about others, but to lean on the “true things” that will remain by his side.

As Asfi fills Ryuu and Aisha in on another request involving the protection of Xenos (something they can’t quite wrap their heads around but don’t reject out of hand), Hestia Familia receives word from Fels and has a meeting to determine their course of action. Bell comes right out and tells his family that he’s going to help the Xenos get back to the Dungeon.

The others—even Lili—are all in agreement with him. They’re all in this together. Welf even slaved away in the forge for five days to make four magical swords, to go along with the magical goodies Fels prepares for them. With six doors in and out Knossos and only four Loki guard teams, they definitely have a chance to pull it off, even if they don’t know which doors Loki’s children control.

That said, Loki’s Finn knows Bell is going to be used as a decoy, and urges his comrades, including Ais and Lefiya—Hey Lefiya!—not to hold back against the Xenos…or anyone who helps them. After years of cooperation and mutual respect, the Loki and Hestia Familias will be on opposite sides of a battle.

DanMachi III – 08 – Suffering Fools

Every season of DanMachi has come with one or two absolute bangers that are both the culmination and transcendence of every preceding episode to that point; a climax that feels epic and cinematic in scope; that pulls out all of the stops. This season’s banger has arrived, and it simply rules.

Bell, foolish as he is, is able to create just enough deniability to not be branded an enemy of humanity on the spot: the vouivre is his catch, and he won’t let anyone else touch it. That said, when Wiene slithers away, crashing into every other stone building and causing it to topple, it doesn’t inspire much confidence he has his quarry under control!

When other Xenos emerge from Knossos, Loki Familia is ready, with Bete, Tione, and Tiona making quick work of Gros, Lyd, and various small fry. It’s especially fun to see the two Amazon sisters in action again. They’re ordered only to disable, not to kill, but it’s clear they could kill easily if they needed to.

Fels summons an Adamantite Golem, but Tiona cuts it down with one swing from her massive two-sided sword, as if to say “That all you got?” As it turns out, it isn’t: the Xenos’ least talkative but most powerful member, the Black Minotaur Asterius, arrives fresh from killing Dix in the halls of Knossos, that’s when Loki’s vanguard starts to have some problems.

The Minotaur proves a worthy match to all three active combatants, then pulls out a magical axe that shoots them so full of lightning they become numbed and paralyzed. That’s Finn’s queue to send in their heavy hitter, the War Princess herself and Bell’s would-be girlfriend…Ais Wallenstein.

After ethereally floating down to street level, Ais unleashes an Aerial Tempest combo, and suddenly the Minotaur is down an arm. The moment Ais takes the field, you know shit’s getting real, but that’s by far the most damaging blow she’s able to land, as in the ensuing fight Asterius is able to keep up with and defend her lightning-fast attacks. He’s no slouch!

But when the Minotaur slashes her left shoulder, Gareth and Finn step in to relieve her and prepare a pincer when Hermes’ chienthrope child Lulune covers the area with smoke bombs, allowing Asterius to flee. It’s clear Hermes wants Ouranos—and Bell—to succeed.

As for Bell, he continues to chase a berserk, raging Wiene as she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. When adventurers and guards try to attack her, Bell launches Firebolts in their general direction (but without intent to harm them). Little does he know their arrangement through the city blocks is no accident.

Wiene ends up being led straight into the amphitheater, where she’s surrounded by more than two dozen mages who fire lightning attacks at her in unison. One of Dix’s henchmen delivers the coup-de-grace before being crushed to death by Gros. The arena floor collapses and Wiene and Bell take a tumble.

With Wiene now near death and no longer thrashing about, Bell is able to replace her jewel, but while she regains her “humanity”, it seems too late to save her, as she begins to turn to dust, like someone snapped away by Thanos. As tears well in her eyes, Wiene smiles. She had a dream that no one saved her, but it was just a dream. In reality it’s Bell, whom she loves, who saved her, and for that she is happy and grateful.

It’s obviously heartwrenching to see her vanish in a cloud of black dust while Bell embraces her, but thankfully we don’t have to endure the despair for long, as Fels decides to whip out a spell he’s been attempting for 800 years and long since condemned as useless: Dia Orpheus, which essentially rewrites the rules of the universe to return Wiene to life and to Bell, back in her humanoid child form.

This time it works; Fels achieves a miracle. And one could hope that this time it worked because it had to in order to restore hope of humans and Xenos coexisting. That’s only possible because of Bell, who, foolish as it was, rushed headfirst to protect them when they were being unjustly demonized and oppressed.

After Wiene is returned to the other surviving Xenos in their hideout, Bell returns to the surface, and the city is half-destroyed, due in large part to his chasing Wiene around. Eina asks him if it’s true he exposed the city to danger and allowed other adventurers to suffer injury. When he responds in the affirmative, she slaps him…then hugs him, not wanting it to be true.

But there’s no overlooking the destruction around them, nor the injuries of the adventurers involved in the incident. Bell likely has a lot to answer for. Hesita & Co. stayed out of the fighting, and I doubt Bell will be expelled from the Guild with Ouranos in charge. But surely some measure of sanction or reckoning awaits him. As he couldn’t let Wiene die—and she didn’t—it will have been worth it no matter what. But that doesn’t mean Everything’s Going to Be Okay.

DanMachi III – 07 – A Beast’s Dream

I respect Bell’s moxie, but I was hoping for something a bit more clever than trying to go toe-to-toe in a melee fight against an opponent two full levels higher than him. Sure, Dix is in a weakened state due to the curse, but that won’t last. At least we get some clarity via his ranting: he’s been able to calm his raging Daedalus blood—and nullify the urge to keep building Knossos—by killing Xenos.

It’s the specific fact they cry and scream like humans that makes it work. So yeah, Dix has been suffering a horrible curse for which not even the bloodshed in the dungeon could lift his entire life. It’s not surprising he’d take whatever form of release that came along; moral implications be damned. But still, he’s one sadistic bastard!

Meanwhile, outside Knossos, the Ganesha Familia have almost finished capturing the Xenos when they are ambushed by a giant minotaur. Everyone is either killed or injured, including Aisha and Asfi. Ryuu manages not to die by dumb luck, as the minotaur hears a wolf howling and departs before finishing her. So much for Bell getting some help from these three!

He’s on his own when Dix shows him the chained Wiene, then rips the stone off her head. Wiene undergoes a horrifying (and no doubt excruciating) transformation into a full adult vouivre, screaming and lashing out mindlessly.

Bell attempts to reach the Wiene he knows by refusing to fight her and letting her grab his shoulder (after swatting him back a couple times). She remembers the first time she accidentally cut him, and actually manages to say his name and weep tears of despair. But it doesn’t last long, and soon Wiene is back to going berserk.

Dix is super pissed that Bell almost succeeded in proving him wrong about Xenos just being monsters by any other name, and they continue their one-on-one battle, but despite being pretty beaten down (both physically and emotionally) he seems to find his second wind, even breaking the blade of Dix’s spear. Then Lyd breaks free of Dix’s curse and fights beside Bell, allowing him to land his Bell Punch square in Dix’s chest.

Unfortunately, regardless of Dix’s status, the damage is done, and he opens a door to allow the berserk Wiene direct access to the surface, where she’s sure to be “dealt with” by adventurers. Bell races after her, stopping only to be healed by Fels’ kick-ass magic. Gros joins Lyd and Rei in going after Bell to help him, even if he can’t admit he can probably trust the Little Rookie at this point.

Wiene emerges first on Daedalus Street, which just happens to be where Welf led Hestia Familia on a hunch. She was immediately vilified by citizens on the surface when she was a cute little kid; I can’t imagine her new form will do her any favors.

Bell follows shortly thereafter, but Wiene is stabbed by a spear thrown by Loki Familia, who are perched on a roof, ready to swoop down and eliminate the threat. Bell then does something that could condemn him, his goddess, and his Familia forever: he shields Wiene from the Lokis, a half-defiant, half-mad look on his face.

This pits him against Ais and every other member of the Lokis who have just been ordered to dispose of the vouivre. It’s an extremely volatile situation where there just isn’t time to explain what needs to be explained, and even if there was, orders are orders. One just hopes Bell won’t have to fight his friend, and cooler heads in Lyd, Rei, and Gros can arrive in time to restrain Wiene and bail Bell out. But I gotta say, things are not looking good for Argonaut-kun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 06 – Sagrada Familia

As Ikelos smirks his smirk atop a great tower…somewhere, Ganesha’s suppression force engages the armed monsters. Ryuu, Aisha, and Asfi arrive but cannot find Bell, who is in disguise. That disguise doesn’t last long, however, as he eventually crosses blades with Lyd, who admits his kind destroyed Liviria as revenge for poachers killing their kin.

Lyd can’t quell the rage of Gros or his other kin, which means any hopes for peace between their races has been all but dashed. But if Lyd really wanted Bell to return to the surface and separate himself from this business, he wouldn’t have mentioned that Wiene was among the Xenos captured.

Ryu, a good friend in a tight spot, comes between Lyd and Bell, but when it’s clear Bell isn’t about to head home with her, she provides him with something he might find useful. Of course, that something becomes useful immediately after they part ways, and when Bell encounters Fels.

The orb acts as a key to heretofore unknown man-made passages to the Dungeon, which lead to a labyrinth built by Daedalus centuries ago. Out at the entrance of Babel, the rest of Hesita Familia can only watch from the bushes and wait…until Lili gets the idea to ask her former captor about the network of smugglers.

Lyd, Gros, and the Xenos take a different route through the labyrinth with a another key, but both they and Bell/Fels end up in the same place: a staging area where the captives are imprisoned. They start breaking cages and chains, but they’re interrupted by Ikelos Familia and Dix, who have homefield advantage.

Dix reveals he’s a direct descendant of Daedalus, who went mad trying to surpass the Dungeon by his own hands. His monumental work, Knossos, remains unfinished to this day (like Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), but monster and Xenos smuggling is one of their revenue streams for continuing construction, and Dix & Co. are bound to continue the work Daedalus started…even if he doesn’t seem like a big fan of his ancestor

After activating a curse that has a Confuse and Berserk effect on the Xenos, Fels tells Bell their only choice is to defeat Dix in order to lift said curse. Oh, and by the way…Dix is Level 5. Nevertheless, if Bell wants to save Wiene, he’ll have to get through Dix.

The arrival of an arrangement of the DanMachi main battle theme is welcome, but I wish this episode didn’t feel like so much overly clunky plot mechanics engineered to put Bell in a duel with Dix. The duel itself, however, should be a lot of fun, even if there’s not much to Dix other than he’s, like, a bad dude. Hopefully Fels can provide some magey support to help even the odds…

DanMachi III – 05 – Being Made to Cross a Dangerous Bridge

Dix’s party ends up overwhelming and making quick work of the Xenos protecting Wiene before Dix himself captures her. He even lets the grunts have their way with Ranieh the spider woman, but she kills herself before they can do anything. Ya know, just in case we needed confirmation that Dix’s men are not good people!

The Gargoyle Gros is furious and demands vengeance. He destroys the bauble connecting Lyd to Fels, washing his monster hands of the humans for good. He convinces most of the other Xenos around into action, but Lyd and Rei (who’s still alive; Dix used a different siren as bait) aren’t among them, and follow in hopes of stopping Gros from undoing all of the progress they’ve made.

Human-Monster relations are all about appearances and experiences. Bell may have learned that despite looking monstrous the Xenos are thinking, feeling beings that aren’t united in a singular will to harm humans. But Ais Wallenstein has grown up defeating any monsters who would make any humans cry.

When they were last together, Ais and Bell were on pretty good terms, agreeing to visit that village together someday. But here Bell can already sense her lack of inflexibility or nuance when it comes to monsters. She’s always been a very straightforward person in other matters, so it will be tough for him to convince her some monsters are actually good.

Convincing Ais to join his pro-Xenos coalition becomes that much more difficult when the Guild sounds a citywide emergency alert: Livira on the Eighteenth Floor has been attacked and leveled by “armed monsters”, immediately followed by orders forbidding all citizens, even adventurers, from entering the Dungeon until further notice.

It’s an order from Ouranos himself, not wanting to further escalate the human-Xenos violence. Instead he devises a lighter-touch response involving a Ganesha Familiar suppression force (not kill squad), while also ensuring Bell, possibly the most reliable bridge between the sides, will join that force.

One by one we check in on the major familiae of the city and see how they all react. Loki is certain this is only the beginning and eventually they’ll all be drawn into the fighting; Freya seems intrigued that the Guild is keeping her fam out of it; Hermes is worried about Bell, and so has Asfi summon Aisha, who then convinces Ryuu to accompany her. I for one am always up for Aisha-Ryuu pair-ups!

Dix has what he wants—Wiene in chains—but he doesn’t seem to fully grasp or care exactly what he’s done. By slaughtering Wiene’s escort, he invoked Gros’ rage, and shattered any hope of Gros ever coming around to Lyd and Rei’s way of thinking regarding human coexistence. As for Ikelos, he seems elated his familia has created a waking nightmare.

Bell prepares to enter the Dungeon with the Ganesha Familia, who have orders to tame, not kill, the armed monsters. His role is much tougher, as he must try to re-establish a dialogue with the Xenos while they’re being attacked by Ganesha’s forces.

Just as he and his Familia alone aren’t enough to convince all humans, Lyd and Rei aren’t enough to convince all Xenos. At least he’ll have backup in Aisha, Ryuu, and who knows who else…and I’m sure he’ll be needing it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 04 – Seeking the Surface

Hestia Familia’s Xenos hosts provide food and beverage to celebrate the meeting of humans who will accept them. As Bell and the others drink, eat, and dance, they learn a lot more about these intelligent monsters. Like them, they collect loot from the enemies they defeat, be they adventurers or “dumb” monsters.

We also learn that while Lyd is presently the Xenos’ de facto leader, a stronger Xenos has awakened who could challenge his claim as the strongest of them. On top of that, there’s a faction of the Xenos who want no part of the humans, distrusting them every bit as much as the townsfolk on the surface.

Like last week once they reach the Xenos’ hideout, this episode spends most of its time explaining the bigger picture, with “former human” and sage, now skeleton Fels being a useful font of information while Ouranos tells Hestia a lot of the same stuff.

Just as Ouranos hopes Bell and Hestia’s Familia will be the bridge to make people acknowledge the existence of intelligent and peaceful monsters, Dix Perdix and the Ikelos Familia is working to maintain the status quo, killing, capturing, and smuggling the monsters without a moment’s thought to their intelligence.

But neither Fels nor Lyd brough Bell & Co. here to ask for their help, so much as to lay out their plight, as well as their most common desire: to reach the surface and see the sky (and in the Siren Ray’s case, fly in it). Ouranos even posits that it could be the Will of the Dungeon itself (which the Xenos call their “mother”) for Xenos to emerge and yearn to reach the surface.

This is because just as humans die, go to heaven, and are reborn in the lower world, monsters also have a cycle of death and rebirth that starts and ends in the Dungeon. This means someone like Wiene, who learned to speak and act like a human so fast, could have died and been reborn hundreds if not thousands of times.

It’s a lot of fascinating food for thought, but if there’s one demerit to this episode it’s that it is, a the end of the day, one in which everyone is sitting around either talking or listening to people talk about things, rather than watching much in the way of action. The information may be fascinating, but the manner in which it is relayed is somewhat rote.

That aside, the smaller but no less significant immediate ramification of Bell & Co. meeting the Xenos is that Wiene won’t—and shouldn’t—return to the surface to their home. This comes as a surprise to poor Wiene, who cries and screams for Bell not to leave her even though he must, with only a promise he and the others will return at some point.

As Bell & Co. return to the surface and meet up with Hestia to pool share what they’ve learned, the group of Xenos caring for Wiene fall into a trap set by the Dix and the Ikelos Familia, using a brutally tortured Ray as bait. What looks like the strongest of the Xenos charges Dix, and is swiftly killed.

Dix has a huge host of humans and demis under his command, and he clearly relishes the monster hunt to come. He and his ilk represent the extreme challenge any attempt at human-Xenos co-existence, as it will be everything the Xenos can do to simply continue existing period!

There’s also the matter of Hestia being reluctant to risk her children and Familia being branded enemies of their own kind and in league with monsters, thus destroying all the progress the Familia has made and resigning them to ostracization and worse. But if they don’t do anything to help Wiene and the Xenos, who will?