Tenten Kakumei – 04 – Breaking the Mold

Anisphila, clearly sleep-deprived from making Euphyllia’s new magic sword, nods off in her lap for quite some time, and thanks her for it when she awakens. Euphie is just glad to be “somewhat useful”, unaware that she’s been Anis’ magicological muse for years.

Ilia, who continues to slay in every scene she’s in, scolds Anis for leaving herself so vulnerable “to the person she likes”, then lays into the princess for stinking and having messed up hair. It’s as if Ilia isn’t a maid at all, but the big sister Anis never had.

Euphie can’t help but feel smitten by Anis, who mistakes her for having suddenly come down with a cold. Into bed Euphie goes, and Nurse Anis prepares some medicine, even patting Euphie’s head like she’s her little sister. As Anis talks spiritedly about Arc-en-Ciel, Euphie simply watches her admiringly, as a beautiful bird that flies as far as it wants. Meanwhile, Euphie feels like a bird that just can’t stop falling.

She feels empty. Anis seems to sense this, and takes Euphie’s hand. Euphie asks what she should do; Anis of course says “whatever you want”. And if she doesn’t know what that is, that’s okay, they’ll take their time looking for that together. That’s when, after weaving her fingers into Euphie’s, Anis draws closer to Euphie, who starts to panic until it’s clear Anis is just touching her forehead to check for a fever. That negative space tho…

After a few moments like this, Euphie relaxes; she likes the feel of Anis’ warmth. She nods off, and when she wakes up, Anis is still there holding her hand as she sleeps, glowing in the sunlight, so bright and beautiful it makes Euphie’s chest ache.

Anis may have minced no words about her prospective romantic intentions with Euphie, but little by little Euphie is coming around to the fact that this girl is special, and makes her feel like no one else in the world ever has. That’s powerful, and I love how gently and poignantly the girls’ love is developing.

We briefly check in with Prince Algard, who is under house arrest after his little stunt. The head of the Ministry of the Arcane pays him a clandestine visit, no doubt to inform him of the appearance of the dragon in the cold open. Then we get right back to Euphyllia secretly watching Anis practice swordsmanship.

Ilia spots Euphie and tells her that the princess has taught herself most of her skills in battle, but then changes the subject to Euphie herself. As Euphie awkwardly follows Ilia as she does chores, Ilia asks her if she finds it hard to voluntarily do things outside her given role; her mold.

Euphie then states that she’d always worked towards becoming the best duke’s daughter and future queen she could be; an ideal Ilia tells her defined her self-worth. Ilia too was once fitted into a predetermined mold, and even offered to an old, rich man for marriage.

That mold was shattered by none other than Anisphila, who took her in, and demanded not to be treated like a princess, but something like equals. Ilia adds that it’s okay for Euphie to worry, because Anis will see to it she has all the time she needs to figure things out.

This lovely heart-to-heart is interrupted by Anis boisterously rushing at them with News: there’s a stampede of monsters, caused by the appearance of a dragon—and she’s going to take it down! It’s the first Euphie is hearing that Anis is not only an adventurer, but a Gold-Ranked one at that. She’s utterly stupified that a princess, even a princess like Anis, could go off and battle monsters.

And yet, Euphie remembers that Anis is a bird who can fly as far as she wants, looks at Ilia, who wordlessly tells her there’s no talking Anis out of this, and tells Anis that she accepts her flying off into danger to battle a dragon…but she’s coming too! Considering she’s a magical genius and has Arc-en-Ciel, I have no doubt she’ll be able to contribute.

Anis and Euphie unknowingly steal a march on Prince Algard, who barges into a royal council meeting and declares to his father that he’ll slay the dragon if he can get what he wants—Lainie Cyan’s hand in marriage. He tells his father and his courtiers how he’s always heard people saying “if only” his sister was a man.

Orphans can tell that after Anis and Algard got along famously as little kids, a rift grew between them when Anis discovered magicology. The resentment and bitterness have been stewing within his only son. He also knows that Anisphila could most definitely assume the throne, and perhaps do a better job than Algard—but made a conscious choice to reject it for Algard’s sake.

But while Anis’ intentions were good and loving, a part of Algard must also feel patronized by his amazing big sister. So the king isn’t going to hold him back from trying to stand on his own two feet and prove himself. The only problem is, I seriously doubt he’ll get his chance at the dragon before Anis and Euphie take care of it.

After two episodes off it’s good to have Algard back in the mix. I still hate him for what he did to Euphyllia, but I also understand why he did it. I can also understand how he wants to be with the woman he loves, not the one chosen for him. He’s an ass, but he’s also a compelling character who wants to break out of his mold.  I can’t wait to see him, Anis, and Euphie in action—either together or at cross purposes.

Tenten Kakumei – 03 – So Far From Me

It is a crying shame that such an intelligent, capable, and beautiful young woman as Euphyllia finds herself in such an existential purgatory. She’s immediately sympathetic as someone whose life has taken such a sudden, sharp turn, she’s still recovering from the whiplash. This episode focuses on the young lady and the unmoored feeling that now suffuses her days.

There’s no morning bed talk between Euphie and Anis, as the latter had flown of on her broom at dawn. She reappears during Euphie’s breakfast, setting off the house alarm system she invented, and offers Euphie a chance to ride the broom. While Anis promises not to let go, she does so, and Euphie takes to the skies full of joy and excitement. It’s only when she realizes Euphie isn’t behind her that she comes crashing down.

It’s a fitting practical symbol of Euphie’s difficulty acclimating to the sudden freedom Prince Algard’s shunning and Princess Anis’ friendship has afforded her. Ilia, the not-so-secret MVP of the show so far, assures Euphie that Anis was once even more absurd, idiotic, and insane, while at the same time calling her duty to her mistress a perk.

Ilia tells Euphie if she “doesn’t like” the current arrangement, she should say so now and save both of them. But Euphie doesn’t dislike it, she simply doesn’t quite yet understand Anis, saying she feels “so far from me.” Iwami Manaka delivers this line with such longing and vulnerability, I almost felt like Honda Tooru had entered the room.

There’s some foreboding about Euphie’s audience that day, but once it takes place I see that I had nothing to worry about. Both her father Duke Grantz and King Orphans contine to be the Best Dads. Both the prince’s and his friends (themselves sons of powerful nobles) have one version of the story, while Euphyllia has another.

Neither man questions Euphie’s version of events nor blames her for giving Lainie Cyan advise. Euphie refrains from vilifying Algard, as even in the moment she was being insulted and humiliated, she felt more righteousness than malice, like the prince was yanking against that which tied him down.

In this scene Iwami Manaka once more shows how good she is, resigned as she is to the fact the prince’s heart never had any room for her, but that fact isn’t a source of great pain. What she truly feels is nothing; numbness. While her father meant well, telling her she doesn’t have to worry about the future, and there’s “nothing for her to do” might just hurt her more than Algard did.

When she pays a visit the royal servants who had been preparing her portrait and wedding gown, Ilia mentions how bad Anisphia is at maintaining her measurements, and how it requires constant mending of her dresses. At the same time, Ilia adds that Euphie is now free of corsets and bustiers. There’s nothing to tie her down. Nothing at all.

The next morning, a totally sleep-deprived Anisphia bursts into the dining room like a bat out of hell, wearing practical work clothes. She’s extremely excited to present Euphyllia with the magical tool she promised to make. It’s a sword that allows Euphie to summon and focus all of her various magical skills. Fittingly, Anis names the sword Arc-en-Ciel.

This is another subtle yet effective nod to Anis’ past life in our world, as it is a French word for rainbow. Rainbow also carries double meaning as a reflection of the many colors and kinds of magic Euphie can wield, as well as its status as an LGBT symbol. With Arc-en-CielAnis hoped to unlock Euphie’s smile, as well as to see her magic, which Anis considers more beautiful than anyone else’s.

So much great dialogue and vocal performances and nuanced facial expressions fills this episode, which is the most melancholy of the three and the closest look yet into Euphyllia’s personality and present situation. It all culminates when after Euphie’s badass demonstration, she and Anis sit under a tree together to rest.

Anis, who stayed up all night working on Arc-en-Cielnods off and rests her head on Euphie’s lap. But before she does, she says the sword and Euphie are a “perfect match” because Anis always thought she was “pretty as a rainbow”, and “so pretty it’s unfair.” It’s the first time anyone’s rested their head in her lap, and it makes Euphie cry.

She cries because she envies Anis so much for being who she is, and how badly she wants to be “even the least little bit” like her. But after harrowing days of being told she has nothing more to do, nothing to worry about, and nothing tying her down, here’s this feral princess literally weighing her down, keeping her tethered to the ground, with her. It’s something that must feel so good one could cry.

Euphie may still be overwhelmed by a personality so opposite hers, but at the end of the day, she has a good heart and kind soul just like Anis. In time she’ll surely feel more comfortable and more like she belongs. She may even find some of the Euphie she envies so rubbing off on her—and vice-versa. Freedom can be terrifying, so it’s best to have a guide.

The Fire Hunter – 01 (First Impressions) – A Girl and Not Her Dog

Before any narration, we’re thrust right into a battle in the forest, or rather the end of one. A hunter has killed a great black beast to protect a girl named Touko, but at the cost of his own life. His last words are to tell Touko the name of his dog: Kanata, who is wounded. Touko takes the dog, the hunter’s sickle and warding stone back home to her village.

It’s then we learn that the people of this world no longer use naturally-occurring fire; to do so would cause them to spontaneously combust. The fire they use is sourced from the beasts killed by fire hunters. Touko is also living with neighbors after a fire tore through the tiny village. Touko’s “sister” Rin rejects her as cursed.

Neither Kanata nor the hunter’s effects are Touko’s to keep. She must take them back to his family in the capital. To travel there she must board the collection truck that comes periodically to the town twice a year. None of this would have happened if Touko hadn’t entered the black forest, but her adoptive mother knows Touko did it for her sake: to find medicine for her eyes partially burned by the fire.

I’m glad for the little moment of tenderness between Touko and her de facto mom. This is a harsh world where every seemingly innocuous action could carry disastrous consequences that can affect the entire village. Touko has a good heart—and clearly good luck—but is regarded as a burden by her adoptive sister Rin: an extra body taking up space; an extra mouth to feed.

The heavily-armored collection train arrives and sets up a two-day bazaar, the village comes to life. The day both it and Touko depart it’s raining heavily, adding to the brooding atmosphere. This is not just a quick trip to the big city. It’s a circuitous odyssey that will take Touko away from the only home she’s known for a minimum of two years, with no guarantee she’ll survive the myriad dangers along the way.

But when Touko is told about these risks—both in sugarcoated mode by the kindly Enji and in cold-hard-truth mode from his boss Sakuroku—Touko simply says, in her slightly trembling yet resolute voice (deftly provided by Kuno Misaki), that she’s ready to go. She goes up into the turret to watch her village and her family recede away, possibly never to see them again. Rin wears a mask—is it one last eff-you to Touko, or to conceal tears?

From here the story shifts to the capital Touko is heading to, where a young man named Koushi resides with his sister. Their mother has just passed away, poisoned by the toxic waste at the factory where she worked. Unlike the village that has basically regressed to ancient times, the capital is still in a semi-industrial state, but without fire disease and short lifespans are widespread.

If you like bleak yet meaty stories in beautiful environs, The Fire Hunter is for you, as it is for me. I was reminded of Attack on Titan, and especially the wonderful, and dark-as-hell From the New World. There’s a Girls’ Last Tour look to the capital. This is a fallen world, but the people endured, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

With a veteran cast led by Nishimura Junji and Oshii Mamoru, there’s a great sence of both competence and confidence in the story being told, while the visuals are stark yet lush. Whether the following episodes will chronicle Touko’s six-month journey to the capital, or fast-forwards to when she and Koushi meet, I’m excited to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Giant Beasts of Ars – 02 – Covenant of Convenience

With no time to waste, the Paladin Jirou performs the Covenant Ritual that allows him to become a vessel for the Cleric Kuumi’s godlike power. He wields that power in the form of an expandable spear, which he plunges into the eye of the beast to kill it, saving the town from devastation. After the battle, Kuumi returns to her normal state, and Jirou passes out.

The next morning the Imperial commander inspects the pier where Kuumi accidentally dusted some soldiers with her miasma. He deems the prototype successful and orders his underlings to leave no stone unturned in their search for her (or as he calls her, “it”). Clearly, this isn’t someone in whose clutches you want Kumi to be.

Jirou comes to inside Myaa’s airship, waking up from a dream from the past when his former cleric, whom he loved, died in battle. When he overhears Myaa talking about marriage to Kuumi, he makes it clear he only formed a covenant with her because there was no other choice in the matter. But as it was Kuumi’s first time, she’s rightfully confused.

When Kuumi won’t elaborate on why the Empire is after her, Jirou peaces out, not wanting to get involved. But he leaves his spear behind, so Myaa knows they’ll meet again. Once again, she and Kuumi show horrible judgment by walking around town in broad daylight and then having a meal at the tavern, where they’re quickly spotted by Imperial guards. When miasma starts emanating from Kuumi and she kills a guard, Myaa surrenders and the two are taken away.

Because Jirou’s spear is drawn to him like Mjolnir is to Thor, he soon locates them aboard the commander’s hovercraft. Because he’s a former elite Paladin, he has no trouble getting aboard the ship and neutralizing any hostiles. And because it would simply be rude to take his spear and leave the girls behind, he breaks them out of their cell.

He tells Myaa to ready his airship while he and Kuumi merge once more so he can disable the pursuing hovercraft. I wish we had gotten to see more of his ship, but after they get away the ending of the episode is very rushed and awkwardly edited, suddenly sapping the escape of energy and urgency. The animation in general did not impress this week, but I’m still sufficiently intrigued by this world and premise to keep watching for at least one more week.

Tenten Kakumei – 02 – A Powerful Medicine

My goodness, this was even better than the already impressive premiere! It starts so simply, in the parlor of Anisphila’s father King Orphans having some tea with Euphyllia’s father, Duke Grantz Magenta. They talk not as king and prime minister, but candidly, as friends.

Orphie complains about his daughter being a pain in the butt, but Grantz immediately ingratiates himself with me by saying quite astutely, that she wouldn’t be Princess Anisphia if she “settled down”. Throughout their chat, we are all too aware that the princess and Euphyllia are headed their way, imbuing the scene with some wonderful comic tension.

Once she does arrive, carrying Euphyllia on her back, from that point on it doesn’t matter in the slightest that the better part of half this episode is merely four people talking in a room—because everyone in that room, and everything they talk about, is so goddamn compelling.

After reporting what her brother the prince has so very publically done, and Grantz attempts to comfort his daughter (who believes she’s deserving of punishment), Anisphia makes her proposal: asking the good duke to give her her daughter, as an assistant in her magicological research…but also as a prospective lover.

Yes, Anis doesn’t really bother hiding the fact that Euphillya that, as the title says, her acquisition of an assistant is for both profit and pleasure. It’s even confirmed later that when Anis gave up her claim to the throne, she also declared (after seeing Euphyllia from afar) she wanted to marry a woman, not a man.

While delivered as comedy, Anis’ remarks carry a tinge of melancholy, as she asks her father what point there’d be in passing on her genes when she can’t use magic. Her father the king has never quite known what to do about his genius, magicless, gay AF inventor daughter, but there’s something to be said for the fact he never forced her to be anything other than what she wanted to be.

When Grantz watches this very different, roughhousing father-daughter dynamic of Anis and Orphie, he turns to Euphyllia and raises his hand to her, wondering if that was the “right way” all along. When Euphyllia recoils, he immediately withdraws his hand, then bows his head apology—a rare thing for a duke of his stature.

Euphyllia feels she’s failed her father and her family by not being a sufficiently desirable fiancée to Prince Algard. But Grantz doesn’t believe that for one second. If anything, it’s Algard who is unworthy of his beautiful magical genius of a daughter.

He rests his hand gently on her head as she tears up, telling her that she’s the most important thing in the world to him, and it’s his duty as father to ensure she lives the life she wants, even if it crosses the king’s will. Readers, I cried too!

After “Anis” and “Euphie” take their leave for the evening, Grantz and the king agree that Anisphia’s proposal has merit. What’s so great about Anis is that she’s not just an untethered ball of chaos. The chaos is controlled, and she’s actually quite sharp, both in how Euphyllia will benefit her research and how best to sell it to the brass.

Grantz, who is still speaking to the king as a friend, even brings up the possibility of Euphyllia still having a viable path to queendom should she stick with Anisphia. King Orphans may think his daughter on the throne would be a “nightmare”, but Grantz seems a lot more optimistic and progressive on the matter.

He also proves the more emotionally intelligent of the two dads. Anis would make an excellent queen precisely because she doesn’t want the power. But like his Euphie, she should be allowed to pursue happiness however she sees fit. Regardless, they are both treasures of the kingdom.

Anis and Euphie swap one parlor for another as they have some tea courtesy of both Anis’ maid Ilia and one of Anis’ inventions, the Thermal Pot. It uses a fire spirit stone in a manner Euphyllia would never of thought of.

Euphie also gets some sage advice from Ilia about there being “no stopping” Miss Anis at this point; the best thing to do is think of oneself as having been “bewitched by a demon” and submitting. Sure enough, Anis gathers Euphie in a princess carry and heads to her workshop.

There, Euphie is in awe of all the wondrous magical tools Anis has created, and her mind is suddenly opened by the possibilities and potential of magic she had never considered, as she’d always taken the existence of spirits and magic for granted. Anis tells Euphie that it’s a good thing, she focused on becoming as “OP” as she currently is.

Anis also lets Euphie in on a little secret: she envies magic users…a little bit. Euphie considers all that she’s seen that Anis is capable of, and sees a world in which magicology is a discipline distributed to the masses to give them more freedom. Rather than fear the loss of the royal family’s and nobility’s affinity for magic-as-authority, Euphie sees Anis’ efforts as a “medicine” for the kingdom.

Even if Anis would rather simple toil and tinker in her workshop, Euphie may have the vision and ambition to spread Anis’ gifts far and wide, curing a kingdom she deems to be ill—and judging from that soiree full of frilly milquetoasts from which she was rescued, she’s not half-wrong!

That night, Anis insists on having a sleepover with Euphie, lending her some pajamas (Euphie insists Anis withdraw while she changes) then playfully beckoning for Euphie to join her in bed before promising she won’t try anything. Ilia is right: there is no stopping Anis!

But Anis is true to her word, and the two just talk as they lie beside one another. She hopes that in time Euphie will see not only the appeal of magicology, but her as well. Euphie declares that Anis is just as crazy as the rumors say … but also even more mysterious. When Euphie asks “Just … what are you?”, it’s clear that she, an established genius, can tell there’s something unique about Anis.

One of this series’ many notable qualities is the fact it doesn’t shove Anis’ orgins in our face via inner monologue or flashes to her past. Instead, it’s apparent from the nature of her inventions that she’s from our own modern world. Euphie may not know the specifics, but she understands on a fundamental level that Anis is special.

That’s why she asks Anis why she, someone so clearly capable of living more freely than anyone else, helped the likes of her. Again, Anis is totally honest: she savied Euphie partly because she liked her, and saw the benefits in her becoming her assistant. But it was also because Anis deems her “perfect.” For Prince Algard that perfection was a flaw, but for Euphie it’s a gift.

Anis continues, saying people like her can laugh on their own and do what they want, but at that soiree, she could tell Euphie wasn’t able to do either, and so used her freedom to reach out to someone who needed it. After all, magicians (and by extension magicologists) should use their magic to make others smile. Anis aims to make Euphie smile, and together they’ll make the kingdom smile.

I’m rootin’ for all of it! This episode was so full of sweet and poignant moments between child and parent and between our two leading ladies (the yuru vibes are strong), but it was also funny as hell. Peeps, we’ve got a live one here!

Tenten Kakumei – 01 (First Impressions) – A Bundle of Unexpected

We start with a pretty girl who looks like she’s in trouble, surrounded by horned wolves. A young adventurer rushes to her aid, but she tells him not to butt in, then hops on her broom, whips around, pulls out her magical swords, and ices the entire wolfpack. This is Anisphia, the Princess Maurader, and no one comes between her and her loot—not even the inability to use magic without tools!

But while Anisphia’s loot is her own, she also believes it her duty to protect the smiles of her subjects. Her straight-laced royal family would disagree, and find her to be a huge pain, even if some of the court is intrigued by her  development of magical items (called “magicology”). Her tomboyish expliots are distasteful to both her father the king and her brother, Crown Prince Algard.

He is prince because Anisphia renounced her claim to the throne. The episode doesn’t go into exactly why, but the end result is clear: she is allowed far more leeway to live her life as she sees fit than if she were next in line. Far more than ruling, she’s always been chasing her dream of flying.

She also believes the kingdom is in good hands with her brother Algard, who is marrying Lady Euphyllia, the genius daughter of a powerful duke. She doesn’t share this with her goth friend and fellow researcher Tilty, but the day she met Euphyllia may also be the day she fell in love!

But is the kingdom in good hands with Algard? The sight of him flaunting a relationship with a girl born a commoner at school would suggest a lack of judgment, and when he grudgingly shows up for tea with Euphyllia, he couldn’t possibly want less to do with his fiancée, whom he describes as “so perfect it’s disgusting.”

Here is Euphyllia, established as a genius, doing her duty as a duke’s daughter and making the best of the situation to try to engender trust in her future husband and learn more about him. But Prince Algard finds his royal obligations and lack of free will intolerable, and her obedience to hers only make him loathe her more.

Algard is a huge piece of shit, as exhibited when he shows up to the big academy graduation ball with a reluctant-looking Lainie Cyan in matching white. He then declares to all assembled that he’s calling off his engagement to Euphyllia, and then accuses her of plotting a campaign of bullying and other horrible atrocities against Lady Lainie.

By assassinating an unprepared Euphyllia’s character, Algard hopes to smooth over the fact that he’s rejecting the arrangement his father the king had made for him. I could almost sympathize for Algard’s inability to choose someone he loves, and the fact his sister left him with the responsibility of the throne.

In other words, I understand his motivations and frustrations. But when he pulls shit like this, it’s pretty hard to take his side!

This sudden series of developments comes as such a shock to Euphyllia that she can do little but fall to her knees and start crying. After all, she hasn’t actually done anything wrong, and believed she was doing exactly what was expected of her. We may have just met her, but I felt horrible for Euphyllia, and hoped that she could find some comfort, even if revenge is farther off.

So color me tickled pink when Princess Anisphila, who loses control of her broom on a test flight, flies right through the window and lands between her brother and Euphyllia in a most unladylike way possible. Anisphila may be eccentric, but she reads the room pretty darn fast, and decides that the best thing to do is toss the distraught Euphyllia over her shoulder and get out of there.

When Euphyllia is done screaming from the shock of suddenly being in flight, she asks where they’re going. Anisphila told her brother she’d be reporting what she saw at the ball to their father to see what he thinks about it (thus potentially ruining Algard’s careful planning to get what he wants).

But she also wants to meet with Euphyllia’s father Duke Grantz, to ask them if she can keep her! It’s a beautiful subversion and reversal of rescuing the princess from an unwanted marriage, and the start of a revolution for both girls. After all, it looks like the wrinkles in the broom project are being ironed out.

The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady is way too long a title, but otherwise, this show, and its first episode, ruled hard. It looks great, its lead is a seething ball of energy and vivacity (wonderfully voiced by Senbongi Sayaka) and her friend-and-maybe-more?-to-be equally charming, and the evil prince is the kind you love to hate.

Each of these three characters is very effectively introduced so you know their personalities and goals, which of course all butt up against each other. The animation and direction is attractive and clean, and the writing is solid. Definitely looking forward to more!

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Giant Beasts of Ars – 01 (First Impressions) – The Cleric and the Paladin

Twenty-Two, AKA Kuumi, is a cute, well-adjusted, hungry young woman who has decided that she doesn’t want to be detained any longer, and overpowers everyone with her speed and strength when she escapes. Her captors’ boss is a grinning jerk who takes drugs and refers to Kuumi as “the prototype” and “it”, so we know he’s not a good guy.

Kuumi ends up in a nearby town that subsists on the various products harvested from the carcasses of titular Giant Beasts, which have to be hunted or they’ll level said town. After getting new clothes from a kindly florist, Kuumi meets a little catgirl shopkeep who sells her a magic ring. It’s said whoever bears the ring will save the world. It fits itself around Kuumi’s finger like the One Ring.

Jiiro “The Already Dead” is a drunk fella who briefly met Kuumi as she fled, and takes up a job hunting the latest Giant Beast. While no one has high hopes for him, he shows he’s not dead weight when he shows off his quick thinking and agility rescuing one of his fellow hunters from certain death. The beast is felled and the hunting crew celebrates into the night.

The Imperial fella who had been holding Kuumi captive introduces himself to Jiiro. He can tell the guy’s a cut above the rest of the rabble in the tavern, and notes that in an imminent war that will split Ars into two sides, he needs all the good fighters he can get. Jiiro not-so-cordially declines and shuffles off, not interested in fighting fights that aren’t his.

That night, Kuumi does a terrible job staying hidden and is immediately spotted by guards. When cornered on a dock, their offensive attacks set off her latent magical powers, which include a black mist that atomizes some of the guards. When she starts to glow out of control she warns the others to stay back, which is when Jiiro swoops in, grabs her, and leaps into the ocean.

There, he connects with Kuumi on what seems to be some kind of shared telepathic plane, and asks her what a Cleric is doing without a Paladin escort. A prologue from 30 years back shows the potential of a Cleric-Paladin partnership—total badassdom and the ability to defeat Giant Beasts with ease.

Of course, Kuumi is unescorted because she’s some kind of overpowered prototype Cleric. That makes her extremely valuable to the Imperial dude. But now that she’s free, has that ring, and has met a washed-up but still serviceable Paladin, this all seems like destiny.

Giant Beasts of Ars offers a well-rendered, understated, efficient fantasy adventure premiere that builds just enough of its world to leave me interested in more, and notably isn’t an isekai. I definitely want to see that airship from the OP in action, not to mention Kuumi and Jiiro collaborating.

Isekai Ojisan – 03 – The Things We Do for Views

Takafumi returns home to find Fujimiya and what looks like Elf from the other world where his Uncle lived. It’s definitely an effective hook, and then the episode rewinds an hour and change to a stark reality of YouTubers in February 2018: if you didn’t meet a certain subscriber and view quota, you’d be cut off from what had been a nice little revenue stream.

Takafumi discovers that one reason their channel is struggling is Ojisan’s tendency to type elaborate but ultimately awful replies to each and every commenter, many of whom are then put off and unsubscribe. This current dilemma reminds Ojisan of when the barrier of the Sealed City fell and 1,000 beasts arrived at the walls.

Naturally, his nephew wants to see and hear about this, so Ojisan switches on the ol’ memory recorder and plays back the events of those days. Notable is how pretty much everything Elf says to him could come across as verbal harassment (rather than the tsundere flirting it is).

When Ojisan nonchalantly shatters the barrier and the beasts arrive, Elf is resolved to fight them all herself while he runs—she likes him that much. But after a serously badass weapon unsheathing sequence and blasting herself towards the walls like a missile, she ends up splatting on the newly-formed barrier, the result of Ojisan asking the spirits to repair it.

No matter; Elf doesn’t tell any of the townsfolk that he dropped the barrier to begin with, and in exchange simply asks him to buy her dinner. But Ojisan, who always interprets her words and body language the wrong way, instead leaves the city without her.

Takafumi hugs himself in despair, and this is what Fujimiya sees when she arrives, trying to make a habit of being around her old friend. The thing is, Takafumi remains disturbingly oblivious to her affections, and even leaves her alone in his apartment to take care of some random errand.

Ojisan may not have much real-world romantic experience, but he can tell Fujimiya’s a good girl and she wants to be closer to his nephew. Unfortunately, Fujimiya does not want to talk to some frumpy uncle about this, so Ojisan borrows Elf’s appearance and voice and insists he’s Takafumi’s “aunt” so they can engage in girl talk. That brings us back to the cold open.

In order to get to the bottom of why Takafumi stubbornly only thinks of Fujimiya as a friend, he taps into his memories and then visualizes them. in them, a cretinous child mercilessly beats upon a helpless young Takafumi. Fujimiya asks where she is…and then it dawns on her: she’s the cretin. Form her perspective back then they enjoyed a “bittersweet” relationship, but just like Ojisan with Elf, Takafumi saw it more as bullying and abuse.

Elf!Ojisan marvels at how his nephew even managed to recognize a grown-up Fujimiya on the street, but Takafumi says he’d never forget her, and holds up a fist for her to bump while blushing profusely. Takafumi then decides that he and Ojisan should record a video of “her” playing Guardian Heroes.

Ojisan is naturally psyched…until he sees the final product: the video doesn’t show any of the actual gameplay—just Ojisan in the form of a sexy elf girl in a long hoodie playing off-screen video games. Ojisan is shocked and appalled, but the video goes viral, with 200,000 views and counting. Takafumi celebrates the great success of his hunch, while Ojisan reverts to his normal appearance before a terrified Fujimiya. I could honestly watch this offbeat, eccentric dynamic packed with amazing reaction faces all day!

Isekai Ojisan – 02 – Neon Genesis Osananajimi

Ojisan’s Youtube views are dropping, so he institutes austerity measures in the home budget—though only after he orders a copy of a video game magazine listing the final results of Sega Saturn reader’s choice. He learns that one of his favorite games, Guardian Heroes, was only ranked 197th. I never played that, but I did play the heck out of a Genesis game by Treasure called Gunstar Heroes, which was immensely fun.

After summoning lighting to sufficiently punctuate his moment of shock despair, Takafumi gets him to stop talking about video games and show him another recorded memory from his time in the isekai. When the village elder shows him to the Frost Clan member Mabel, who goes ahead and tells Ojisan what’s needed to unfreeze her heart, only for Ojisan to ignore all that and defeat the dragon without her Frost Sword.

First Takafumi’s uncle misinterpreted elf’s tsundere behavior as shit-talking, then he totally circumvents the other world’s “quest”. Those blunders aside, Takafumi still thinks enough of his uncle to give him a Sega Saturn for his birthday, which they play to ring in the year 2018.

Ojisan also shows Takafumi how the other world celebrated the new year, only for him to simply eat some chicken by himself and retire to his room. When he mentions Mabel visited in his room later that night, Takafumi switches off the Saturn and demands to hear more.

Turns out Ojisan convinced Mabel that her ennui and reclusive behavior were simply living her truth, and that there was nothing wrong with that, and she should go on doing it if that’s what she wanted. It is, and she does, which even Takafumi can tell is both teaching and learning the wrong lesson!

When Fujimiya Sumika first encounters Ojisan, she assumes he’s a rambling old weirdo and commits to walking a different route. However, it’s thanks to this route that she’s unexpectedly reunited with her childhood friend Takafumi, who has since grown taller than her. Sumika, who we see was once very attached to Takafumi when they were kids, is clearly jazzed to see him again.

She accepts his invitation to stop by his house, which she does after dropping off her groceries, only for the same weird old man she saw in the park to come in through the balcony sliding door. Ojisan initially treats Sumika as an enemy and tries to wipe her memory, but Takafumi intervenes, resulting in quite a bit of physical contact.

Sumika shakes off the attempted assault, but immediately takes the stand that Takafumi shouldn’t be letting his old uncle mooch off of him. When Takafumi confirms that his Ojisan actually does have magic powers he gained in another world, Sumika says what we’d all say: “So show me.”

It doesn’t take long even for someone like Ojisan to pick up on Sumika’s attraction to Takafumi, though she may deny it, leading him to bring up Evangelion, in which Asuka was a famous early example of the tsundere archetype (something Oji has yet to catch on to when it comes to Elf).

Sumika is actually moved by Ojisan’s sad tale that is actually ripped directly from the Saturn game Alien Soldier, at which point Sumika is fed up with having her emotions toyed with. Then Ojisan reads her mind, revealing she showered and changed before coming to Takafumi’s, and was disappointed to learn he had a roommate.

But while she’s disappointed, she also seems to still like Takafumi enough that she’s not going to stand by and do nothing while Takafumi is leeched on by a layabout charlatan. As with Elf and Mabel, I love Sumika’s dynamic character design. She’s cute, but still the tough kid she was when she first fell for Takafumi. It’s a shame Takafumi is 100% oblivious to her long-standing crush, but she and Mabel are fine additions to this colorful cast.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Isekai Ojisan – 01 (First Impressions) – SEGAwakening

Isekai Ojisan (Uncle from Another World) starts off efficiently and confidently. Takafumi’s uncle suddenly wakes up after 17 years in a coma. At first his nephew things he’s gone insane because he’s speaking in a bizarre language. But then Ojisan switches to Japanese, and demonstrates that he can do magic. Takafumi, who was about to basically kick his uncle to the curb, decides to rip up that paperwork and welcome him into his modest but too-large-for-one apartment.

There, Takafumi supplements his part-time job (or possibly replaces it) by making YouTube videos where Ojisan demonstrates his magic powers. They get decent views but also a fair share of haters, which disturb Ojisan. Since he hasn’t been in this world since 2000, for a Segaholic like him the Dreamcast was the pinnacle of gaming…and life.

Takafumi discovers that all phones are boring touchscreens now, and is crestfallen that Sega is no longer a console superpower. But Ojisan’s superpowers enable him to fly to the locations of Amazon and Ebay purchases so they don’t have to pay exorbitant shipping fees. He can also show his nephew his memories as if recorded with a 360-degree camera.

This is how Takafumi first sees the elf woman who apparently followed his uncle around for years and berated him. Little does the obviously romantically-stunted Ojisan know that Elf is of the type that would by 2004 be clearly classified as tsundere (though Asuka Langley Soryu was around three years before he was sent to another world).

There’s a running gag that his somewhat homely looks made most everyone in the other world—who is handsome, hot, beautiful, etc.—believe he was some kind of orc mutant. There’s a memory he plays (without audio) of rescuing three siblings from a real orc, and then they’re so horrified by his appearance the eldest bravely sacrifices herself, thinking he’ll kill her.

Visually speaking, the drab and de-saturated palette was a little concerning at first, but when we went into the other world where he lived, everything is bright and lacks the same rough texture—it’s a great contrast that also accentuates the heightened beauty of the other world and its inhabitants.

Overall it’s a great-looking show with a simple fish-out-of-water premise that’s easy to get on board with and enjoy the ride. The comedy hits, the faces are tremendous, and the cute tsundere elf girl is cute and tsundere. While it’s unfortunate the show is experiencing delays due to Covid, that affords me time to catch up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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