The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 06 – Blessed Are the Weak

Just when this second season of Shield Hero was flagging and reminding me of another series that crashed and burned in its second season (cough-cough PROMISED NEVERLAND cough), it puts out one hell of an epic mid-cour finale. A lot is owed to the persistent mugging of Mid-Big Bad Kyou Ethnina, whom I thought was pretty generic at first—and kinda remains throughout—but there’s such a goshdarn charisma to him. Dude just loves being evil as shit and does not care.

Another welcome addition to an already packed stage? Queen Fitoria, AKA Tange Sakura in giant regal bird form, arriving in the nick of time to press the fight against the regenerated Spirit Tortoise. Through Filo, she tells Naofumi and the others to destroy the heart while she destroys the head. If they do it at the same time, the shield around the core will fall and it will be Bye-Bye Tortoise.

It’s a simple plan, but our boy Kyou isn’t about to let them pull it off without resistance. When Ost tries to open a way to the heart, Kyou stops them, and it’s a testament to his arrogance that he doesn’t bat an eyelash even when his fellow heroes from another world show up, having come up empty in finding the real heart, poised to team up with Naofumi’s party.

While L’Arc, Therese and Glass are deferent to their Vassal Weapons, Kyou treats his book like he stole it (which may be he did?). He doesn’t worry about being vastly outnumbered because he has the power of his book and the Tortoise and the other three heroes he captured at his disposal. With that power, he casts a supergravity spell that presses everyone to the ground. But as he gloats and stomps on Naofumi’s head, the seething magma within Rishia’s timid exterior finally erupts.

Rishia alone is able to rise to her feet and walk towards Kyou, mastering her ki manipulation just as her sensei knew she could. When her goofy bird costume gets burned away, she burst forth from the flames a dazzlingly cool avenging knight, taking the fight directly to Kyou embracing her weakness while exposing his, and then breaking the heroes free (though it must be noted they remain unconscious while Rishia does all this cool stuff).

Crucially, Rishia’s unexpected outburst buys the others time to move. Ost bestows the power of the Spirit Tortoise in Naofumi’s shield, allowing him to cast the all-powerful All Liberation Aura, freeing everyone from the gravity spell. Filo joins L’Arc & Co. to destroy the heart, while Naofumi prepares to use his Evil Shield, and the cost that comes with it. Ost repeats her wish for Naofumi to kill her…

A multi-cast spell, the destruction of the primary shield and the creation of an emergency backup shield later, and Naofumi can’t bring himself to summon any anger or hatred for Ost. But she played a little trick on him, already having embued and now fully awakening the Tortoise power within his shield. As the emergency shield and core are blasted away, Ost collapses, but the threat of the Tortoise is neutralized, and the lands are safe.

At this defeat, Kyou simply shrugs, as he’s kept “the bare minimum” of souls he collected within a vial that he uses to open a portal back to his home world. He tells Naofumi and Rishia “smell ya later” and hops. in. Ost, fading fast, tells Naofumi the Tortoise shield was only unlocked because he wasn’t swallowed up by rage or sorrow. He won’t have to use the evil shield anymore.

L’Arc, Therese, and Glass hop into the portal to chase after Kyou, but when Naofumi tries to follow, he’s stopped by “game rules” that say Cardinal Heroes can’t invade other worlds. However, Ost gives him one last boon by granting permission to go through the portal to help the others. Perhaps out of habit, Naofumi calls for Raphtalia and Filo to join him and tells Rishia to stay behind with Itsuki, but again she refuses.

She’s on the Shield Hero’s party now; they’re her comrades, and her rightful place is through the portal with them. Just like that, Naofumi has left one otherworld and is bound for another. It’s an unexpected but intriguing development here at the halfway point, and this episode just singlehandedly salvaged the season.

Magia Record – 25 (Fin) – A Record No One Knows

Step One of the Magia Record finale: dig poor Tamaki Iroha out of the yawning chasm of despair into which she was cast by losing both Ui and Kuroe. First, Iroha shoots a Kyuubey or three in the face, not wanting to hear his platitudes about extending the universe. Harder to silence is her own doppel, who says she couldn’t save Ui or Kuroe because she didn’t ever truly know or understand them.

Iroha is no doubt in a bad way, but thanks to the timely arrival of Yachiyo and the rest of Mikazuki Villa, she’s able to share her pain and failures with them, just as they shared joy and happiness in brighter days. They connect with both hope and despair, sharing everything about each other. This maximum understanding means Iroha is able to conjure a giant crossbow airship that conveys the quintet to Embryo Eye.

Mikazuki and a huge army of magical girls manages to restrain Embryo Eye, while Iroha is able to fly through any and all obstacles to end up with her two remaining little sisters in her arms. Nemu and Touka insist she fall back, stay safe and let them keep her alive for a long, long time. But Iroha assures them more time won’t make her happy if it means they must sully their hands, or disappear. She wants to share as much time as they have left together.

While she’s finally able to get Nemu and Touka to stand down, the victory lasts only a few moments when we’re reminded that the wild card Alina Gray is still on the board, and crazier than ever. Of all the hundreds of magical girls deployed in this battle, it only takes one to muck everything up, and that’s Alina, who above all must be entertained and engrossed by art and excitement, even if it means sacrificing herself to merge her doppel with both Embryo and Walpurgisnacht.

Alina’s destructive actions threaten everyone, magical girl or not, and Iroha can’t hold Nemu and Touka back from doing what they can to stop her. In this case, that is summoning their own doppels, going into overdrive, then catching up with the Alina-Embryo Eye and destroying it before it can merge with Walpurgisnacht—sacrificing themselves in the process.

The resulting explosion turns everything white, and Yachiyo wakes up on a train in space, wondering if she’s dead. She’s soon joined by former villa sisters Mel and Kanae, and then by Momoko and Mifuyu. They tell Yachiyo they’re not ghosts, but fragments of their magic that live on within her. Thus is Yachiyo’s magical ability finally confirmed not as the power to survive by sacrificing friends, but the power to carry on their hopes.

After meeting with Ui and saying goodbye one last time (though Ui also says a part of her will remain with Iroha, specifically every time she experiences happiness), Iroha ends up in one last discussion with her doppel. But since she no longer fears her doppel, and has come to understand her, Iroha is able to remain in control, and even draw upon her doppel’s power, combined with Ui’s collective power, to connect each and every magical girl on the battlefield with glowing pink threads.

They’re not threads that collect despair, but seek understanding and sisterhood. One big happy magical girl family, all of whom know each other, and all of whom have a part of themselves in their others. She and Yachiyo connect and conjure a mammoth half-spear, half-crossbow bolt. Declaring that no matter how sad or regretful she gets, she’s going to keep living, Iroha fires the bolt, finishing the Alina-Eye off and dispursing Walpurgisnacht.

The clous part, the blue sky and gleaming sun bathes Iroha and Yachiyo in its warm light. The rest of Mikazuki Villa joins them, and they revel in their hard-fought victory. After the credits we see new occupants arriving at Mikazuki Villa in some undetermined but not necessarily distant future, with framed pictures of former tenants, including Yachiyo and her original group, as well as Iroha and her little sisters.

But they’re just photos of girls. As the girls in those photos narrate that nobody knows nor will know the struggles they faced, the sacrifices they made, the tears they shed and the blood they spilled. They won’t know they failed, were deceived, were stolen from, or that they fought each other, made up with each other, comforted each other.

The damage caused to the city is explained by a combination of earthquakes, typhoons, and terrorist attacks. What actually happened will never be recorded, and to the rest of humanity, magical girls and their record never existed.

It’s a expectedly sobering and haunting way to close the curtain on this bizarre world. But it doesn’t matter to Iroha if she was remembered, only that she got to be a magical girl, save people, and live and share in the lives of those she loved.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

SSSS.Dynazenon – 12 (Fin) – E Pluribus Gundum

Gauma is in a bad way and Second can only ease his pain, but with Gridknight and Goldburn losing ground to Shizumu, Yume and Yomogi know what to do. Juuga, Mujina and Onija notice the new Shizumu Kaiju, realize they can’t control it, and instead allow him to swallow them up. This makes things even more difficult for Knight-kun.

Koyomi’s Dyna-car just happens to land near enough to him that he can simply hop in and join the battle; ditto Yomogi, who gets to make a dramatic leap over a cliff of debris into his Soldier. Yume trips and falls, but Yomogi soon tracks her down and offers to take her to her Wing. Gauma even manages to pilot his Dyna-thingy with Second, so all six pieces of the puzzle are there to fight the Eugenicists.

It’s here where we get a lot of those trademark super-intense Trigger Faces, as Juuga curses (and confesses?) to Gauma (who tells him to “shaddap!”), Mujina curses Koyomi (who loudly apologizes), and Yume and Yomogi get the silent treatment from their former classmate Shizumu. But once Yomogi realizes he can Instance Dominate the enemy with his Kaiju user power, the battle is pretty much over.

There’s a number of different Dyna-combinations, all of which are great fun to watch as the pilots shout in unison. The coup-de-grace comes from the old standby Super Dragon Dyna Rex (carrying a combo of Gridknight and Goldburn on its back) firing off the most verbose attack yet: Blazing Hot Inferno Burning Grid Rex Roar.

The Eugenicists glimpse their impending deaths and accept their fate (again), but so does Gauma, who passes away shortly after claiming victory. None of them are particularly upset about this; Mujina even thinks it might be “better this way”, while Juuga is certain the time of Kaiju will still come someday. As for Gauma, he finally understands why the Princess didn’t revive with him: because she entrusted Dynazenon to him. And he did good.

Three months later, as the silent credits roll (no OP or ED in this finale, but the opening theme did make an appearance during the battle, as is its wont), we get a very wide shot of Yume and Yomogi walking slowly across a bridge, Yume stopping Yomogi going back for her, and the two continuing on. I don’t know about you, but to me this feels like Yume wordlessly giving Yomogi her answer.

The two join Chise and Koyomi to take one last look at Gauma’s home under the bridge and bid farewell to Knight and Second, who are taking the now-inert Dynazenon and Gridknight with them. It must be tough, but Chise accepts that the best and coolest friend she ever had doesn’t belong in the world of logic and reason.

Speaking of which, Chise is back in her slick street clothes, since her school was one of the casualties of the climactic battle. That’s a pretty cool touch. As for Koyomi, he looks so different three months later with his haircut and well-fitting suit, I assumed at first he was a last-minute cameo from the Gridmanverse. Chise has also ditched her sleeve, revealing a Goldburn tattoo that was there all along. Looks like her friend will always be with her after all.

That leaves the inevitable cultural festival scene. Yomogi and Yume’s class is doing a horror café, and their shift is about to start but Yume is trying to shirk her duty. After pointing his mom and new stepdad—whom he seems to have accepted and even get along with— to the tickets, he is selected by his friends to track Yume down.

After seeing Mai’s photo exhibition (she decided to use photos of Yume after all which…why would you not), Yume finds the highest place in the school and sings a song in tribute to Kano. Then, as she was probably expecting, Yomogi finds her. She reaches out her hand and, after he recalls a final convo with Shizumu about how he was rejecting a future as a fellow kaiju user, but he was okay with that, he takes her hand and helps her onto her feet.

You can really feel the weight of he characters and the touch of their hands thanks to the animation and sound. She then scolds Yomogi for using her last name Minami, Yomogi relents and calls her Yume while blushing all the way, and Yume lets out a cheekily mirthful laugh.

Once they’re done their shift (as a bloody corpse and mummy, respectively), Yume and Yomogi pose for a photo with the others, and notice they still have their scars. Yume hopes they’ll never lose them, since they’re precious reminders of how they found themselves, found other, and learned to find happiness in their lives. These crazy kids are going to be alright.

The final scene is of Knight and Second arriving back in what I’ll call Akane’s illusory world. I’ll go ahead and assume Yomogi & Co.’s world was pretty much our world. While this is pretty cool to see, it’s not as huge or goosebump-inducing as Gridman’s live action mic drop. IN fact, you could probably make a case that Yomogi’s world is also a fake, simply because everyone looks like they’re in an anime.

That’s further food for thought, but in the end, my cerebral stomach is feeling pretty satisfied already. SSSS Dynazenon was one hell of an eclectic, sumptuous meal, a brilliant and epic melding of the absurd and mundane, both impossibly fantastical and piercingly real. I’m really going to miss this gang of misfits, but assuming Trigger isn’t done with robots, kaiju, and alienated, flawed, and immensely charming characters, I look forward to the next entry in the Gridman Universe.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

KonoSuba 2 – 10 (Fin)

Well, like its last season, KonoSuba only ended up lasting ten episodes, but it delivered an action-packed and generally really good-looking finale that actually covered a bit of plot to go along with its omnipresent comedy. Plus, everyone had a chance to look really cool, even if things ultimately don’t quite work out as planned, as usual.

After using Darkness’ noble status to gain access to a contaminated hot spring, the party encounters Hans, the frustrated man whom Kazuma related with so much last week. Turns out he’s a leader in the Devil King’s army, and a deadly poison slime to boot.

Wiz is content to say hi to her old comrade at first, but when she learns he’s eaten the innocent hot springs overseer, she finally shows her teeth…and Horie Yui finally gets some meaty badass lines.

When the angry mob finally catches up to the party and sees Hans’ true form, they realize Aqua wasn’t a fraud after all. They send healing magic her way as she attempts to purify the spring, while Darkness protects them from errant slime bombs (even though they still hate her for being an Eris cultist).

Kazuma buys time for everyone by serving as a diversion for the slime and getting eaten (but not fully digested, facilitating his resurrection later) so Megumin can use Explosion magic to reduce the slime’s size, allowing Wiz to encase him in a Cursed Crystal Prison.

When even that’s not enough, Aqua draws power from her wishy-washy followers and their ridiculous credo (and that old man chanting about Eris’s padded chest) to land a GOD BLOW and GOD REQUIEM on Hans, finishing him for good, probably.

It’s perhaps the coolest and most badass we’ve seen Aqua look yet, and the shortened season clearly freed up significant fundage for a dazzlingly-animated battle…though Kazuma is dead for a full half of it, the camera still cuts to his dry bones often. He did his part!

Naturally, despite all the displays of badassdom, Aqua’s magic finishing moves ended up turning all the profitable hot spring water in Arcanretia into plain ‘ol water, and she’s run out of town by her justifiably angry, ungrateful followers.

The gang heads home the same way they arrived: by wagon (Wiz was greatly weakened and almost killed, again, by Aqua’s magic), and everyone is just happy to be home. Even after all he’s been through and all the failure and destruction his party has wrought, he still feels blessed to be living in such a beautiful, if often hard, world. It’s certainly better than being cooped up in his bedroom back in Japan, right?

KonoSuba is the kind of show that could simply keep on going, and the parting message that thanks us for watching doesn’t rule out a third season. But ten is a good number for a season of KonoSuba, and a year is a good amount of time to have in between those seasons, so no rush.

DanMachi – 13 (Fin)

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Rather than end its 13-episode run with a “To Be Continued” or other cliffhanger silliness (though I’m not even sure if this was meant to get a second season), DanMachi decides to spend its last episode the same way the end of a good RPG ends: with a huge final battle and a classic “good ending.”

The end definitely snuck up on us, and thus it was hard not to feel like things were rushing a little, but I was still glad for the finality of the boss battle, and all the character work and action it entailed.

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The boss himself is…well, naked and kinda dumb-looking, which has been DanMachi’s problem from episode one: none of the enemies are particularly scary-looking or even particularly creative in design. This is something the most recent GARO almost always got right (to say nothing of the nightmare-inducing Gauna of Hannah’s Sidonia.)

In addition to being somewhat goofy-looking, this boss doesn’t really DO much besides mill around waving his arms around. I’m not sure I buy the fact they can’t escape the level either; if the entire town can be mustered to fight the boss, surely some of them can use their magic to open an escape route.

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The show clearly understands the concept of distractions, decoys, and well-timed combos, because several of each are unleashed on the boss, to no avail due to his ridiculous regeneration ability. Dumb-looking or not, this is definitely the toughest boss the show has given us yet.

The combo that works in the end is akin to saving up all of the full overdrive gauges of your whole party, then unleashing those overdrive attacks in quick succession to bring the beast down, or at least shave off a decent amount of his HP.

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Ryuu, Mikoto, and Welf are involved in the final combo, which sufficiently softens up the boss for Bell’s “Hero’s Strike”, which causes a fade-to-white yet still doesn’t quite finish the boss; for that, he has to use the trusty runeblade Hestia made for him (and which symbolizes their love and devotion to one another) to crack the central crystal and send the boss to Nowheresville.

The final casualty list? Well, no one we know. In fact, those scumbags who kidnapped Hestia last week even gain a grudging respect for Bell, a nice bit of development even if its for characters we care about. As for those we do care about, they’re all fine, in good shape for what I imagine to be a second season a year or so hence.

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At least, that’s what I hope. After all, there’s still a lot of stories to be told both inside and outside the dungeon, many levels yet to explore and conquer, not to mention Bell being the “Last Hero of the Zeus Familia” or something.

As for Freya…well, not sure why her character existed at all this season, except that she’ll eventually play a bigger role later on, when Bell presumably grows ever more powerful and popular.

Until then, I bit adieu to DanMachi, a solid action fantasy with lots of heart, likable characters, and rich world-building that never failed to entertain.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 24

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UBW really kicked into high gear as expected, delivering a powerhouse finale to the battle to save the world from Gilgamesh. From the moment Shirou got back to his feet, to Rin’s beautifully dorky victorious thumbs-up, it was an intense ride, with some of the best action sequences yet delivered on a show that specializes in such things.

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As Gilgamesh and Shirou continue to bandy words, the latter begins to understand what his magic is all about, and why he’ll be able to defeat Gil without Saber’s help, a laughable proposition to the king. But it’s because he’s a king that Shirou, a warrior who’s very body is made of infinite swords, will always be able to stay one step ahead of GIlgamesh one-on-one in the reality marble of his making.

 

Gilgamesh owns swords, i.e. Noble Phantasms, and stores them in his treasury. But it’s still a finite number, and he’s mastered none of them, just like Shirou. If any other servant was the last one standing, he or she would easily defeat Shirou with their mastered Noble Phantasm.

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That…actually makes a lot of sense, at least relative to the show’s mythology. Speaking of warriors, Saber comes to Rin’s aid, but is a bit too late and Rin and Shinji are consumed by the Holy Grail goop. Rin’s about to give up and Saber is about to obey her command seals and blow the whole thing up, but a brace of arrows from the sky cut Rin free. Turns out Archer, our Archer, is still around, which makes sense, since he made it clear he remains irrevocably trapped between life and death.

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With Rin out of harm’s way, Saber gives in to her command seal and unleashes Excalibur on the Grail/Servant Monster, blowing it to bits in an awesome display of light and power. But using the Holy Sword means the end of Saber, who wishes she could stick around, but is content in knowing Rin is around to take care of Shirou. (She also probably realizes that if she stayed, the love triangle that would persist would be a pain in the ass ;)

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Saber’s exit is quick, but not unexpected, because the show had foreshadowed quite a bit up to now that she’d be the sacrifice necessary to save Shirou and Rin and end the war. With the grail destroyed, it’s left to Shirou to continue hacking away at Gilgamesh, who is forced to “go all out.” Even so, Shirou slashes his arm off before Ea can touch him.

The reality marble vanishes as Shirou runs out of mana, but Gil can’t kill him because a remnant of the grail attempts to make him its new vessel. Gil, not wanting to die, tries to tether himself to Shirou with a chain, but Archer helps Shirou out one last time by delivering an arrow to Gil’s head. He’s sucked into oblivion. And just like that, it’s over. Cue victory fanfare and calculation of loot and EXP.

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Archer visits Rin one last time to say goodbye and laugh at the “state” both of them are in. His usual scowl and tough-guy talk gone, he looks and sounds more like the Shirou. He urges her, as Saber did, to take care of Shirou so he won’t end up like him, before vanishing before a gorgeous sunrise.

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With Saber and Archer gone, we’re left with two humans (three, if you count Shinji, which I don’t). There’s a big exhale and feeling of heady relief as Shirou suggest to Rin they go home, clean up, get some food in them, and get some rest. Having wrapped up all the big stuff here, UBW can give the entire last episode over to epilogue, an arrangement I can get behind. Let’s see what all this fighting and sacrifice wrought.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 23

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The calm is over, bring on the storm. And my oh my, is that storm ever gross. Let it be said: shutting down the Holy Grail is a task akin to wading through refuse in the bowels of the Death Star; at least that’s the vibe I got. This is mana given physical form, but that form is nasty. It seems too crude weapon for a King of Heroes would use to “cull the mongrels” as he so eloquently puts it. Then again, I imagine it’s the only weapon he has to get the job done.

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Shirou, Rin and Saber’s plan falls apart almost immediately, as Gil confronts the former two while the latter is tied up for the entire episode by Assassin, who has not vanished yet, due to…good fortune? Don’t you mean ‘plot convenience,’ show? Regardless, I’m glad the show didn’t forget about Assassin, and even though he’s fading away, he puts up his usual tough fight at the temple gate, complete with his original brand of stoic banter.

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As for Gil, the glimpse of yore is striking, but his grandeur is let down by his unceasing monologues, which make him sound like a garden-variety villain, contemptuous of humanity, seeking to reshape the world to the way it was, when everyone’s life had purpose. I don’t remember the Gilgamesh of the eponymous epic to be such a dick towards humanity.

Then again, I haven’t read it in a while. He also seems to take his sweet old time killing Shirou, even saying out loud he’s going easy on him, since he’d consider taking the “Faker” seriously a defeat in and of itself. Look, I don’t need all villains to have a sympathetic side, but Gil is essentially nothing but a harbinger of death. He’s barely even a character, and for all his talk of originality, he’s always felt like the thinnest, least developed Servant in UBW. 

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His bluster about not going all out is also an opening to his defeat, as arrogant villains like him are often their own worst enemies. His complete lack of understanding of humanity’s complexity is also demonstrated as Rin casually wades through the goo, climbs the grail, and pulls its vessel Shinji out, disrupting Gil’s plans. Rin isn’t doing it for her would-be sexual predator, but for his sister, someone the show has totally forgotten about but we know to be a good person.

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Gil think’s Rin’s actions are part and parcel of what’s wrong with humanity, but hey, the grail ain’t got a vessel any more, and it forms a giant arm to reach out to him when Shinji is gone, interrupting a fight that Shirou is hanging in fairly well, now that he’s copying all of the weapons Gil sends at him.

In one of Gil’s cooler moments, his mouth is actually mostly shut. Instead, he summons a strange lock-like mechanism which he then unlocks, summoning a bizarre-looking sword Shirou neither recognizes or nor can scan. Gil calls it Ea—no doubt named after the Sumerian deity also known as Enki—and dispatches the grail arm with ease, also destroying the temple he’s standing on and knocking Shirou out.

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Meanwhile, as their battle rages on, Assassin reveals nothing he’s ever done has had any meaning, since he was always a false, fictional servant. Sasaki Kojirou was never his name; he has no name, and only exists to replicate the skills of the real Sasaki.

Yet despite all that untold time as nothing, doing nothing of consequence, he considers the final moments he spends locked in battle with Saber to finally provide him with purpose. Saber manages to cut him through with her Holy Sword, and he lets her pass, making me wonder if she’ll now disappear because she used it…

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So that leaves us with a Rin with an out-cold, messed-up Shinji in her arms, a grail seeking a new vessel and being rebuked by Gilgamesh, a Shirou who is severely winded and lying in a pile of rubble, and a Saber whose time on this earth may or may not have just become severely curtailed a result of using her trump.

Of these people, Gilgamesh certainly seems to be standing on the firmest ground, but with his grail sabotage Saber sure to bear down on him momentarily, he may want to start thinking about a Plan B. I’m certain he’s going down—he’s the bad guy and this is that kind of show—it’s a matter of how fantastically he’s brought down, and what it will cost our heroes.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 22

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After a tense multi-episode battle with Archer, Shirou, Saber and Rin get a much-deserved respite back home, which almost seems like a preview of sorts for the “household of three” domestic arrangement that represents the ideal ending for these three once the war is over.

But it’s far from a sure thing, as there’s still Gilgamesh/Archer and his Shinji Grail to deal with. Rin determines that it’s all going down at Ryuudou Temple, so after a meal (gotta feed the brain), they determine the best course of action.

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There’s an interesting dance between the three in Shirou’s sprawling manse, as he happens to not be around while Rin is conferring with her servant, while Saber happens to not be around when Shirou goes to Rin’s room, where she tells him how they’re going to get over his lack of mana (and thus inability to maintain a reality bubble like Archer): she’s going to transfer her magic crest to him, giving him all the mana he’ll need to face Gilgy.

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This is treated as very intimate act, but not too intimate. While it’s certainly the hottest thing these two have done together (on this particular show, that is), things stay tasteful…if a bit dull and underwhelming.

Considering the affection these two have for each other, everything they’ve been through, and the fact they may not come back from their next fight, part of me wanted a little more amorousness.

Yet their contact never comes close to veering into the territory of sex, with Rin only removing her iconic turtleneck and Shirou taking off his shirt, with the understanding that more efficient “exchange of body heat” helps the process. Whatever you say, show.

While the transfer takes place, Shirou has some trippy dreams about being amongst jellyfish-style marine animals in the sea, to a scene of a kid practicing the high jump over and over as a young Rin watches.

I gathered that the jumping kid was him, and this was an actual memory Rin cherishes, and bristles when Shirou brings it up, because she doesn’t have an intimate memory of his to lord over him.

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When they’re all done, Shirou goes out to see Saber, who was thankfully not peeking through the window to see what was going on or anything silly like that. Shirou is resolved to take care of Gilgamesh and come back home safe and sound, but Saber seems more tentative about that last part.

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So this was the calm before the storm—which is brewing menacingly on the other side of town—but a warm and enjoyable one. Again, I don’t particularly care about Gilgamesh’s ideals or anything; he’s just an arrogant Bad Guy who needs to be put in his place. Here’s hoping our Power Triangle can make it happen.

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Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda – 12 (Fin)

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Zvezda looked down and out, and we were honestly at a loss in predicting how they were going to dig out of the hole they found themselves in. After all, we left last week with Galatika toast and Kate and Itsuka surrounded by guys with guns, with only big words to bandy. Defeat against Governor Jimon seemed inevitable barring a miracle. They got several.

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Kate may be up against the wall, but aside from passing out for nap time, she never abandons her belief that she will ultimately prevail over the cigar-chomping boob of an adversary. The final battle is an highly amusing push-and-pull: Jimon has his magic shield, magic cigar smoke, and giant retro mecha, but Kate has Dva, Natasha and her tentacle monster, Roboko in human disguise (complete with Total Recall-style transformation), who snatchs the real Galatika from the traitor Yase, and White Robin, who helps out the bad guys and coaxes White Egret to her side.

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Even Pepel/Goro revives, woken up by White Falcon/Kaori, who turns out to have a thing for him. We’ve been listening to Maaya Sakamoto voice Lightning for going on forty hours, so it’s fun to hear her as Kaori, whose voice is more emotional and varied than Light’s. Some units of the JSDF defect to Zvezda, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Kate taking over the driving of Plamya’s motorcycle, flashing her inexpirable license to Asuta when he asks.

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It’s a totally absurd, logically dubious hyper-stylized final confrontation, but full of Zvezda’s trademark charm, wit, and internal commentary about how absurd and logically dubious things are. In other words, a fitting way to end. The crass nihilism of Governor Jimon falls to the optimism, spunk, and gregariousness of Zvezda. Life returns pretty much to normal, but only briefly: a Zvezda-like organization from New York fires the first shot in the next battle, one that actually sounds more fun than the one against the stodgy governor…a teaser for a possible sequel, perhaps. But for now, we’ll bask in the light of Zvezda.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Average Rating: 7.750
MyAnimeList Score: 7.38

Witch Craft Works – 12 (Fin)

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Witch Craft Works follows Noragami with a similarly tepid ending; wrapping up the Weekend arc with a load of miscellaneous magical mumbo-jumbo, while frantically jumping from one place to another tying up loose ends. We got way more tell and not enough show, but in the end, the show had kinda backed itself into a corner where technicalities had to be employed to explain why both Honoka and Kagari survive and save the day.

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We will say we liked the effect of the city and its people being restored all in one fell swoop after Honoka agrees to sacrifice his life in exchange for Evermillion’s power. Turns out she merely transferred the power Ayaka had been using back to Honoka by annulling their contract. But it’s hastily restored and Ayaka is revived. It’s a reiteration of a problem this show had for its entire run: a lack of palpable danger and risk.

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Meanwhile, Weekend is out of mana and defeated, and gets captured by Chronoire on her way out. Then Chronoire and Kazane (who healed up much faster than Weekend predicted) fight it out, because they have a past, or something, and everything returns to normal, including Tanpopo’s gang challenging Ayaka to fights that they then lose badly. Presumably it also means more of Kasumi fighting Ayaka for bro-time.

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This was a case where the buildup of the last couple weeks was better than the payoff, but we were kinda expecting that, so we don’t feel particularly ripped off. The lush, whimsical visual style and guy-as-the-damsel dynamic sustained us till the end, but Witch Craft Works never really got better than its first couple episodes, due to ultimately lame villains and way too many extraneous side characters.

Rating: 6 (Good)
Average Rating: 7.167
MyAnimeList Score: 7.43

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