Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

Grand Blue – 07 – Just Ask Her Out Directly and Get Rejected, Losers!

Unlike Chio-chan, which mixes its scenarios up pretty well and always keeps you guessing what will befall its characters from week to week, Grand Blue often follows a familiar formula.

In this formula, Iori and Kouhei yell at each other a lot with increasingly contorted faces, while Iori’s college classmates express their disapproval of the very idea of Chisa dating/living with Iori. They’re his friends…until evidence he’s close to Chisa emerges, and then they want to literally kill him.

This act is wearing a bit thin, to be honest, and the reason is in the title of this post: these assholes need to stop blaming Iori for their romantic troubles! If they like Chisa (which is dubious, as none of them actually even know her; they just think she’s cute, which she is), they should ask her out.

If they all get rejected (which they most certainly will be, which lets face it is why they won’t ask), well then, tough noogies! But they’d get closure on the Chisa matter. Instead, they take all their frustrations out on Iori, and we have to watch it. It’s not pleasant, nor is it that funny! Meanwhile, Chisa is pushed off to the side, barely involved aside from the odd glare or blush.

The show flips the script by giving us a doubles tennis competition with the Tinkerbell tennis club, whose blue-haired captain wants revenge for the pageant fiasco. He’s also not interested in playing fair, as he spikes all the booze of Peekaboo’s spectators, as well as the hard-hitting Ryuu and Shinji, with what seems to be Everclear.

In the midst of the matches, we learn that both Chisa and Iori are extremely competent at tennis and would even make fine members of Tinkerbell, if only its captain and other members weren’t such arrogant pricks. I also lked how Chisa punished Iori for his ill-conceived cheers by taking his sweats and wearing them herself.

In any case, Peekaboo manages to pull an upset, netting them enough funds to take a diving trip to Okinawa. Less pathetic, jealous college buddies, more fun diving trips, please! Fulfill the promise of that painfully upbeat opening!

Grand Blue – 06 – Diving Cures All Ills

Iori remains on bad terms with Chisa, which ends up hurting all the other lads in his German class who were depending on him getting to see her notes. As a result the lads must cheat in other ways, all of which are either discovered by the teacher or ineffective.

While I’m not opposed to episodes made up of isolated segments (see Tsuugakuro, Chio-chan no) I’d prefer if Grand Blue didn’t stray so far from its core themes. This bit felt more like high school than college. Thankfully, we get back on track when Aina is officially initiated into Peek-a-Boo.

Between the binge drinking, the gratuitous nudity, Chisa’s perceived sadism towards Iori, and Nanaka’s perceived fixation on Chisa, Aina quickly learns that no one in the club is remotely normal (including herself; one doesn’t have the nickname “Cakey” bestowed upon her otherwise).

In this regard, the cast is a lot like that of Working!!; everyone has their quirks that make them unique and hopefully, compelling to watch as those quirks bounce off of each other.

Still, the women, particularly Chisa, are pleased and excited that Aina joined because she found diving interesting. It’s here where Iori and Kohei act as a kind of audience surrogate by stating it’s not like they never go diving, but it sure doesn’t seem like they’ve done it in a while…which is very true! It’s been less Grand Blue and more Gorge Booze…

Speaking of, when the party runs out of alcohol, Aina and Chisa volunteer to go out to buy more, and as the saying goes, when the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Despite Aina’s insistence everyone remains clothed and civil for her welcome party, old habits die hard and the lads can’t help themselves from devolving into debauchery in Chisa and Aina’s brief absence.

As for substituting a big log for Pocky in a game between Iori and Kohei, it’s a shade too credulity-stretchingly absurd, even for this show.

While it doesn’t really matter whether Iori and Kohei learn perfect German, it is imperative they memorize all the underwater hand signals, as it could end up saving their life or that of their comrades. So it’s disconcerting to see they don’t know the hand signals any more than they know “rheumatoid arthritis” in German (btw it’s the same, except for an “e” added to make “rheumatoide”).

They end up learning them when a different kind of threat emerges during the party: Nanaka learns her beloved Chisa is dating Iori. This makes Iori fear for his life, and he uses hand signals to alert Kohei and the others. However, Nanaka isn’t certain whether they’re actually dating or whether it simply looks like they are.

So the next day, when the club finally, finally has an actual diving session, she pairs up Iori and Chisa. At first Iori thinks Chisa is angry at him as usual, but she’s really only serious about diving, and not just the safety side, but the fun and wonder of it as well.

Before he knows it Iori is swept up in Chisa’s enthusiasm for the world under the sea, and when he tells her how much fun he had down there, she can’t help but smile. I will always prefer this joyful Chisa to the scornful one dishing out verbal or physical punishment on Iori for acting the goat (however in the right she may be).

Sadly Grand Blue will apparently never let these two remain in a state of detente for long, preferring to built them up and then tear them down for a cheap laugh. As such, Iori ruins it by commenting on the fineness of Chisa’s ass, leading her to blow her top at him. Why can’t we have nice things?

My Hero Academia – 07

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We get it: Deku isn’t trying to “trick” or “underestimate” Kacchan. He simply has to believe he can surpass someone as amazing as Kacchan if he’s ever going to develop into reliable hero. So while the trial is supposed to be about heroes and villains, Kacchan makes it into a duel of nemeses, and Deku has to choice but to play along, while trusting Ochako to handle the bomb retrieval.

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Deku’s notebook knowledge serves him well against an unfocused and increasingly angry Kacchan, but as he gets worn down from all the dodging, and Kacchan gets angrier stalking through the halls, remembering all the times Deku proved himself useless when they were little kids, Kacchan devises more and more subtle yet devastating attacks.

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Mind you, that’s after he blasts a hole in his own “villain stronghold”, leading All Might to warn him if he causes that much destruction again, he’ll forfeit the match.

But he and Deku both know Kacchan doesn’t give a shit about the outcome of the match. He wants Deku to know his place. And All Might knows Deku won’t make any progress getting through to Kacchan if he suspends the match.

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The duel culminates in the two driving their fists at each other, Kacchan with his explosive power and Deku with All For One—but Deku isn’t going for Kacchan, he’s going for the ceiling.

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By blasting numerous holes in the building, he creates a diversion, as well as ammo, for Ochako to wield her antigrav powers and make contact with the bomb, flummoxing Iida, who had tried so hard to play the role of mustache-twirling villain.

As time runs out and the Hero team wins, Kacchan is still playing the same refrain: “Don’t underestimate me. I’m better than you.” 

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Well, talent and strength, especially in the quantities he possesses, certainly are great to have. But that alone doesn’t make a hero. Kacchan seemed constantly driven by hatred for that which he always thought was weaker than him, but day by day is being proven wrong, making him question his own worth deep inside.

Add to that nitroglycerin palm sweat (how the hell did he not accidentally burn his house down nine thousand times as a kid?), and you have a volatile combination. But when Deku tells Kacchan can’t use his quirk lest it destroy his body, and  Kacchan sees the damage to prove it, his scowl of contempt softens into something resembling pity, maybe even understanding and regret for what he’s put Deku through.

Because I feel like a lot of his anger has to do with the fact that Deku never once deserved the shitty treatment Kacchan dumped on him. Quite the opposite, whenever Kacchan even looked like he was in trouble, Deku and only Deku rushed out to help him. Just as Deku needs to strengthen his body and master his quirk to have a future as a hero, Kacchan will have to resolve his various emotional issues.

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My Hero Academia – 06

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Plus Ultra to you on this fine Mother’s Day (USA)! I shall be covering Hero this week in Hannah’s place. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! After Midoriya successfully gets a hero-like number on the ball throw, a furious Kacchan rushes him before being stopped by Aizawa-sensei.

Kacchan of all people simply can’t understand how his childhood friend could have a quirk all of a sudden, and the ‘my own effort’ explanation he gets from Iida second-hand isn’t satisfactory. Deku is pissing all over his moment, and he doesn’t like it! Boo-hoo.

Despite placing last in total test points, Midoriya moves on, because as Aizawa says to All Might, his potential is “not zero”. Midoriya settles into a cozy group of budding friends in the earnest-to-a-fault Iida and the adorable, friendly Ochako, who re-purposes the insulting nickname “Deku-kun” to something cool, because it reminds her of “Ganbatte”.

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Once the class starts hero training with their new teacher All Might (whom almost everyone is in awe of), he unveils that the superhero costumes they requested are ready. Due to various clerical hiccups, Midoriya gets his by another channel – his adorable mom saw the design in his notebook and had it made in secret, as an apology for giving up on him when he never did.

The new costumes really give a sense of pomp and occasion to this upcoming test that the PE uniforms lacked. It also makes everyone far more distinctive and reveals some things about their tastes and personalities. Class ace Yaoyorozu, for instance, isn’t afraid to show a little sideboob, while Ochako didn’t put in any preference and ended up in a tasteful skintight jumpsuit that, if anything, only amplifies her cuteness.

(Speaking of big groups of superheroes taking the stage: I’d just caught Captain America: Civil War Friday night, one of the climactic scenes of which was also bursting with cool costumes.)

As for “Deku’s” suit, it borrows a few details from All Might but has a totally different vibe to it; more Sonic the Hedgehog than Superman; I like it. I’m not as big a fan as Iida’s rather boring suit of armor or Kacchan’s tacky suit that makes him look like a fireworks point-of-purchase. Still, it’s clear from many outfits that they started out as crude pencil sketches.

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The next exercise involves two pairs of students facing off as heroes and villains, with the former having to either capture the latter or the latter keeping their nuke out of the former’s hands. Deku and Ochako are paired up again, to Ochako’s delight.

In the dark, close confines of the test building, Kacchan again breaks the rules to take it to Deku by staging a surprise attack…only to find Deku a far more challenging opponent than he expected, and not because of Deku’s strength, either.

The hero notebook Deku meticulously prepared included notes on his childhood friend, so Deku knows how he fights and how to fight back. This fight should be interesting, assuming Deku doesn’t slip up and get char-broiled before Ochako can step in with her zero-grav assistance.

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My Hero Academia – 05

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There’s an exciting auspicious energy to the dawn before Midoriya’s first day at UA High (bolstered by the show’s sick epic hero rock soundtrack), and All Might reassures him that in time he’ll be able to control One for All, even thought it may not happen overnight.

He gets more emotional support from his proud-as-punch mom (who is the cutest mom), from Iida, a former naysayer he won over in the exam, and “nice girl” Ochako, who is also glad to be in class with the “plain-looking” Midoriya.

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But as is usually the case for Midoriya and shounen like him throughout anime history, what awaits him once he’s finally over the mountain…is another mountain. His homeroom teacher is Aizawa Shouta, a listless but no-nonsense hero who works in the shadows; pretty much the anti-All Might. He believes his students have no time for opening ceremonies or afterschool trips to McDonalds.

They’re here to be heroes, and that means finding their maximum as soon as possible so that they can determine what they can and can’t do. Midoriya is in the unenviable position of having just received his quirk, and so far only used it at either 0% or 100%. He has to get through eight physical tests (the same ones all Japanese students take, only use of quirks is permitted) and not end up last, lest he get expelled on the first day.

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Aizawa’s perspective is no harsher or unfairer than reality, in which a villain or disaster can strike at any time, and won’t wait for you to master your quirk. You’ve gotta be ready yesterday for what could happen today. Fortunately, being pushed into a corner, Midoriya remembers all the supportive words of his allies, and manages to get through the tests by minimizing the damage done by One For All, localizing its power in his finger while throwing a ball.

With that throw, which leaves Midoriya down a finger but otherwise in fine shape, he proves to Aizawa that he does have potential; and that UA High is the perfect venue to cultivate and realize that potential. We also learned that Bakugo still things something underhanded happened to get Deku enrolled, while we were introduced to the powers of some of Midoriya’s many classmates. All in all, a serviceable, if somewhat sparse, introduction to his hero academia.

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My Hero Academia – 04

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When the mock battle begins, an overwhelmed Izuku falls far behind immediately, covering ground already covered by other potential heroes, and getting even more discouraged when they hear them pop off their point totals. The one time he comes across a functioning one-point villain, another examinee takes it out and thanks him for being a diversion.

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But then the “true test” begins when the zero-point obstacle appears: a colossal robot that everyone starts to run away from except Izuku. He stays put, eyes full of tears, with almost no time left to score any points, and spots the nice girl who stopped him from falling, trapped under wreckage directly in the advancing zero-point’s path.

Izuku runs towards the danger and puts his life and limbs on the line to stop the juggernaut—and he does, when his All Might powers finally surface and he delivers a SMASH punch that not only cripples it, but three of his four limbs as well. Watching them flop about in the wind, I knew something wasn’t right.

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Izuku’s saved form falling to his death by the girl, who uses her antigrav abilities again to save him, but she can’t save him from the fact he has zero vilain points in the mock battle, which means failure…IF villain points were the only points being awarded. They are not.

Izuku ended up scoring sixty “rescue points”, because after all, being a hero is about more than just defeating villains. Izuku demonstrated the heroic instinct of self-sacrifice, and also inspired others to act in kind. In fact, the girl, one Uraraka Ochako, tried to transfer some of her points to Izuku for saving her, but such a transfer wasn’t necessary because Izuku already had more than enough points to pass.

So it wasn’t just a test of speed and strength, but of all the intangible qualities that make a hero a hero. The other things will come in time for Izuku (I like his symbol of a glass just barely containing its contents due to surface tension crackin under the stress). Izuku’s body may have bent, but it did not break. And now he has a genuine friend-int-the-making in Ochako.

His hero academia is off to an auspicious start, and as tough practical exam episodes go, this one felt nimble, quick, and satisfying, especially at the end when Izuku’s mom reacts to his grin of elation with the same soppy tears we usually see on his face, showing us where he got that tendency from.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 06

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Another week, another annoying obstacle to the nice thing Shirayuki and Zen have going on. Also, another week of the two of them not quite sure what that nice thing is, allowing people like Zen’s older brother, First Prince Izana, and others attempt to dictate what it is for them. But it’s pretty plain to see in their first enocunter this week: both are a little upset about the prospect of not being able to see each other as much due to their busy work schedules. They just aren’t able to fully express it.

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Izana comes in (where’s he been, anyway), and starts immediately throwing his weight around, playing power games like showing up without warning, barring Zen’s path with guards in his own castle, quizzing him on the changes in the castle he’s made, summoning him by wax-sealed invitation, and, of course, secretly letting Shirayuki listen in on their meeting before dismissing Zen.

All these games aside, he seems committed to security of Clarines, which means when his little brother invites a foreign girl into the palace, there’s either some definable value to that girl, or Zen is an unstable, “good-for-nothing” prince who is threatening his position and the kingdom he represents. At least, that seems to be Izana’s take.

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Shirayuki, when asks, can’t guarantee she can put into words what her value is to Zen, and again Izana capitalizes on the couple’s lack of eloquence on the matter. He also must have  a pretty good information network, because he invites Prince Raj to the palace for a state dinner…and also, perhaps, to hear another perspective on this Zen-Shirayuki business.

Raj, who is still weary of even speaking of Shirayuki after Zen threatened him, doesn’t appreciate the awkward position he’s in, and while he says what Zen wants—he supported the girl coming to Clarines—he also improvises, adding that she’s Zen’s fiancee.

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Zen drags Raj away to “get on the same page”, but his (lack of) explanation to Raj—they’re not fiancees, nor lovers; at least not yet—is hardly satisfying. Kind of like this episode. All the while, poor Shirayuki is listening in on men talking about her. She’s stopped on the side of the road she’s traveling, wondering if the way ahead is barricaded by these men.

But when she recalls what she said to Zen earlier—about wanting to see how he lives—and how he responded that he wanted her there to see him live—it looks like she’s finally able to find the words she needs to say to him to get on the same page themselves. Alas, when she runs to where she last saw Zen talking to Lord Haruka, he’s nowhere to be found.

Hopefully as the story progresses, the show won’t continue to use incidents of bad timing and missed connections to further bar progress in their relationship, or Shirayuki’s journey of self-actualization.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 05

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This week offers plenty of opportunities for Shirayuki to get kidnapped again, only for Zen to save her, but wisely avoids taking those roads. Instead, Shirayuki comes back from her solitary trip to town without incident, and Zen brings her to a fort where a mysterious sickness is sapping everyone of energy, even her.

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And as Zen tells her when she determines the cause of the sickness—toxic firewood—I’m in full agreement with him that Shirayuki is so damn cool. She and Zen make a great team, because they complement each others’ unique skills. Zen is the brawn and access when necessary; Shirayuki has the medicinal know-how and determination to restore the entire fort’s garrison in no time at all, earning all the soldiers’ gratitude and respect in the process.

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But not everything’s peachy. It turns out Shirayuki’s worst enemy this week is her own inability to take a damn break. She loses her balance on many occasions, even after the firewood mystery is solved, and Obi has to leap in to save her from taking a serious tumble, disobeying orders to stay away from her.

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Rather than blame Shirayuki for working too hard for too long, Zen blames himself as leader for not seeing her fatigued state sooner. He puts her to bed (once her eyes are closed, it takes less than three seconds for her to thankfully conk out), then takes care of the bandits who stole the forts weapons after drugging the soldiers.

He returns to her bedside to thank her for her hard work with a tender kiss to her hand; very princely. He also tells her never to keep quiet when she’s weak from overwork and insufficient sleep. He’ll certainly keep a sharper eye, but Zen needs her to take care of herself, not just everyone else. Her first herbalist mission outside of Wistal is both a resounding success and a learning experience.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 04

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What makes Shirayuki such a delight to watch isn’t just her striking hair, but her warm, striking, magnetic personality, and the fact that she’s not perfect, or even fully formed; she’s still searching and exploring, working hard and learning something new every day, picking up stones in sequence as she paves her chosen path.

And yet, it’s not a path she needs or wants to walk entirely alone. Zen may be a prince, but first and foremost he’s a friends, and someone who can calm her of exam nerves simply by resting her hand on his…and certainly not by using his position to get her a job.

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This week Shirayuki plunges into the world of court herbalism, first by meeting the castle’s chief herbalist, Garak, and then being given a small garden to tend and test her skills. She wants to do this right; gain the position with her own strength.

Zen, who as we know is under Shirayuki’s spell (who wouldn’t be?), is worried about her, so when he sees lights on in a greenhouse, he checks it out and they end up together, just before some unseen person locks them in together. His amplified concern is clear when she mentions a toxin in the water and he grabs her as if to save her life (the toxin isn’t harmful to humans).

What could have been a silly conceit, or an attempt to sabotage her exam through the appearance of nepotism, turns out to be something far more enticing, because Shirayuki changes the tone of the situation. Whether they’re locked in or not, she’s detected a toxin in the aqueducts that could kill everything in the garden if she doesn’t act quickly, even if it means having Zen help her. She simply rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.

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The sun rises, and with it comes Garak to unlock the door with her assistant. She’s surprised to find Zen there, but when she questions why Shirayuki let him help, she frames it as a matter of his highness’ safety. She also asks Zen why he doesn’t just snap his fingers and make Shirayuki is a court herbalist with his authority.

Garak probably already knows the answer that Zen gives her: that would defeat the purpose. Shirayuki doesn’t mind the occasional helping hand, but she won’t have someone doing all the work paving the road ahead; that’s hers to pave.

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Garak is impressed with Shirayuki’s skills, diligence, and I daresay wit, and passes her, making her officially an apprentice court herbalist. She’s paired with her superior Ryuu, who despite being a socially awkward little boy, is the herbalist version of Natural Police. 

Ryuu also tends to go with the flow, so when a patient comes in and refuses to be treated by Ryuu (fearing he’ll be made a test subject), Shirayuki wastes no time putting the asshat in his place, showing us her short temper for baseless conjecture, ignorance, and general prejudice. Fire-kissed hair, indeed!

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It doesn’t just hurt Shirayuki that the guy said those terrible things about Ryuu, but that Ryuu put up no defense. She’s been actively fighting for her freedom and her own kind of life for so long, she herself is ignorant to those like Ryuu who are more water than fire. When Shirayuki calls Ryuu “foolish” for telling her to let it go; it happens all the time, Ryuu is shaken, afraid he’s already ruined another relationship.

Still, the waterworks do come for Shirayuki when Garak, realizing she’s with Zen more than any of the other apprentices, decides to give her Zen’s medical records, so she knows what to do in “emergencies.” This isn’t something often given to a prospective girlfriend, but her position calls for it.

While I’m sure Garak probably saw it as a prudent, practical gesture, when Shirayuki reads through the journals intricately documenting the suffering Zen went through to work up his resistance to poisons, she is thoroughly shaken. And with good reason: she truly does care about Zen, and it’s more than fealty.

It turns out to be Ryuu, who sees her crying, who runs to Zen pleading for him to help her. Ryuu may have thought it was all his fault, but Zen knows that it’s his own. He also knows that Shirayuki isn’t going to turn her back at those records, but they might go down a little easier if their subject is right there beside her, alive and well.

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That’s exactly what Shirayuki needed, and when she returns to Ryuu both apologetic and grateful, everything turns out to be fine. And with Shirayuki smiling brightly, practically, glowing in the daylight, Ryuu not only betrays a blush, but stealthily confesses his affection for his new apprentice by telling her the plant that was the focus of her exam is his favorite because it’s “red and pretty.”

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 03

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As Shirayuki pays a visit to an overworked Zen and studies by his side as he catches up on some sleep, I’m reminded of a lovely scene from Whisper of the Heart in which the lead couple is simply quietly enjoying each other’s company in the library, exchanging looks of happiness and contentment. The connection is made stronger with orchestral music that calls to mind Nomi Yuji’s score from that film, one of my favorites.

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Things are peachy for Zen and Shirayuki…until, of course, they aren’t. Shirayuki isn’t kidnapped this week, but she is looked down upon by one of Zen’s liege lords, Haruka. A stern, authority and class-obsessed man, he will not tolerate Zen bringing in towngirls of low birth, and considers her hair color “vulgar”.

This guy has clearly painted a picture of a girl who wants to get something from the prince, and honestly believes he’s protecting the prince and his reputation, from her selfish feminine wiles. In other words…he’s a conclusion-jumping asshole.

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This asshole, and a lithe, ninja-like fellow named Obi he’s loosely allied with, conspire to keep Shirayuki out of the castle, but she manages to get back in before they warn the guards, to grab a book she forgot in the prince’s chambers. Once she realizes people who don’t speak for Zen and aren’t acting according to his will are messing with her, and her answer to that is to simply blow past them.

When Lord Haruka bars her way and tells her to leave, she invites him to join her to meet with Zen. He then draws his sword and names her an intruder…but asshole he may be, he doesn’t follow through on his threat to cut her. In fact, he seems downright flummoxed by Shirayuki’s utterly badass defiance. Despite having a sword in her face, she keeps advancing, until Haruka can only sheathe it, defeated.

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It is as Prince Zen told him: this girl is not the kind of girl to continually rely on the strength of others. She has her own strength, too, and she means to use it to become Court Herbalist so she can enter the gates of her own accord. She may be low-born (at least as far as we know), but Haruka saw a nobility in her resolve.

One could say her birth and her hair make Shirayuki someone who “makes enemies easily”, like Zen. But she couldn’t call Haruka an enemy, nor he her, because he didn’t know her, or what she was really doing in the castle. Now he knows: Shirayuki is a resolute badass.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 02

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The OP presages Shirayuki as a Court Herbalist of Clarines, but we’re not quite there yet; this episode opens on her job hunt as a new resident of Wistal, capital of Clarines. She learns there’s an annual exam to become a Court Herbalist, but she wants to educate herself about the herbs of Clarines, knowing that good medicines need good herbs need good land.

Prince Zen is delighted to get out of stodgy paperwork when she visits the palace, and he escorts her to the dock where she’ll travel to the mountain isle Koto to explore, but not before Zen remarks how their desire to learn more about their world and become better at what they do is very similar.

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But when two townsfolk talk about how unusual Shirayuki’s hair is (and what it could make them if sold), along with Shirayuki saying “she’ll be back by nightfall”, it’s pretty much a given that things aren’t going to turn out peachy for her on this trip. Sure enough, she’s captured by a young rogue named Mihaya, who—you guessed it—wants to make money off that hair.

Just when I was hoping Shirayuki would attempt escape as soon as she could, she does just that, sawing at the ropes, locking Mihaya in the cell, then using her knowledge of herbs to make a smoke that temporarily paralyzes him. This captivity represents a roadblock on Shirayuki’s self-decided road, with a detour to a road not of her choosing. And she simply isn’t gonna have it.

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She makes it out of the seemingly abandoned, labyrinthine castle, only to get cornered once more by Mihaya, who is now pissed off. He then gives her patter about how he’ll sell her to someone rich so she can live a comfy life of luxury. Unlike the last time she was kidnapped (by Prince Raj), she doesn’t give in, replying with a “Fuck That Noise” expression.

For this defiance, she’s about to take whatever punishment Mihaya is about to dish out, when Zen appears in the nick of time, which is just when we thought he’d arrive. Yes, the guy is rescuing the girl again, but Shirayuki is hardly a damsel in distress, demonstrating she did everything an unarmed person could have done in her situation. Also, she made things a lot easier for Zen by escaping from the castle.

I’d like to think if Zen hadn’t been able to make it, Shirayuki would have kept fighting Mihaya until she either escaped his clutches or he let her go out of exasperation. That’s how much faith I place in Shirayuki’s strength and resolve to travel her own path. She’s a fighter. I really like her!

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Zen also makes it clear, he’s saving Shirayuki not so he can use her as a tool, or a means to recoup a lost family fortune like Mihaya (I don’t particularly care about his story, he abducted someone, he deserves prison), but because he considers himself Shirayuki’s friend. And friends help their friends out when they’re in trouble.

Sure, I can see things being taken further than friendship, but like Shirayuki’s appointment to the Court, that’s yet to come. For now, Shirayuki resolves to watch her back, as her hair really does cause trouble; yet I like how there’s no discussion of dyeing it. Shirayuki isn’t trying to hide, she’s trying to better herself and live a free and fulfilling life doing what she loves.

Even before her trusty friends show up, those who threaten he freedom will find her a wily, resourceful handful. Bottom line: don’t mess with someone who doesn’t want to be messed with…and knows fifty ways to poison you!

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