The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 12 (Fin) – Something That Ended Ages Ago

The end of what I hope to be only the first of a split-cour series starts with the final boss battle between the unlikely but awesome duo of Menou and Ashuna and Centipede Pandemonium, whom I’ll henceforth call Centipan. The cent- is key, since around 100 people were sacrificed to create Centipan, which means she’ll have to be killed at least that many times to be defeated.

Unfortunately, every segment of Centipan that is broken off goes running off into the city to wreak havoc—this is Chaos Pure Concept, after all—forcing Ashuna to break off in order to save the people. Menou’s piss-poor ether capacity once again rears its ugly head, as Centipan relieves her of her Scripture and trusty dagger. That’s when Ashuna tosses her giant sword Menou’s way, since she can destroy the segments with her bare fists.

Menou swinging Ashuna’s sword around is #Goals, but the weapon quickly drains what little ether she has left. Fortunately, soon after telling Akari that there’s a way to go back to Japan, the other ‘Moni leaves Akari alone and flies off on wings made of shadow. This leaves Akari free to join the battle with Menou exactly when Menou needs her (and her ether) the most.

While the train episode was the only other time I can think of that Akari and Menou joined forces, it’s not “ticklish” to Akari this time, as the two simply combine forces to create a massive blade of flame that obliterates Centipan with a single satisfying swing.

All that’s left of Moni is her quickly dissolving head, but that’s enough of her to give Menou one last piece of advice: the Sword of Salt she once visited wth Flare? That’s powerful enough to kill any Pure Concept, even Akari. But true to her chaotic nature, Moni tells Menou this knowing that Menou isn’t totally 100% sure she wants to kill Akari, even if it’s her duty and probably the best thing for both Akari and the world writ large.

Ashuna congratulates Menou on her victory and decides to “let it slide”, “it” being the fact that Akari is an otherworlder. As for Moni, another version of her in a spooky graveyard resurrects Manon. At first Manon is confused why Moni would do this, she then remembers her mother telling her how she had a sister who was full of energy and loved movies. Moni was once just an ordinary movie buff from Japan, and she may now not remember who she was or that she had a sister. And yet she saved her sister all the same.

With the big battle taken care of not long after the halfway point of the episode, there’s adequate breathing room for some epilogues. A rapidly recovering Momo gets some quality time with Menou, who tells her about the Salt Sword. Menou thanks Pastor Sicilia, and as she walks back to her inn contemplates two different roads: one where she executes Akari with the Salt Sword, and the other where she discovers a way to “fix” Akari so she won’t destroy the world and herself if left unchecked.

And then, of course, there are the sweet, sisterly scenes between Menou and Akari, who greets her with a big hug and probably only grudgingly agrees to sleep in a separate bed from her. When Menou starts to say something like Akari is her…something, Akari is very vexed by her simply trailing off, gets out of bed and tussles her until Menou says she’s her “source of stress.”

The next morning, Menou and Akari take the first step out of Libelle and head back on the road to the “Sanctuary” hand-in-hand. The previous night, Momo resolved to execute Akari in Menou’s place, knowing that the more time she spends wth “Boobalicious”, the less inclined she’ll be to murder her.

The parting mic drop belongs to Flare, sitting on a throne and planning to kill her apprentice “for the zillilonth time”, crystalizing the reality that she’s been interfering in Akari’s attempts to get Menou to execute her by murdering Menou herself. It’s an enticing place to pause and hopefully not end, as there’s tons of material for this story to continue.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 11 – It’s Kyou Ethnina’s World, We’re Just Living In It

The Shield Hero Gang is finally reunited, only with Filo sporting a steep decline in attack power due to her change of species and Raphtalia donning an adorable miko outfit. Kizuna also reunites with her comrades L’Arc, Therese, and Glass for the first time in years.

The warm feelings of those reunions are chilled somewhat by the sight of Kazuki, whose two improbably loyal and devoted aides are trying to stich him back together. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun and his top half ends up separated from his bottom half, hopefully fatally.

Oh, and Kyou Ethnina also has an improbably loyal and devoted aide? A samurai girl who is going to kill his enemies? (Throws hands up) Ok, Shield Hero, why not?!

Glass is so happy and relieved to see Kizuna she doesn’t want to stop hugging her, even if Kizuna finds it hard to breath; it’s Peak Endearing Glass, though you could argue she had a lot more edge when she was a baddie. The group ends up in Sikul Castle, where we learn…L’Arc is the young king of Sikul. The hits keep coming!

Naofumi, Kizuna, and their super-sized mega-party are determined to kick Kyou’s ass, but they need equipment. Kizuna hits up her longtime midriff-bearing blacksmith Ramona and gives her the unenviable task of doing a week’s worth of work in a night’s time.

After placing the order, the group is suddenly ambushed by Kyou’s samurai aide, who is determined to end all of them, scolds them for outnumbering her, and bears a creepy sword with an eyeball.

Needless to say, while she has no shortage of spirit, the girl is no match for the combined power of Naofumi and Kizuna’s parties, and when she’s disarmed, the sword takes on a mind of its own, restrains her with tendrils, and seemingly sucks up her energy.

Therese, L’Arc, Kizuna, Naofumi, and Glass all work together to separate the sword from the girl and send it high up into the sky, where it self-destructs, taking with it the girl’s undying loyalty for the guy who almost blew her the ef up!

Her name is Yomogi, and as befits a hero who cannot kill another person, Kizuna decides to take her to her party’s home and headquarters, where she herself hasn’t been in years. Naofumi protests such light treatment of an ally of Kyou, but doesn’t stop Kizuna from doing things her way.

Sending everyone else away to prepare for the fight with Kyou, Kizuna removes Yomogi’s restraints, asks her to sit down and relax, and serves her tea. In exchange, she learns that Yomogi and Kyou are childhood friends, that he was always a little off, but apparently in a less evil way at first, such that even someone with a rock for a brain like Yomogi was drawn to the knowledge he possessed and dispensed.

However, in the midst of her discussion of her childhood friend, Yomogi concludes that if Kyou has indeed gone off the deep end behind her back, then she’ll help stop him, while also sharing in whatever punishment is chosen for him, even death. While I doubt Kizuna will take her up on that, I’m sure she’s happy for another strong fighter on her side.

Alas, the next day when the mega-party picks up their completed equipment from Ramona’s, Kyou’s big scheme kicks into gear. The countdown rapidly drops to zero, Waves of Catastrophe appear in the skies, and Naofumi and Kiuna’s parties are separated via warping.

Whatever semblance of positive feelings Yomogi might’ve had for her childhood friend are dissolved in the midst of this spectacle. All this time she thought he was occasionally going a little too far in order to stop the waves, but his actual goal was to summon them. Dude’s gotta go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Pandemonium is the ultimate agent and wielder of chaos. None of the Jokers have anything on this mirthful, pint-sized Giallo buff. Haruno Anzu typically voices her with a singsong child’s meter with a healthy share of “Maa’s!”, which rides the line between ironically effective and annoying, but also makes it that much creepier when ‘Moni speaks more quietly and seriously.

While Menou expends all of her ether on a mere warm-up fight with Moni, Akari seemingly heals Momo with her power, which made me think Momo would possibly play a role in the battle. Ashuna also gets reports of around a hundred people in town suddenly melting into red goo, making the princess primed to get involved in whatever’s up on the island.

I’ll tell you what: nothing good! Giant four-eyed rats with human legs sticking out of their backs? No freakin’ thank you! But it’s par for the course for the B-movie-obsessed Moni. She’s not trying to take over the world. She’s just trying to be as entertained as she can possibly be watching humans try their absolute best…then die horribly.

When Menou does run out of her own paltry stores of ether, Moni shoves her out of the castle with a giant hand, but that’s when Ashuna officially joins the battle, pretending she’s meeting Menou for the first time and offering her own seemingly unlimited stores of ether for Menou, who is far better-equipped to use it.

The duo of Menou and Ashuna proves extremely successful, at least at first, as Menou connects the earthly and heavenly veins, builds a massive Pseudo-Cathedral atop the castle isle, and sucks Moni into a bloody singularity, then an endless loop of detainment. Logically, the battle should be over. It’s not.

That’s because with Moni around, chaos reigns. Kill her once or a hundred times, it may not even be the real one you’re killing. Moni not only survives, but summons a gigantic eldritch abomination from the fog in order to show just how tough a cookie she is.

The kaiju obliterates the castle isle in one blow (which is sad, that was a hell cool-looking isle; reminded me of Ico) but the dashing Princess Ashuna saves Menou with a princess carry—just before that, she showed genuine affection and concern for her reluctant bae Momo.

So the giant monster is out there, but Menou soon determines it’s not a real threat; it’s still basically trapped in its current location by the fog, and that fog soon starts advancing on both the monster and Moni. While all this is going on, Akari is kept from joining Menou and Ashuna in battle by another Moni, who prefers mind games to blood and gore.

Moni felt like chatting with a fellow Japanese. Moni knows Akari can only use her Pure Concept of Time so much before it starts to degrade her soul into nothingness. There’s also the side effect of losing your memories from your previous life, but Akari, who was bullied at school in her old life, is only concerned with keeping her memories of Menou.

Akari destroys Moni with one shot from her fingertip, but Moni soon comes back and continues to mess with Akari, telling her that there’s a reason she’s failed so many times. Someone more powerful is impeding her efforts—someone with access to something called the “Astral Archive”, an entity composed of all the collected memories of the planet, the source of the power of ether, and the origin of the lord written in the scriptures of the Faust.

In other words, it’s probably Flare. So as Moni threatens to wear out her welcome by transforming into a CGI centipede girl (which while creepy and menacing, lacks visual mass and weight and is thus less impressive than the kaiju she summoned), she’s looking more and more like an intermediate boss on the way to the true big bad: Menou’s mordant mentor.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 10 – From Letdown to Taboo

Manon isn’t that surprised or intimidated by Akari Prime’s time magic, while it’s Akari who keeps getting surprised by this current iteration of the world. Manon was the child of a Lost One, a Japanese woman who was not intentionally summoned but simply appeared. Lord Libelle, Manon’s father, married the woman to bolster his power with her pure concept, but ended up never forcing her to use it, because he fell in love with her.


Manon is right that it’s a lovely story, but it has a cruel ending, as one day Flare executed Manon’s mom right in front of her, and didn’t even bother to kill her too. Manon grew up with everyone having great expectations for the child of a Lost One, only for her to have no magical power whatsoever. Branded a great letdown, Manon became mired in a life of uselessness an ennui…until she decided to embrace the dark side and become taboo.

This is why Manon doesn’t fear Akari in the least, nor Menou when she shows up to save Akari from certain death by Chaos magecraft. Not because she’s particularly powerful—Menou basically freezes her with her gaze then lops her arm off—but because, in short, Manon isn’t greedy. She’s had fun as a rebel and a taboo, but ultimately she’s just a vessel and sacrifice for something much, much worse…the little girl in the Iron Maiden who almost blew Momo up.

This girl is creepy and frightening as fuck, successfully toeing the line between twee and terrifying. Menou slits her throat, and she simply sheds her old skin and pops out of her dead body good as new. Then she twists her own head around dozens of times and stretches it vertically until it pops off to create a fountain of blood.

Out of that blood, multiple eldritch beasts emerge, and feast upon her corpse. Then she pops out of one of the monster’s mouths, once again whole. It’s an atmosphere-upsetting enough incident for Ashuna, still getting over Momo standing her up (though to be fair, Momo is bedridden), to sense from the mainland.

Yes, the girl herself is the Human Error Pandemonium, having escaped her prison of fog and is now ready to finish off the world she almost destroyed once before. Like Menou’s conundrum with Akari, how can you kill someone that won’t die when you kill them? We’ll surely find out in what’s looking like a season-capping final battle that’s sure to include more than just Menou as it progresses.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 09 – A Whole Different Animal

The moment Naofumi materializes in Sikul, he wants to go right back to Mikakage. Where Raphtalia is concerned, all self-preservation goes out the window. Fortunately, Kizuna can’t send them back, as the hourglass on the other side was shut off. But she can introduce Naofumi to a very useful friend.

Kizuna was trapped in the labyrinth for years, right? Because the reactions to her return make it seem like she was only gone for a few weeks or months, tops. Her peers are also weary of a hero from another world, fearing he’s come to destroy their world.

Oh and Kizuna has a blue penguin shikigami named Chris because…why not, I guess??

Back to Kizuna’s useful friend, Ethnobalt…which is a naaaaame. With a drop of Naofumi’s blood and a catalyst (some of Raphtalia’s hair), he can help him create his own shikigami—one that like Raphtalia is a raccoon, but frankly isn’t as cute as the genuine article to these eyes.

Have I mentioned that Ethnobalt (sigh) is the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? And that instead of the wielder of a pocket watch, he has a “boat” that can grow to the size of a Final Fantasy-style airship (indeed, it looks inspired by the Fahrenheit).

Ethnobalt helps Naofumi out and asks nothing in return; he’s just happy to be useful to his friend Kizuna and her friends. That makes him more of a device than a character, but no matter; he’s able to warp them to Raybul, where both Filo and Glass are currently located.

They soon find Filo, who is being held captive by a disreputable showman along with scores of other magical animals. Filo is notably also not a filolial in this world, because that creature doesn’t exist here. Naofumi initially wants to kill her captor on the spot, but Rishia’s cooler head prevails, and they free Filo without incident that night.

Filo is clearly traumatized by the situation, though when her captor first said she was going to “make a lot of money” for him I immediately assumed he was going to prostitute her out to customers. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but there was a distinct lack of peril and suspense to her rescue.

Despite camping in the forest for the night, Naofumi, Filo, Rishia and Kizuna return to town and immediately find wanted posters of themselves. Fortunately, the likenesses are vague at best. Then Naofumi feels what I’ll describe as a “disturbance in the force”, and suddenly Raphtalia’s stats disappear from his HUD.

The raccoon shikigami Filo names “Raph-chan” is still kicking, however, so the real Raph should be fine. That doesn’t mean she’s comfortable, however, as after the credits we see she’s in chains and has been taken to what I’m assuming to be the arctic stronghold of the Katana Hero, since that’s the name of the next episode.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 08 – Your Sword Till the End

I have to say, I’m really enjoying this more semi-episodic Shield Hero. Last week’s escape from the Infinite Labyrinth was a true bottle episode, while this one expands on Kizuna’s world as well as her own abilities, that haven’t dulled a bit in the years she’s been imprisoned. This week there’s another definite goal: reach the Dragon Hourglass, which in this world serves as a warping point for Heroes.

But wisely this episode starts out with the basics: they need money for food, a roof over their heads, and supplies. Kizuna describes the various races of her world, one of which is Glass’s Spirit People. Naofumi just happens to have a supply of soul-soothing potion that doesn’t exist in this world, so he puts his merchant skills to good us and sells them off to the highest bidder.

It’s a team effort, with Naofumi, Raphtalia, Rishia and Kizuna all doing their parts to ensure they sell all the potion for as much money as possible, which they then spend on new, more location-appropriate threads and gear. I like the new classical Japanese looks. Their day is darkened by the appearance of a “genuis mage” who has figured out how to use the Dragon Hourglasses to warp even though he’s not a Hero.

This guy, Kazuki, reminds Naofumi of Kyou, and doesn’t like him one bit right off the bat. Fortune smiles on his party, however, as a blizzard gives them cover for an easy infiltration of the capital’s central fortress, which contains the Hourglass they need to warp to Sikul.

But while getting in is easy, finding the Hourglass proves difficult, and the fortress is full of dead ends, traps, and a huge number of guards. While Kizuna can’t harm anyone with her hunting sword, she can damage their surroundings that indirectly neutralize the guards.

But there are a lot of guards, which means eventually the party has to split in two groups to lessen their numbers. Turns out this is just another trap, as Naofumi and Raph walk right into the Hourglass chamber only to be quickly surrounded by guards, led by Kazuki and his two personal bodyguards. Taking after Kizuna, Naofumi uses his non-offensive shield’s ability to throw the guards aside.

Kizuna and Rishia then rendezvous with Naofumi and Raph, and Kizuna uses her Hero status to activate the warp. Everyone starts to glow yellow, and it looks like everyone is on their way to safety and the next adventure…but then Raphtalia stops glowing. Kyou, the architect of this latest trap, remotely cackles and taunts Naofumi, saying he’ll be taking Raph to his lab for experiments.

Kizuna can’t stop the warping, which means all Naofumi can do is watch and wait helplessly until he’s taken away from Raphtalia. For her part, Raph puts on a brave face, grateful that she was small so Naofumi could pat her on the head and carry her. She vows to be his sword to the end, and charges at the guards as he and the others warp out.

Filo having been separated from the party last week was one thing, but she’s always felt more like a mascot and strategic weapon than an actual character. There’s a lot more meat to Naofumi and Raphtalia’s history together, and seeing them suddenly separated like this was a true gut-punch, not to mention cementing Kyou as an uber-evil big bad.

But while losing Raph must be crushing blow to Naofumi—he may even summon that hate and anger Ost helped him let go of because of this—at the end of the day we have a satisfying, at times heartwarming and thrilling episode with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I have no idea what comes next, but I can’t wait!

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 02 – Do It, Then Think Later

Remember when the latest season of TenSura started with a bunch of long, boring meetings? Well, in the first half or so of this episode Shield Hero takes the same tack, putting Naofumi and Queen Mirellia in a room full of crotchety generals bickering over who should take command or lead the forces against the rampaging Spirit Tortoise. It’s all…a bit dry?

It seems more fun outside as Filo and Rishia are joined by Elrasla, noted tough old broad, and Eclair, whose dignity and decency I admire even as I rack my brain trying to figure out who voices her (I’m sure ANN will list it eventually). They’re basically at the kids table on standby while the brass talks things out.

That brass is soon joined by the same woman voiced by Hanazawa Kana who asked Naofumi to please kill her last week before suddenly disappearing. We learn her name is Ost Hourai, and while everyone knows her as the concubine of the now-deceased king of the Tortoise Kingdom, reveals that she’s actually one of the Tortoise’s familiars in human form.

She was created to seduce her way to the highest levels of human political power, and then use that power to get them to start wars. The Spirit Tortoise, ya see, uses human souls to stop the Waves. But someone has gone and unsealed the Tortoise itself, and its resulting rampage is not by choice.

Ost is there to help in any way she can, but rather hilariously, none of the advice she offers is anything anyone in the room doesn’t already know. I love how offbeat and quirky she is, it really spices up the otherwise dull meeting scenes (as does the Kevin Penkin score, as always). Also nice is Raphtalia meeting Naofumi on a moonlit bridge that night, telling him if the other generals will follow a good plan, they just need to come up with one.

Naofumi thinks he has one, and will utilize the unique qualities of the various allied kingdoms to pull it off. Manpower, siege machines, mages, and explosives, there’s a wealth of resources with which he will stop, pin down, and eventually behead the Spirit Tortoise. Everyone pitches in, even Rishia and Ost pulling Tortoise research duty at the library.

One night while Naofumi’s suddenly much bigger party is gathereda round a fire, Ecliar mentions that she brought some new weapons and gear from Elhart in Melromarc, including a new sword for Raph, a new gauntlet for Filo…and a stat-boosting Filo mascot suit for Rishia, which is pretty adorable.

It’s while she’s in that bird suit that Ost picks up on Rishia being in love with the Bow Hero, and encourages her to “get intimate as soon as possible” and not overthink things. Honestly I can’t imagine what Rishia sees in that stuck-up prick, but hey, you can’t choose who ya love!

While a bit stronger than last week owing to Ost’s weirdness (and Eclair’s profound uprightness), this was still a table-setting episode packed with exposition and information leading up to the trip to the Tortoise-beheading fireworks factory…and is thus scored accordingly.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 03 – Wonderful First Time

Lugh’s very first magic lesson with his new mentor Dia goes awry when Dia, unaware of just how much goddamn mana her student possesses, tells him to put as much as he can in one of her family’s Materia-like Fahr Stones. He does so, and it quickly turns into a magical bomb that shatters every window in the Tuatha De mansion. Even so, his parents aren’t angry, they’re proud and excited.

If this were the soul of Rudeus Greyrat, not an old grizzled assassin in Lugh’s body, there might be ample potential for pervy unpleasantness (especially considering Lugh is seven and Dia ten). Fortunately, there’s none of that; even when Dia decides to sleep with Lugh, it’s no big deal. When she teaches him mana conversion for his “first time”, it’s oddly intimate, but ultimately pure.

Another common pitfall for a dynamic like this is to assume that in addition to the young callow student being attracted to his pretty older teacher, the two always have to be bickering or competing. Instead, Lugh and Dia collaborate equally, with Dia bringing her knowledge of the spells of this world to the table and Lugh applying his ability to synthesize his own spells. Together, the two literally make gold out of thin air.

Two weeks pass, and Dia is feeling sad about having to leave, as there’s nothing more she can teach him. So in addition to gifting her with an impossibly sharp beta titanium knife, Lugh earnestly promises her that if she even needs him, he’ll go to where she is without fail. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but lest we forget, they’re probably share a father, and kids always bond faster than adults.

With the pure, charming innocence of Dia departed for her home, Lugh’s dad admits that despite only being seven, Lugh is ready to learn more about the family business. To whit: Lugh takes him to a prison full of death row inmates from around the kingdom who are there for the purposes of experimentation in the service of further honing their assassination skills.

When Lugh asks why his parents didn’t simply raise him to be an unfeeling killing machine, Cian’s answer is both profound and obvious: because while they are assassins (and damned good ones), they’re people, not tools. In contrast to his previous life, Lugh must use his own humanity in addition to knives and guns to optimize his assassination skills.

The final three minutes turn the chipper magical training nature of the epiode to that point on its head, as Cian orders Lugh to make his first kill. The convict is seemingly scared out of her mind and tearfully begs Lugh not to kill her, but Lugh doesn’t shrink from his duty, lopping off a hand with his own titanium blade and telling her she’ll die a relatively peaceful death.

This draws out the true criminal, who is not scared of dying and curses Lugh to be sent to a hell full of demons. To this, Lugh responds that that might be a nice change of pace next time he dies. This is dark, good stuff. Its consistent, sincere, and serious tone (matching our protagonist’s demeanor without his adult voice intruding upon his new world) more than makes up for its merely adequate visuals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 03 – Off the Path of Blood, On the Path of…COOKIEEES!!!

This week’s Shin no Nakama takes place entirely in the present day, but it doesn’t get off to a strong start when Red (and the camera) gazes a bit too long on Rit’s bazongas spilling forth from her ‘jammies. I mean for real, I thought my player had frozen! Fortunately, the rest of the episode is a lot less leery.

I have a bit of a problem with how easily Red ended up living with a literal warrior princess who has basically already made it quite clear she loves the guy. Heck, you can love whoever you want for whatever reason, but Red didn’t really do anything to engender such undying love from Rit. The flashback ep help explain their friendship, but not their sudden fauxmance.

Despite this, I can’t help but love watching these too together. Whether Red is helping Tanta’s friend Al after a bullying incident, to simple scenes of Red and Rit having meals or enjoying his new nutritional biscuits, the two just work well together. There’s a difference between their mutual bashfulness around each other and outright pretending they don’t feel something for one another. Shin no Nakama exploits that intermediate space with aplomb.

Other than the morning pop-out, the episode doesn’t go in lame or predictable directions like Rit being awful at tending a shop (or cooking), or Red being pervy. Instead, when he lifts Rit up and spins her around, there’s a genuine innocence to it, along with unbridled joy. And Rit is just as happy to be spun as Red is to spin her. No sudden pull-back shots of the exterior where we hear a scream and a slap!

Also interesting is the brief but increasingly consequential cutaways to the Hero’s Party. As I suspected, the big dude and the knight dudette aren’t happy Ares unilaterally banished Gideon, and when the big dude decides he’s going to go off to find Gideon, he gets Ruti’s blessing. I’m glad the party isn’t just falling into lockstep behind Ares’ conniving, but I also don’t need Red returning to the party. I’m here for the slow life!

The World’s Finest Assassin – 02 – New World, Same Calling

This episode does away with both OP and ED to shove in as much material as possible about this new world and how our antihero will be living it. He agrees to the goddess’s proposal to kill the Hero before he goes insane and destroys the world, then picks out his five skills and elemental affinities. It’s honestly a bit pedestrian, as this lengthy first act of preparation can’t hide the fact it’s primarily exposition.

Our grizzled assassin is then transported to the womb of Esri Tuatha Dé, born, named Lugh by his father Cian, and declared the heir to the Tuatha Dé legacy…which just happens to be assassination. Seven years pass in this second act, which is just as well, as scenes of Lugh as a baby and toddler were going to be tedious. We see scenes of Lugh’s family of three’s happy life, including an extremely detailed explanation the nutritional benefits of rabbit stew.

We then get a look into the family’s seedy underbelly. Turns out that the public face of the Tuatha Dé clan is not of assassination, but medicine—they control both life and death, keeping the royals healthy while eliminating their enemies in the shadows. Lugh’s father doesn’t just teach him combat, but chemistry. He also performs ocular surgery that gives him Mystic Eyes, allowing him to see great distances clearly as well as visualize the mana emanating from every soul.

Lugh, no stranger to the field in which he is straining, only a stranger to the particular methods of this new world, impresses his parents to the point they hire someone to teach him how to wield magic far earlier than most children would. His instructor is someone we met last week: Dia, from a prominent family of mages. She may be tiny, but she’s no child, and one of the strongest five mages in the land. In other words, a perfect tutor for Lugh’s continued development.

Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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