The Rising of the Shield Hero – 21 – Making Things Right

After a strange, ethereal dream, Naofumi wakes up in a bed, having not awakened for three days following the damage caused by Blood Sacrifice, surrounded by Raphtalia, Filo and Melty, who likely rarely left his bedside.

When two “medics” come to change his bandages, he immediately calls them out as Shadows, and sure enough, they’re escorting Queen Mirelia Melromarc herself to his chamber to introduce herself…and to talk about clearing his name and punishing those who poisoned it.

In that regard, this is an episode that’s been a long time coming, and one that rewards everyone who suffered beside Naofumi for so long as his reputation and life (and those of his party) were threatened by the lies and villainy of Malty and her father the King Consort.

After explaining where she was (putting out fires with nations angered that Melromarc summoned all four Heroes) and why no one kept her daughter husband in line (the lord she entrusted died in the first wave), Mirelia lowers her head in apology to Naofumi, promises to clear his name, reward him for his service, and give him justice.

That night, Naofumi has a premonition of the form of that justice: Malty’s and the King’s heads being placed in stocks, defiant and enraged to the last despite their guilt. But when the guillotines fall and Naofumi wakes up, he’s far more disturbed than relieved by the dream.

The next day, Queen Mirelia holds a trial for Malty and the King, placing a Slave Crest upon the former so she cannot lie without being shocked. Since lying comes as easily as breathing for Malty, she’s shocked quite a number of times trying to deny the crimes leveled against her. The only instance of her not being shocked is when she denies colluding with the church to kill the Heroes.

But everything else, right down to her false accusation of sexual assault that started Naofumi’s long path of misery, is exposed as lies. Even when she forms a slave pact with Motoyasu, she can’t help but lie and deny. There’s nowhere left to hide; not from Motoyasu, and not from the public, who are watching on magical screens and gradually turn against her and the King.

Mirelia finds them both guilty of high treason, strips them of their titles, and sentences them to death, to be carried out immediately in the courtyard. Naofumi’s dream starts to repeat itself, but where in the dream Malty is neither repentant nor scared, here she’s both, and increasingly desperate not to die.

That sour feeling returns to Naofumi’s gut; cancelling out whatever weights may have been lifted from his shoulders by the favorable verdict or clearing of his name. When Malty finally calls out to “Naofumi-sama,” the man she tried to kill many times, to spare her life—and her Slave Crest doesn’t react—Naofumi finally calls for the queen to hold up.

He doesn’t want to see Malty or the King executed, but puts on his brash/infamous Shield Hero persona in explaining why: a quick death is too good for them! Instead he suggests they be allowed to live on, but with new names: King Trash and Princess Bitch (with the adventurer’s name of “slut”).

Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly elated upon hearing such sophomoric, misogynistic names being thrown about so casually. But I was happy he realized their deaths wouldn’t make him happy, and, well, both of them do deserve harsh punishment, so Trash and Bitch it is. Now the two unquestionably owe the Shield Hero their lives, and had better not forget it.

With that, the Queen prepares the ceremony to bestow upon Naofumi all the awards he’s due, but he’s ready to leave Melromarc for other parts of the world that suffer the devastation of the Waves of Catastrophe. He leaves the other three Heroes on a good note, and the Queen accepts his decision. While leaving, Melty doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Naofumi, at least until her mother says if he hadn’t told her to stay the executions, she would have offered her own life to him for her husband and daughter.

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo depart the city at the head of a friendly, thankful, even adoring crowd (how fast public opinion turns), Melty manages to catch up, thank Naofumi, and say goodbye properly. He bids her farewell with a smile that moves her to tears. After twenty episodes of beating Naofumi down, his spirits have never looked higher, and he and his party look poised to do great things.

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AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

AICO – 04 – An Artificial-Bodied MacGuffin

I’ll give AICO this: it knows how to move things along. The Diver team run into far nastier resistance than they thought so early in the mission. It’s great to watch people on the job whom we’ve already met off duty. It not only affords us a look at their procedures and teamwork, and ability to keep up with their constantly evolving foe.

As for that foe, we get a decent helping of its various forms and behaviors. As a rule, any non-sentient “force of nature” villain has to evoke a certain degree of primal fear (in lieu of a personality), and I think that’s achieved here. There was a lot of jargon/technobabble being thrown around, but the brisk pace kept me from getting bogged down.

I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of the foreboding alien landscape that is the MatterZone with the so-far-untouched parts of Japan the other characters enjoy.

Sure, in each case they’re basically scenes of more exposition—establishing that Nanbara, Isazu, and Kurose were all college buds, and that Nanbara and now Isazu aren’t in a hurry to destroy a valuable resource.

But it’s just neat to cut from scenes where characters are fighting for survival while pushing through a hostile environment, to ones where they can hold a meeting, enjoy a tasty desert, or dote upon their comatose daughter without having to worry about being, er, mattered.

The show doesn’t forget that the individual sub-teams within the Diver team are competing for an achievement bonus. Kaede is probably guilty of the most unnecessary chatter of the whole crew, but probably gets away with it due to the fact she’s still quite young and also extremely talented.

Yet no matter how highly talented, trained, experienced, and armed the Divers are, it never feels like they can truly relax there in The Shit, and constantly have to have each other’s backs lest some tentacle of Matter end them in an eye-blink.

The first leg of their journey is marked by one of the giant dams, which also happens to serve as a massive three-bladed, electrical-shocking guillotine, which is one of the more original ideas AICO has served up. If this setup is an exact copy of something from a far better anime I haven’t seen before, well…ignorance is bliss, because giant dam guillotines are cool.

They’re also damned effective, if only temporarily so, as after the “slice” is made everything downriver dies, while everything in the immediate vicinity is paralyzed. But between the living Matter looking like miscellaneous viscera and the fact it’s apparently “learning” how to take a crude human form, there’s clearly no permanent fix for this scourge as yet.

Of course, ending all this is, supposedly, Aiko’s role…or it will be, much further up the river. If there’s one blemish on this episode, it’s that the protagonist is utterly sidelined this week; even more so than previous episodes. She mostly just reacts, once to the point of passing out. Simply being in such an inhospitable place clearly has a deleterious effect on her cyborg physiology.

Part of that is inevitable: she’s certainly not trained to fight the Matter, and I daresay I’d probably be much more freaked out in her situation. But let’s call an artificial-bodied MacGuffin a MacGuffin. The show could have avoided this by giving Aiko some training (and development) prior to the mission, but that would have killed the narrative momentum. For now, like Aiko, we’re along for the ride, so I suppose I’ll just enjoy it…and watch my six.

P.S. I’ve intended to skip the ED the last three episodes…yet I always end up watching it to the end. The end theme is very pretty, as are the sights the top half of Aiko walks through.

Dies Irae – 01

There wasn’t much I liked about Die Irae’s episode 00, and not much reason to continue with it—other than the fact 00 was a prologue and the first “regular” episode might totally different, better, or more promising.

Well, this first episode certainly is different; totally different. We’re now in modern-day Japan, following Fujii Ren, a regular high school kid, around as he’s discharged from the hospital after a fight with his best friend Shirou, who then dropped out of school and ran away.

After almost dying in an epic rooftop fight, Ren’s friend Ayase Kasumi (who he calls BAkasumi) thinks he’d enjoy going to a sword exhibition, but then they come across a rusty guillotine that shouldn’t be there and both of them get freaked out. Ren, in particular, has a vision of a beautiful woman flying out of the guillotine.

He awakens in his room, which we learn Ayase can access at any time from a hole in the wall. Her room, Ren’s, and Shriou’s are connected this way. Ren has another vision in which the blonde woman sings a song about beheading people, then finds himself locked into a guillotine, and his head goes flying with a fountain of blood. When he wakes up screaming, sirens can he heard outside: someone has been murdered…by beheading.

His other female friend Himuro Rea spends a good deal of time teasing Ren before telling him she and someone named Sister Riza saw the body. She mostly wants to make sure Ren’s okay after leaving the hospital.

As much as he may want his high school life to go back to normal, Shirou’s absence, the physical and emotional scars he left, and these sudden visions and real-life murder all conspire to prevent that normalcy from returning, perhaps ever.

Finally tying this episode into the prologue, we begin seeing some of Heydrich’s supermen/women appearing in the city, apparently ready to sacrifice it for the sake of their lord, believing nothing they do, not matter how awful, will be seen as a sin in the eyes of that lord.

So yes, this episode was pretty different from the first. Was it better? Hard to say. It at least fleshed out its characters a little better, but Ren, Kasumi and Rea aren’t anyone we haven’t seen in anime a hundred times over; both girls laid on their shtick pretty thick.

It remains to be seen if impending doom makes them anyone we met this week more interesting. The bottom line is that more questions arose here than were answered. On one hand that’s frustrating; on the other, a part of me still wants to watch on to see what happens…time permitting.

Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – 12 (Fin)

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InoBato delivers a crisp, clever, neatly-paced finale that is an admirable study in ‘less is more’ where superpower action is concerned, and despite Jurai not making a decision about which girl to choose, the romantic/emotional side of the show is still brought to a satisfying stopping point.

The episode wastes no time picking up from last week, where Hatoko looks to be in some serious trouble. But in the space of a few moments, Chifuyu erects a wall to protect her while Tomoyo transports everyone to a different time and space. The gang hasn’t used their powers much, but when they do use them they make it count. 

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Furthermore, Jurai’s chuunibyou compelled him to formulate countermeasures in case someone with Mirei’s powers was to fight them seriously again. He may not have a useful power himself, but he spearheaded the whole three-second maneuvers that saved everyone.

As the gang hides in a karaoke bar (worried they’re taking things too lightly) their attacker, “F” remnant Hagiura Naoe, who has stolen Mirei’s body and powers (along with Hatoko and Chifuyu’s), confers with Sagami, apparently eager to prove her mettle by knocking off “Virgin Child.”

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Without any better ideas from the others, Jurai decides to call Hagiura and arrange a meet-up in the clubroom, where she’s created a portal to an otherworld. Hagiura is disappointed Jurai didn’t bring the others, and inflicts various kinds of pain to try to get him to cooperate, warning that he only invites a lingering, lonely death.

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Far from yielding, Jurai breaks out his secret weapon: a bluff. Well, a sort of bluff. He makes “Dark and Dark Stage Two” out to be the Best Power EVAH, even though it’s just as useless as it was…

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…Which Hagiura doesn’t realize until she’s stolen and replicated it. But here’s the thing: in this particular case, Stage Two is not only useful, but crucial to him having a chance at victory. It’s useful not in any conventional GIGA DRILL uber-power kind of way, but because once the flames are summoned, they’ll burn eternally.

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Not only that, they really burn their user, and can’t be put out, something Jurai learns when they first awakened; a scene InoBato artfully skipped over so it could show us here. The only way the gang put them out last time is by Chifuyu summoning a guillotine, slicing his hand off, and then repairing it with Sayumi’s healing powers. NOW we know why they insisted he never use his powers again.

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When Hagiura realizes she’s been played, she leaves Mirei’s body, leaving Mirei and Jurai with eternally burning hands. Fortunately, Sayumi, Tomoyo and Chifuyu are standing by….

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…And then, as they go through that horrifying ordeal again, only this time with two ‘patients’, I’m not surprised everyone is crying, even though everything goes according to plan, it’s still traumatic chopping friends’ damn hands off! Hagiura fumes, but she and Sagami are found out by Hajime, who isn’t too happy they tried to involve Virgin Child.

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The gang got a great brush with danger, but pulled out of it with no harm done, thanks mostly to Jurai’s planning, quick-thinking, and, well, there’s no other word for it: recklessness. Sayumi cannot believe she let him go through with such a crazy, dangerous plan, and yet if given the choice, she’d go along with it again. Mirei can relate; both girls strive to be paragons of perfection, but when it comes to the man they both fell in love with, all bets are off…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

On a day out together, Tomoyo buys Hatoko a light novel she can understand (unlike most of the stuff Jurai gives her). Tomoyo remarks how she’s now come to understand what someone (her bro) once said to her about “all outcomes are predetermined”, and people seek “ways they can accept to explain it.” In Tomoyo’s case, she knew she loved Jurai, and now is finally able to say it to Hatoko.

Hatoko also now knows what Jurai meant by a reading of a character being both “friend” and “rival”, because that’s what Tomoyo is. Far from giving up in Jurai, Hatoko promises her friendrival that she won’t lose; Tomoyo promises the same.

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Their target, meanwhile, is being ‘charmed’ by Chifuyu, who he’s worried about being caught up in another battle, in addition to being out in the sun too long. Chifuyu assures him in her usual adorable lilt, “she’s surprisingly tough”, and will continue to stay by his side, protecting him. Jurai consents, but only if she promises not to use her powers to hurt people, or to make people happy.

Superpowers are cool, but that’s all they need to be. It’s a sentiment in keeping with the show thus far, which has strived to underplay the importance of the powers with only a few exceptions. The friendships formed and love grown as a result of them having powers has always been more important.

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In making his point, Jurai activates Dark and Dark (though not Stage Two), just as Tomoyo and the others arrive. Tomoyo is understandably angry, not just that he’s ’embarrassing’ her, but more likely because she’s worried he’ll hurt himself again. The two start fighting in their usual way, because when two people get along and just work, it means they’re able to fight like that. And honestly, I could watch them fight all day! I’ll miss you, Virgin Child. I’ll miss InoBato too.

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Samurai Flamenco – 07

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With attacks and petty crime down to almost nothing, Samurai Flamenco has earned the trust of the city and the Samurai Girls have no more villains to punish. To Sumi’s delight Masayoshi refocuses on his day job, but when he finds a newspaper clipping in his grandfather’s package confirming his parents were murdered, and doesn’t feel the impulse to do anything about it, he wavers.

While discussing it with Goto, the two witness a mobster beating an old man, and Masayoshi wraps him in tape. Masayoshi accepts the police department’s offer to make him Chief for the day, and he oversees a drug bust, but one suspect takes a pill and transforms into a murdrous “Guillotine Gorilla.” Masayoshi and Goto push him out the window, and he self-destructs. A strange figure calling himself “King Torture” appears to challenge Masayoshi.

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We figured with four heroes out there fighting crime every night (with extreme prejudice, in the case of Mari’s Samurai Girls), eventually the amount of crime to fight would dwindle to nothing. Some people are happy about the lull, like the sensible, grounded Goto and Sumi. Mari is bored to the point of near-neurosis. And without even realizing it, Masayoshi is sleeping, modelling and acting better, earning him ever more opportunities. Sumi’s seeing to it his rise is swift yet sustainable. Then Masayoshi keeps digging in grandpa’s Flamenco files, finds something shocking, becomes conflicted, and then re-dedicates himself to opposing evil after a very nice heart-to-heart with Goto (whose point is that Masayoshi’s a freak, but he trusts freaks more than heroes).

And then something even more shocking happens: evil finds him. And it finds him the most bizarre, random form possible: a giant armored gorilla with a guillotine built into its mid-section. For the first time in the series, something truly supernatural happens, and people die horribly. This gorilla and “King Torture” are so abruptly thrust upon us, it’s hard to know how to react. We always knew the show had the potential to depart from reality, we just weren’t expecting it so soon, and so damn strange. We’re not sure it wouldn’t have been ballsier for the show to continue abstaining from such fantastical elements, but we’ll keep an open mind.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Jouji may be a self-involved flake, but his gift of a cow skull and tequila from America showed that he does actually care about his “student.”
  • It’s also great how all the guys are hanging at Masayoshi’s place all the time now. It’s almost like a club.
  • Konno calls Sumi to say he won’t be calling her anymore, because he’s bored. Something tells us he’s about to get un-bored…which means he’ll be calling Sumi again.
  • “Destroy…Not to Destroy…” Mari isn’t even trying to maintain a facade of sanity anymore, is she? If nothing else, this King Torture business will require her firm boot of justice.
  • Masayoshi took all that carnage pretty damn well…you’d think he’d have at least retched at that beheading.