86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 04 – The Bodyguard

When the Prince and Adel arrive at the Kingdom of Light, the show isn’t quite sure what to do with them, so an interminable amount of time is spent in a standoff with Faios. While en route Adel decides he’ll play the role of envoy while the Prince plays his bodyguard, concerned that if the spotlight is on the air to the Black Throne he’ll be the first one cut down.

Adel may be a better talker, but shunting the Prince off to the side was misguided, in my view. We’ve seen him go through a lot in a short time, but now that he’s aligned with the snail’s pace of the Kingdom of Light, I’d hoped he and Iris would have some things to say. Instead, Adel takes the lead. There’s an increased sense of occasion when they finally meet, yet it almost immediately fizzles out when they go their separate ways.

More maddeningly, time that could have been spent with, say, the Prince and Iris conversing over a meal or some such, is instead utterly wasted on pointless side characters: a quartet of identical brothers goofing off in the hold of the skyship that ferried the Prince to the Kingdom of Light. I honestly don’t know what the point of this was other than some comic relief, but I would have preferred more A-plot for this comedy to relieve.

The Prince asks Faios about Iris only to be shot down, as his stated status as a mere commoner bodyguard makes him unworthy of even speaking the Queen’s name, in Faios’ eyes. The night passes, and the next morning Iris asks the Prince directly about the regular people of Black. The Prince’s response is barely an answer, but repeats Adel’s initial entreaties: this is about establishing a united front against Bahl, who is destruction incarnate.

In other words, this felt like a wasted opportunity, not helped by a host of iffy production values that are increasingly hard to overlook. The ending in which the Prince and Iris are so lovey-dovey almost felt mocking in the wave of such inconsequential first impressions. Iris has very little to go on other than the Prince seems to be reasonable. But they could have interacted a little more.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 02 – Marking Time

As befits a show shows central message is balance, this episode is evenly split between White and Black. First the White: elemental spirit-summoning Elf mage Alantia leads the defense of Metis against a Bahamut-style dark boss named Bahl. Queen Iris eventually shows up and puts on quite a light show, but isn’t really able to put a scratch on Bahl, which is concerning to say the least. She’s worried the Progenitor Rune is being taxed to its limit, and her kingdom can’t afford to lose it.

The would-be Prince of Darkness’s story is progressing at a much faster clip. This makes sense, as Iris is already Queen of Light so he has some catching up to do. Still, the difference in the pacing of the light and dark halves is noticeable…and not necessarily complementary. Valas impresses upon the young prince that becoming king is about more than just being good with a sword. It means learning how to govern and pitching in when needed (as presented in a montaaaage).

This “king of the people” angle is seemingly at odds with the present King of Darkness, who is little more than a smoke monster with a Sauron-like “cover everything in darkness” policy. He considers future generations like the prince to be unnecessary. Where “Egoism of the world” Bahl fits into this isn’t quite clear yet.

One assumes from the OP and ED that the prince and queen will meet someday, but for now, the prince settles for meeting Princess of Black Groza, AKA the “Gray-Green Demoness.” She’s a bit spoiled what with her squad of loyal troops, but when the Prince rescues her from a stray monster, she proves quite amiable to the lad, and tells him of the official competition with other potential successors in which he must participate in order to become an official Prince of Darkness.

After two episodes Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE remains perfectly watchable, if unexceptional and a bit sluggish. I continue to be driven to watch by the simple premise, Iwasaki Taku score, and promise of the eventual meeting of Iris and the Prince. Mainly I’m neither turned-off nor busy enough to drop it!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

Dororo – 21 – Dororo Has a Bad Feeling About This

The title of this post says it all: Dororo has stayed alive as long as he has for two reasons: She’s pretended to be a he, and he’s had very good instincts for danger. Sure, he’s gotten himself into innumerable tough spots, but has had the luck to slip out of them, thanks to Hyakkimaru, Biwamaru, and other allies along the way.

So when Dororo says he has a bad feeling about heading to Daigo, Hyakkimaru should use those new ears of his and listen. He doesn’t, and grave misfortune follows, just as Daigo is dealing with the worst misfortune since before he made his demon pact. As epidemics and blights plague his lands, Asakura has fielded a 2,000-strong invasion army, far larger than anything he can muster.

As such, what few troops he has left are forced to recruit any able-bodied men and boys from the healthy villages (leaving too much work for the women and children, which will have serious consequences) and burning the infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to escape. It’s time for desperate measures all around, and not a place Hyakkimaru and Dororo should go anywhere near.

Short-handed as he is, Lord Daigo cannot refuse his son’s demand to hunt down Hyakkimaru with no one but Mutsu and Hyougou—there’s no talking Tahoumaru down—but still assigns his “fixer” to follow them. Speaking from experience when their village was raided, their parents slain in front of them, and taken captive by samurai, Mutsu and Hyougou voice their extreme dislike of war in all its forms. More distressingly, Mutsu’s malady is worsening, and can no longer be hidden.

Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru’s mother also laments that despite being the wife of a great lord, she is helpless to stop the path of destruction upon which both of her sons have set themselves. Nothing Dororo says can convince Hyakkimaru to reconsider his quest to get all of his body back, not matter how much death and destruction it might cost; not matter how much it might change him into someone Dororo can no longer walk beside.

Hyakkimaru counters by saying he wants to see Dororo with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands, but in the grand scheme of human suffering, it doesn’t seem enough to justify his actions, no matter how unjustly he was treated.

Those looking for two-dimensional heroes or villains will find none in this episode. People may be fighting for or against Hyakkimaru’s interests, but everyone has good motives for doing so. In Mutsu and Hyougou’s case, their loyalty to Lord Daigo and Tahoumaru in particular is the consequence of Lord Daigo having saved them from both from a fate worse than death: to starve as captives among corpses.

I couldn’t help but cheer when Daigo entered that pit of hell and dragged the feral, mangy kids out of there. Yes, he put them to work as Tahoumaru’s official friends and protectors, which might not have been their choice, but theirs are still infinitely better (and longer) lives than they’d have lived had Daigo not saved them. Both have long since made peace with the fact that they won’t always like the orders their lord gives them, or the choices their young master makes, but their loyalty is absolute all the same.

So Mutsu and Hyougou join Tahoumaru in their latest confrontation of Hyakkimaru, as their master’s right and left hands. In a bout of sickening irony, those are the same hands Hyakkimaru chops off of the two of them, now more powerful and enraged than ever. It is Tahoumaru who has to save his own bodyguards from his wrath, and receives a nasty gash on his brow for his trouble.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about thorughout Tahoumaru’s efforts to rid the world of his older brother is that how does he know killing him will solve anything? The demon pact was broken, full stop. Those parts of Hyakkimaru they took were taken from a living baby; killing him won’t necessarily automatically return those parts to them. All of Tahoumaru’s rage and single-mindedness on his destruciton, and it may not end up making any difference. His father’s lands may simply be doomed regardless.


Things look bad for Tahoumaru, but we were never meant to forget about Lord Daigo’s fixer, who arrives on the back of a prized white horse named Midoro stolen from one of the villages and pressed into military service. What does the fixer do with this splendid horse? He blows it up in a cynically efficienty attempt to kill Hyakkimaru.

Yet even this fixer is not an evil man. He’s obeying his lord’s orders, protecting his lord’s son, and defending his lord’s domain and its people the only way he knows how.

Even if it means using Dororo as a hostage, something the maimed Mutsu and Hyougou strongly protest (no doubt because the child reminds them of themselves—and of history repeating itself—neither of them have an alternative for dealing with Hyakkimaru, who is still alive at the bottom of a gorge.

About that gorge: it is filled with the corpses of samurai and their armor, as well as the parts of poor Midoro the horse, all of which undergoes some kind of demonic transformation down there. Like Dororo said: he had a bad feeling about this. Maybe next time someone will listen…if there is a next time.

One parting nitpick: the quality of the horses this week is iffy at best, suggesting limited skill and experience rendering them on the part of the animators. Considering the importance of one particular horse, that was a rather distracting shortcoming, though not a deal-breaker.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 21 – On Private Time

From the Pope about to be replaced conversing with the nun Vasilissa who is already in Russia, to Aiwass asking none other than Kazakiri Hyouka to head there to deal with Sasha’s situation, the first two scenes in this episode establish an ever more widely-sprawling cast in what had begun as a much more characterly austere arc. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hyouka, but in seeking assurances from Aiwass that her friends won’t be harmed, I assume she’s more good guy than bad.

Once all the Russian privateers are dealt with by Acqua, Hamazura suggests they move on, allowing Academy City to protect the village from further slaughter even if it means occupying that village. He and Takitsubo head to the border in a Lada Niva, but are quickly chased by Academy City powered suits.

Accelerator arrives in the knick of time—albeit pissed that complications are being added to his mission—but once Elizalina has had a look at both Last Order and Takitsubo, she determines it’s possible to save both (though Last Order will be trickier).

Accelerator starts to head out to “do what must be done”, which will entail veering off the rails of villainy Academy City laid out for him, and which he followed without protest. He suggests Misaka Worst do the same thing: “stumble upon a route other than the one where” she’ll “only get used up”. Worst seems game, even if she can’t help but laugh at Accelerator’s expressions and words.

Someone currently being used, and utterly powerless to sever that control, is poor Index, who is in England with Stiyl and Laura Stuart. Turns out there are two remote control magical items: the one Fiamma stole and the one the she possesses. She intends to use her item to interrupt Fiamma’s and foil his plans. Stiyl notes how no part of her plan is looking out for Index’s well-being, but that’s par for the course with Laura.

Fiamma’s plan, meanwhile, proceeds as he planned, with Touma and Lessar arriving exactly where and when he wanted, and in time to demonstrate the scale and scope of his power by extracting an absolutely gargantuan cross (or sword?…Cross-sword?) out of the ground.

All this happens just as the stealth plane Misaka hijacked arrives in Russia. An angel descends from the sky and slices the plane in half, but Biribiri safely lands with no issues, as does the pilot. Immediately upon soft-landing in a little spot where her electricity melted the snow, she’s approached by Misaka 10777, apparently of an Academy City Russian co-op outfit that has just finished withdrawing.

10777 must have detected Big Sis and went to her location to share in her “private time”, implying Misaka is not here on any kind of official business, Academy City-affiliated or otherwise. And she’s absolutely right: Misaka has given herself quite the limited mandate: Save that good-for-nothin’, two-timin’, run-of-the-mill Level 0 high schooler with the spiky hair and a tiny Engish nun for a roommate. We’ll see how successful she is in not getting involved with anything else!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 20 – No Excuses

The Russia arc reaches a satisfying turning point as allies start to join our over-matched heroes. Accelerator may have spared Misaka Worst’s life, but it’s not in Worst’s programming to be grateful for it; in fact, she’s quite pissed! But Accelerator has bigger problems: he’s seemingly out of control, letting the evil destructive side take over while lil’ Last Order slowly freezes in the snow.

As Touma and Lessar head towards Fiamma’s location, his words about Touma’s deceiving of Index weigh on his mind. Lessar reassures him he’s done—and is doing—the right thing: moving forward, helping where he can, and saving lives, both there and in Britain. Hamazura’s attempting to do the same thing, without the benefit of Imagine Breaker.

As Carissa and the British armies continue their advance across the channel, they bring the Mobile Fortress Glastonbury looms overhead, providing a mobile bastion of British soil that will allow Curtana’s power to be used anywhere.

They are met by the Holy Maiden of Versailles, a Joan d’Arc-looking warrior who crosses swords with the second princess. This part of the Russia arc is the least interesting to me so far, especially since it hasn’t yet really gotten anywhere (the channel isn’t that vast) and involves too many players to focus on any of them for long.

Far more engaging is the totally epic duel in the tundra between a Touma and Accelerator. One is pissed about being overpowered by Fiamma so easily; the other is pissed that Last Order continues to suffer. Their battle is accompanied by suitably badass battle music, and the two lads trade blows, but ultimately it’s Touma who gets the upper hand.

If Touma had any serious doubts about how he’s dealt with Index before, he certainly doesn’t after seeing an alternative scenario in Accelerator has dealt with Last Order. He’s so angry over the fact so many people have allowed her to suffer, and that his evil villain persona doesn’t seem to be enough to protect her.

Touma basically tells Accelerator to get over himself: he doesn’t need any reason or excuse to step up and protect Last Order, nor is there any reason for him not to rely on others to help if he feels he alone isn’t enough. Touma releases whatever magic had been applied to Last Order, and Accelerator betrays a smile of relief. These two together; they’ve got a change against Fiamma.

Hamazura doesn’t have any luck with a relative pea-shooter against an incoming privateer tank, but decides to repurpose one of the mines the villagers have collected as an anti-tank grenade. He stops the tank in its tracks, but then an attack helicopter buzzes overhead and prepares to take him out. Very well-supplied privateers, these guys!

The chopper is taken out by none other than Acqua, admiring Hamazura’s dedication to protecting the innocent villagers from massacre. So now Hamazura has a powerful ally in his goal to save Takitsubo, who still isn’t looking so great.

Back in the channel, Carissa ceases her duel with the French Maiden, blaming Fiamma for this war, and warns that if Russia’s mainland is invaded and its nuke facilities under threat of being taken over, an airborne killer virus wall will be dispersed, a scorched-earth directive that will result in appalling casualties.

Carissa admits she needs French soil to continue her advance, but at the moment the two countries have a mutual enemy: Fiamma. Rather than fight each other, they’ll need to join forces to stop him.

And just in case Accelerator+Touma, Hamazura+Acqua, and Britain+France aren’t enough against Fiamma, who is preparing to use Sasha to do…something bad, Misaka and Shirai finally learn of Touma’s whereabouts, and Misaka hastily begins packing for a trip to Russia.

Perhaps, finally, hopefully, she’ll be able to contribute something concrete and meaningful this season! Unfortunately, the plane it looks like she’s taking has a stowaway: Mugino, She Who Will Never Die, who isn’t done with Hamazura.

When Accelerator wakes up, he’s in Elizalina, and wouldn’t you know it, someone finally gave Last Order some climate-appropriate clothes and shoes! Thank goodness for that; I was worried she’d get frostbite and hypothermia. Touma and Lessar (who is glad he’s looking more confident and resolved) continue heading to Fiamma for Round Two.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Shokugeki no Souma – 22

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The group B preliminaries really heat up this week, with most of the best candidates being saved for last. The episode also benefits from involving characters I personally care more about, like Yuki, the Super Mario Aldini brothers, Alice, and of course Megumi. We start with the less well-known but still rootable Hojo Miyoko, who earns an 87 with her sweet-and-sour-esque curry fried rice, followed by a delectable duck curry that only scores one point lower, a surprise for someone I didn’t think would be in the running.

The younger Aldini Isami goes first with a very tasty-looking tomato curry calzone that successfully, stylishly fuses Italian and Japanese cuisine, but it’s immediately followed by Takumi’s cheese-stuffed curry linguine with curry gravy that wows the judges even more, earning the second 90 after Hisako last week. Once again, Isami is bested by his slightly older, slightly more talented brother, and simply has to suck it up.

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For what it’s worth, Takumi is gracious in victory, and has always said that the two of them are better as a pair than separate. Unfortunately, the Autumn Elections are not something in which they can compete as a pair.

That leaves the final two contestants in Group B, who couldn’t be any more different in their approaches, much like Asako and Nao. Alice literally dazzles and confounds the assembled gourmands with her extremely bizarre-looking, futuristic dish that is a melange of all kinds of varying textures and temperatures. Each judge awards her 19 points out of 20 for a total of 95 – a score Souma will have to beat in Group A to earn a measure respect from a Nakiri.

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in their haste to wrap up the competition with a vote to break the tie of Miyoko and Isami, everyone forgets poor Megumi, who, perhaps appropriately, must follow up the most futuristic dish from an alien world with the most down-home traditional dish from her hometown. Nay, the dish, a monkfish curry hot-pot, IS her town, through and through, from the fish to the vegetables to the preparation, it brings the disoriented judges back down to earth and wraps them in warmth and love.

Meg earns 88 points and a spot in the final eight, proving her convictions and technique are no gimmick, and also proving to Miyoko that while you can shut men up with sheer force and fire, you can also earn their respect and admiration with sheer determination and water, as we see from Megumi’s assembled fellow townsfolk.

Thus ends the Group B prelims, with Alice, Hisako, Takumi and Megumi moving on. On to Group A, where the other blonde bombshell judge has yet to award a single point with Alice’s aide Ryo about to present.

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