Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 12 (Fin) – Quite the Day

After Drewes and Aira join the battle in the forest, we’re back in Krausner’s capital experimenting with crops with the Alchemist lady. Both she and the Gran Magus really put Sei to work such that she’s exhausted by the evening, but Drewes knows she’ll have to perfect her conjury and speed it up if they’re going to win the war against the monsters. The next morning, Aira joins Sei along with Leo, Drewes, and Al on the next adventure into the woods.

We get Saint’s Magic Power’s longest and most sustained battle, as both toxic slimes and demonic monsters hassle the expeditionary force. Both melee and elemental magic attacks fly freely, with the various magic users employing teamwork for maximum efficiency. All the while, Aira and Sei perform healing and protection duties. There are number of close calls, but someone, usually Al, always has Sei’s back.

When they come close enough to the miasma-infected swamp for Sei to begin her purifying conjury, she is distracted from the task when Al and Aira end up in danger. Drewes insists Sei keep herself focused on her conjury duties, and when the enemies start to surround them, he goes back on his promise to hold back and unleashes a devastating Inferno attack that destroys both nearby fiends and burns the forest. Sei is able to purify the swamp, but that’s all she has the energy for.

That night, Sei finds it hard to sleep, both due to the forest having been destroyed and her unannounced feelings for Albert and what to do about it. Albert escorts her to her tent, but before she heads in to retire, she turns around just as Al does, and they share a tender moment that fades to black and could be interpreted as sharing a chaste kiss. The next day, Sei is back at 100%, and with Al holding her hands, she’s able to revive the forest to its former glory, wowing Aira, Leo, and everyone else in the process.

After the exertion, Sei loses consciousness, coming to in Al’s arms as he princess lifts her back to the city. Sei insists she can walk on her own two feet, but doesn’t pass up Al’s offer to hold her hand as she does. Aira is loving it the whole time! When it’s time to return home to the capital, the old alchemist tells Leo that the Saint’s Magic Power is…love. Well, duh, that’s been pretty clear for a while now! And that love is more often than not focused on a single individual: Albert Hawke.

After the bombast of the forset battles, this very quiet, steady, and pleasant show ends on a characteristically quiet, steady, and pleasant note: Sei and Al enjoying the gorgeous view of the capital from a good vantage point at sunset. As the sun sets on Sei the Saint and her dashing and valiant love interest, I came away nodding agreeably. MAL is often very wrong in its scores, but 7.32 is just about perfect for this show. Never terrible, but also never game-changing, and bolstered by the warm and expressive Ishikawa Yui, whose voice I’m always happy to hear in non-dystopian series!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 11 – That Time I Got Ambushed by a Slime

With Sei off on an expedition with Al, Yuri takes a shine to Aira. Sei confirms that the best way of summoning her saintly power is to think of Al, the man she loves. The thing is, she’s in no particular hurry to confess to him or start any kind of official relationship, despite the fact she’s already saved the guy’s life and they have superb chemistry. Meanwhile, the hulking Leonhart (no relation to Annie) thinks he might have a chance at Sei, but he’d only be setting himself up for Leonhartbreak—if Al doesn’t kill him first!

With the newfound realization of her feelings for Al, Sei has taken to blushing so much he asks if she’s ill…thought that might be less him being dense and more being courteous or playful. He’s not one to talk about blushing around someone, as he does it a lot around Sei. But besides the insertion of Leonhart, who is shaping up to be more of a big (or big little) brother to Sei than the vertex of a love triangle, there’s not much movement in the Sei x Al romance, which at least for Sei is the way she wants it, at least for now.

When the expeditionary group enters the deep forest, they come afoul of several nasty dark slimes, not at all like our pal Rimuru Tempest from TenSura. Sei is able to purify a bunch and shield herself, Al and others, but they’re soon pinned down by superior numbers. That’s when a column of flame heralds the arrival of Yuri…and Aira, who I’m glad to see in the field. It seems likely she and Sei will be fighting side by side next week, which is something I’ve been waiting for since they were first summoned!

Attack on Titan – 73 – Burning Bridges, Breaking Bonds

Note: This episode was interrupted ~17 minutes in by a special news report of a magnitude 4.7 earthquake near Wakamiya. As of yet are no reports of serious injuries or damage, and there is no tsunami threat. We’re hoping everyone is okay.—R.S.

The first eight minutes of this episode contain some of the bitterest, most heartbreaking moments of the entire run of the show. Eren hasn’t come to see his two best friends to ask them to join his cause. They aren’t friends anymore, and according to him, one of them never was.

When Armin accuses him of being manipulated by his big brother, Eren turns the accusation back on Armin. Since he carries the Colossal Titan, he also carries Bertholdt Hoover’s memories, and has thus partially become Bertholdt, whom Eren considers the enemy. Eren isn’t wrong, either: why else has Armin been visiting Annie?

If Mikasa thought she be safe from Eren’s aspersions, she is proven dead wrong, as he dismisses her as nothing but a vessel for the Ackerman blood, sworn to protect the king of Eldia at all costs. The day she killed to save him in that cabin, she was simply obeying orders, like a slave, and every time she’s saved him since was for the same reason.

There’s nothing Eren hates more than people who aren’t free, who he calls “cattle”, and blows right through Armin’s “stop it” by saying just looking at Mikasa would piss him off, and that he always hated her. 

Whether it is true if Eren always hated her (I tend to doubt that), no one can deny Mikasa putting Eren’s safety above everything else, even defining her entire existence. She doesn’t help her case when Armin, who’s had enough of Eren’s lip, leaps over the table to slug him, only to be immediately and easily restrained…by Mikasa, again moving without thinking, betraying her Ackerman programming.

Armin still manages to get a potshot in, and Eren decides to stir the shit a little more, telling him that they’ve never fought each other once in all their lives because it wouldn’t be a fair fight. To drive that point home, he beats the shit out of Armin while Mikasa can only watch in tearful horror. He then asks one of his underlings to take them, and Gabi, away. They’re headed to where it all began: Shiganshima.

I can’t believe Eren always felt this way about Armin and Mikasa, but it is probably no coincidence that the man who has become obsessed with his idea of “freedom” isn’t just breaking his bonds of bondage, but of friendship as well. Even if there was once an Eren Yeager we could root for, that Eren is long gone now.

I don’t care what he says about Armin or Mikasa or how technically accurate he may be about their circumstances. The fact is they both loved him, and dearly. They didn’t deserve to be shit on like this, and he didn’t deserve them, period.

Levi is tired of waiting around for something to happen, and so breaks his bonds of protocol and command by deciding that both Eren and Zeke will be fed to other, more malleable hosts. But he waited a little too long, and also made the critical mistake of letting his unit drink the Marleyan wine usually reserved for the Military Police.

Zeke lets out a shout as he flees the camp, and in moments each and every one of Levi’s solders transform into Pure Titans under his control. At the same time in the capital, Pyxis and a host of other officials are momentarily paralyzed and report feeling strange…including Falco, who swallowed a drop of wine after all.

Zeke may seem to have the upper hand, but makes the miscalculation that Levi would refrain or even hesitate to slaughter Titans bearing the faces of his subordinates. That’s exactly what he does, including two of the three escorting Zeke out of the forest when he catches up to him, slicing them up like spiral hams. Zeke is left with no choice but to transform into the Beast, and repurposes pieces of a Titan’s corpse into deadly thrown projectiles.

Unfortunately, the lumbering Beast Titan is no match for someone as small, agile, and fast as Levi in the middle of a forest full of anchors for his ODM gear. He can attack Zeke from any and all angles, and launches four nape-busting missiles right into the Beast’s neck.

Zeke is thrown from the Titan body, severely injured, but still alive, and Levi’s plan to feed him to someone else are back on. If Zeke was headed to Shiganshima to meet with Eren, like the final six minutes of this episode, he’s been delayed indefinitely.

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

The Promised Neverland – 15 – The Perfect Hideout

Emma, Ray, and their convoy of kids are ready to leave the safety of Sonju and Mujika’s forest tunnels and head to the location indicated by William Minerva’s pen. They’re trained and prepared to survive and run or defend themselves from the threats that may arise.

Mujika and Emma seem to have formed a genuine friendship, and Mujika gives Emma an ornate amulet as a going-away gift and to protect her. However, we learn from Sonju once the kids are gone that his intentions are less benign. Mujika pointed out that if they had turned the kids in to the farm they’d have been rewarded handsomely. But Sonju has other plans.

Their religion doesn’t forbid him from hunting or eating wild animals, so by letting these kids go, they will eventually breed, creating of a “wild herd” of humans he’ll be able to hunt without forsaking his faith. His face grows especially monstrous as he looks forward to the day he can eat human meat. Yikes!

Regardless of his long term plans, the fact is Sonju let this group of kids go and doesn’t intend to eat them. In fact, he rides back to where the farm pursuers are still searching and kills one of their trackers. The kids head out into the wastelands where demons rarely go, but when they reach the location indicated by Minerva’s pen, there’s nothing there.

Fortunately, the fact they’ve arrived at this spot unlocks more information from the pen. Once the password “HISTORY” is inputted, a detailed map displays, and a sliding door in the ground reveals a hidden hatch, Zelda-style. The group descends the ladder and begins to explore the space. Emma eventually finds a switch, and to everyone’s great joy, it works!

The lights reveal a fully-functional shelter, complete with cooking facilities, a dining hall, a library, a greenhouse with grow lights, a bathroom with hot water, and a security room with cameras on all parts of the surface. There’s even a piano, a radio, and a pantry curiously half-stocked with food.

There’s also a handwritten note from Minerva congratulating them for finding the shelter, which is theirs to use. Emma, Ray, and the kids immediately settle into the new digs, which seem at all times to be an all-too-good-to-be-true gift from heaven above.

Ray successfully finds the frequency of the 8:00 PM reports from the farms, and will be tuning back in daily to gain intel. Now that they have a shelter and the means of supporting themselves indefinitely, Emma already wants to move on to the next stage of the plan: rescue the remaining family at the farm.

She’s looking ahead even though they haven’t quite finished exploring the shelter. They’ve found all the good rooms, but there are clearly some not-so-good rooms, as initially found by Yvette, the walls of the dorms are strewn with the manic scrawling of people who lived there previously, and were either going mad from boredom or from suffering something more sinister.

Emma uses the pen to unlock a special door that leads to a small room with a payphone, which immediately rings when they enter. She picks up the receiver, and William Minerva is on the other end of the line. Is it a recording, or the man himself? What is the nature of those creepy messages on the dorm walls? Is this shelter really safe, or are those hidden passageways a cause for concern? I can’t help but feel after catching so many breaks since escaping the farm, their streak of good fortune may have run out…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 14 – Bless Us for These, Thy Gifts

This week the kids catch two key breaks. First, they weren’t captured or killed by the farm trackers or the wild forest demon. Second, Mujika and Sonju, the two demons who rescued them, don’t eat humans and have no intention to harm them. In fact, it’s been so long since they’ve encountered humans they’re happy to show them ample hospitality.

Sonju later tells Emma and Ray that after endless war and killing, humans and demons agreed stop hunting each other and split to the world into segregated halves. All the humans on the demon side were “gifted” to the demons and vice versa. With hunting forbidden, farms like Grace Field were established. And, oh yeah, the great split happened over a thousand years ago.

At first Emma and Ray are gobsmacked by the amount of real time that has passed, but then literally jump for joy. The fact that demons only rule half the world and humans are free on their half is a huge boost to their outlook. Even if Sonju says no one has ever crossed the boundary between worlds, well, Emma and Ray will simply be the first, that’s all!

The pair relay the news to the others and rallies them to their suddenly more concrete cause. The good demons, who practice their religious faith by not eating human flesh, show the group the proper way out of the tunnel network under the forest to eventually reach the spot indicated in Minerva’s pen.

On the way, they teach them all of the things they need to learn to survive on their own, from building fires and cooking to medicinal plants and archery. Gilda and the little ones harshly scold both Emma and Ray for being so reckless earlier. They can’t afford to lose either of them, so they have to start being more careful and speaking up if they’re hurt.

When Sonju heads to the surface to scope out the area for threats, Emma accompanies him, but not for a change of scenery. She wants him to teach her something he hadn’t to that point: how to kill a living thing. Sonju acquieses, and while Emma initially hesitates to loose her bow on an unassuming bird, she eventually does so, and hits the bird right in the head.

While a clean strike, the bird is not yet dead, so Sonju shows Emma the Gupna, a ritual that takes place to give thanks and show respect for the kill.. By plunging a vampiric Vida branch into the heart of the still-living bird, when the plant blooms it means the meat is safe to eat. It also means the gods have approved the meat for consumption

When Emma remembers the same plant being used on her family members, she retches, but completes the ritual, adding her own prayer: “We don’t want to be eaten. We want to live. But we’ve been eating others too. And if we can’t keep eating, we can’t survive.” When she returns to the caverns with Sonju, the kids notice something different about Emma. Indeed, while out in the forest, making her first kill, she was changed irrevocably. You can see it on her face, and in the haunting way she whispers “I’m okay.”

I for one am glad the kids not only caught a couple breaks this week, but were blessed with a path forward. Not only that, for a few days they were able to stop being runaways or survivalists and simply live like the kids they are, being fed and taught and not having to worry about running for their lives. Emma took an important step into the new normal by officially becoming an active rather than passive participant in the food chain.

P.S.Check out Crow’s Episode 2 review here.

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 03 – Waking in the Light

Grimoires sap the MP of humans but in exchange allows them to use powerful magic; the demons assume Syalis would try to steal one in order to gain said magic, but really she just wants to read something boring so she’ll fall asleep!

The first grimoire doesn’t make her sleepy, but unbeknownst to her it lowers her MP to critical levels. As a result she’s unable to stand or walk and must roll around like a log. That said, she doesn’t die and require resurrection by the Cleric!

As she bounces down steps and pinballs off statuses, she inadvertently unlockes the most powerful Forbidden Grimoire’s seal. Once again, the princess manages to foil the castle’s defenses quite on accident!

When Azalif, Spirit of the Grimoire is awakened, he assumes the princess wants to use him to break out of the prison and lend power to the Hero. Instead, she smushes him back into the grimoire.

Syalis rejects all of Azalif’s offers to help her defeat the Demon Lord, but when he mentions she can “incapacitate” everyone in the castle, she performs the spell, which again uses almost all of her MP.

Everyone in the castle falls into a deep sleep for three days…except for Syalis, the caster. Not about to be defeated, she finally completes the quest by using a grimoire…as a pillow.

One day, Syalis becomes obsessed with the pressure points that aid sleep, but her teddy slave is too soft and plushy to apply the necessary pressure, so she breaks out of her cell to find someone who will.

Preferring to keep her intentions vague, she only makes things awkward for everyone, including the Demon Lord himself, with her misleading phrasing:

I need someone to touch my body.

I’ll fall asleep in an instant, so please touch me in my room.

You…Don’t say a word and push here.

The Demon Lord relents, presses the right spot, and Syalis goes out like a light. But she soon realizes that without sunlight (the castle resides in eternal night) her internal clock will become more and more messed up and she’ll never feel rested.

Making use of various items she’s stolen in past episodes, she escapes to the Forest of Sacred Treasure to investigate a bright light that turns out to be the Demon Lord’s ultimate weapon: the Sword of Valor.

The demons assume the princess is escaping to meet up with the Hero and prepare to chase her down, only for her to quietly walk past them and back towards the castle, the sword on her back gleaming and humming along. Of course, she has no intention to use it as a sword, but as a makeshift sun to greet her in the morning.

As with all of the things she’s done, the Demon Lord is terribly bemused and befuddled, but that’s Princess Syalis for you—always in her own world, seeking nothing more or less than the best possible night’s sleep.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Journey of Elaina – 01 (First Impressions) – The Ashen Witch is Born

Ever since she was wee, Elaina (Hondo Kaede, recently Bofuri’s Maple) dreamed of traveling the world like Nikeh, a great witch who recorded her adventures in a diary. Her parents, the supportive type, told her she could do it if she studied hard to become a witch. She did just that, not only passing the sorcery examination with flying colors, but being the youngest ever to do so at age 14.

Elaina’s next hurdle to becoming a witch would be to train under one as their apprentice, but due to her fame as the youngest ever, she has the door of every witch in the city slammed in her face before she can even state her case. Then she overhears a “dodgy” witch having taken residence in the forest outside the city, and flies over to take a look.

Flan, Stardust Witch (Hanazawa Kana, who is having a ball) agrees to take Elaina on as an apprentice, but like Mr. Miyagi with Daniel-san, it doesn’t seem she has any actual interest in training her, just using her as her own personal assistant. Cooking her meals, collecting ingredients, dealing with spiders in the tub and rubbing her shoulders; this is all Elaina gets to do.

After a month of this, Elaina has had enough, and asks if Flan is at last ready to train her. Flan tells her she has “nothing in particular” to teach her, but she will have Elaina fight her. Flan’s awesome mastery of the elements proves too much, as Elaina can only bob and weave against an onslaught of fire, earth and lightning. This fight was also the point at which I was utterly and completely sold on the show; its fantastic magical combat!

Totally defeated for perhaps the first time in her life, Elaina collapses into a heap and starts to bawl uncontrollably, catching Flan, clearly not used to dealing with teenage witches, tries to cheer her up with butterflies and a crown made of weeds, but settles on a hug, which proves most effective.

Flan also confesses to Elaina that her parents paid her to teach her about setback and failure until she reached her limit. Elaina has the skill, talent, and potential, but needed to learn not to deal with or endure everything no matter what, just because she can.

With that catharsis, and Flan’s strategy revealed, the training continues in earnest. Over the period of a year Flan teaches Elaina everything she knows, and Elaina soaks it all up like a sponge. But unlike her first month, she speaks up if something displeases her. Eventually, she’s good enough to best Flan in a duel for the first time, and that’s when Flan knows she’s ready.

Replacing her apprentice’s flower badge with the star brooch, Flan bestows upon her the status of a full-fledged witch. On Flan’s suggestion, Elaina picks the magical name “the Ashen Witch” due to her hair color. Fran then bids Elaina farewell and returns to her home country, and Elaina returns home.

She’s not there long, as now she’s achieved the requisite of being able to travel the world freely like Nikeh. Her parents keep their word, giving Elaina three simple rules to follow: When in serious danger, run; don’t come to think she’s a “special human”; and come home someday with a smile.

She’s outfitted in new witch’s robes, a kickass oversized hat (along with a spare—it’s windy out there!), and of course, a handsome diary in which to write about her adventures. With that, she says goodbye to the only home she’s ever known, without a particular plan or destination, and journeys in that fashion for three years, finally reaching the age of eighteen.

I for one am glad we got Elaina’s “origin story” at the most logical part of the anime: the beginning. It’s a story beautifully and efficiently told, and delivered the same kind of fuzzy feels as goodhearted witch series like Kiki, Flying Witch, and Little Witch Academia. I can’t wait to see where Elaina ends up landing next week!

Rating: 4.5/5

Crow is also watching the Wandering Witch, and always has great observations about the episodes’ best moments. Read Crow’s review here.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 27 (S2 02) – Showing What They’re Maid Of

Emilia and Subaru bid Crusch and Felix farewell with thanks, hearty handshakes and best wishes. With Crusch’s memories gone who knows what shape the royal selection will take, but for now the priority is returning home and getting some answers. But upon returning to the village, they learn Roswaal, Ram, and others have yet to return from the Sanctuary.

Upon arriving at Roswaal manor (driven there by Otto), Emilia and Subaru are surprised to be welcomed by new maid, a “beast-girl” named Frederica Baumann. I immediately recognized the dulcet tones of Nazuka Kaori (Eureka), which complement Frederica’s adorably sharp teeth quite well. Turns out Frederica worked for the mansion just before Subaru arrived, and had been on personal leave until Ram called her back.

Subaru pays Beatrice a visit, and we see that extended isolation has not made her more pleasant to deal with. She’s downright prickly with Subaru, especially when he presents the gospel he took off of the dead Betelgeuse. Beatrice seems to regard “Geuse” as a dear friend who, like others, left her behind. She also resents Subaru once again using her as a mere “tool of convenience”.

Could this mean Betelgeuse was once good, or just that Beako doesn’t see the world in terms of good and bad? In any case, she has no answers for him, only the means to seek them. Roswaal’s intentions, the meaning of the Gospel, and answers about this “Witch Factor” thing all lie in the Sanctuary, which Frederica has been instructed to tell Emilia and Subaru how to access.

Before heading to the Woods of Clemaldy where the Sanctuary is located, Subaru says goodbye to the sleeping Rem and tasks new Maid-in-Training Petra(!) with Rem’s care, and Frederica with Petra’s care. Petra doesn’t have the maid-like manner of speaking down yet, but she’s eager to prove she’s an adult upon whom people can depend.

Frederica presents Emilia with a jewel that will help them pass a magical barrier that impedes access to the sanctuary. Petra bashfully gives Subaru a handkerchief as a kind of old tradition with travelers; he’ll return it to her stained from his adventures when he comes back.

The journey into the woods is uneventful at first. Emilia is nervous, especially considering Puck isn’t answering her calls to come out (Puck did tell Subaru he’d be relying on him to take care of Lia). She’s also apprehensive about hte possibility of meeting other half-elves in Clemaldy, a stronghold of demi-humans.

Her barrier jewel starts to glow, and Subaru decides the proper thing to do is to yank it off of her, causing her to pass out. The next thing Subaru knows, Emilia, Otto, and the wagon are gone, and he’s lost in the lost woods…not a great situation to be in! He encounters a small pink-haired elf in a white tunic and when she runs off he gives chase.

He comes upon a clearing where a stone ruin stands, and starts to walk through the front door…as Frederica said, will and resolve are as necessary as magic and strength in the Sanctuary. That’s when he’s transported again, this time to Windows XP’s default background, Bliss.

Just above him on the crest of a hill sits a woman with long silver hair having tea under an ornate umbrella. She introduces herself as Echidna, AKA the Witch of Greed. While voiced by Sakamoto Maaya (always a good decision), Echidna looks an awful lot like Emilia. But wasn’t the witch she said she resembled named Satella?

While this was mostly a getting-from-A-to-B(-to-C) transitory episode with lots of goodbyes between characters (and no telling whether they’ll ever see each other again), the intro of Frederica, Maid Petra, and of course Echidna represented major developments, and the steady buildup of Clemaldy as no place for the weak was highly effective.

It will be interesting to see if Subaru has reached a new “save point” for his Return by Death, or if that little trick is already obsolete. For now, he seems separated from everyone and unable to protect anyone but himself…if that. In other words, he’s been thrown right back into the Shit!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 06 – Forest of Illusion

Sakura isn’t a fan of ghosts, like, at all. So when her friends suggest they investigate the forest behind the school for signs of haunting, she basically has to be dragged along. Sure enough, something appears in a flash of eerie blue light, but that something is different for everyone. Tomoyo sees a meat bun, but Sakura sees her mother Nadeshiko, who died when she was only three, and the anniversary of her death is approaching.

This is another case where Kero isn’t sure if a Clow Card is at work, but it’s enough of a possibility to visit the spot again, this time with Kero tagging along, Sakura in a kind of Italian opera bunny costume, and Tomoyo with her camera. When the spectre of her mother appears again, drawing Sakura closer, she steps right off the very sheer cliff she herself warned the others about.

Fortunately, Yukito catches her before she hits the ground, but she still passes out. She wakes up at his house, where he makes a point to mention his grandmother changed her clothes, not him, and that her “plush toy” is safe with Tomoyo for the evening. When Sakura contemplates whether who she saw was her mother, Yukito asks her: if it really were, why would she put her daughter in harm’s way?

When Touya comes to collect his little sister, Yukito tags along, and we learn that Sakura’s intense fear of ghosts comes from two things: her innate ability to sense (but not see) the real things, and Touya’s incessant teasing of her when they were younger. While he declares it his right as a big brother to mess with her, I could sense a tinge of regret in Touya’s telling, while Yukito suggests that maybe he can skip scolding her when she wakes up.

The next night, Sakura, Kero, and Tomoyo return to the forest, this time with Sakura wearing a very slick, futuristic, vocaloid-esque yellow costume. That’s two looks in the same episode for the first time! This time her mother beckons her to the cliff’s edge again, but Sakura snaps out of it, remembering Yukito’s words. Turns out it’s not the ghost of her mother, but a Clow Card called Illusion, which Sakura successfully captures.

The next morning, Sakura is ready to go back to school, but takes a moment to say hi to her mother, confident she’s not lonely by that cliff, but up in a beautiful place among the stars. Touya suddenly notices the real ghost of Nadeshiko appearing, however briefly, watching over Sakura and smiling.

This was the first truly heartstring-pulling episode of CCS, exploring how despite barely remembering her mother, she still loves her deeply due to the stories her dad and brother have told her, and in turn Nadeshiko is always watching over Sakura, no doubt immensely proud of her daughter’s new calling.

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