Slime 300 – 08 – No Time to Get Boared

One aspect of Azusa now having a huge family is that there is literally never a dull moment. While trying to have a peaceful morning cup of coffee, her two dragons start going at it, competing in baking since they’re not allowed to fight.

Turns out they’re both suffering from fresh meat withdrawal (being dragons and all), but there just happens to be some trouble with vicious giant boars in the nearby forest.

Azusa, Laika, Flatorte and Rosalie travel to the forest, Rosalie locates the herd, and frustrated with getting her clothes caught on branches, Flatorte does away with her clothes altogether, demonstrating a complete lack of modesty her red cousin doesn’t share.

Even when her clothes end up in the river, she simply fights in the nude, while the other three help out. Beelz and Vania show up with Flatorte’s clothes from downstream and the leviathan prepares some sumptuous boar dishes that Azusa brings the whole family out to partake in.

The second half of the episode deals with an apparent impostor out in the world calling herself the Witch of the Highlands. Azusa has everyone split up to gather intelligence, taking Laika along with her to a town that features a rather unique bar where masochistic patrons revel in the verbal abuse of the barkeep.

She points them in the direction of the “witch” in exchange for them doling out some insults to the patrons, which in Laika’s case is very much sincere. While at first the impostor seems to be a tiny crone, it’s actually a disguise for Eno, a young and inexperienced witch trying to build up her image by “borrowing” Azusa’s title.

However, Eno doesn’t mean any harm, and apologizes profusely for what she did. She also expresses her desire to be well known only among those in the know but also generally known by the wider public as a lovely and excellent witch…in other words, like Azusa!

Being a dragon, Laika doesn’t understand Eno’s very human contradictions, but Azusa picks up on them right away, and helps Eno identify the steps she needs to take to achieve her goals. That results in Eno dressing up as a super-pink magical girl to peddle her medicines, which end up selling like hotcakes and attracting the attention of Halkara as a potential business partner.

While not nearly as strong as last week’s tangle with the Demon King, this outing was perfectly pleasant, as we learned a little more about dragons, vicariously shared in a great boar feast, and got to meet another witch. Nothing groundbreaking, but also nothing deserving of withering insults!

Slime 300 – 07 – Total Submission

Halkara is in trouble. Accidental or not, she assaulted the Demon King, who is still out cold, and the court is not forgiving about that kinda thing, so she’s on death row! Azusa and her new found family work to get themselves and Halkara out of the mess she made, because what is family for?

Laika reveals she can transform into a huggable mini-dragon, and flies off to gather some medicinal herbs. Azusa whips up an analeptic that is sure to wake Percora up—the only problem is how to get to her. Beelz sends Vania with the palace blueprints, and disguises Azusa in sexy demon doctor cosplay.

The courtiers and their burly guards are not convinced by the getup, but it matters little as the Witch of the Highlands is able to easily overpower everyone standing between her and Pecora’s bedchamber. She’s about to administer the medicine when Pecora suddenly wakes up and headbutts her.

Azusa insists the foul-smelling green liquid is not poison, but Pecora insists she prove her innocence by beating her in a duel and not killing her. The Demon King blows the side off her own palace and launches a fusillade of lightning-quick strikes, hitting nothing but air as Azusa expertly dodges.

When Peco taunts her opponent by saying an elf’s life is riding on the outcome, Azusa goes on the offensive, shooting herself high into the air, then striking Pecora’s giant sword with a satisfying BOOOONG, sending it flying out of her arms. When it comes down, it shatters into a thousand shards.

It’s at this point that the battle suddenly takes a turn for the amorous. Pecora lost the duel, but she actually won, because it was actually a test of Azusa’s strength and worthiness to be Pecora’s “Dear Sister”. For a while now, Pecora has yearned for someone stronger than her to worship and obey.

With this in mind, the Demon King makes Azusa touch her face and order her with a dignified big-sister tone to free Halkara. When Azusa does so, Pecora practically melts with satisfaction. Who knew the Demon King’s greatest ambition was to simp for a formidable domme?

When Azusa and Pecora have tea together, Pecora mentions how she read (perhaps in a yuri manga) about how an older sister kisses her younger sister, and wants to give it a try. They’re all alone, so Azusa doesn’t see the harm in giving the Demon King a chaste peck on the cheek.

The thing is, from the way the scene is animated and Pecora’s reactions, it hardly appears chaste to Halkara, Laika, the twins, and Rosalie. Halkara for one is ready to immediately accept her master’s preference for women and wish her well, but Azusa clears things up by giving her two daughters their first kisses, who then kiss her back. Kisses for everybody!

Pecora isn’t done with the surprised, as at the awards ceremony she not only welcomes Laika onto the dais with Azusa, but presents Flatorte, giving all three awards for peace. That’s when things again get a little kinky, as Pecora orders Flatorte to allow Azusa to touch her horns.

For a Blue Dragon, there is no more powerful gesture of total submission, but Flatorte allows it. Little does Azusa know that by doing so, she’s bound Flatorte to her for life, just as dragon knights once bonded with dragons they bested. On the ride home aboard Vania, the leviathan laughs about an old joke, sending honey water flying.

Flatorte proves her fealty and absolute devotion to protecting Azusa by shielding her from the honey water shower, necessitating a bath. There, Azusa gives Flatorte her one and only order: that she think for herself, act of her own free will, and stop awating her orders.

To Flatorte, an order to be free seems contradictory, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s an order from her master. She obeys, and later enjoys some quality time in Azusa’s lap, later broken up by an envious Laika.

A red and blue dragon living together under one roof isn’t going to be easy, but it’s not going to be dull either, and their shared love for their master should ensure their discord will only ever go so far, and may even soften into amity. However it goes, Azusa’s harem family has grown once more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 57 – Caught Up In a Fantasy

“I wonder how much time and effort it’ll take for you kids to find your answers…” Those are the words Kyouko said to a young Kyou. The answer? A fuckin’ lot. Only Kyou seems to be retreating into the answer forced upon him at birth. As Akito was born to be loved, he was born to be loathed and despised, his existence only causing pain.

Even if he didn’t believe those words, as far as he’s concerned they were proven true when his mother walked in front of a train, and then Kyouko died. In his dream, in his dark room in this mercilessly dark episode, he dreams of a third death at his feet, with his hands drenched in blood: that of Tooru. He believes his mother and Kyouko came to him for a reason: to tell him to know his place.

It’s ironic, then, that neither he, nor the other Zodiac members, would even be in this dreadful mess were it not for someone NOT knowing their place. Whether she genuinely loved Akito’s father Akira or was simply trying to get in on that sweet, sweet Souma fortune and prestige, I cannot say, because I have no reason to trust her. But Souma Ren was but a humble servant when she decided to approach Akira, saying she alone could see his pain and loneliness, and offered to take it all away.

Even if it was a cynical scheme at the beginning, Ren was profoundly attached and obsessed with Akira, so maybe she always was. And maybe Akira’s attendants would have found a suitable mate for him to produce a successor before he died…but maybe not. Instead, Ren overstepped her assigned bounds and stepped into that role, bearing the next family head. But it was she who demanded Akito be raised as a man…and a precocious young Shigure seemed to know what that was really all about.

Ayame, Hatori, and Kureno didn’t understand, but Shigure did, even then: Akito was always going to be someone to be pitied, for Ren was imposing upon her a life she never asked for, costing her access to a life where she might not have become a Machiavellian monster.

In the present, Ren thinks that she has a sympathetic ear (and possibly another lay) in Shigure, but he’s only there to fuck with her, as usual. He says he only looks at Ren “that way” because it lets him fantasize about whether Akito would look like her if she’d lived as a girl.

Meanwhile, Akito is sulking in her room, holding the box containing Akira’s remains, remembering her mother (who was never really a mother) challenging her to prove that nobody can break her little dream and rub it in her face. But the dream is dying; Akito can feel it. Bonds are breaking by the day. She’s interrupted by Ren storming in with a dagger, ready to use it unless Akito hands her beloved Akira over.

Akito, in a particularly nihilistic mood, tosses the box high into the air, and for a moment I thought there’d be a horrible cloud of ash. But the box is empty. It always was empty. The chief attendant prepared it as a charm when Akito was being consumed by grief after her father’s death.

As a bereft Ren stares into the empty box, Akito says she’s always been “Other”, and this has all been broken from the beginning. There will be no rubbing in the face of a victory, but she does seem poised to kill Ren with her own knife…until another bond breaks just then.

This time it happens to Hiro, who is playing with his siter Hinata and was probably finally swayed from Akito’s pull due to her. The first thing he does is hold her tight, and then his mom comes in and hugs him. Hiro is full of conflicting emotions, and his mom understands that “saying goodbye feels lonely” by nature. But ultiamtely, it’s a good thing. Hopefully Kisa can follow and these poor kids can start having ordinary lives!

As for Akito…I can pity her without forgiving the things she’s done. It’s not just a matter of her sticking to the “fantasy” that she was a god born to be loved by all forevermore. It’s that she herself was always fifty-fifty about whether Akira’s soul was in that box. No one ever gave her any other life to live than the one she had, and didn’t even know or think she had the ability to change any of it.

Kureno draws her in to comfort her, saying she can start learning the things she doesn’t know or understand. She can change, and escape the choking, crushing bonds of the Souma clan, and he’ll be right there beside her. But Akito believes they’re already past the point of “change”.

She blames Kureno for this, by staying with her out of “kindness”, while half-saving and half-rejecting her. She wishes he could have left her back when his curse was first broken. But it’s too late, and she demands he take responsibility with his life, stabbing him in the back. As Kureno collapses, there’s a devastating smash cut to Arisa looking at a dead bird in the rain.

With that, we return to Shigures, where Tooru and Kyou are just finishing up a meal. Kyou prepares to leave, but Tooru doesn’t simply let him go without a word. She stops him at the door and says there’s something she has to talk to him about. Judging from his face and the dream he had about Tooru, I doubt Kyou’s in the most perceptive mood. It’s going to take a little more time and effort for these kids to find their answers…

Slime 300 – 06 – The Gang Meets the Demon King

Beelzebub shows up at Azusa’s place to announce that the Demon Realm has awarded her a special Medal of Honor in recognition of ending the conflict between the Red and Blue dragon tribes. It will be awarded in the Demon Realm, which means Azusa and her suddenly quite large family will have to take a trip. They’ll also need some nice dresses to wear.

The problem is, because Rosalie isn’t corporeal and her clothes are simply an afterimage from her life, she’s unable to change into a dress. Shalsha consults a friend who researches ghosts, and Azusa eventually uses her Create Magic to invent a spell that will enable Rosalie to wear whatever she wants. With that issue sorted, Beelz arrives with their ride to the realm: a massive leviathan.

That leviathan happens to be carrying a five-star hotel and spa on her back, making her far more hospitable than the White Whale from Re:Zero. She also has a sister in Vania who serves as chief steward in human form. The two switch off their roles, and when Azusa & Co. meet her, she’s in the baths while on the clock, irking Beelz.

But what Vania lacks in modesty, she makes up for with tremendous culinary skills, preparing a lavish multi-course meal with the highest class ingredients. After dinner, Azusa’s brood luxuriates in the baths, with the warning that if they stay in the water for too long they may melt.

That night, Rosalie, who never sleeps, is joined on the balcony by Halkara, who can’t sleep. When Rosalie thanks her and says she’s in her debt for freeing her from the factory, Halkara tells her there’s no debt to forgive; as her master Azusa would say, they’re family now. It’s why the next morning everyone is so concerned that Halkara melted when she went off for a midnight dip. Turns out she was simply sleeping under the bed rather than on it.

The Leviathan finally arrives in the Royal Capital of Vanzeld, and the group is dropped off at the Demon King’s central castle. Azusa is understandably weary about meeting someone with such a sinister title, but Beelz assures her that the Demon King is kind of heart, and will not be offended by minor breaches in etiquette.

Upon entering the Demon King’s throne room, both Azusa and Halkara mistake the diminutive child for someone other than the Demon King she actually is: Provat Pecora Allieres. Halkara is mortified upon learning this, but when Provat tells her not to bow to her and promises never to harm any of them, Halkara shoots up a bit too fast, smacking Provat in the head and knocking her out.

With that, the King’s guard swarm and surround Halkara and the others, and when Azusa appeals to Beelzebub, Beelzebub admits that Halkara will, in all likelihood, be executed for assaulting the Demon King. Hopefully Provat will wake up and this can all be cleared up—and even if it isn’t, Azusa is probably powerful enough to spring everyone. But until further notice, Halkara is placed behind bars.

Slime 300 – 03 – The Elf and the Fly

Just as Shalsha and Falfa are reading about the Elves of Hrant, one arrives at the door in a state of anxiety, demanding to be let in.

Her name is Halkara, and she’s a very successful apothecary and energy drink entrepreneur who happened to make a demon named Beelzebub mad when that drink caused an adverse effect. She also has a killer bod!

While her extra witch outfit is far too tight for Halkara’s three sizes, Azusa agrees to keep the elf under her protection, casting a barrier over the house and inviting the elf to join her foraging for medicinal herbs.

Azusa ends up learning a lot about the mushrooms of the forest, as well as the existence of a condiment very much like soy sauce. Halkara also accidentally eats an aphrodisiac mushroom (due to poor sorting methods) and starts involuntarily making advances on Azusa, who isn’t interested in a drug-addled tryst!

Halkara eventually recovers, and the matter is not spoken of. Then they find that there’s a huge reward poster at the guild for anyone who can locate Halkara. Azusa preps for a potential confrontation by having Laika take her daughters to safety, but Beelzebub was there all along in the form of a bee.

Beelzebub attempts to seize Halkara, abut Azusa won’t hear of it, and the two agree to take it outside and settle it with a fair fight. Beelzebub immediately makes use of her ability to fly, but ends up hitting the inside of the barrier and gets zapped. Azusa takes her in and heals her with magic.

After recovering, Beelzebub reveals that it wasn’t Halkara’s energy drink that made her sick, but overwork. She and the other demons actually love her product and only came to meet her in person and procure more. With the misunderstanding cleared up, Laika and the kids return.

Beelzebub still wants to have that fair fight sometime, while Halkara wants to move her production to Azusa’s province for tax purposes, so Azusa’s family swells by two. Her peaceful life is as lively and fun as ever, but the episode ends on a cliffhanger as Laika declares she’ll be returning to her own home.

Slime 300 – 02 – And Then There Were Four

When Azusa tells Laika that all she did to reach her level was kill around 25 slimes per day, her pupil is a little surprised. She expected Azusa had worked hard enough to sweat blood. That’s when Azusa reiterates that if you are sweating blood, you’re doing it wrong; “it” being life. And she should know.

As for cooking, Laika’s portions are understandably dragon-sized. Azusa’s appetite shrinks before an omelette the size of an average dog, but one taste and she’s convinced of Laika’s skill. Laika also draws a magic circle for Azusa to cast a protection barrier around Flatta, earning the love of the townfolk.

Yep, Azusa and Laika’s slow life in their newly-build log mansion is pretty sweet. Then one day, a little girl with blue hair and green eyes knocks on their door, declaring herself to be Azusa’s daughter, Falfa. She’s there because her twin sister Shalsha is plotting to kill Azusa.

More precisely, Falfa and Shalsha are twin “slime spirits” born from the souls of all of the slimes Azusa killed over the years. While Falfa harbors no ill will, Shalsha has been training her mind and body to destroy Azusa the first chance she gets, and when she demonstrates her Smite Evil spell that negates all of Azusa’s magic, it looks like she just might succeed!

That is, if Azusa were all alone. Even though Azusa is ready to meet her fate, satisfied she lived a good slow life for three centuries, Laika won’t allow Shalsha to hurt her master. Shalsha folds like a manila folder once Laika hits her with a single Dragon Punch.

In her fifty years of existence, Shalsha poured all of her effort and mana into the Smite Evil spell targeted at Azusa, so she’s extremely weak against anyone other than Azusa. The spell also only lasted around an hour, which expires once she comes to, so she’s also harmless. Falfa manages to talk Shalsha down from her grudge; after all, everyone kills slimes every day!

With two adorable new daughters in her lap and a huge house built for her by Laika, Azusa suggests they move out of their shack in the forest and move in with their mama! The sisters agree, and the quartet hits the town for some shopping to prepare for a welcome party. On the way, Shalsha tells Azusa that there are both good and evil slimes, and she has no trouble killing the evil ones herself.

The new family of four sit down to another massive Laika feast, although this time the amount of food is more appropriate. Azusa makes sure both the sisters and Laika eat their celery soup, and while she wasn’t expecting a slow life with a big family, it’s nice in its own way, making things more fun and lively. It also means a lot more chuckle-worthy gags!

Slime 300 – 01 (First Impressions) – Living La Vida Slow-ca

Isekai Series #48,763, the obnoxiously titled I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, starts out super-dark (albeit tempered with kiddy art) with its workaholic protagonist Aikawa Azusa literally dying at her desk. She encounters an angel in heaven who reincarnates her as an immortal in some nice relaxing highlands.

Azusa is pleased with her forever-17 looks and witch getup—complete with a hat big enough to make Elaina blush. She’s also glad that the only enemies in these lush, verdant highlands are harmless slimes, which she decides to defeat at the rate of ~25 per day in order to fund her knew laid-back life.

Azusa goes on to live a slow, peaceful life in her secluded cottage, tending her field, making medicines from herbs, and basically just kicking back…all while defeating around 25 slimes a day, exchanging the crystals they drop for coin at the nearby village’s adventurer’s guild. This goes on…for three hundred years.

Before she knows it she’s the oldest and most venerable person in the village. The episode intentionally underplays this massive passage of time, comprising over three average human lifespans, but also underscores just how badly Azusa needed a long, long vacation from her hellishly busy past life.


When a guild clerk checks Azusa’s stats for the first time in three centuries, they learn she’s reached Level 99—slow and steady truly has won the race. When rumors spread of the power of the “Witch of the Highlands”, adventurers visit her wanting to test their skills against the best.

Of course, Azusa doesn’t really want to engage in such sparring, any more than she wanted to make a name for herself. She’s always been content to live her slow, peaceful life. But when the adventurers insist, she quickly dispatches them without breaking a sweat, and before she knows it a big red dragon is at her door, looking for a fresh challenge.

A short but sweet aerial battle ensues, with Azusa easily countering the dragon’s fire breath with her ice magic, which she then uses to fuse the dragon’s mouth shut. It plummets to the ground and then does exactly what Azusa had hoped it wouldn’t do: trash her beloved house, which in 300 years had gotten just the way she liked it.

Adding a slug to the face for good measure, Azusa makes the dragon promise to fix her house up, and it sheepishly departs to collect the gold it’s been hoarding in its mountain lair. Azusa’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi carries the episode with her highly versatile voice that darts from charming and sweet to annoyed and threatening at the tip of a giant witch’s hat.

While her house is in ruins, Azusa stays at a complementary guest room at the village office, and due to all of the goodwill she’s earned from the villagers and their descendants—from staunching a plague to protecting them from the red dragon—she never has to pay for a room, a drink, or a meal in that village ever again.

Azusa is surprised then, when a cute redhead with horns pays her a visit the next day and introduces herself as Laika, the red dragon she defeated. Laika has brought the gold, and begs Azusa to let her be her pupil. Azusa isn’t sure what she can teach her, but she does like the sound of someone to do all the housework, so she agrees. Laika gets to work building a larger dwelling from scratch that will accomidate them both.

When the sun begins to set, Laika assures her new master that she can work through the night to finish the house, but Azusa takes her face in her hands and delivers a “hard no” to that offer. As someone who literally died from working too hard, she’s not about to let her pupil threaten her health by doing the same. Too often “working hard” is overused in a positive light.

Instead, she tells Laika to watch the darkening sky, which is telling them she’s done enough for the day. That said, Laika is incredibly industrious, and the new larger house they’ll share is soon completed. Rather than kick Laika into the kitchen to make supper, Azusa takes her by the hand and they head into the village to celebrate.

While I wish Slime 300 had a more imaginative title, I am glad slimes were more of a means and not an end to Azusa’s story. I find her dedication to living a quiet peaceful life quite admirable, and it’s a nice contrast to more ambitious witches like Elaina, who starred in an more ambitious but ultimately uneven series.

By comparison, Slime 300’s wonderfully simple plot, lush idyllic land-and-townscapes, competent magical combat, and the all-star voices of Yuuki Aoi and Hondo Kaede (Maple from Bofuri) make it well-positioned for a low-stakes, high-comfort isekai viewing experience. It also featured more frequent and effective comedy and a more interesting heroine than The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent, so if I end up picking only one to watch, 300 has the early edge.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 01 (First Impressions) – Keeping Busy in a New World

I loved how elegantly Saint’s Magic Power begins: a lovely prelude preceding the title card, then a quick sequence of overworked office drone Takanashi Sei (Ishikawa Yui—Hi Mikasa!) suddenly being transported to a new world via a summoning spell. It immediately feels new and refreshing simply because its protagonist is an adult woman and not a horny male teen/NEET.

The other refreshing catch is that Sei wasn’t the only “Saint” summoned by the Grand Magus of the Kingdom Salutania. A second Saint is summoned right beside her, but despite them having equal standing, the preening Prince Kyle chooses the other young woman, totally ignoring Sei. Rather than follow the chosen heroine, we follow Sei…the “Spare” Saint.

Except for a brief recollection of her in Sei’s thoughts, we never return to the other Saint’s story, though I’m sure she or we will check in on her at some point. Until then, Sei is encouraged to reside on the grounds of the royal palace and basically stay out of trouble. While her life is comfortable and every need seen to by her kindly maid Marie, Sei, a hard worker in her original world, soon becomes quite bored.

Frankly, that’s awesome! For once, our heroine isn’t thrust into an epic battle of good and evil with a ticking clock. Instead she makes do with far more modest stakes that nevertheless make the fantasy setting feel more real and down-to-earth. Watching Sei, so often cooped up in an office most days, happily frolicking on the palace grounds, is quietly enthralling.

Sei soon finds that her real-world interest in medicinal plants and herbs has a magical analogue: an entire institute dedicated to their research. She meets Jude, one of its researchers, who shows her around, and before long it occurs to her that this is where she wants to be: somewhere she can do what she loves and keep busy.

With the institute director Johan’s blessing, Sei decides to join, and to move out of the palace and into the institute. The palace’s aide-de-camp is happy she’s found something to do and pleased to offer whatever she needs. With that, Sei starts her new unexpected new career in potions.

But first thing’s first: she has to learn to make potions, the institute’s top export. Jude goes through the process step-by-step, and reaches the point when he learns that she’s never used magic. You’d think Jude would know this if he knew she was a summoned Saint from another world, but whatever.

Regardless of her inexperience in casting spells, as a Saint she is naturally imbued with more magical power and sensitivity than most. It’s just a matter of learning how to summon and use that power. Within three months, she’s already making medium-to-high level potions the institute usually had to order from outside sources—and making Jude understandably jealous with her rapid progress.

Their playful repartee is interrupted by an emergency: knights who were on a mission to subjugate a forest of monsters took heavy casualties, and several are near death. The researchers are summoned to the palace with all the potions they have in tow. It’s a good thing, then, that Sei has gotten so good at making potions—all of them 50% more effective than anyone else’s—she lost count of how many she’s made!

When they arrive, Sei is initially shocked by the sudden scenes of injured and maimed soldiers, but soon snaps out of it and gets to work administering potions, which have an immediate healing effect. She’s brought before the horribly wounded captain of the knights. When he won’t drink her high-level potion, she insists that he must until he does, and soon recovers nicely.

Both the captain and Johan, his good friend, thank her for saving him. Sei, beaming proudly, is happy she could help. I for one am here for this charming, laid-back yet still engrossing slice-of-life isekai series. Should her titularly omnipotent magic power justifiably lead her to greater things, I’m fine with that too!

 

Hortensia Saga – 02 – The Girl Who Cried Werewolf

While Alfred is on monster patrol with Maurice, Marius is helping carry flowers for Nonnoria, who visits the Albert family grave to pay her respects to those who took her in when she was orphaned. Marius looks back four years ago to the dreadful night she lost everything she had, when Maurice told her she’d have to cut her hair and live under an assumed identity “until the time came” to reclaim her kingdom.

When talk of Magonia (complete with flying cities and fantastical beasts) comes up—specifically, a shapeshifting  monster that dwells in the nearby Tron Cavern—young Conny desperately wants to see and prove his skeptical big sis wrong. The next day, just after Alfred, Marius, and Maurice head to the cavern to investigate, Conny’s mom arrives at the Albert’s door. Sure enough, the little scamp went off on his own.

Even though help is on the way, Tron is a veritable labyrinth, so Nonnoria fills her knapsack with a ridiculous amount of supplies and heads out without a second thought with Qoo (basically a Moogle), showing what she’s truly made of even though she’s otherwise a complete space cadet. She finds Conny before the others, but they’re still lost, and then get chased by goblins.

Nonnoria huddles against the cavern wall with Conny and Qoo, hoping Alfred will make it in time to save them just as he saved her before from a wolf. He does, with Marius and Maurice close behind. Then they notice a blue light that leads them to a moonlit spring. There, the beast makes its appearance, in a form identical to the werewolf that killed both of their fathers.

Ever since hearing the Tron monster could take the form of a wolf, Marius has been uneasy, but once she sees it, she freezes in terror, as if being transported four years into the past to the night she could do nothing but watch in horror as her life was taken away.

As Alfred fights the werewolf, Marius retreats, slips, and falls into the spring, and she relives more memories of the night Maurice whisked her out of the capital to the Albert Dominion. Maurice is aided by an even grizzlier Sir Balthazar, who warns him the Pope may be in cahoots with Camelia to install Prince Charlot as a puppet king.

While Princess Mariel wants to stay and protect her little brother, the fact is neither she nor her remaining allies are strong enough to stop the coup that has unfolded. The only thing for it is to disappear until the time is right. When she arrives at Albert’s lands, she finds kinship in Alfred’s grief for his lost father. When she comes to in the cavern, Alfred has fished her out of the spring.

It turns out the “werewolf” was only an impostor, as the cavern monster takes the form of the thing you hate most. Alfred assumes he provided the werewolf template, and Marius isn’t able to tell him her father was killed by the same monster at nearly the same time.

They head home, Conny is reunited with his family, and Alfred scolds Nonnoria and Qoo for racing into danger. Marius’ last memory is of cutting her hair with a dagger, which not only marked a profound turning of a page in her life, but in the present represents her willingness to turn the page from those horrible memories and re-fix her gaze on the more important present and future.

I once again enjoyed this episode, which was absolutely fine, if not particularly original. In fact, I liked it a bit more than the premiere, which to its credit had more narrative lifting to do out of the gate. Conny requiring rescue was hilariously telegraphed from a country mile away, but Nonnoria going into Battle Maid Mode was unexpected, and I came away actually liking her in spite of her deeply annoying voice and extra-ness. If nothing else, she can really spin a knife.

As for the romance angle, Alfred had no idea he was carrying a girl on piggyback. Who knows when he’ll learn the truth, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later in the 12-episode run—and not because he walks in on her or something. If there’s anyone in the world she could trust to tell, it’s him.

Hortensia Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Glimmer of Hope in an Age of Turmoil

What have we here….an un-ironic, non-isekai, no-nonsense Euro-style medieval fantasy epic? Welcome to Hortensia Saga, which plunges us right into the thick of an attempted coup…what odd timing

One of the king’s loyalist retainers transforms into a giant werewolf and kills him right before his daughter’s eyes, and then goes on to kill one of his baddest-ass knights, Fernando Ober (or Albert, depending on the subs).

The late Fernando’s brother Maurice Bauldelaire (Hi, Tsuda Kenjirou!) arrives at the Ober estate to tell his nephew Alfred the news that his father is dead, making Alfred the new Lord of Ober.

Maurice also rescued the adorable Princess Mariel, who cut her hair short and poses as a young lad named Marius whom Alfred takes under his wing as his squire. That’s fine with Mariel, who wants to become stronger so she can protect those she cares about.

Marius and Lord Alfred were brought together by shared tragedy and grief and become fast friends. If Alfred is aware Marius is actually a princess in disguise, he never mentions it, even after four years pass and she becomes his trusty squire. That’s a helluva time jump, and I kinda wish a little more time was spent on developing their friendship, but alas, this saga has a lot of ground to cover.

In those four years both were trained by Maurice and feel ready for their first real battle against the forces of Camelia (the retainers who betrayed the Hortensian crown). It doesn’t go particularly great, as their allies were pre-slaughtered and both youngins have to be saved by Maurice, but the two had each other’s backs, didn’t give up, and escaped with their lives, so call it a learning experience.

Marius is sufficiently injured that she doesn’t wake up for days, but when she does, Ober’s maid Nonnoria (Ueda Reina, pushing a bit too hard) is there to welcome her back to the land of the awake.

Marius joins a discouraged Alfred at his family grave where they met four years ago, Alfred declares his resolve to become much stronger, and Marius declares she’ll become stronger right beside him. The one thing they can’t do is give up hope. Little does Al know his squire is a girl and the heir to the kingdom he serves!

I was ready to pass on Hortensia when its opening sequence involved a hefty helping of lazy CGI extras, and featured characters who weren’t that much better designed or animated. If you’re going to go as arrow-straight with your milieu as this, you’d better bring it with the execution.

What actually kept me watching was the voice acting of Horie Yui and Hosoya Yoshimasa, two seiyuu I admire but haven’t seen in a lot of leading roles of late. Their work elevates a classic but bland premise, a rushed narrative, and merely serviceable production values. I’m putting this in my “maybe” pile for this season.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 01 (First Impressions) – An Astral Meet Cute

In a premise last encountered as recently as Spring’s KURONEKO Project: Zero Chronicle, the two most powerful young members of their respective warring nations want the same thing: to end the war and attain balance. They are Saint Desciple Iska of the science-oriented Empire and Princess Aliceliese Lou Nebulis IX of the magic-oriented Nebulis Sovereignty.

When we meet Iska, he is freeing a Nebulis witch from an Empire prison, presumably as a show of good faith to her and her nation. For his crime, Iska is himself is imprisoned for a year, after which his bosses the Eight Great Apostles assign him a redemptive mission: defeat the purebred “Ice Witch of Calamity”.

Iska gets his old team together, the Special Defense for Humankind Third Division, Unit N07. It is composed of the cheerful redheaded engineer Nene, the silver-haired stoic Jihn, and their petite scaredy-cat Captain, Mismis. All are happy to see their friend free and back in the mix, but Mismis warns him that either the Great Apostles have set Iska up for failure, or he’s their very last path to victory.

That’s because the Ice Calamity Witch is one tough customer, capable of dominating a battlefield all on her own. After reaching their lightly-guarded base and heading to the front, Iska’s unit’s humvee is upturned and they are ambushed by astral mages (AKA witches).

Iska is a little rusty after a year in jail, but he’s got the skills, the tools, and the teammates to make quick work of what turns out to be a group of low-level Nebulis grunts, whose flame magic doesn’t even singe his ahoge.

Turns out the Ice Calamity Witch is in the vicinity observing the fight, and her maid-uniformed attendant leaps out of their tree perch to join the fray, summoning an earth golem to overwhelm Iska. However, her mistake is believing these are mere Empire grunts.

Iska quickly shows this sub-boss otherwise, handling everything she throws at him with only a few scratches in exchange. It’s our first taste of extended combat in Kimisen, and it’s not bad: quick, precise, exciting, and dynamic.

Ultimately Iska proves he’s no grunt by handily defeating the maid, whom her mistress the Ice Calamity Witch Alice calls Rin upon arriving to save her. She’s already frozen the Empire base and its reactor and shatters them, revealing Rin and the grunts were a diversion.

Alice and Iska order each other to surrender simultaneously, but when they do battle they are pretty much equally matched. Both are also determined never to back down or retreat until the war is over and the nations are united. This gives the Ice Witch pause, as she expected an Empire soldier to threaten her, not have the same geopolitical outlook!

Once Iska’s attacks make Alice step back—apparently that something rarely if ever happens—the icy earthen back upon which she lands gives way and she starts to topple to the ground. Iska catches her and holds her in a princess carry, and the two…just kind of freeze like that for a moment.

When she protests to having been caught by the enemy, Iska says it was just reflex. In any case neither has the will to fight any further, and so Alice and Rin retreat on her giant eagle-like bird, and Iska doesn’t stop her. The battle basically ends with both thinking “Well, that was weird…”

Back home, Alice attempts to wash away the strange feelings she got from her encounter with Iska with a long bath, to no avail. Eventually she convinces Rin to attend her favorite opera in Neutral City, which just happens to be a tragedy about two lovers from nations that are bitter enemies. Alice cries easily and profusely during the opera, to the point she has to borrow a handkerchief from someone behind her.

When the lights come up, that someone is revealed to be…Iska. Assuming he wasn’t stalking her and this is a coincidental meet-cute…what are the odds? And so, her favorite opera begins to play itself out in real life, only it hopefully has a happier ending. Magic Romeo & Juliet, anyone?

Kimisen is already better than Kuroneko Project. Iska, Alice, and their friends are broad strokes, but share great chemistry, and Iska’s unit has a pleasant lived-in family dynamic. The show also looks much better, with decent character design and combat animation. Finally, there’s no messing around…the two potential future lovebirds meet immediately, with instantly charming results.

I’m definitely in for now. I imagine next week will have a bit less expositional lifting to do, which will only work in its favor as we get to know Iska and Alice and they hopefully get to know each other. After all, if the two most OP’ed warriors in their respective nations can get along and they’re supported by their friends, then peace has a chance!

Rating: 3/5

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 01 (First Impressions) – From Idolizer to Idolized

Cheerful airhead Hitotsuyanagi Riri attends her first day at an academy for Assault Lilies, teenage girls who are able to use sword-like CHARMs to fight robotic enemy known as the Huge. Riri’s first meetings of note are with haughty rich girl Kaede Johan Nouvel and cool beauty Shirai Yuyu.

Yuyu saved Riri from the Huge two years ago and is the reason Riri applied to the academy. The three girls team up to fight and defeat an escaped Huge specimen, with Yuyu helping Riri form a pact with her CHARM and Kaede falling for the unexpectedly heroic Riri.

My first thoughts about Assault Lily were that the bridge in the cold open looks just like one in my neck of the woods, that everyone’s tight stockings made me worry for their leg circulation, and that there were too many damn characters to keep track of.

But as I got to watching, I became more engrossed in Riri, Yuyu, and Kaede’s first impromptu Huge-hunting mission, even if the Huge itself was underwhelming robo-CGI. Since this is Shaft, comparisons to the iconic Madoka are inevitable, and the Huge lack the creativity and “wrongness” of Madoka’s Witches.

I was also suspect when we catch the first glimpse of the character’s CGI counterparts, which will almost always look different and separate from the hand-drawn designs. That said, in the heat of battle the speed and focus helps alleviate that design gap, while the combat is smooth, seamless, and impactful.

Characters’ designs also feature an exaggerated Victorian hourglass shape with wide hips impossibly slim waists, and the aforementioned too-tight stockings. The designs take some getting used to, but unlike the Huge at least they’re relatively unique in a sea of big-boobed rail-thin anime characters.

Plot-wise, this opening episode couldn’t be any simpler, with the plucky newbie Riri proving she can hold her own even in her very first fight—after she’s able to draw her CHARM, that is. Both Yuyu and Kaede could tell there was something special when Riri was able to sneak up on both to stop them from fighting early on.

The escaped Huge specimen from the academy lab is a nice way of easing Yuyu and audience into the mechanics of the conflict, though I’m hoping future Huge are more menacing and tougher to bring down. The spotless academy and its lush green environs are beautiful, but this world lacks that immediate existential peril of, say, any Angel attack in Evangelion.

That said, the Huge battle is rough, Riri ends up with a scar on her arm, and both she and Yuyu have to be quarantined after the battle, during which Riri reveals that Yuyu’s heroics on that bridge two years ago are pretty much the sole reason she joined up.

I appreciate that Kaede switched her affection from Yuyu to Riri after the latter pushed her out of harms way (she didn’t need quarantine) and it will be interesting to see if they end up forming a Schutzengel (German for “Guardian Angel”) contract.

Riri’s exploits with Yuyu and Kaede earn her immediate fame before the first-year entrance ceremony even kicks off. No doubt she’ll have more allies, rivals, and neutral parties all keeping a close eye on her so-far rapid progress, while keeping track of all the names and hairstyles will be challenging.

There’s also the inevitable “cool beauty is morose” dynamic to Yuyu suggesting some kind of Dark Past, as well as some end credits with far more explicit yuri elements than we saw in the episode itself. In Japan lilies represent purity and virtue, but with nary a dude to be seen and the conceit that only teenage girls can wield CHARMs, it seems love will be sought and/or found within the same team.

Assault Lily: Bouquet doesn’t offer anything particularly novel, but what it lacks in originality it does largely make up in solid execution. It looks and sounds very polished—as expected for Studio Shaft—and in a lean season may be enough to stick with it.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 09 – The Secret Ingredient

One morning over coffee Hikki is so honest and upfront with Komachi, she’s a little creeped out. It’s just not like him…only now, it kinda is. Bottom line: things happened. A lot of things. Komachi asks for details, and he promises to tell her everything “when it’s all over”. Until then, their celebration will be small and family-only, to avoid awkwardness.

Hikki’s awkwardness with Yui only lasts as long as she allows it, which is not long at all! She scolds Hikki for communicating through LINE messages rather than just talking. Her breaking the ice helps make Hikki more comfortable for when he takes her aside, by the swings, to ask her what her wish is.

Before that though, Hikki simply revels in being able to pleasantly chat with Yui like this, saying “nothing of importance” and pretending everything is normal…but considers simply going on doing that to be betraying himself. So he asks her something important, and Yui takes advantage of the request to basically stall, asking for a number of little things while she thinks about the main thing.

We’re already well aware of what Yui wants: she wants it all—And frankly, she deserves it! She wants Hikki, romantically. She wants to remain best friends with Yukino. And she wants the three of them to continue to be together. All of those things at once aren’t possible, and yet one cannot separate one part of that wish from the others and still have it be her wish…any more than you can pull the sugar and flour out of a baked cake.

Throughout the episode, Touyama Nao’s voice acting is phenomenal in its bittersweetness, and Yui’s face game is truly god-level. The next morning, at the shoe lockers, Hikki is confronted by Yumiko, who is direct in her intentions: Yui is a friend mine, so don’t be half-assed about this” or I’ll be royally pissed. Hikki is heartened by the gesture; Yumiko really is a good person!

Hikki also runs into Yukino and Iroha while he’s walking with Yui (a fact Iroha is quick to point out), and some extremely cordial chit-chat about how they’re doing ensues. Yukino labors to find the words for their situation, which is neither peachy nor dire, but waves off any attempts for Hikki to help; later Iroha tells him he’s free to do so whenever he wants as far as she’s concerned.

After that almost painfully diplomatic exchange, Yui takes Hikki aside and invites him to her house on Saturday…to make a cake for Komachi, like they’d planned earlier. Yui informs him her mom will be joining them to offer pointers.

Hikki expects the ensuing visit to be awkward, and it kinda is, especially when Yui’s mom isn’t around when he first arrives, and he and Yui simply sit close together while she looks over recipes. Then Yui’s mom pops up like a shinobi, the trio is off to the grocery store and from there, Hikki is in Yuigahama Heaven.

For one lovely evening the awkwardness generally melts away and Hikki and Yui go about making cute little fruit tarts with and without chocolate, one of which he feeds him by having him say “ahh”. When her mom brings up the absolutely crucial “secret ingredient” and asks Hikki to guess what it is, instead of saying the obvious “love” he says “devotion”…which is very on point for Hikki.

As Yui walks Hikki home, they both agree that making things together was and is a lot of fun. Hikki gives Yui the gift of cookies to repay her for those she made him (another Hikki trait: never taking a gift without offering renumeration) He again wishes he could continue living his days granting all of Yui’s wishes one by one, but dismisses that as “impossible fantasy”.

Speaking of awkward, with all the Hikki-and-Yui quality time this week, the shift to the seniors’ farewell ceremony, including emotional speeches from Iroha and Meguri-senpai, felt a little out of place, as if it was tacked on to the end of the episode because there was extra time left.

That said, Iroha uses the opportunity to tell Hikki she has a little job for him to “throw his back into” with his usual vim and vigor. Her impending request and some scenes from the preview suggest that despite Yukino’s insistence on it not being necessary, Hikki will be lending a hand with the prom after all.