The Rising of the Shield Hero – 06 – Threads for Filo: A Sidequest

This week, Naofumi needs to solve a problem. It’s a problem that may be minor in the grand scheme of things (compared to defeating the next Waves or repairing his rep), but any game-like isekai scenario worth its salt is going to have sidequests, and this is one of them. Filo needs clothes that won’t tear to shreds whenever she transforms from human to giant bird form.

The Armorer doesn’t have magical clothing, so Naofumi goes to a dressmaker. The Dressmaker needs magic thread, so Naofumi goes to the Mage. The Mage needs a gemstone for Filo to spin magic thread, and gemstones are rare and hard to come by. They’re also expensive, so as the Mage searches for one, Naofumi strikes out with Raph and Filo to make some money.

After helping a man race home to deliver a healing potion for his mother, Naofumi learns he can make a nice buck ferrying people to various locations, like Lyft, and can charge more if the clients are in dire need.

Take a wealthy and connected accessory seller: when a rival trader directs a group of bandits to mug him, Naofumi (or more precisely, Raph and Filo) make quick work of them.

It’s a nice reminder that in addition to Raph, who is no pushover, Filo is not only a good carriage-puller but fierce in battle as well, with powerful wind-based magic at her disposal.

When Naofumi spares the bandits’ lives, but only if they pay for those lives with everything they have, the trader takes a shine to him, lauding his entrepreneurial spirit. As payment for being saved, he offers Naofumi all of his knowledge and connections, including how to use mana to imbue gems, and connecting him to all of his fellow traders.

Finally, he gives Naofumi a deed that he shows to a mining foreman, who grants him permission to search for the veins of gemstone. Those veins are located in a particularly dangerous part of the mine swarming with monsters, so Naofumi goes in ready to rumble, along with the party of Raph the swordswoman, Filo the filolial, and the Mage. (Part of the mine looks just like Petra in Jordan).

After overcoming monsters who use illusory magic to make the party members think their allies are saying the last things they want to hear (Naofumi doesn’t need Filo; Raph only got close to Naofumi to kill him; Filo wants to eat Naofumi), they finally discover the vein, but it’s being guarded by a boss: a compact chimaera called a nue.

As Kevin Penkin’s awesome battle music plays, Raph and Filo rush headlong at the beast, but Raph ends up knocked down. The Mage offers support with fire-based magic, and the party regroups. Naofumi exploits the nua’s sensitive hearing by having Filo screech into his newly-acquired bat-shield. The mage fires more fire at the nue, then Raph rushes in and impales it. Filo delivers the coup de grace with a brutal kick to the skull.

The nue thus defeated, Naofumi retrieves the gemstone they came for, and back in town, Filo uses it to spin magic thread from her mana. They then deliver the thread to the Dressmaker, who spares no energy or passion crafting the cutest possible number for Filo: a frilly white dress with blue accents that crucially won’t be torn to shreds when she transforms.

It was great to see Naofumi & Co. face a problem and solve it in a logical yet interesting step-by-step process. It was also nice to take a step back from Naofumi’s ongoing feud with Motoyasu and Malty. And like any good sidequest, in addition to achieving the main objective, Naofumi gained a lot of new knowledge and experience points, making him that much more prepared for when the next Wave appears.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 05 – Lute Grand Prix

We haven’t yet seen Queen Melromarc, as she’s currently in another castle, but it’s clear she’s staying on top of things, as evidenced by the detailed report given by one of her ninja (for lack of a better word).  That report also confirms that Malty has been putting her father up to some actions of which the Queen is not a fan. Say, continuing to treat the Shield Hero like garbage based on Malty’s false accusations of rape.

The King tries to cheat Naofumi out of his 500 silver-piece Wave reward (only an eighth of the Spear Hero’s take) by charging him for removing Raphtalia’s slave crest. Once again Amaki and Kawasumi come to Naofumi’s defense—or at least the side of justice and fairness. Thanks to their protests, Naofumi gets his 500 pieces and, at Raph’s urging, peaces out.

Their first errand upon leaving the palace is for Raphtalia to get a tattoo have her slave crest re-activated, at her request, as a symbol of his faith in her. One would think if he had faith he wouldn’t need a real crest, but Raphtalia is insistent. Naofumi also buys a gatcha-style lottery egg, from which either a filolial (chocobo) chick hatches.

Naofumi also learns that some of the merchants in the capital had connections to Lute Village, and even if they’re still on the fence with him as a person, they can’t deny he saved their loved ones. Their personal honor demands they reward him, whether it’s with a book on advanced medicines (which he can’t yet read) or a magical grimoire (which the mage warns will be tough to learn).

The filolial chick, whom Naofumi somewhat unimaginatively names “Filo”, eats ravenously and quickly grows to full size within two days, enabling him to ride her. They travel to Lute Village, and not soon thereafter Malty and Motoyasu also arrive.

Malty is clearly in control here as she reads a royal decree that anyone who enters or exits the village will have to pay an exorbitant amount (equal to 100 nights at the inn, food included). Naofumi is there to make a stink about it, but Malty wants her tax, and Motoyasu isn’t about to deny her.

Who does swoop in to deny her, however, are her mother’s ninja. They deliver a scroll to Malty that pisses her off when she reads it, and takes it out on Naofumi by challenging him to a race: her Motoyasu’s dragon vs. Naofumi’s filolial.

Motoyasu mocks Filo right up until Filo kicks his balls halfway to the next kingdom. Filo looks supremely confident she can beat the dragon, so all that remains is to what extent Malty will try to hamper that victory by cheating.

And once the race starts, boy does she ever cheat. Her soldiers cast magical spells that benefit Motoyasu and his slow-ass dragon three times, and Flio still manages to win by a beak. I gotta say, I’m quickly growing weary of Malty’s shtick: all she needs is a mustache to twirl.

Thankfully, Malty is taken down a peg or two this week, both when the other two heroes help Naofumi, and when the Queen’s ninja confirm that she and her men cheated. Her comeback is that “We’ll leave for now, but this isn’t over!” Groan. Naofumi needs better antagonists, or for the existing ones to find a new tune.

As for Filo, she balloons in size right after the race. Rather than have rumors spread of taking Lute’s rebuilding funds, Naofumi accepts an old wagon as a reward—a wagon that Raphtalia has trouble riding in without getting motion sickness. They rest beside a tree for the night, but when morning comes it brings with it a surprise: Filo has transformed into a human—a loli, no less—who is, predictably, hungry. And then there were three.

AICO – 10 – Explanations Give Way to Emotions

While “AICO” is off communing with “Aiko”, Sagami decides that his team will help Yura carry out the mission by helping him return AICO’s artificial brain with the Matter. In doing so, he basically concedes that AICO is an artificial being and thus expendable, or at least her sacrifice is instrumental in ending the Burst.

Kazuki isn’t okay with that. Artificial brain or not, he’s fallen for AICO, which Kazuki says is “based on a misunderstanding.” But just because Yura created AICO doesn’t make him the arbiter of who and what can and should be preserved.

While looking for AICO, Yura ends up engulfed by a Human-form Matter, which turns out to be controlled by Yuzuha. She recreates the mountains they once visited to beg him to help her find her body.

All this time, she’s been reaching out to the humans—not AICO—in order to make a human connection. Her body is at the hospital with her father, but she has no scientific data or even anecdotal information for Yura to use to be able to science a way to save her. It’s a very unfortunate situation all ’round.

Meanwhile, AICO makes contact with her real-brained counterpart in the purple/pink Matter. Aiko heard Isazu’s address, and knows an attack from the military is imminent. To that end, she asks AICO to find her family and get them out of harm’s way ASAP.

What about Aiko herself? She believes her “time is up”, and that there’s no longer any time to save her family and herself; and given a choice between the two, there is no choice. She resolves to suppress the Matter as much as she can to facilitate the task she gives AICO.

More interestingly, while existing as the Matter, she felt like she began to lose herself, but has been able to hold onto herself due entirely to her Dream Contact with AICO. Her artificial duplicate has lived her life in her stead, and she’s been able to watch and feel everything she’s felt, the good and bad, thus keeping her human.

AICO doesn’t like the idea of leaving Aiko behind, but ultimately she accedes to her wishes and hurries to where her mother and little brother are being held in stasis.

The resulting emotional reunion is an austere yet surprisingly powerful scene the show successfully earned. Artificial or not, AICO is pretty much Aiko, and rescuing her family has always been a higher priority han rescuing herself.

As the Divers deal with the increasingly dormant Matter, Aiko manages to free Yura from a panicked Yuzuha’s grasp, and Yura races to the cocoon, just as AICO takes her leave of her family. From the look of her, she seems particularly resolved to doing something that will probably result in her own sacrifice.

After all, while Aiko’s need for AICO to act in her place to save her family is all well and good, nothing about those wishes addresses the issue of the Matter itself. Will Aiko or AICO have to die to end it, or is there still a way to reunite them, which could also reunite Yuzuha with her body?

AICO – 05 – I’m Not a Thing, I’m a Person and My Name is Aiko

After a harrowing trip through Area One, the group rests and resupplies at the facilities near the guillotine dam, a place of relative safety with all of the nearby Matter either destroyed or paralyzed. The respite also means a slowing of the brisk and satisfying pace AICO had maintained until now.

Outside the area, Kurose decides to give Director Nanbara a ride to CAAC headquarters. She and Kurose happened to date in college, but Nanbara dumped him, and while the two are on cordial terms, neither comes away with much information from the other about the situation with Aiko. Nanbara also warns Kurose to stay out of the affairs in the Area altogether—apparently unaware he’s already very much involved, and indeed facilitated Aiko’s escape.

While on watch duty, Kazuki and Kaede learn a bit more about their client, who remembers fishing with her family on the river now overrun by Matter, and the events that lead to her not getting tangled up with Yuya, Kurose, and eventually them. In the process, we also learn that Kazuki is a spoiled rich kid who joined the Divers to chart his own course, while Kaede came from a broken family and enjoys her new solitude and independence.

We also learn that the translucent blue ball Aiko has is actually a very valuable prototype for a mouse-like artificial life form. Yuya’s comparisons between it, the Live Suits, and Aiko bother her quite a bit, seeing as how she feels like a person and doesn’t appreciate being treated and talked about like an object, even if Yuya is correct that she, or at least her body, is just that.

Not five minutes after discovering her blue ball was really a pet, Aiko loses it as it runs outside. She puts on a suit and chases after it, slipping, falling, and getting lost in the woods. This would have been a perfect time for the drug that keeps her from attracting Matter to wear off, at least from an urgency perspective…but Daisuke finds her and a very worried Yuya finds her pet, whom Kaede names “Gummi.”

With their client retrieved and the “Beetle” Tank loaded up, the team piles in, leaves their safe place, and heads to Area Two, just as a CAAC team enters Area One. Isazu and Nanbara agree that Kurose succeeds Dr. Yura as head of Kiryu Research, he’ll stop research Nanbara believes is crucial to the Japanese economy, and Isazu believes is crucial to saving his daughter. As such, he prepares to oust Kurose from Kiryu with trumped-up corruption charges.

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.

Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: The story of seventeen swords given human form living together in a citadel. They are charged with annihilating the History Retrograde Army, a group committed to changing history. Rookie Yamatonokami Yasusada is made Captain in his first operation, and his team is wounded without completing their mission.

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Why You Should Watch: TRH welcomes you in to what amounts to a big family full of individuals, each with their own quirks. The clash of personalities suggests an easy chemistry, with even some heated moments quickly defused. Congeniality rules, as all these human swords recognize they all share the same objectives: serve their master the Sage…without getting broken.

Why You Shouldn’t Watch: The episode takes some time to get going. After a dark and murky action scene that turns out to be a dream, it spends an inordinate amount of time on a snowball fight that clunkily introduces the cast one by one.

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There are also too many characters with complex names to keep track of (17 in all), and not one lady among them. Despite a lot of dialogue being given over to explaining the history-preservation concept, the execution left much to be desired, as the ultimate mission just felt like fighting evil foes in an inn. Simply labeling it as something else doesn’t go far enough to sell the concept.

The Verdict: While not a bad-looking show with a nice underlying family element, TRH just didn’t wow me, or even hook me, in any meaningful way. On paper, human swords being sent on missions to save history sounds intriguing, and future episodes may prove more exciting, but the execution in the crucial first episode was lacking. I doubt I’ll be picking up this show in the long term.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 04

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Just as I was complimenting MMR’s compact cast, this episode introduces three new characters, the girls of the disciplinary committee. It’s not as bad as all that, though; two of the three are little more than background, while the third, Inoue Sumiko, turns out to be a lot more interesting than the cliched imperious school busybody constantly adjusting her glasses.

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Don’t get me wrong: she is bossy and domineering, at school at least (though I didn’t notice an excessive amount of glasses-straightening); quite possibly to the point of overstepping her official bounds with regards to confiscating and destroying contraband ero literature, of which Kouta is known school-wide as a prolific wheeler and dealer. But here’s the thing: she’s not being a heel simply for being a heel’s sake—this is personal for her.

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Drawn far more straight, sturdy, and angular than the girls regarded as “hotties” in previous episodes, it’s made clear by several trips into Sumiko’s head that she harbors a deep resentment towards her peers, who never regarded her as a girl. None of the boys would even flip her skirt—once a source of pride, now fuel for her high school angst. But there was one boy who did flip her skirt, and isn’t shy about regarding her for being her: and that boy was Kouta.

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That’s right: in school they’re arch-nemeses, but in the real world their mothers are friends. They go way back. It would seem they live close by. If their families were more traditional, they may even have been betrothed to be wed by now. It occurs that were Rurumo not in Kouta’s picture, Sumiko would be the primary female interest in his life. Kouta’s tawdry rep precludes them appearing to get along in school, but they seem to get along just fine on the outside.

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By “getting along” I mean Kouta can earnestly compliment Sumiko’s cute clothes when she delivers cake to his house; she can put on Rurumo’s pair of “Glasses of Misfortune” and cling to him when rats appear (it was frogs for Rurumo), and then he can chase her down the street during which she gets drenched by various water sources. She may call him a pervert, but he’s her pervert. As for Sumiko herself, she was a pleasant surprise.

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Stray Observations:

  • Rurumo got the short shrift this week…and was almost done in by frogs!
  • Chiro can transform into a human girl. Not sure why, but it was the first time in 25 years that she did it, and she did seem to revel in it. Could come in handy later.
  • Again Kouta uses his magic selflessly…or at least semi-selflessly, as he can’t bear to have to report back to his buds that all of their accumulated treasures were cast into the incinerator.
  • I kinda want Kouta to ask Sumiko out (or vice versa).