The Genius Prince’s Guide – 10 – Cooperative Relationship

Princess Falanya leads the people out of Mealtars, past the armies of Lowa’s brothers, and into the waiting arms of Caldmellia and King Gruyere, who were not prepared to deal with so many refugees. The stunning move, made possible thanks to Falanya’s charisma, essentially freezes all parties and gives Wein ample room to negotiate a way out of this that’s acceptable to all, yet still takes advantage of his opponents’ disadvantage.

As the officially sanctioned negotiator for Mealtars, Wein makes use of the city’s ample treasury and offers to buy Levitian’s surplus surplies with both gold and the promise of a memorial and temple to Levetia. With the Levitian army hanging back in reserve, Wein uses the supplies to raise a militia the princes won’t want to fight.

But his true masterstroke comes when he meets with Lowa’s brothers, who like the Levetians have limited room to maneuver due to the sensistive military scenario that has been created. With a knowling Lowa present, Wein dusts off the “trial in absentia”, pinning the blame on the assassination  and the war on the absent Demetrio and forcing his younger brothers to agree, as it’s the best option they have.

As a result, the armies end their siege of Mealtars, the Levetians return home, and the people of Mealtars are cemented not only as a strong friend and ally to Natra, but in Lowa’s faction as well. The mayor tells Lowa over tea how he asked Wein “why are you doing this?”, and was charmed by his response: to gladden his little sister’s heart.

As we know, nothing is more important to Wein than his family, be it Falanya or Ninym, so we know he was being sincere. But there’s no denying siding with Mealtars in their hour of dire need paid huge dividends for Natra and Marden, as imperial exports, passed off as Marden exports, are now flowing through the vassal state and into the west.

Ninym rightly brings up the fact that the richer Marden becomes, the more likely it is they’ll desire independence again. Sure enough, Marchioness Zenovia is encouraged by her advisor to take advantage of their newfound prosperity to “extract a commitment” from Natra when Wein pays them a visit on his way to Soljest.

The advisor proposes that Zenovia ask for Wein’s hand in marriage…which is exactly what Wein thinks she’ll ask for when he visits. Only…she doesn’t? Wein is totally thrown off as they discuss only matters of state such as a conservative western nation sending a letter of protest regarding trade goods.

Wein lets his hair down and be his impetuous self in front of Ninym, as usual, assured that the next day Zenovia will broach the topic while giving them a tour of her capital. But once again, Zenovia—disguised as Zeno and fooling no one—simply gives him a tour…no proposal.

Wein is the one to broach the topic, but when they have a seat on a bench in a park, Zeno pivots by asking why Wein is so “oddly distant” from his people. Wein proceeds to give a cautionary lecture on the responsibility of nobility and royalty to maintain a certain mystique and remove from their people.

This is for a reason Zeno hadn’t considered: she, as well as Wein, Soljest, and even Lowellmina Earthwold, can trace their venerable royal and noble lines all the way to commoners. That means all of the people in one’s kingdom could one day become the first humble branch of a new royal tree…hence his vigilance. He must be the best prince he can be, because he’s surrounded by potential replacements.

Zenovia acknowledges that Wein is a great man, even greater than she initially believed, and that’s the reason she’s happy, for now, with Marden remaining a loyal vassal of Natra (also, she jests that his face isn’t her type). But as she confides to her advisor, Zenovia also feels that marriage with someone like Wein, someone she lionizes as a hero, would be impossible.

I feel she’s selling herself short here, but it’s not my place to tell her how to feel! Even the advisor concedes that she should trust her heart in this matter, and it doesn’t make her a bad leader to refuse the clever play of strategic marriage.

I’m usually not a fan of characters running themselves down to prop up ones they idolize, but considering what she’s witnessed Wein achieve in the time she’s known him, it’s hard to argue with her feelings of inadequacy. Such is the sold writing of this show that I can both disagree and respect her position. Now, what’s up with Delunio?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 05 – All Out in Antgadull

Lord Geralt’s untimely demise threw a wrench into Wein and Lowa’s plans, but they waste no time pivoting to an alternate gambit, aiming above else to claim the initiative from both the rest of the empire and the nascent rebellion against it.

This results in Wein brazenly arriving at Marquess Grinahae Antgadull’s front door and trying to sell him a rather dastardly fiction of Geralt being the mastermind behind the rebellion, giving Grinahae the option to throw himself at the mercy of the empire (i.e. Lowa) for a relative slap on the wrist in exchange for revealing all about the rebellion.

Grinahae has Wein depart his manor believing he’s agreed to the proposal, but Wein knew there was a 50-50 shot of doing so. When he and his handful of guards are ambushed by the leader of the rebels, Wein quickly pivots once again, managing to best their leader (whom he believes to be a spy from the west) by taking his sword arm and forcing them to retreat.

Back at the manor, the rebels execute their plan to assassinated Grinahae and burn his manor down, along with all evidence of the rebellion. This plan fails thanks to the skill of Nanaki, Falanya’s bodyguard whom Wein borrowed to ensure the rebellion couldn’t cover their tracks.

By then, Grinahae is already in hot pursuit of Wein with a speedy mounted force of around 100, with plans to eventually seize the princess. Wein seems hopelessly outnumbered—which is exactly what he wants Grinahae to think as they crest a hill.

Wein knows Grinahae knows his own lands, and that the speed of his force will be able to overtake and defeat Wein’s once they’re out on the wide plains beyond. But Grinahae didn’t consider that Wein brought a Natra force that is puny compared to Antgadull’s combined forces, but in this instance outnumbers Grinahae’s host.

Then Grinahae’s escape route is blocked by another large force, this time of Imperial and Provincial forces. When brought before Princess Lowa, the only defense Grinahae can think of is to condemn Wein for bringing an invading force into Antgadull.

However, Lowa and Wein have this covered too: Wein’s Natran force is part of a joint military exercise, made possible thanks to one Ambassador Tallum, who didn’t want Geralt’s sudden death ruin the meeting of Wein and Lowa. Grinahae has no choice but to surrender.

Back in Natra, Lowa enjoys a cup of tea with Ninym, with everything in Antgadull having worked itself out to both her and Wein’s benefit—or at least to neither of their detriments. It certainly could have gone worse, but the quick and careful planning and adaptability they were famous for at the academy helped them win the day.

Lowa confirms that she’s called off the marriage proposal for now, citing the advantage of remaining unwed when it comes to expanding the empire’s influence, and the fact the empire remains in a state of instability. But Lowa’s cup suddenly gets unstable when Ninym brazenly points out that Lowa has feelings for Wein!

We see that Lowa has a blind spot when it comes to this, as she didn’t think anyone knew when it was blatantly obvious to Ninym (and others) for years. What’s great about this show is there’s an actual good reason she likes him, beyong his looks and brains.

That reason is demonstrated when Lowa asks Wein why he didn’t play things differently in Antgadull. Basically, he broke Grinaahae so he’d be easier for Lowa to control. He promised to help her if she ever got them in a mess, and he kept that promise.

As she returns to the empire, she not only admits she likes Wein, but also yearns to have a relationship like Wein and Ninym: one of absolute mutual trust despite their vast differences. For Lowa, becoming empress means being able to stand proudly beside her two old friends.

It’s a noble, nuanced, and very satisfying mindset that eschews the obvious love triangle dynamic for something less zero-sum. And while I’m sure the show will keep its focus on Wein and Ninym as he resumes his efforts to raise Natra out of debt, I hope we get more Lowa again soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 01 (First Impressions) – Can’t Lose for Wein-ning

Despite the obnoxiously-long title, this is not an isekai, but a comedy that happens to take place in a renaissance-level fantasy world. In it the Empire of Earthwold lords over many lesser kingdoms, including Natra, presently led by Prince Wein, whose father the king is ill. The thing is, Wein doesn’t wanna rule Natra, which is in dire financial straits.

He wants to make it just attractive enough to sell to a greater power, then begin the retirement stage of his life. He’s lazy, and wants to take the nearest shortcut, but he’s hampered throughout this episode by another quality he possesses: tactical and strategic genius.

Yes, while he acts petulant goof in front of his personal aide Ninym (and no one else), Wein is in fact too smart for his own good, and enjoys the fierce loyalty and admiration of his older military advisors, who would no doubt change their tune if they knew the jerk was planning to sell their kingdom!

But that threat of being found out doesn’t really factor into this first outing. Rather, Wein plays the role others aks him to play, rallying the troops and coming up with a plan to fend off the army of a neighboring kingdom. Again, he doesn’t wanna, but he’s backed into a corner.

As such, he gives a rousing speech to the toops and executes the battle plan, which works out far better than he was expecting. Part of that is due to his agreement with the Empire to train Natra’s royal forces, once again potentially shooting himself in the foot.

But when the enemy’s general charges his camp, Wein and his aides retreat, goading the enemy into giving chase right into a canyon trap, where Ninym and a force of archers mow the enemy down, cementing Natra’s victory. It’s here where the brutality of war and the quirky comedy clash the most.

Once back at the strategy table with his military advisors, whom Wein knows want to invade their now-vulnerable neighbor, he tries to propose a plan far too preposterous for them to accept…only for them to accept it immediately and assume he’d seen the plans they’d already made.

Prince Wein’s inner voice has a chibi avatar who does all of his internal, genuine reactions while maintaining his princely façade. But if it’s money he wants to put his kingdom in a better position to be sold, invading a gold mine is probably a net-profit proposition.

Genius Prince isn’t going to win any awards with its production values, but other than some muddy-blob-looking armies and quite a bit of still-shots with streaking white lines indication action, it’s an inoffensively adequate-looking affair. The comedy is similarly unimpressively competent.

Mostly, should I continue this show I shall look forward watching Wein’s interesting friend/confidant relationship with Ninym, who stays by his side despite his shenanigans, as well as watching him continue to succeed despite trying to fail. It’s Machiavelli-meets-Bialystock!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 12 (Fin) – Traipsing in Place

Iska can’t protect Sisbell from Masked Lord and the Empire’s Object, but thankfully he gets an assist from his fellow members of Unit N07. He buys time by hacking at Object until Nene can launch a rocket barrage that disables the mecha dragon, all while Sisbell wonders why these supposed enemies are protecting her from their own superweapon.

Meanwhile, Jihn is able to keep up with Masked Lord, despite the fact the guy has backup mages and the ability to teleport weapons and himself. After a brief knife fight, Masked Lord decides to limit his attacks to fire-based, which are nullified when Mismis activates her Astral Crest. Jhin blasts Mask’s Mask off, and he withdraws for now, having not looked particularly powerful.

Since Object is a final boss of sorts, it stands to reason it has multiple stages; in its second, it has a quick-recharging mega-cannon that causes a great deal of collateral destruction. Sisbell finally contributes to the battle by using her time magic to conjure a sandstorm from the past, which Iska uses as cover to shatter Object’s core. However, that just unlocks it’s third and final form, in which it sucks Sisbell into its core and starts babbling in the ancient Astral language.

This third stage proves too much even for Iska, which provides the perfect opportunity for Alice to show up. They once again put aside their individual rivalry to fight side-by-side, and with a bunch of acrobatics and ice magic they manage to destroy the final form and free Sisbell.

It’s all pretty by-the-numbers, really. Masked Lord is basically nerfed in his fight with Jhin, while Iska and Alice don’t do anything that different from their previous team-ups. Also, the fact their main opponent was a mostly mindless giant monster meant their victory doesn’t really move the needle where their peace process is concerned.

All it does is take one of the Empire’s weapons off the board…and the Eight Great Apostles aren’t even that miffed about it! Alice and Sisbell have their obligatory fight over Iska, with Alice in the uncomfortable position of pretending she doesn’t know Iska while protesting Sisbell’s familiarity with him. Iska rejoins his unit, who helped make sure the civilians were safe off-camera.

Then there are a whole lot of scenes of things the show didn’t have time to cover in depth: Mask’s plans for Kissing to enter the election, the Queen bringing Elletear before her and asking if she’s the real Elletear (?), Risya and Nameless tipping their hats to Iska’s skill. Perhaps most relevant to Iska and Alice’s hopes for peace is the meeting of Salinger and the Emperor, but neither character was that well developed, so who knows what that fruit if any that team-up will bear.

Actually, we do know: no fruit at all, because this is the end of the season! It ends with one more scene of our two heroes sharing a bench in the neutral city, promising each other not to let anyone else know they know each other and looking forward to their next meeting, where they’re tentatively planning to finally have their decisive fight, but probably won’t.

The show ends with an ellipsis and a bunch of question marks rather than any full stops, leaving me similarly noncommittal to engaging with a second season. Better shows have done more with just twelve episodes, and looked much better doing so. If I could use Sisbell’s ability and go back in time, I’d probably just skip this.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 11 – When It Rains Princesses, It Pours

Sisbell comes offering some kind of magical bracelet to Iska, as well as the promise of restoring his status, honor, and more. All he has to do is go back with her to the Sovereignty. Familiar request, right? Iska is flattered but loath to accept, and at this point has no idea who Sisbell is other than the “royal servant” he broke out of prison.

When Alice and Rin find an article about Iska in Sisbell’s room, Alice is eager to find out what she’s up to, especially if it involves treason. Thanks to Rin, the Queen agrees to let Alice go on a low-profile long-distance trip to track Sisbell down. Back in Alsamira, Iska has a lot on his mind and can’t quite fully participate in the BBQ fun.

In what seems like an extraneous repeat of their scene last week, Elletear comes out and tells Masked Lord that she suspects her two younger sisters of treason, but is worried her love for them will keep her from “doing what is necessary”, so she bypasses the enmity between the Lou and Zoa houses and asks Masks to take care of her sisters for her.

This does not make Elletear look particularly smart or good! Naturally, Alice is in the desert on her way to Alsamira when her tour bus comes to a screeching halt: there are giant footprints and machine oil stains in the sand…suggesting the Empire has deployed the Witch-hunting “Object” teased at the very end of last week.

Iska changes up the unit’s hotel accommodations, hoping to distance his comrades from getting tangled up with Sisbell. Jhin also recommends as they’re in a neutral city to procure for Mismis the same crest-concealing special bandages Shanorotte used while posing as an Imperial.

Despite his cautiousness, Iska is approached once more by Sisbell, and they continue their discussions at a secluded industrial zone. She reveals her time-manipulating astral power that has enabled her to keep tabs on him, as well as her true identity as Princess Sisbell, Alice’s sister.

Unlike Alice, she isn’t asking Iska to out-and-out defect from the Empire; she merely needs someone she can trust to help her out the Sovereignty’s traitor, who is tyring to destroy both nations by fanning the fires of total war.

Iska respectfully declines the offer, as he believes it doesn’t go far enough towards peace between their peoples. Sisbell deems that unrealistic, but that doesn’t faze Iska. Just then, Masked Lord appears behind Sisbell. He have some kind of teleporting ability, because he sure got there quick after meeting with Elletear!

Accusing her of being a traitor, Mask and his mage guards have come to arrest Sisbell, who quickly flees as Iska stands between them. She’s stopped in her tracks by the Object, whose presence is either a happy coincidence for Mask, or a sign that he is the traitor Sisbell feared.

I’m sure Iska can handle Mask’s troops with one hand tied behind his back—which isn’t the case this time!—but that mecha dragon seems like a tougher customer. Still, even if Iska and Sisbell can’t handle it, both Alice and Unit N07 aren’t far away.

While there are more new developments, this was the second straight table-setting episode where nothing is resolved and a lot is left up in the air. If next week is the final episode, I can’t see how it won’t be thoroughly overstuffed! That suggests a second cour is in the cards, though I’m not sure one is deserved…

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 10 – My Dream Knight

Risya and Nameless meet with the Emperor…and they seem to be an androgynous cat-person. Not only that, the Emperor seems all too aware that a “Witch Princess” (i.e. Alice) has fallen for an Imperial Swordsman (i.e. Iska), and seems pleased with that development.

Meanwhile, Third Princess Sisbell is having troubling nightmares about the demise of her mother the queen that she believes to be visions of the future. Needless to say she’s uneasy and is desperate to find a way to alter that future.

Back in the Empire, Iska, Nene and Jhin are worried about Mismis’ crest being exposed, but they’re bailed out by an imperial administrator who castigates Risya for grossly overworking the unit. They are awarded sixty days of vacation, and they decide to spend them in Alsamira, a desert resort nation that while not officially neutral like Ein is considering an alliance with the Empire.

Alsamira also just happens to be the destination of Sisbell, as her mother sends her there to attempt to convince their leaders to side with the Sovereignty. As a pawn in the continuing political game that is the election of the next queen, Sisbell only trusts her personal butler Schwarz to accompany her.

Then we finally meet the First and eldest of princesses in the green-haired Elletear. She meets with Zoa’s Tuxedo Mask to report something most troubling: apparently someone high up in the Sovereignty is working with the Empire. My first thoughts went to Alice, of course, but we learn she’s not the only suspect.

Alsamira closely resembles Dubai or Abu Dhabi IRL, a wealthy emirate currently thriving on tourism and hospitality, which Unit N07, particularly its female members, are all too happy to exploit. Mismis and Nene show off their swimsuits to the boys, and a day of fun and not fighting the Sovereignty ensues.

As the sun sets and the unit heads back to the hotel for dinner, Nene and Iska split off to buy food and Nene goes off to use the restroom. Whenever Iska is left alone in a city he tends to bump into a princess, and this week is no different…but the princess is. He recognizes her as the astral mage he broke out of prison, but when Nene returns to him, Sisbell vanishes without a trace. Still, Sis is convinced she’s found the “knight of her dreams.”

That night, Rin and Alice, stuck in the palace with mountains of paperwork and other official duties, assist the queen in snooping through Sisbell’s chambers. As Sisbell’s mother, the queen is concerned with what she’s been up to cooped up in her room. Alice and Rin find a clue: a newspaper reporting the arrest and life imprisonment of Iska, the Imperial who saved her. Alice is shocked her sister might know her Imperial buddy.

Back in Alsamira, Sisbell decides to make her move…by breaking into Iska’s hotel room. By acting so suspiciously, she should have known she’d be welcomed as an assassin and not a guest, but she doesn’t seem to care. All that matters is that she’s found Iska, her Knight. I’m inclined to believe she considers Iska the key to preventing the bad future she’s been dreaming of. She believes this because Iska helped her, his “enemy”, when he had no other reason to other than kindness and mercy.

That Sisbell is meeting secretly with Iska will no doubt be a red flag for her sisters and mother, and their already flaky retainers may even consider her a traitor for doing so—and that’s assuming they’re not yet aware of Alice’s many meetings with an Imperial swordsman. While laying the groundwork for some interesting developments, this episode was a classic table-setter: necessary, but a bit ho-hum.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 09 – Officially Rivals

The battle between Iska and Salinger commences, and Kimisen goes full Shounen Battle Mode, complete with the arrogant opponent’s high-and-mighty speeches. It basically boils down to Ichigo—er, Iska fighting a shinigami captain—er, Salinger and weathering his attacks, with some light but welcome support from Rin.

Down on ground level, Alice is attacked by Nameless, but only very briefly, as if he was once again merely testing her defenses. It isn’t long before she spots Iska and realizes he did what she’d hoped he’d do: help her out rather than simply running when free of the cuffs.

Honestly, while Salinger was amusingly smug at times, he’s also pretty much a cookie-cutter haughty boss, and thus not that interesting. Adding to the lack of suspense is the fact Iska already defeated the Nebulis Founder, whom Salinger considers an equal. Salinger also expresses surprise at Iska’s abilities a bit too much to be a credible big bad.

I had expected Alice to join Iska in the fighting, as they’d also joined forces to beat back the Founder, but Iska has this well in hand, and manages to force Salinger to retreat. All Alice has to do is comfort the wounded Rin and serve as a reminder to Salinger that even if he defeated Iska, he’d have to deal with her.

The fires are extinguished, the prisoners recovered, and the dust cleared in Alcatroz. Alice urges a suddenly adorable Rin to be honest about her various cuts and bruises she suffered, while Alice snaps herself out of swooning over Iska by telling herself he only did what he was supposed to do as part of their temporary alliance.

The Nameless who was at Alcatroz returns to the Empire, then removes his helmet to reveal she was Risya all along; the real Nameless was off ensuring their special forces infiltrated the Central Province. It’s almost as if Risya and N07 were merely an elaborate distraction. We also catch a glimpse of some kind of giant mecha thingy that just might be the next boss against which Iska and/or Alice must face off.

As for Iska, he joins N07 on the car ride home. As she’d been worried about Iska for virtually the entire mission, Mismis reveals she hasn’t yet fully processed the fact she’s an astral mage, nor what to do about it, but since she helped save Iska, it’s his pleasure to help her out in devising a plan to keep her out of Imperial prison or worse. Who better than a former inmate like him?

Back on the royal palace grounds, Alice gazes up at the stars and utters the name “Iska”, irking Rin, who warns her master that she’ll tell the Queen if Alice keeps this up. Little to they know they’re being watched by Alice’s little sister Sisbell. We’ve already met her, as she was the mage Iska broke out of prison. Sis doesn’t want to believe it, but we know it to be true. It’s looking like she’ll be calling on him to help her out again soon.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 08 – Demon Ascending

Alice is always referring to Iska as her “enemy”, but with Risya releasing another agent of chaos in Salinger the Demon/Transcendant, she doesn’t have the luxury of rejecting the aid of an enemy like Iska whom she’s come to trust, and who shares her dream of peace.

When the prison tower housing Salinger starts to burn, Alice and Rin must hurry to put out those fires. Before leaving, Alice quietly asks if Iska will help her, but he doesn’t quite hear. She drops the matter, but not before leaving a fresh new handkerchief to replace the one he gave her.

Unit N07 finally hears from their CO Risya, who tells them that the Princess Iska is in Another Castle, leading them to wonder if they were merely bait for Risya to attain a different, secret goal (they were). But the fact remains they have to get the hell out of the tower, so Mismis bears her genuine crest and serves as bait once more, this time so Nene and Jhin can take out their pursuers.

Iska, handcuffed in his hotel room, hears ringing in Alice’s room and discovers she had his Imperial phone. He makes contact with Unit N07 and arranges to meet them at the very prison tower where Alice and Rin went. When he considers how to remove his cuffs, he suddenly remembers the handkerchief Alice left, and sure enough, it contains the key. This is what she meant by requesting his help—she couldn’t do it overtly, so left the key in hope he would agree.

Alice and Rin’s car is bombed before they reach the prison, but that’s of no consequence; the site is a mess of Imperial forces and various sovereignty forces from within the prison, so Alice takes command as Second Princess. Iska meets with Unit N07, but before anything else he asks for his two swords back, urges them to take the civilian onlookers to safety of the hotel, and he’ll meet them there in fifteen minutes or so.

Alice leaves Rin to deal with Salinger, and while Rin talks a big game and impresses him for a brief time, once Salinger gets serious Rin is no more than a “cat or dog” he has no further interest in torturing. Much of the astral magic he’s “collected” came from purebred sources far superior to Rin’s, after all.

Rin is overmatched; she knows it, and Salinger knows it, but it doesn’t matter: her only goal is to fight him and buy time until she can’t fight anymore. That turns out to not be very long, but it’s long enough that by the time Salinger is bored and ready to finish her, Iska arrives just in time to block his killing blow and save Rin.

Rin’s long-standing suspicion of and enmity towards Iska didn’t matter; Rin is Alice’s cherished friend, while Salinger is Alice’s enemy, so he’ll save Rin and defeat Salinger. If Risya gets wind of either Iska messing up her plan or of Mismis being a real astral mage, things will get far more complicated, but for now, it’s as simple as this: The enemy (Salinger) of his “enemy” (Alice) is his enemy. After all that lounging around in the hotel, it’s time to get to work!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 07 – Stuck On You

Rin and Alice are in full improv mode, as neither expected to have Iska in their custody at the end of the day at Neutral City. But they do, so they have to deal with it. Even Alice may not be able to protect him from his doom in the Sovereignty’s capital, so they head for Nebulis Province 13, Alcatroz, also known as the Prison Sector.

Risya orders Unit N07 to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska as part of the larger plan to capture the Queen. They’ll pass through the border with fake Astral Crests prepared by the research unit. Jhin deftly pantomimes placing a fake crest on Mismis’ hidden real one, hopefully allying suspicion that she’s a real witch…for now.

Once Alice and Rin arrive at Alcatroz’ designated hotel for royals, Rin recommends she stay with the handcuffed prisoner at all times while Alice stays in an adjacent suite. When Iska woke up in the car, he voiced his “disappointment” in Alice, who is clearly hurt by the breach of trust caused by Rin’s meddling.

Rin breaches that trust again, twisting her master’s orders to “take good care” of Iska by cutting her own hand with a fruit knife to serve as an excuse for self-defense when she kills him. It’s clear at this point Rin has gone rogue, believing Alice no longer capable of objectivity. Unfortunately, even a cuffed Iska is able to defend himself from her attacks, and Alice re-enters the room to find the two grappling on the couch and puts an immediate stop to it.

Mismis, Jhin, and Nene successfully pass the border and enter the Prison Sector, where Risya briefly meets up to indicate their next destination, the offshore Ollelugan Prison Tower. But she’s hiding the true nature of her mission when she splits back off from N07. Jhin eventually catches on that their unit may not be here for the explicit reasons Risya stated.

Alice decides to chain herself to Iska (unlike with Rin he’ll be hard-pressed to stop her attacks without his swords), but also turns into a complete airhead when Iska brings up the blatantly glaring question of how the two of them will use the toilet, bathe, and sleep while so connected.

Alice has Rin temporarily disconnect them so she can take a bath, only for that bath to kill even more of her brain cells, such that she comes out of the bathroom butt naked but for a loosely hanging towel. As such, Iska sees the positively massive astral crest on her back, and Alice forgets her modesty altogether, as she’s suddenly primarily concerned with what Iska thinks of both her crest—and her in general.

Iska tells Alice about Mismis (without using her name): his captain and an Imperial soldier who is now a “witch” due to gaining a crest, and how he still respects her regardless of whether she’s a witch or has a crest. He doesn’t place the blame for a century of war on the crests, but due to the ideas and positions that divide them due to their opposite nations of origin.

He’s basically saying he doesn’t consider the crest to be the mark of a witch or devil, and doesn’t fight because of them. As for how he regards Alice, he considers her a “rival on the battlefield”, which is precisely what she wanted to hear: that the two of them are equals in his eyes. Now all she needs to do is strip him down so she can see him naked, and they’ll be even for the night!

As N07 continues their separate infiltration, Risya reaches her destination as laid out by the council: the special cell of Salinger, AKA “The Transcendent Demon”—a ripped but bored-looking bishounen who may just be itching for some action, any action. And since it’s Risya releasing him, he just might fight on her side…for a time. As for me, I’m designating both him and Risya wild cards for now.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 06 – Apples and Lemons

Ever since the vortex incident that thrust her and Iska apart, Alice has been sighing heavily a lot while looking out the window of her bedchamber. She’s clearly pining for him, purportedly to fight and defeat him once and for all, but both we and Rin can see there’s more to it than that. Absent any other leads, Alice decides to return to the Neutral City Ein, hoping they’ll bump into him once more.

Meanwhile, in the empire, Mismis’ left arm has felt funny ever since falling into the vortex. But it doesn’t hurt, so she chalks it up to nothing serious. Their next mission, however, is no joke: Led by Misya, Unit N07 is to infiltrate the Sovereignty and capture Queen Nebulis! We learn how difficult it is for any non-astral mage to enter the Sovereignty.

The crests all mages bear are used as passports, which is a fuck-you to the empire for using those same crests as evidence for their witch trials (and subsequent genocide). Iska, Mismis, Nene, Jihn seem like nice people, but Jesus Christ is the empire they serve fucked up!

Alice and Rin arrive in Ein, and stand by the fountain where she encountered Iska before. However, in this case where she’s actively trying to encounter him, Rin doubts they’ll find him easily. Rin even suggests Iska might’ve died in the vortex, but Alice won’t hear of it: he’s alive, and she’s going to date—er—fight him. Even so, three days pass, with no sign of Iska.

Rin is concerned about Alice’s sudden intensified fixation on Iska. Other families are watching the Lou family for weaknesses, ready to take the throne, while Alice’s sisters are diligently preparing for the forthcoming eleciton. Meanwhile Alice is committed only to fruitless stakeouts in Ein. Rin knows she’s the only person who can get Alice “back on track”.

Meanwhile, Mismis’ arm won’t stop feeling strange, so she removes her jacket for Nene to inspect it, and that’s when she discovers…an astral crest. In one lift of the sleeve, Mismis’ life has changed forever. If the research institute found out she was hiding the crest, she’ll be summarily executed! Even if she comes forward of her own free will, she’ll be imprisoned, likely for life!

All Iska and the others can do is try to comfort Mismis (who is understandably freaking out), and Iska lays out the options: turn herself in, or keep hiding it. As their captain, they’ll follow whichever path she chooses.

In the meantime, Iska decides to take Mismis to Ein, where she’ll be safe for the time being. Ein is so incredibly peaceful and idyllic, one wonders how it’s even able to exist between two warring nations, one of which is brazen enough to attempt the kidnapping of the other’s sovereign. Does Ein have its own force to deter either side from starting shit?

That aside, the minute Mismis leaves Iska to buy some drinks, Alice appears, and there’s a neat little scene where neither Alice nor Iska recognize one another at first due to the glare of the sun. That said, once they do recognize each other, it’s not long before they’re sitting on the bench together, exchanging blushing looks.

Alice even declares she’s glad to see her purported “enemy” is safe after the vortex incident. Indeed, she’s positively giddy to see him, and when she senses something is troubling Iska, she asks him to tell her, as she’s good at keeping secrets (though she undermines that claim rather totally by saying she only tells Rin, who is clearly more than a maid).

Before Iska can say anything, Rin appears with drinks, and to the surprise of both Alice and Iska, she offers one to Iska. It’s an apple-lemon blend, which calls to mind “apples and oranges”—a nice metaphor for the Empire and Sovereignty. But it’s not the strange blend that knocks Iska out: it’s a sleeping drug that Rin slipped into the can. When Iska passes out on the bench, Rin reveals her plan: she assumed he’d reject the offer of a drink due to his distrust.

He’d then take it as a sign he should stay away from her. But Iska did trust Rin, and not just because they were in neutral territory. Alice’s behavior totally disarmed him, because like him, she had no ill intent that day, having declared a “temporary truce”. Rin regrets not using a fatal potion, but the fact remains they can’t just leave him there, so she takes him into custody.

When Mismis returns, even Alice knows there’s no easy way to explain what’s happening, so she slides back into official mode, telling her they’re taking in an enemy of the Sovereignty. That’s when Mismis insists they let him go…and her astral crest activates, albeit without any kind of control. Again, Alice doesn’t have any time to consider why an Imperial soldier has a crest; she freezes Mismis’s foot to the ground and takes off with Rin and Iska.

We don’t learn if any witnesses saw Mismis’ astral power awaken, just Misya meeting with the Emperor himself to report Iska’s kidnapping and requesting instructions. In a way, having the Queen’s own daughter bring Iska into the Sovereignty means the infiltration plan has gone off without a hitch; there will be a lemon in the land of apples. All Iska needs to do is free himself, capture the Queen, and return to the Empire, and it’s mission accomplished!

Of course there are a variety of questions in play: will he be able to free himself? If he does—or Alice is the one to do it—will he still go forward with his unit’s mission, or will he and Alice be able to make a sliver of progress with peace talks? Will Misya learn Mismis has a crest, and if so, will she punish her, or use her to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska? Tons to consider…I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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