Sagrada Reset – 02

Just when Asai determines Mari is the result of her mother’s ability to create a clone of her never-born daughter, an agent of the “Bureau” (or “Kanrikyoku”), Tsushima, arrives to take her away.

The father left town, and now the mother will do the same, leaving the virtual Mari a virtual orphan. That doesn’t sit right with Asai, so he has Haruki reset, and the formulation of a plan commences.

It’s actually pretty impressive how quickly and efficiently Asai directs the service he and Haruki are likely going to be providing throughout the run of the show: “erasing tears” by resetting and fixing the cause of those tears.

Their classmates assist with their own abilities, but when the one who allows Asai to share his memories with Haruki bristles at the prospect of defying the Bureau, Asai cuts himself with a broken ramune bottle until Tsushima gives permission.

Everything works out perfectly: Asai, with the help of the rest of the group, is able to show Mari’s mother the error of her ways; to stay and continue raising the girl who may not technically be her real daughter, but loves her nonetheless.

With Haruki and his classmates’ combined powers, Asai has gained the power to “erase sadness.” In the process, he’s also managed to awaken some feelings in Haruki, though the road is long.

He discusses this in great detail with Souma Sumire, who is a tough nut to crack: you get the feeling she’s glad Asai may have found his calling, but a part of her also regrets bringing him and Haruki closer together.

Mind you, the relationship between Asai and Haruki doesn’t become a romance overnight. After all, Haruki has only gained back a small portion of the full spectrum of emotions most humans carry and experience. She cuts her hair at his suggestion, but also confuses trust with love. Asai proves it when they kiss and there’s no spark.

Then he undoes the premature kiss by asking her to reset. After seeing what they managed to accomplish with Mari and her mother, Haruki believes following Asai’s lead is her “zeroth rule”, so she complies.

But in the period between Haruki’s Save Point and her Reset, Souma Sumire falls from the bridge, into the river, and dies, as we witnessed at the end of last week’s episode. Seeing her wearing the dress and holding the red umbrella rendered her a dead girl walking, and gave her last conversation with Asai far more significance than he could comprehend at the time.

When Haruki finds Asai quietly mourning on the rooftop, she demands he instruct her to reset…unaware she just did, and it’s too late. When she sees Asai crying, she can’t help but do the same. She’s following his lead, but also realizing that this is what the two of them have to stop from happening to others at all costs.

There’s a huge jump of two years to when Asai and Haruki, now high schoolers, are recruited by Tsushima into a Bureau-sanctioned “Service Club”, where they can erase sadness in an official (and supervised) capacity.

It’s a pretty jarring time leap, to be honest, but it means the first two episodes were always meant to be a prologue in which the pairing of Asai and Haruki was made and their shared calling revealed. Now the real work begins: both the sadness-erasure work, and the emotional-awakening-of-Haruki work.

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Sagrada Reset – 01 (First Impressions)

Asai Kei is introduced by class rep Souma Sumire to Haruki Misora, a stoic and seemingly emotionless girl who has no friends. Because Haruki has the ability to “reset” the world up to 3 days into the past, and Kei has a supernatural five-sense memory, Souma believes they’re perfectly suited to joining forces for good.

Sagrada (or Sakurada) Reset is a bit of an odd duck, like its two leads. On the one hand, it subtly, delicately paints the picture of a small town that is totally normal except for the fact that half of its residents possess supernatural powers. It also delves, if not too deeply, into some interesting philosophical ideas about what constitutes “goodness”—Sumire’s story of Zen and Gizen to Asai being one of the episode’s high points.

But there are a few issues. First of all, this episode felt like it took forever to run, and although it accomplished a lot, it just didn’t feel that eventful. That may be okay in a 24-episode show, but the earlier a show can impress me and draw me in, the more likely I am to commit to such a show.

I also don’t mind a matter-of-fact, stoic duo, but that comes with the caveat that sometimes scenes are going to feel slow and listless. It didn’t help that this was a very talky episode, and neither Hanazawa Hana nor Ishikawa Kaito ever raise and barely modulate their voices throughout all this talking. Yuuki Aoi breathes some energy into Souma, but I wager she’d be the quiet character on any other show.

The episode also seemed reluctant to demonstrate the characters’ special abilities (and didn’t even name one for Souma, who may well not have one); indeed, if one were to blink when Haruki whispers “Reset” in the wind, you’d miss her ability altogether. Yet on another level, it’s intriguing that such powerful abilities are presented so plainly and elegantly, rather than, for example, a CGI light and effects show, or even worse, floating TV screens.

Two things at which Reset excels is its ambient sound design, and it’s awareness of its leisurely pace, which it uses to drop a sudden twist at the end: that the little girl Haruki has been sitting with recently has actually been dead for seven years. I definitely want to learn what’s up with that and how such a predicament will be resolved (presumably by our duo), and so there’s a hook for continuing to watch.

The “cold close” apparently showing Souma (same hair and eyes) falling off a bridge to her death compounds that desire to see what happens next. Like Akashic Records, there’s potential, but I’m banking on the fact that neither show’s strongest episode was its first. Unlike Akashic Records, there’s a stiltedness to the cast that exposes the fine line between ‘subtle, deliberate’ and just plain dull and tedious. So we’ll see.

Seiren – 03

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“Seiren” means “honest” in Japanese, and I said in my first review that it’s a pretty honest show. Sure weird things may happen like a soaked Hikari climbing into Shou’s window, but there’s a logical explanation for it, however far-fetched.

More importantly, the show is honest about how Shou, from whose POV we’re watching most of the time, has no idea what to make of Hikari. Does he like her, or is he just reacting as programmed due to her popular princess status at school? Does she like him, or is she just messing with him in lieu of any other suitable boy at the hotel?

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Shou’s only at the study camp at all because Hikari inspired him to improve himself. He finds it hard to balance the need to actually study with the nervous but exhilarating fun he has whenever Hikari is around, being so “provocative” at least for a conservative chap like him.

This week Hikari gets Shou to cut loose, wearing the wrap that came with her bikini as they sneak into the boy’s bath after hours for a dip. Here the honesty is carried through: they don’t get intimate or anything; Shou is nowhere near that stage. But he does find out exactly what it’s like to have an illicit bath with a pretty girl, and the resulting tent he pitches comes in handy when scaring off the teacher, saving Hikari from being discovered.

Be it studying in his room with Hikari on his bed, sneaking into the bath, or sharing a nice night outside (finally, they went outside!) by a drained pool, Shou stocks up on lots of nice memories with this girl he can’t quite figure out, but is trying to do so.

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He feels it’s the proper time to ask her why she lied about the mixer being a “family affair”, but she claims she wasn’t lying, as it could potentially lead to her making a family. He also learns the older man at the restaruant was never her boyfriend.

And while she had a fair amount of fun with Shou in the mountains, Hikari still seems sore about missing the mixer, particularly when her friend says “it wasn’t anything special” but is then seen back at school hanging off the arm of Araki.

Meanwhile, Hikari and Shou haven’t talked since that memorable night at the inn. He feels a rift of sorts was formed when he delved into her personal life, like he’s on the outside, looking in; unsure how to re-engage with her.

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Akame ga Kill! – 10

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This week Tatsumi is by Esdeath’s side almost the entire time, scores a lot of solid intelligence on the Jaegers, and is used as a body pillow. I’ll be honest: it’s a lot of fun watching him behind enemy lines. He (and we) end up seeing sides of Esdeath no one else has seen, a gentle, kind Esdeath, to the point he wonders if it would be possible to convince her to switch sides and join the rebels. This, of course, is not the case, as Esdeath has a strict “Survival of the Fittest” philosophy.

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Furthermore, she’s not interested in him changing her principles: it is she who will change his. She has fought and won countless battles, and this is another one of those to her, only completely different in how it’s waged, and very exciting to boot. I must say, while it could be easy to play Esdeath’s affection for Tatsumi, the show finds moments to show us that Esdeath is quite serious about being in love.

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Also, Esdeath knows what she feels and respects it rather than trying to shove it down. She doesn’t see it as weakness, but as a challenge. So even when Tatsumi escapes while on a hunting mission with Wave, Esdeath is still confident she’ll see him again, and not simply force him to see things her way, but legitimatly convince him to support her of his own free will. That’s the true battle.

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Frankly, I hope Tatsumi does end up back by Esdeath’s side at some point, even if there’s virtually no chance of her suceeding in turning him, because his time with Esdeath and the Jaegers was frustratingly short, especially when you consider this show has a whole other cour to work with. And not just because watching Tatsumi squirm around Esdeath’s genuine affection.

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Watching him interact with the Jaegars was also fun, particularly the “Him” of the Jaegers, Wave, with whom he shares much in common, including a running commentary on the strangeness of his colleagues. Still, it’s also good to see a friendly face in Akame, as she rescues him from a danger beast. Akame vows to be the one to kill Esdeath, while her sister vows to kill her. And with Dr. Stylish Johnny-on-the-spot with the Tatsumi tracking, those confrontations can’t be far off.

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Akame ga Kill! – 09

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With no immediate missions, it’s a time of rest, healing (both physical and emotional), training, and rebuilding. Najenda heads off alone to try to recruit new members, as Night Raid is down to just six, including her. Tatsumi defeated the Three, but he must become much stronger to wear Incursio properly. He’s moved by Leone relaying Bulat’s belief he would someday surpass even him. But that’s a process.

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Meanwhile, Esdeath has finished assembling her new team of Imperial Arm-using special police force, but interestingly, we’re introduced to them one from the perspective of perhaps the most normal of them, Wave. Sort of a combination of Tatsumi and Bulat, his normal reactions to his quirky colleagues add a touch of levity and humanity to the proceedings. Esdeath also stages an exciting welcome by attacking them.

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The other members: Run, Bols, Kurome, and Doctor Stylish, are new or mostly new faces, but crazy ol’ Seryu, who healed from seemingly mortal injuries, is a nice addition. As Esdeath grows closer to Night Raid as an enemy (her “Jaegers” now outnumber Night Raid, and seem just as capable), Tatsumi gets more curious about her, so Leone and Lubbock clue her in.

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Turns out Najenda marched beside Esdeath as a fellow general in the Imperial Army, but part of why she deserted was that she simply couldn’t stomach being around Esdeath and her sadistic henchmen anymore, as they conquered towns but kept their captives alive and suffering as long as possible. Furthermore, Esdeath is being this brutal because she wants more and more rebellions to crop up, so she can keep warring indefinitely. That is the true danger of Esdeath.

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When the opportunity to get a better look at her comes up Tatsumi takes it, and after the Three, he realizes just how much stronger he’s gotten since joining Night Raid when he easily defeats the last foe standing in a fighting tournament sponsored by Esdeath. But assembling the Jaegers and prolonging the war aren’t her only goals, as she’s reached that certain age.

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That’s right: Esdeath is still looking for love, and that quirk is what sets her apart from most silver-haired ice villainesses we’ve come across on our travels. Despite the fact her falling for Tatsumi is telegraphed from a mile away, its execution is still plenty entertaining, as the initially bored Esdeath grows more and more interested in Tatsumi’s fight as he displays the five very particular qualities she demanded of a mate, including an innocent smile that seals the deal.

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Of course, Esdeath isn’t interested in dating an equal, so after meeting and congratulating Tatsumi in the arena, she offers her “gift” to him: a collar and chain, because who wouldn’t be honored to be dragged along, nay, knocked out and fireman lifted away by the lovely General Esdeath? I’ll tell ya who…TATSUMI.

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But I can guarantee you of two things: he’ll survive this, and he won’t waste the opportunity that presented itself. No, not the opportunity to see Esdeath naked (though that’s a noble goal), but to spy on her. Who among her countless enemies have ever gotten as close as he’s about to get? He’s the luckiest and unluckiest bastard in the whole empire…at the same time.

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Akame ga Kill! – 08

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As Big Boss Battles between former mentors and students go, this was competently staged and executed, and there were more than a couple times I wished I had a controller to participate in the battle myself, a la PlayStation. It was still a fun battle to watch, even if most of the beats it hit are well well-trodden tropes and a few moments of plot contrivance are present.

Esdeath’s Three Beasts turn out not to be an enduring adversary, as Bulat halves Daidara without mussing his greased-up hair. When he realizes his next opponent is his old general, he acknowledges that goingout for a beer with Liver would be nice except for the fact Liver’s now working for a genocidal psychopath in Esdeath. An Esdeath underling is automatically an enemy of the people and of peace, which outstrips whatever bond Bulat and Liver once shared.

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I like how there’s never any doubt in Bulat’s convictions. Liver, both because of the past they shared and acknowledgement that his student has surpassed him, still asks Bulat to join him and Esdeath. But Bulat refuses the offer immediately, and doesn’t offer any counteroffer other than a promise to kill him. Liver must sacrifice his life to do Bulat in, combining a poison he takes with his Imperial Arm’s ability to manipulate liquids to make bullets of his own blood.

Those last-ditch tactics, combined with the Liver’s initial advantage while at sea, were all clever ways of chipping away at the nigh-invincible Bulat, and it also reinforces the truth that a fight between two Arm users will always result in one dying, since both died. Less clever, and verging on a plot hole, is how much time a perfectly fit and ready-to-fight Nyau stays off-camera and thus isn’t a threat to the on-camera goings-on.

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Tatsumi initially tries to hold Nyau off, but even wounded, the churl is almost as fast as Akame, so Tatsumi takes a beating. Not to take anything away from Tatsumi (fighting an Arm user without an Arm of his own is impressive in its own right), but for a good chunk of time between Liver dying and the transfer of Incursio, Nyau had a veritable eternity to finish off his opponents.

What holds him back, which is a bit flimsy, is his desire for an entertaining fight, since after fluting himself to He-Man proportions, squashing Tatsumi like a bug would be boring. He also expected Incursio to kill Tatsumi when he put it on, so I guess biding his time made at least a little sense. Instead, Incursio adapts to Tatsumi (and vice versa) just fine, and it’s sayonara, face-collector!

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In hindsight, perhaps the Three Beasts were sent by Esdeath as a lark to give Bulat, a beast of a warrior no army would refuse, one last chance to join them. I say that because in the end, they didn’t seem all that strong…though to be fair, they were up against Bulat and a kid who could potentially surpass Bulat, meaning he could one day match Esdeath, whose strength and beauty Liver came to idolize.

At any rate, Bulat is gone, Tatsumi has an Imperial Arm, and Esdeath is recruiting an all-new five-man death crew, including Akame’s sadistic little sister Kurome,who is voiced by the same girl who voices the not-entirely-wholesome-herself Momoka in Sabagebu!; a nice touch. We’ll see what fresh bloody insanity she brings to the table.

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Akame ga Kill! – 07

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After Sheele’s death, pretty much everyone in Night Raid is miserable except for Akame, calm and composed as ever. Scratch that: Akame’s a wreck too, as evidenced by her sudden outburst when Tatsumi compliments her strength. Years of experience being around death hasn’t hardened or numbed her from the pain; it’s only made that pain easier to hide behind a mask.

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Tatsumi is used to seeing that mask on Akame no matter what the situation, so it’s understandable he’d be ignorant of the storm that brewed beneath it. Still, he remembers how worried she was about him after his first mission, so he knows Akame is capable of compassion and empathy. Now that he knows she also harbors as much (if not more) pain as he does, he punches himself in the face to “change gears.”

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Sheele may be dead, but there’s no time to mourn her: General Esdeath is in the capital, and she’s ordered her “Three Beasts” to assassinate the Minister’s political opponents and frame Night Raid. She’s killing two birds with one stone: eliminating those who’d stand against Honest, and forcing Night Raid into a confrontation on her terms.

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Najenda sends Leone to watch Esdeath, and Leone can barely hold back the urge to attack her, despite knowing It’s A Trap!. Esdeath is an odd duck this week, as AGK decides to humanize her a bit, as she asks the Emperor to find her a suitor, then enjoys some ice cream at the market. So yeah, she is human, but still clearly a psychopath.

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While she doesn’t do anything particularly crazy, her power is expressed in the brutality and sadism of her Three Beasts: the little portrait of the loving father-daughter duo that becomes their latest victim does a decent job making us care about them for the short period of time they’re around. Then one of the beasts, Nyau, flays the daughter. Not folk you wanna mess with.

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Akame and Lubbock and Tatsumi and Bulat are dispatched to guard next two likely victims of the Beasts. The latter two end up clashing with them aboard the politician’s massive luxury liner in a pretty nice set piece. Daidara comes at Tatsumi hard with his dual boomeranging axes, but once Bulat is suited up, he halves Daidara, leaving Nyau and Liver.

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The thing is, Liver is Bulat’s beloved former general, who was discharged and arrested after refusing to accept the Minister’s bribes. Bulat’s was discharged and arrested along with him, but stole Incursio and escaped. Will Bulat continue to mind his surroundings, as he’s so fond of reminding Tatsumi? Or will this seeming betrayal cause a misstep?

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Akame ga Kill! – 06

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While AGK painted super-bleak pasts for all of the members of Night Raid (the most recent bleak past being Tatsumi’s), but their present had typically been painted with an optimistic, jaunty brush, as they defeated target after despicable target with righteous ease.

Not this time.

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Just when Tatsumi was finding solace in the warm kindness of Sheele, she is the first curmember to bite the dust, indicating the show is fully invested in the idea that members of Night Raid can indeed die any day, at any moment, something Tatsumi didn’t understand the full weight of. Bumping off a major character only a quarter into its run was a bold move by a show has never been afraid to be bold, even to the point of ludicrousness.

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The episode is pretty sneaky about it going down, too, starting out with Just Any Other Mission as Tatsumi and Leone sneak into a drug-addled brothel, kill its operators with their usual baroque flourish, and free the women. Leone even licks Tatsumi’s ear! When they wonder whether Mine and Sheele had as easy a time as they did, we cut to that pair, having just completed their mission as well.

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Then the episode did something I didn’t expect: it never goes back to Tatsumi or Leone, but sticks with Mine and Sheele for the rest of the episode, because now is the time Seryu has chosen to emerge from her hiding spot and take out one of the wanted Night Raid members; specifically, Sheele. Her reasons are simple: they’re criminals, she’s justice, they killed her dad and dad figure.

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Let’s get this out of the way: Seryu’s Imperial Arm Coro is ridiculously overpowered, capable of doing…whatever it is Coro (and the show) wants or needs it to do. Still, it wasn’t invincible; if they could find its core they could destroy it; and it would deactivate if Seryu herself was killed. But Mine simply doesn’t find the core in time, and Sheele’s fatal mistake is treating Seryu like normal human being.

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A normal human being whose arms were lopped off would probably be willing to yield, but Seryu was hiding guns in her arms, and even her mouth. This is frankly quite disturbing, and a little random, but there it is. This is an battle where Night Raid comes close but ultimately comes up a little short, and they were always only an inch or a second away from being killed.

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We didn’t get a lot of time with Sheele, but this has always been an exceedingly efficient—if never particularly deep or nuanced—show, and we cared enough about Sheele to feel bad when she was killed. The montage that closed the curtain on her life was another example of doing a lot with a little bit of time and material.

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So…Night Raid can lose sometimes, and they can die. The group of assassins looks particularly vulnerable and shell-shocked when Mine arrives outside HQ with the grim news. With Seryu arm-less but still alive and full of bile and Esdeath arriving in the capital, more of them are likely to die still. Whatever happens, Tatsumi’s honeymoon is officially over.

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Akame ga Kill! – 05

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This week Tatsumi shadows Sheele, who is on the surface a clumsy airhead, but conceals just about as dark and rough a past as the other members of Night Raid. Again Tatsumi’s loss of Sayo and Ieyasu is put into perspective. He can, after all, cook and do other things well, whereas the only thing Sheele is really good at is killing, something she learned under terrible circumstances.

Her story, in which she saves her only friend from being strangled to death by an ex by slitting the ex’s throat with calm, grim efficiency. The friend survives, but in exchange for Sheele’s bloody awakening, she and the friend never speak again. From there, the ex’s buds try to get revenge on Sheele, but she wastes them all, and she gets work as a freelance assassin, eventually joining up with Night Raid.

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Tatsumi also has his dark and bloody tale of how he ended up with Night Raid, and with Zank’s defeat, he also has the opportunity to try out an Imperial Arm. But after glimpsing all the ladies in their underwear (revealing a hint of perversion on the part of the late emperor) he is utterly exhausted; the arm simply isn’t a good match for him, and that’s that. But other arms will come around, and collecting them Night Raid’s ongoing side-quest.

That’s when Tatsumi gets super excited all of a sudden about the possibility one of those arms out there could somehow resurrect Sayo and Ieyasu, who still haunt his dreams. The other Night Raid members are quick to quash this hope; none of the Arms can restore a lost life; they were created with human morality very much in mind, to be inherited by future generations, not to bring back past ones.

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Hastily developed impossible dream or no, having his hopes shot down is a blow to Tatsumi, but that’s where he reveals another way for Sheele to be useful beyond killing: comforting Tatsumi and giving him all the time he needs to express his grief and try to move on from those dreams. Her seiyu Noto Mamiko certainly has the right gentle, soothing voice for such a task.

Meanwhile, a nightmare lurks in the far north. We’re introduced to the infamous butcher general Esdeath, the first glimpse of whom we get as the former Hero of the North licks her boots, naked and broken in the cold. In color and disposition she reminds us of Kiryuin Satsuki, not a bad template when you’re going for Ruthless Ice Queen.

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Esdeath is the very embodiment of the demonic rot that has infected the empire, and Premier Honest wants her in the capital to deal with Night Raid once and for all. Saying she’ll likely hang around in a battle against our assassin antiheroes would be a gross understatement. As bosses go, she’s utterly terrifying. The fat, goofy, meat-gnawing Honest…less so.

As if there wasn’t enough squeezed into this episode, when Tatsumi gets separated from Leone at her old stomping grounds in the slums, he comes across another new character: the plucky, happy-go-lucky “soldier of justice”, Seryu (Hanazawa Kana) of the Imperial Police. She’s ever so polite and helpful to Tatsumi, not knowing he’s the one who assassinated her beloved boss, mentor, and father figure, Ogre.

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That’s right folks, in the last couple minutes of this ep we get the show’s first attempt at engendering a degree of moral grayness to its cadre of villains. Seryu serves the evil Night Raid seeks to wipe out, but her lot in life logically led to her situation. One could call her naive or misguided, but from her perspective she’s one of the good guys, and she’s half right: Night Raid themselves admit to being murderers operating above the laws of the land.

Seryu also happens to be equipped with a bizarre Imperial Arm, the dog-like Coro, and we see that several others died in compatibility tests. She took the fact the Coro chose her as a sign that she needs to become stronger to defeat injustice (as she sees it, at least). Interestingly, Coro doesn’t expose Tatsumi in their first encounter, but I have a feeling next time Tatsumi and Seryu meet, things won’t be as cordial.

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