Summertime Render – 04 – Ushio Deux

Last week Shinpei encountered Ushio on the beach, dramatically backlit by the festival fireworks. But it’s only this week that she says anything, and actually tackles Shinpei. Nagase Anna has such a refreshing voice that’s perfect for Ushio: crisp, clear, and full of exuberance.

Considering his previous encounters with doppelgangers of people he knows, Shin is understandably weary, as this Ushio must be a shadow. But she’s different from the others. For one thing, she’s not evil. For another, she doesn’t know she’s a shadow (or what a shadow is). As far as she’s concerned, she’s just Ushio. She wished for Shin to return, and he did, so she wastes no time confessing to him.

Shin still doesn’t fully trust this Ushio, but she’s talking and acting so much like Ushio, it’s a complete trip. When she runs off and joins the festival—still in her swimsuit—he chases her down, takes her to a quiet storage area and insists she stay put, lest someone see her and wig out. Incidentally, the only person we see spot her is Shadow Mio.

Shinpei gets back to the gang in time to join Tokiko in witnesseing Seidou totally crashing and burning in his sudden confession to Mio. Tokiko knows full well who Mio really loves, and that her brother is doomed to fail. Mio friendzones Seidou so fast his head spins.

That’s when he’s comforted…not by Shin or Toki, but but someone wearing a magical girl mask. Everyone instantly recognizes Ushio’s voice, and thus she’s found out even faster than Seidou was rejected by Mio. But when Mio sees Ushio, she naturally wigs out…because this Ushio is a monster…or is she?

For the moment, no; Ushio remains a compelling enigma: a shadow somehow gone wrong. When Shin first takes hold of her, I assumed he was going to scold her or lead her back to her hiding spot. But then he grabs her so hard it hurts her, and even causes her to bleed, and that’s when the shoe drops: this isn’t Shinpei.

But wait, when Shin returned, Mio said the code word and he gave the right response, right? Right; but as we see, Shin is jumped by Shadow Mio on his way back to his friends, and Shadow Shin updates his memories. Not only does he know his code with Mio, but now the shadows know he’s experiencing time loops. Shadow Shin’s solution to that? Don’t kill him…at least not until “everything is done”.

Shadow Mio obeys Shadow Shin, who heads to Shin’s friends. Regular Shin may be badly hurt, but even when Mio breaks his arm, he keeps trying to crawl to the real Mio to keep his promise to protect her. Shadow Mio is about to break his leg as well when her head is blown off by two shotgun blasts from none other than the woman on the Ferry.

The engaging mystery of “New Ushio” and her lived-in rapport with Shin combined with the added suspense and peril of the evil shadows and one hell of a switcheroo return Summertime Render to rare rating air.

Summertime Render – 03 – Mesopotamian Culture

Having watched footage of her own shadow on Shin’s phone, Mio believes the next step should be to help Kobayakawa Shiori. But when Shin goes to Shiori’s house, he finds only piles of black powder where Shiori’s parents once were, and deduces that the Shiori he saw at the funeral was actually her shadow, and the real Shiori is really dead.

After unsuccessful attempts to locate the woman in glasses from the ferry, Shin is heartened that at least the island cop Tetsu survived in this loop. He tells Shin and Mio that a detective from the mainland is on his way to investigate, and also gives Shin Ushio’s phone, saying she said he’d know what to do if he got it…but Shin can’t unlock it.

Shin shares everything he knows so far with his old friend Sou, who believes that since the shadows can be photographed, they are real and thus can be killed like normal people (might be a stretch). Mio thinks they should go to Hiruko (like the previous loop) for answers, but knowing what became of Mio there (being killed by her shadow) Shin hesitates at this suggestion.

After getting caught in the rain together, Mio gives Shin Ushio’s shell necklace, just like the previous loop, saying she wishes he’d stay on the island forever. Later, Sou shows up at Shin’s with both Mio and their mutual friend Yukiko in yukata for the annual island festival, which they attend together.

While there, Shin deduces that Sou is harboring a crush on Mio, while Toki asks Shin flat-out about his feelings for Mio. He responds that he of course cares or her…as family. That answer doesn’t seem to make Mio particularly happy, but Shin is distracted by the sudden sight of what looks like Ushio in the festival crowd.

His pursuit leads him to the beach, where he sees an apparent ghost—or possibly the shadow—of Ushio, backlit by the festival fireworks. Shinpei may have survived this loop—so far—but while it has resulted in some answers, a lot more questions have surfaced. At least he’s not alone in being aware of the general situation…but what’s up with this Ushio on the beach, and how can he be certain at this point that his friends Sou and Toki aren’t shadows?

While I’m enjoying the atmosphere and sense of dread lurking just beyond the corner, and the fact Shin and Mio survive to the end of the episode having learned more about the situation, this episode lacked the punch and the drive of the earlier two episodes, and featured some iffy animation to boot. I’m hoping for a rebound next week with the arrival of “Ushio”.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 18 – Show-Off Always Shown Up in Showdown

With her newly-attained Magical Girl-esque powers and new light-blue threads, Saurva believes she’s perfectly prepared to finally defeat Jahy and become the new Number Two. However, she is thrown completely off her game by the fact that Jahy can’t for the life of her remember who Saurva is, beyond the girl she cheered up in the park in her child form.

Saurva, tired of being ignored and mocked, unleashes a flurry of direct strikes with her glowing golden sword, but all she manages to do is improve Jahy’s circulation, along with tickling her and giving her an itch. Shocked and pained by the fact that the bargain she made with that glowing golden being didn’t actually, Saurva runs away in embarrassment, unable to accept Jahy’s pity. She vows to defeat Jahy with her own power…later.

Little does Saurva know that the worst thing you can do to Jahy is ignore her without explanation. That’s exactly what Kokoro does when she runs from Jahy. In wallowing in frustration, Jahy reveals to the landlady that yes, she has made a friend whom she doesn’t call an underling. The manager tells Jahy to open her heart to Kokoro and they’ll be able to make up. Sure enough, Kokoro isn’t even mad at Jahy; she just has a toothache and doesn’t want Jahy to catch it.

The golden being that briefly gave Saurva the illusion of power becomes a rumor among ordinary humans like the landlady and manager, describing a ghost that asks its victims if they want power and sucking out their souls if they say or even think that they do. Jahy thinks it’s all a bunch of codswallop…though considering the things she’s done and been through, she’s not exactly the best judge of codswallop.

That said, the golden ghost—or whatever it is—confronts Jahy on her way home. She insists she doesn’t want even a smidgen of power, but the being charges towards her before she has time to transform into adult mode. Fortunately Druj swoops in and saves her, reporting to Jahy that she’s been hunting the being ever since she became aware of its existence. Jahy determines the best course is for her and Druj to join forces to defeat this thing…whose horns and voice definitely suggest it could be a form of the Demon Lord.

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 01 (First Impressions) – Enduring the Holy Flame

When we meet Will, looking every bit like the little brother of Chise and Shirayuki (which is very apropos), his world is very small. There are only three people in his life: Gus the ghost, Mary the mummy, and Blood the skeleton. You will note that none of those creatures should necessarily classify as “people”, but here they do, because they’re raising a little boy they could have easily killed…or left to die.

While I know if I was three years old I’d probably be scared out of my mind by the presence of three monsters in my life, but that’s only because I was raised by human parents. Will has never known anything in this world other than these three. The twist is, he’s not originally from this world, but from ours. This adds a wrinkle to a premise that, frankly, could have been just fine without the Isekai angle.

That’s because the idea of these three classic enemies of humanity were responsible for leveling the nearby human city taking pitting on the sole survivor and raising him like their own child is an attractive one. Unlike, say, Golem in Somali and the Forest Spirit, they all have a good grasp on humanity and raising children because all three of them used to be human.

Of course, Gus, Mary and Blood are not simply emulating three human parents; they’re imbuing Will with the wisdom and experience only three undead beings can. Gus helps Will unlock his affinity for magic; Blood toughens and hones him into a man who can kill when he needs to (for survival) and defend himself so he won’t die. Mary teaches him everything else about life—including empathy and unconditional love.

Inevitably, Will grows older (eight to be exact) and his curiosity about what his three adoptive parents haven’t disclosed or are currently hiding from him grows exponentially, as does his ability to investigate. Again, this is nothing different from what regular human parents go through—you try to hold off on explaining certain concepts until the kids are old enough to properly understand. But Will is already at that point, whether they like it or not, and it’s due in no small part to how well they’ve raised him.

To that end, when he spots Mary sneaking into the chapel to pray and finds her surrounded by white flame, Will runs in and grabs her to try to pull her out, causing severe burns that may scar his hands and arms for life. But when he comes to and Mary apologizes for keeping secrets, Will apologizes right back, for prying.

Mary also tells Will that she keeps praying to the goddess Mater she betrayed after death because she still reveres her, and because Mater provides bread to sustain Will. By all indications, Will didn’t live the best life back in our world, but these three undead monsters seem to be teaching him to be a better human.

Good-natured, charming, optimistic, possessing just the right hint of darkness lurking beneath the surface (that city looked pretty dead) and a kick-ass English title, The Faraway Paladin is promising slice-of-life Isekai, perhaps different enough from Mushoku Tensei to keep it on my watchlist.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Slime 300 – 06 – The Gang Meets the Demon King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slime 300 – 05 – Who Ya Gonna Call?

Azusa and the others get the wrong idea that Halkara is preparing to move out, so they arrange a surprise party, only to learn she was only looking for a new location for her energy drink factory. The fact remains, she’s working long nights and Azusa is concerned. Turns out the reason is that there’s a ghost at the new factory that has scared away all of Halkara’s local employees.

In order for Halkara to start coming home at a reasonable time, the “bound spirit” must be dealt with. Azusa summons Beelzebub for this purpose, though because her incantation is a little off, Beelz ends up in the bathtub full of cold water (for the crops…it’s eco-friendly!) As Azusa and Halkara cower and tremble behind her, Beelz quickly finds the ghost and makes her visible.

Her name is Rosalie (voiced by Sugiyama Riho, Minare from Wave, Listen to Me!), and she’s the ghost of a girl who took her own life centuries ago after her parents were preparing to sell her off for “chump change”. In the ensuing years, she “went bad”, which explains her rudeness (and makes Sugiyama a great choice).

Rosalie has wanted to leave the factory for a while, but without success. After her offer to erase her without a trace is shot down, Beelzebub suggests that if she possess one of them, she’ll be able to relocate. Halkara seem the most suitable vessel as she has the most “weak points.” The possession is successful, and Rosalie!Halkara strikes a samurai pose as she accepts Azusa’s kind offer to live in her house.

A problem arises when Rosalie arrives at Azusa’s to find she isn’t able to separate from Halkara’s body; apparently they were ridiculously compatible! After a number of attempts to shake, shock, and spook Rosalie out of Halkara’s body, Azusa gets the idea to make her drunk (easily done with Halkara’s tolerance). When Rosalie passes out, Halkara’s personality surfaces.

That just leaves the matter of how to exorcise the dormant ghost from her body. Beelzebub has a solution: toss her into that eco-friendly cold bath water. Rosalie pops right out from the shock, and is now successfully separated from the location of her death.

With that, Azusa arranges for Rosalie to meet the townsfolk to prove she’s a friendly ghost, and she’s happy to use her ghostly telekinesis to do chores for people to build goodwill. Rosalie announces she’s Halkara’s newest employee at the factory, and nobody needs to fear her. And that’s how Azusa’s family grows by one once more.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 11 – A Drop of Morning Dew

Apprently, there is no separating Yuyu from Misuzu. Wracked by grief and guilt in the third and sixth episodes, Yuyu went on rampages and Riri was able to calm her, probably by using her Rare Skill Charisma. But that seems to have only been a temporary fix, as some lingering version of Misuzu continues to haunt and influence her.

As Riri’s Legion decides to throw a “ramune party” for Riri, Moyu reports the findings of her research, which suggest that not only did Misuzu possess the Rare Skill Charisma (like Riri), but that Charisma has influenced the Huge and caused them to evolve.

Moyu, an old friend of Yuyu’s, isn’t able to get much of anything useful out of Yuyu, as the Misuzu in her head seemingly tightens her hold on her, making her less useful and responsive. Moyu knows something is wrong, but unless Yuyu says something, she cant help.

Instead, Yuyu keeps returning to her past with Misuzu, who comes off like a young Anakin Skywalker, slowly being consumed by the fear and anger her powers are creating, and thus talking about things she wouldn’t say to anyone else. Young Yuyu is so glad to be loved, she doesn’t seem to realize Misuzu is serious about wanting to be killed if she “goes too far”.

When Riri tries to bring Yuyu back into the here or now, she’s unsuccessful; Yuyu’s simmering pain and the influence of the Misuzu in her head are too overwhelming to bother with Riri or parties. Misuzu wonders if it’s Yuyu with the Charisma. Just then, three bright lines streak up into the sky from the Huge Nest.

Those three objects eventually land, creating craters and forcing the evacuation of the academy. The three objects become active and combine their Magie into a single object. Even the Acting Chairman seems unsure if they’re going to be able to get out of this one. All of the Lilies discover their CHARMs have no Magie; the objects created some kind of dampening field. Only Riri’s CHARM works, and she heads off to find Yuyu.

Yuyu, who has all but Gone Bye-Bye, reliving a disturbing memory of Misuzu comparing her to a drop of morning dew. Misuzu is fighting with every fiber of her being not to destroy Yuyu like she did that beautiful but ephemeral drop…to hold back “wicked feelings.” Very Dark Side-y. It’s confirmed when the developing Huge flashes the same Rune Misuzu flashes when she uses Charisma to silence Yuyu in the flashback.

It’s clear Misuzu controls Yuyu still, as Yuyu tries to enter Lunatic Tracer mode to attack the developing Huge. When Riri arrives to try to take her out of harm’s way, Yuyu accuses her of trying to control her like Misuzu did. Riri, noting Yuyu’s CHARM has no Magie, she smacks it out of her hands, ruining it in the process.

Riri assures Yuyu that the Misuzu she’s seeing and interacting with isn’t the “real” Misuzu…but how can she know that? She then heads off, again, on her own…again. How did that work out for Yuri, again? The rest of the Legion may be all but powerless, but they’re still united in their desire to help Riri…somehow.

As for Riri, she comes face to face with the biggest, meanest, most advanced Huge yet; a Huge whose evolution has seemingly been sped along to near-perfection by Misuzu. Back in the dorm, Yuyu calms herself enough to remember there’s a CHARM she can use: the Dainsleif in the research lab. Sure enough, its Magie is still active. But will Yuyu use it to help Riri fight the Huge, or will she simply fight Riri?

Assault Lily gets super dark this week, building on a lot of bandied-about ideas about the similarities between the Lilies and their Nemeses the Huge. But I can’t help but feel like we’re treading on worn ground with Yuyu and Misuzu. I like all the dark new revelations that surfaced this week, but Yuyu’s previous struggles lend these events an air of repetitiveness.

The Yuri arc, on which considerable time was spent, doesn’t seem to offer much to all of this, or at least the show isn’t making a potential connection clear, other than possibly Misuzu chose to be a Huge while Yuri chose to be a Lily. I almost wish the Yuri story had been excised in favor of more development of Yuyu and others.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 10 – Four-Leaf Clover

The big question going into this week was “What Now?” Would Riri and her Legion try to find a way to bring Yuri back, or would she accept and process her loss? This is answered pretty quickly: Yuri is gone, and she’s not coming back. As a formality, Riri is serving a week in solitary confinement.

Even her Schutzengel Yuyu can only visit her for ten minutes. It’s clear Riri’s building a hard shell in which to put all of her regret and sadness, and Yuyu wants to do something about it. So she asks the rest of the Legion to help her look for her missing four-leaf clover hairpin, which she lost in the battle.

They all think of ways their perception-based rare skills can be combined and experiment over the next six days, but without success. They mostly end up exhausting themselves and requiring long soothing baths to recover, but no one wants to give up.

During one of those bath sessions, other Lilies learn what Riri’s Legion is up to, and they want to help contribute if they can. Meanwhile, Kaede seems busy using the crafts workshop to create a new four-leaf clover for Riri.

On the seventh and final day before Riri is released, Yuyu and her Legion are shocked to find virtually the entire school has come out to the beach so they can all combine their magie into one massive ultra-precise search net.

It works: the location of the pin is determined, and Kaede rides on Thi Mai’s back and they race out to the open water to recover the pin…at the cost of getting very cold and wet and needing to sit by a fire afterwards.

When Riri emerges from her cell, she’s surprised to find not just her Legion members, but all of the other Lilies who helped out and were concerned about her. Kaede presents the four-leaf clover she made, and Riri recognizes it as a fake, as hers always had a crack in one leaf.

Kaede owns up to having found the genuine article early in their weeklong search, but it was so badly damaged she feared presenting it to Riri would do the opposite of cheer her up, so she spent long nights crafting a new one from scratch.

Kaede is contrite for duping everyone, but Riri gives her a big hug, thankful for her and everyone else’s efforts on her behalf. Then, despite being happy, tears start to fall, and before long she’s bawling her eyes out. Yuyu is glad she’s letting it all out; its a catharsis Riri’s imprisonment had unnaturally delayed.

Now that she’s free, Riri can finally visit Yuri’s grave and pay her respects, and the subject of Yuyu’s Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu comes up, with regard to how Yuyu managed to get over her death. Yuyu says it simply takes time and the acceptance that the past can’t be changed. Then the “ghost” of Misuzu appears and speaks to Yuyu (Riri can’t see her).

This is an odd coincidence, because a CHARM has been recovered from inside a Huge five months ago, and Moyu determines that its owner was…Kawazoe Misuzu. Is the ghost just in Yuyu’s head, or is it a product of Mizusu’s CHARM somehow “influencing” the Huge?

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