Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 02 – Friends are Delicious

Well, that didn’t take long. Princess Connect soundly beat Shironeko Project this week, and it wasn’t close. And it did it with a no-holds-barred charm offensive, introducing the fourth member of the party: a twin-tailed tsundere catgirl named Karyl (Kyaru).

We learn all we need to know about her as she observes three cats playing together while a fourth keeps its own company. Karyl identifies with this cat. Who needs friends?

Well, if your friend happens to be Pecorine, you don’t have to answer that question. The crusader lights up every scene she’s in, managing to be immensely powerful and a complete airhead without coming across as annoying or cliched.

That’s a fine line to walk, but she walks it extremely well, owing to her cool character design, fluid, lively movements, and of course great voice work from MAO. It’s just barrels of fun watching her wake up in a stable after a rager then win an eating contest for breakfast!

Karyl seems intent on making Pecorine acknowledge her power. She also has the ability to control animals, like an Orc just outside the city. Pecorine deals with the orc easily with her bare hands, and Karyl gets knocked out by that very flying defeated orc!

The reason Peco was in the right place was that she spotted the sword thieves (who are still around and still fun characters in their own right) and was attempting to catch up to them—not because they stole her sword (she thinks they’re just minding it for her as a favor!) but to deliver “Beriberi’s” medicine.

Karyl just so happens to witness the thieves get snatched up by a dragon, who was lured to them by Peco’s valuable sword. Since Peco, Yuuki and Kokkoro were nice to her, she decides to lead them to the dragon’s lair, but won’t lift a finger to help them separate the sword (or the thieves) from its clutches.

Karyl’s ulterior motive is to use her magic to control the dragon and demonstrate her power to Peco. Interestingly it’s not Peco but the amnesiac Yuuki who leads the charge against the dragon, defiantly standing before it, attracting it with his cloak like a matador, only to get hilariously snapped up as the dragon takes flight.

Peco tags along, first using her sword as a handhold and then the afro of one of the thieves. His roots eventually give way, sending Peco flying, but she manages to position herself above the dragon’s head and delivers a devastating blow, knocking it out of the sky and saving both Yuuki and the thieves from a sticky end.

Throughout all of this, Karyl is manipulating the dragon, having made it fly erratically to shake Peco off. However, on the ground she is helplesss against Peco’s luck, pluck, and brawn, the dragon proving to be no big deal at the end of the day.

Pecorine also ends up reunited with her sword, which is actually a good thing for Karyl, because the monsters she controls always have a tendency to land so close to her they manage to squash her. She’s saved by Peco and her sword, and Peco then goes into all-out Crusader Mode, cleaving the dragon’s fire breath then blowing it away with a devastating strike.

In the aftermath, all Karyl can do is gawk at Peco’s glowing magnificence…and you can’t blame her! This right here could have been the best battle of the season so far…something I did not expect, but for which I’m very grateful. The animation was smooth and sweeping and packed a huge punch, and underlining all of it is Peco’s God-Level energy an enthusiasm.

In the end, the quartet returns to Landosol (bathed in the light of another gorgeous golden sunset) and tucks into onigiri made from leftover lunch rice. Pecorine proposes the four of them create a “Gourmet Guild”, the object of which is to discover the tastiest dishes in the realm. Yuuki and Kokkoro are all about it, but Karyl reverts to tsundere mode and huffs off, offended that Peco would think she’d be happy about being included in such nonsense.

However, Karyl has a change of heart when she spots the three cats now playing with the lonely fourth. She takes a bite of the onigiri, made with love by Kokkoro for her companions, and thus tasting better. And while she claims to still not need friends, her recent escapades indicate otherwise. There’s no question of her eventually joining the guild.

Princess Connect Re:DIVE looks and sounds great, has an infectiously upbeat tone, and is legitimately funny. Kokkoro’s expression whenever Yuuki is suddenly injured is growing on me, while Peco is never not entertaining, whether she’s kicking serious ass or being a charming space cadet. I also like how food will be the focus of the party’s efforts going forward. It took two episodes, but I’m sold!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Beautiful Candy

From the director of KonoSuba comes an anime that also takes place in a beautiful fantasy world. I’d argue it’s slightly prettier as a show, but lacks the “bite” and “spark” of its isekai counterpart. That said, there are some well-timed jokes, particularly involving two mangy wolves who can’t keep their jaws off the protagonist.

That said, the characters of Princess Connect! could easily populate the world of KonoSuba, what with their detailed and elaborate outfits. Unfortunately aside from the “amnesiac” protagonist, the “eager-to-please” elf guide, and the “space cadet” onna-kishi, there’s just not much to define these characters. They’re just…nice. Just nice people. Where’s the fun in that??

That said, it is nice for a change to have a protagonist who simply shuts up and lets things unfold around him. In Yuuki’s case, that’s because he remembers almost nothing about his first go-round in this world, and his vocab is limited. So no snarky narration either!

Mostly, Princess Connect! draws you in with its exquisitely lovely scenery and lighting. Whether it’s a grassy field at mid-day, an ornate cityscape at sunset, or forest-nestled ruins, the eye candy is strong, it is everywhere, and it screams “quality” to an extent I didn’t really get from Shironeko Project.

When things heat up, PC also demonstrates a keen eye for action, as the onna-kishi, ditzy as she is, demonstrates some awesome offensive power. She reminds me a lot of Darkness if she wasn’t a masochist and her aim was better. That the episode ends with her tripping balls on mushrooms is pretty great though!

Where Shironeko had a strong (and very urgent) narrative thrust that made its environments secondary to the characters occupying them, PC is content to relax and take its time, often pulling far back from the characters to admire their lovely settings. While this didn’t knock my socks off, I’ll stick with it for now, since it’s hard to walk away from such luscious visuals. I just wish it leaned into the comedy more.

Isekai Shokudou – 05

While Gaganpo was primarily a hunter, this week’s demi-human is a warrior who ends up crossing swords with the famous half-elf Alexander, who sells him into gladiatorial slavery. While preparing for an arena match against a manticore that may well kill him, the door to Nekoya opens.

He goes through, is greeted warmly, and treated to not one but five pork cutlet rice bowls, which he wolfs down with gratitude. Because “katsu” means victory, he returns to his world and makes short work of the manticore, which is just as well, as he must win 99 more fights to win his freedom – as well as pay his restaurant tab.

Like our liony warrior, the next customer, Victoria, has a very limited niche in society in which to operate. Because she’s a half-elf, she had the choice of becoming a sorceress, an adventurer-for hire, or the resident of a remote village of her own kind. Vicky chose sorcery, and quickly rose to the upper echelons of magic users, tutored by the venerable Sage Artorius.

Both Victoria and the Sage are regulars at Nekoya; Artorius ordering his fried pork cutler, and Victoria preferring pudding a la mode, in contrast to the full elf who won’t eat anything from an animal. She also takes some of the soft, velvety, delicious, springy pudding to go, storing it in a magical mini-fridge she keeps in her bedchamber. As noble a use of ice magic as I can imagine!

Isekai Shokudou – 04

The first of this week’s two new visitors to Nekoya is a strange one: Gaganpo, a Lizardman and Hero of the Blue Tail Tribe. His visit to the restaurant is preceded by an almost David Attenboroughesque nature documentary, in which a soft-spoken woman narrates everything he does, carefully bathing and suiting up for what is, in his tribe, a great honor.

Upon entering the restaurant, Gaganpo says the “magic words” that get him what he wants: omelette rice, and lots of it. Omelette rice is one of those ultimate comfort foods, and it’s like nothing the marsh-dwelling Lizardmen have ever tasted before and is beyond their ability to replicate.

The fact neither Aletta nor the Chef bat an eye at the presence of the blue behemoth show you that Nekoya is a super-diverse and accepting place. Gaganpo returning home, with three “party-size” omelettes of three distinct varieties for his fellow villagefolk to enjoy, is certainly a sight to see.

The next customer is a little more conventional: Fardania, a wood elf from a village carved into massive trees. But because she’s an elf, she’s also a vegan, so when she enters Nekoya and sees everyone eating animals, she’s a little turned off and very dubious of the human chef’s ability to cook her something she can actually digest, let alone fine tasty.

Of course, this is the nearly omnipotent chef of Nekoya we’re talking about, and it’s not like there are no vegans in human society, so he whips up a delectable tofu steak with veggies and rice at which even a carnivore wouldn’t necessarily turn their nose. Of course, Fardania takes this delicious meal as a challenge to make even better food for her widowed father.

This was an episode that, at times, looked like it was animated by a grade-schooler, as Gaganpo and his cohorts were particularly inconsistent in their design and proportions. Fardania faired better, especially in close-ups. But I was able to mostly overlook the uneven production values thanks to the mouth-watering depiction and description of the food….which is, at the end of the day, what this show is all about.

GATE – 05

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This week, we learn that Princess Pina Co Lada’s Rose Knight Order was something she herself created in her youth out of a desire to be a knight and a hero to her people. She gathered other children of the court, mostly girls, and with the help of her knight and protector Grey, whipped them into shape. Seven years later, the order was officially established, but only as a ceremonial honor guard, to Pina’s consternation.

But with so much of the conventional military lost to the JSDF, Pina’s father finally deployed her unit. But her first battle, defending Italica from hordes of bandits (made up of former allied soldiers who fled the JSDF slaughter), doesn’t go so well, as most of the bravest and most skilled town conscripts are killed, leaving her handful of trained knights and a bunch of scared townsfolk. I’d want to stay in my dreams too, as she tries to do until doused with water by the maid.

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She awakes to learn that some people have arrived. She knows not whether they’re friend or foe, but once she gets a look at them, assumes any force with Rory Mercury on their side would have already taken the city, and let them in. Her first interaction with Lt. Itami is slamming the doors of the gate right in his face, but things improve a bit from there, as Pina can’t afford to turn down help in defending the city.

While Pina may not know it, she and Itami are of like mind: protecting the people is the primary concern, even if the JSDF recently killed thousands of her father’s soldiers. Itami defers to Pina’s command, and she places him and his men at the South gate to serve as decoys, where they proceed to simply stand around, waiting for the enemy to return.

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When the battle begins at 3 in the morning, the enemy attacks the East gate, not the South, and the gate falls almost immediately due to their superior numbers, tactics, and a “spirit wielder” on their side deflecting arrows. Pina looks upon the besieged walls as they breach and the bandits pour in with a stunned look on her face, trembling in fear.

It turns out Pina is a lot more green than I’d originally thought. In honorable one-on-one combat I’m sure she’d do quite well, but this is war, something she’s never experienced, and when her carefully-laid plans go awry, she stands frozen, like an honor guard, with the only force that can turn this around all the way on the other side of the city. I’d call for them if I were her.

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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GATE – 03

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The appallingly one-sided battles have ceased for now, as Lt. Itami’s Recon Team 3 embarks on a mission of mercy. After rescuing the unconscious but alive she-elf, they return to Coda Village, which is evacuated for fear they’ll be the dragon’s next target. Among the evacuees are a sorcerer and his blue-haired apprentice, Lelei, who is rescued from a rearing horse by Itami’s troops, who are facilitating the evacuation.

Meanwhile, human vultures gather in the night to take advantage of the vulnerable villagers (unaware they’re being escorted), only to be slaughtered one by one with the scythe of one Rory Mercury, one of this land’s “twelve apostles” who is both feared and revered, and despite her sinister appearance, seems to be on the side of the weak and innocent.

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She’s also the closest thing to a cat-girl Itami has come across, and when they encounter her on the road, he can’t exactly refuse her a lift, though he does insist she not ride on his lap. Inevitably, the bloodthirsty dragon returns and starts laying waste to the convoy, and this is when we get to see Itami’s troops in action against a legitimately challenging foe.

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Itami’s trucks lead the dragon away from the villagers, and the she-elf (who lost her clothes to the medics) wakes up and gets the point across that the troops should aim for the dragon’s eye. They do, and the dragon is stopped in its tracks long enough to fire an RPG at it (after a belated shoulder check, of course). When the aim is off, Rory springs into action, making sure the dragon takes a direct hit. And with that, parties from both sides of the Gate worked together to drive off a mutual foe.

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Still, the damage was done, and many lives were lost to the dragon, but the troops arrange a burial detail and pay their respects before the surviving remnants of Coda Village depart for refuge. They can’t take everyone with them, however, leaving Itami and his team with around a dozen hangers-on, including Lelei and the sorcerer, Rory, and the she-elf. Itami decides they’ll continue to protect this contingent of natives, who may (nay, surely will) come in handy on their coming travels.

This episode showed the JSDF doing less mass killin’ and more un-glamorous but important humanitarian work, protecting and supporting those who would’ve ended up dead without them, and making exotic new friends. You win hearts and minds one heart and one mind at a time, and the compassionate Itami is cognizant of this.

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