Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

My Senpai is Annoying – 07 – Doing What You Love

This week is the Futaba-Natsumi friendship origin episode, and I’m here for it! They’re honestly such a wonderfully cozy pair of BFFs it didn’t matter if we didn’t witness them meet, but I’m so glad we did. Poor Futaba’s GPS is going haywire so she decides to follow someone in the same fuku…only for Natsumi to start running at top speed!

Despite Natsumi leading Futaba not to school but the arcade where she intends to play hooky, the two become unlikely but fast friends in the back row of the classroom. When it comes time to join clubs, Futaba expresses her wish to join the art club because she loves to draw.

Natsumi hates competition ever since a boy tripped her to win a relay on sports day in grade school, but Futaba, unaware that Natsumi is harboring that bad memory, tells her if she loves doing something—in this case running—she should do it, or she may regret it if she doesn’t.

It’s almost verbatim the advice Natsumi gives to Yuuta when the two encounter one another running in the evening. Yuuta likes basketball, so he should play, even if he’s not the best at it. You can’t get better if you don’t try! Meanwhile, Futaba and Takeda end up having a little mini-date of sorts when they’re tasked with saving a spot under one of the blooming cherry trees for an office after-hours function, which honestly looks like a ton of fun.

After complementing her hair color and her drawings, Futaba recalls how it was Natsumi who gave her the courage to join the art club. Futaba would draw between classes in her sketchbook, but one day a couple of bullies decided to mess with her, which…why would you mess with Futaba?! Why would you want to do anything but protect her with your life?

For Natsumi, the answer is she wouldn’t. For the crime of making her beloved Futaba cry, one of the bullies gets a devastating punch to the face. She then tells the boys that it doesn’t matter if she “sucks” at drawing; she’s doing what she likes to do, so lay the fuck off!

The boys wisely learn the error of their ways, and their apology isn’t forced or obligatory, as he actually explains why what he did was wrong and regretted doing it. He also realized that both they and Futaba are in the same boat, in their case joining the baseball club despite being crap at it because they like baseball, dammit!

As for Natsumi, she doesn’t get in trouble because the boys went to the teacher to explain that they were in the wrong. Futaba thanks Natsumi by telling her they should call each other by their first names only. With that, a legendary friendship was forged, which continues into their adult lives now that they both live in Tokyo.

Takeda enjoys Futaba telling the story as much as Futaba clearly enjoys telling it, as her eye shimmer with love as she described how her friend supported her in pursuing her passion. We barely set one foot in the office this week, and that’s okay, because it was simply lovely to learn more about Futaba and Natsumi. As for Futaba’s senpai, it’s pretty clear he’s not “annoying” as the show’s title says, but I guess My Senpai is Someone Who I Like Hanging Out With and Talking To would be a bit too long…

Shin no Nakama – 05 – For Their Own Sake

Red and Rit are leisurely preparing to open the shop for the day when a brace of bigwigs from different guilds arrive unannounced, demanding to see Rit. Red says “Uh, no, you can see her when we open”. Realizing there’s nothing else they can do, they agree to wait. I love this. After years of carrying the weight of a party and a kingdom, respectively, Red and Rit aren’t here for anyone but each other.

Rit eventually goes out to speak with the bigwigs, who want her to go back to adventuring, but she tells them she’s signed a lifetime employment contract with Red’s apothecary. He overhears this, and figures it’s the perfect time to give her a gift: an amber bracelet.

This is after a Thieves Guild rep offers him a valuable Elven coin in exchange for Rit, which he obviously refuses. When he asks what her favorite gemstone is, she basically says whatever gemstone he gives her. Fool, you wanna be putting a ring on it!

While minding the store, Rit just revels in the fact she had no idea she’d be working there and living with Red, whom she once knew as Gideon. That takes us to another flashback to when she first met his very good friend—his very tall, very pretty good friend—Yalandrala, and is threatened by her flirting with Gideon as they traverse a forbidden forest they can only cross with Yal and the blessing that allows her to speak to the plants.

Yal can tell what’s going on even before Rit starts with the tsundereing, so she takes her aside to a crisp, cool forest spring for some bathing and a heart-to-heart. There, Yal tells Rit that because she’s a high elf who will live a much longer life, she’s decided not to fall for any humans (a mistake she already said she made once). But it’s clear to her that Rit is crazy about Gideon, and Yal cares about him too, so she’s glad such a nice person has fallen for him.

Even then, Yalandrala wanted Gideon to live his life for his own sake, knowing as only she, Rit, and few others know how far his power goes beyond his blessing and skills. And make no mistake, he’s fully in charge of the party, how it’s going to do things and when.

Ruti may have final sway as the Hero, but she also understands her brother’s power and defers to him. And though Gideon has Rit accompany her to fight the goblins, Ruti quickly demonstrates that in such a situation she’s all she’s got, she’s all she needs.

When the party is reunited, Ruti is the first one to hug Gideon, and Rit decides that she doesn’t want to take him away from her, seeing as how she’s the Hero they’re all depending on. But as fortune would have it, Ares kicked him out of the party, which has led to her and now-Red living and working together in pure bliss.

When a sketchy adventurer who thinks he knows her “weakness” threatens to tell Loggervia she’s in this village slacking off, she basically shrugs and says “go ahead.” She doesn’t care about her social standing in Loggervia. She’s where she wants to be, doing what she wants. This guy can’t touch her.

Because she’s happy here, with Red, each living for their own and each other’s sakes. They’ve earned it! I’m happy for them, and even happier they’re able to swat away possible wrenches in their works so easily this week. That said, we get a flashback to when Ruti learned that her brother had left the party. She learns this from Ares, who intends to take Gideon’s place.

When Ruti suspects that Ares did something to Gideon to make him leave, she puts her arm through his chest, killing him in a spray of blood and gore. Of course, since she’s the Hero, she can revive him in a second, but I’d like to think this was the moment Ares realized he was way out of his depth. Not only because he’s not half the adventurer Red is, but because he tried to play fast and loose with the goddamn Hero. 

The greatest threat to Red and Rit’s blissful quiet life isn’t threats or blackmail from random adventurers or thieves, but the possibility his sister can’t be the Hero she needs to be without him in the party.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stray Observations:

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

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.

Attack on Titan – 62 – Looking Past the Hell

If you like Reiner Braun, you’ll love this episode. If you’re an anime-only watcher wondering where the hell Eren, Mikasa and Armin are, well…you’ll have to settle for flashback cameos for now. When Reiner saw the latest (and possibly last) generation of Titan candidates as his own candidate circle last week, that was a prelude to the episode we get this week, in which the story of his generation of candidates unfolds.

Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Pieck, and the Galliard brothers Marcel and Porco make up that previous generation. Back in the day, Reiner was extremely unsure of himself and his talents, much like Falco is in the present, and was bullied by Porco. Marcel kept his bro in check, but Annie is too busy smushing grasshoppers into goo to get involved in the scraps.

Unlike Falco, Reiner towed the company line without hesitation, and the Marleyan commanders valued his loyalty. To Reiner’s shock and Porco’s outrage, Reiner ends up inheriting the Armored Titan. He and the others (minus Porco) end up in a parade, which he leaves when he spots his Marleyan dad. Unfortunately, his dad wants nothing to do with him.

The new Titan Warriors are sent by Commander Magath to Paradis, and on their first night there, Reiner learns that Marcel set things up so Reiner would get the Armored Titan instead of his brother. Like Falco intends to do with Gabi, Marcel wanted to protect his brother and give him a longer life. That morning the group is ambushed by Ymir, but Marcel saves Reiner at the cost of his own life.

When Reiner stops running later that morning, Annie and Bertholdt eventually catch up with him, and he’s a blubbering wreck. Annie has no time for his cowardice and starts to beat the shit out of him, insisting that their new priority should be to retrieve the Jaw Titan and head home.

As she beats him, Annie says both Marleyans and Eldians are a bunch of lying bastards, so who gives a shit, but Reiner rises like a creepy zombie from behind her and puts her in a chokehold. He insists they continue the mission. If they tried to go home now, they’d be fed to their successors.

After this scuffle, we know what happens: Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie attack Shiganshima as the events from Titan’s very first episode are repeated from the Titans’ POV.

The three mix with the district’s refugees and join the 104th Cadet Corps with Eren & Co. We know that story too. Fast forward five years, and Annie tracks down Kenny Ackerman, but is unable to get any info about the Founding Titan (i.e., Eren) from him, and he doesn’t buy that she’s his long-lost daughter.

Annie wants to head back to Marley, certain that the intel they’ve amassed these five years will be sufficient, but Reiner knows better: They don’t have the Founding Titan, which means their mission isn’t complete, which means they won’t be welcomed back.

As Reiner’s memories of his undercover mission on Paradis progress, we see watch present-day Reiner prepare to commit suicide by placing a rifle in his mouth. He only hesitates when he overhears Falco, probably the candidate most like him in his candidate days, discussing his problems with one of the wounded veterans at the hospital (who, judging from his black hair and green eyes, could…could be an older Eren in disguise).

Falco could be one of the last Titan warriors, and he needs all the help he can get from those who served before him. Reiner decides he won’t end his life today. His life might be hell right now, but he’s still able to look beyond that hell to, in this case, the hell that awaits Falco and his comrades. If he can stop them from reliving that hell, remaining alive will have been well worth it.

Great Pretender – 19 – The Interpreter

Laurent could hardly have envisioned that his failed revenge mission in Paris would set him on the path—and connect him with the people—that would define the rest of his life. No one person is more important than Dorothy, the woman he accidentally stabbed when trying to kill the man who scammed his mom.

Turns out Dorothy is working a scam on the scammer, as Laurent learns when he meets her, Kim and Oz, a trio of confidence artists looking for a fourth operative who is good with languages (and other stuff too).

Dorothy’s natural charisma and the lure of scamming bad guys proves irresistible to Laurent—He’s in, and the jazzy theme plays over their first jobs together, which span the globe and capitalize on their ability to pose as international dealmakers.

They scam a developer into buying overvalued land in Brazil, then scam a mafia boss into buying a soccer team in Milan. It’s basically what we watch Makoto go through in the first arcs of the show, but compressed into a montage.

The jobs keep coming, and with them the cash and security Laurent and his mom lacked. He also falls for Dorothy, despite her saying at the very beginning that they’re neither partners nor lovers, just a collection of lone-wolf strangers working towards the same goal from job to job.

Even so, in one of the loveliest-looking scenes of the whole series, Laurent tries to convince a just-awakened Dorothy to give up the increasingly dangerous life of conning powerful assholes and settle down together as husband and wife.

In another gorgeous scene, Laurent leads Dorothy up a frozen hill in Finland to see the Northern Lights. The combination of the reflection of the light ribbons in her cool jewel-like eyes and her rosy nose and cheeks is adorable, and brings an earnestness to someone who has played so many roles it’s hard to determine who is real.

That brings us to one of many meetings the con artists have in their Paris headquarters. Both Kim and Oz are considering retiring and enjoying the cash they’ve made (with Oz contemplating returning to the wife and son he abandoned). Laurent wants to retire with Dorothy, but she wants to do One Last Score. And wouldn’t you know it, that score involves Liu Xiao and the Shanghai mafia.

Laurent ingratiates himself with Liu by proving an adept Mahjongg player, but also a capable and loyal fellow who jumps in the way when an unknown assailant tries to stab Liu in the elevator. This is, incidentally, the same trick Dorothy pulled on him when they first met. Liu quickly hires Laurent as his interpreter.

Laurent introduces him to Oz, posing as a Japanese buyer of refugee kids at the auction, as well as Kim posing as a broker. They get Liu interested in the prospect of selling royalty, with Dorothy ultimately posing as an Ethiopian princess living in exile in Japan (a place she chose because she wanted to visit).

This episode gets the job done introducing Dorothy, who has more than a little bit of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy that can be simultaneously endearing and annoying (ennoying? andearing?) Mostly, it shows us a Laurent who would very much like to get out of the con artist business, marry Dorothy, and settle down, thank you very much. Of course, we know how that turned out, so tragedy is sure to strike at some point in this “one last job”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 18 – The Pressure is the Reward

Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia are bound, fitted with weights, and taken out to sea to be executed. However, Oz begs Suzaku Akemi to spare his boy. Oz tells Makoto to kill Abby and Cynthia to prove his loyalty, and the two women tell him they’re neither friends nor family, and would kill him if they were in his shoes.

Makoto doesn’t believe that, and in any case can’t hurt either of them, so Oz shoots them instead, and they fall overboard and under the waves, apparently dead…but quite possibly not? What matters is Makoto thinks they’re dead, and when Akemi offers him Oz’s life, he takes it.

For several days Makoto neither talks nor eats, but turns a page when he’s able to grieve his losses in Akemi’s welcome arms. Two months pass, and she’s taken him under her wing like a surrogate son—replacing the one who walked away from the family business.

Because Makoto is a highly capable person who increases Akemi’s profits, she puts him in charge of the human auctions without hesitation and arranges for him to have a room at her house, deepening their relationship. Ishigami has never seen the boss like this, and fears she’s taking it too easy.

He makes sure Makoto understands that the pressure he’s feeling is both the reward and what keeps one on their toes enough to hang in there. He also warns him that while Akemi won the last round, Shanghai problem isn’t going to go away. Makoto comes home to find Oz outside his apartment. (If he faked his death, it stands to reason Cynthia and Abby are probably fine too, though that’s left up in the air for now).

From a slick office overlooking a futuristic, fluorescent Shanghai, Liu has his fortune told by a famous fortune teller—whom we later learn was paid by Laurent to give him a particular fortune that will accelerate his plans to “resolve” things with their Japanese parent. After the teller leaves, Laurent walks in asking for Liu.

As Liu tells Chen, how a book was translated made the difference in which received the Nobel Prize. It’s the same with international business negotiations. Flashback to when Laurent was a boy in Brussels, and intrinsically understood the value and the power of being a good interpreter…as well as the cost of not having adequate skills.

Laurent’s mother, who is severely dyslexic, gets swindled and ruined by a businessman, all because she couldn’t read what she was signing. While cooking dinner for her and Laurent while out of sorts, the pan slips out of her hands and we can speculate that she was killed by oil burns.

Flash forward several years to Paris when Laurent is a poker hustler and womanizer. The men who lost to him beat him unconscious, but when he wakes up in an alley, filthy and bloodied, he spots the very man who swindled his mother years ago—and whom he blames for her death.

Laurent buys a knife at the hardware store and follows the man, but when he chooses the time to stab him, a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman steps in front of him and the blade plunges into her instead. In seeking revenge for his mom, Laurent accidentally stabbed the wrong person.

Makoto is hearing about Laurent’s past from his suddenly-not-dead(again) Oz. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were in cahoots, while Makoto is yet again an unwitting pawn in an even longer con, even as he and Akemi grow closer as surrogate mother and son.

Great Pretender – 17 – Coward of Oz

Edamame is moving up in the Scarlet Company thanks, in part, to the Chinese lessons his late mother insisted he take. Back then, he idolized his valiant attorney father Seiji, as did his mom, whose only complaint was that her husband worked too much. Both were completely unprepared for the news that he was helping the mafia traffic children.

While Makoto responded to his dad’s betrayal with rage and resentment —and eventually turning to a life of crime just like the ol’ Pops, only pettier. His mother collapsed from the shock, and was bedridden the rest of her days, but she never gave up hope in her Seiji.

The flashbacks to good times abruptly turning bad then worse for Makoto are efficient but particularly well-done. His mom warmth and forgiveness despite the harsh betrayal she endured—something it’s clear Makoto never understood.

“Sleepy Princess” Abby and her reluctant jailor Makoto is such a bizarre scenario, such is her keeping-it-real ethos, Abby doesn’t treat her jailor any differently than the guy with whom she jumped out of a building in Singapore. Their growth as something like friends is evident when she asks him if he’s alright working for such a despicable business, and isn’t just asking, but is genuinely concerned.

She should be! Suzaku Ikemi’s Scarlet Company is on the brink of war with their satellite organization in Shanghai, which due to China’s economic boom has grown more profitable than its parent and unilaterally declared independence. Their disdain for their Japanese bosses is expressed when their boss, Liu, sends his second-in-command—the boorish Chen—instead.

Chen is accompanied by his interpreter, whom Makoto recognizes is his damn dad, who now goes by the name “Oz”. So that’s where he slithered off to!

Suzaku isn’t impressed by Shanghai’s little power move and declares an ultimatum, claiming 80% of Shanghai’s profits, even she must know won’t be forthcoming without a degree of bloodshed. Still, her options are limited; with their Chinese cash cow’s leash becoming slacker by the day, she can’t appear weak, lest they regard her as a paper tiger.

Makoto, meanwhile, is furious with the news of his dad’s participation in this job, and suspects it was kept from him on purpose by Laurent, who is flirting with a couple local women when Makoto violently confronts him. That leads Laurent to ask: if the geezer truly “means nothing” to Makoto, why get so worked up about him?

In his next meeting with Abby in her cell (where she’s playing way too many video games), she raises the possibility Seiji did what he did “out of necessity”, got in too deep. She suggests he compare his “loser scumbag” critique of his dad to what he himself was, before he met her and Laurent. Perhaps Seiji has returned to his life because he wants to be forgiven.

Makoto tests that theory by visiting Seiji in his hotel room. Seiji reveals he was actually just outside the door of Mom’s hospital room, but was too ashamed to walk inside. If he walked inside, she might forgive him, and he wasn’t sure he deserved that. But seeing what a shell of a man his dad has become, Makoto decides to be like his mom, and give him that second chance to be in his life. After all, Seiji is still wearing his wedding band.

Early in the morning, Makoto executes a modified version of the prison break plan, this time threatening the kids with his dad’s handgun; a necessary tactic to get them to go with him. Cynthia arrives with a bus big enough to hold them all, and seems both amused and heartened to see not one but two Edamuras in her presence.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until they get off the main highway and are immediately sandwiched and forced to stop by two mafia cars. One of them carries Ishigami, who while so charming and friendly before suddenly exudes cruel menace. He laments that both he and Suzaku saw something in him, and are disappointed it “didn’t work out”—i.e. that now he’ll have to murder him for his treachery.

Speaking of treachery: Seiji is the one who ratted Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia out to Ishigami, identifying them as the same group of con artists who have been causing trouble in the underworld. When Makoto can’t contain his rage and rushes at his dad, Seiji puts a gun to his forehead, reminding him he’s not his dad anymore…he’s “Oz.”

It’s possible he’s playing a longer game that requires he betray his son so he could save him later. Or he could just be a bastard. We shall see. In the meantime, Makoto & Co. are in deep shit!

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