The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 07 – Going Fourth

With the Orwell ordeal behind them, Menou commences her pilgrimage with Akari, a two-month journey all the way to a purported “sanctuary” for Lost Ones. And if she comes up with a way to execute Akari along the way, so much the better. Akari wouldn’t have it any other way. Their first stop after two weeks is the port town of Libelle, which sits in the shadow of a perpetual curtain of fog known as Pandemonium.

Menou and Akari trade the ominous fog for the steam of a public bath, which constitutes “splurging” for someone like Menou who lives in “honorable poverty.” Notably, Akari neither tries any hanky-panky nor compares her boobs to Menou’s—both points in her favor. Instead she simply revels in being in the presence of her “emotional oasis”.

It’s not a role Menou is particularly comfortable or experienced in playing, but she continues to play it nonetheless. Momo, who arrived at Libelle sooner by a more dangerous route (and claims to have gotten Ashuna killed in the process), gives Menou a report on the “Fourth”—a terrorist group who reject the three other classes of society—in the town. She also suggests Menou try to kill Akari with the Pandemonium.

Menou didn’t even think to do such a thing until Momo brought it up, which adds fuel to the argument that she’s now actively hesitating in execution Akari in any kind of timely fashion, using what’s at hand. That’s remedied the next day, as Menou takes Akari out on a boat ride to get a closer look at the imposing Libelle Castle, home to Countess Manon Libelle.

Akari takes her “anti-nausea medicine” without question and soon passes out. Menou, in what is an oddly Wile E. Coyote-style move, tosses Akari on a rubber raft and lets her drift into the Pandemonium. There, Akari Prime revives, immediately recognizes where she is, spots an odd beam of light cast on her head that wasn’t in previous loops, and is then gobbled up by a monster. She resets right back next to Menou, reminding her that fulfilling her solemn duty isn’t going to be so easy.

Still, that odd beam of light Akari Prime did not expect is just one of many little odd things that fill the episode’s periphery. The other odd things involve the aforementioned Manon—the leader of the Fourth in Libelle—who isn’t taken seriously by her court of older adults but may well be poisoning them with spam sandwiches while paling around with a little girl with wide eyes who is always humming…even when she’s placed into an iron maiden and gooshed. I have no idea what Manon is up to, but I’m definitely intrigued…and a little weirded out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 05 – The Ost With the Most

Berg, Therese, and New-Look Glass are not in the bowels of the Spirit Tortoise to fight the Shield Hero and his party. No, they’re there to deal with one of their own: a fourth Hero from their world who is only causing shit for his own personal gain. Berg proposes a truce and team-up; Naofumi refuses, but says if they don’t want to fight, they can do whatever else they want.

Just like that, they part ways, even though both parties are looking for the Tortoise’s heart. Instead, Naofumi & Co. come upon a dragon hourglass. Ost recalls that it’s used to indicate how many souls the Tortoise has consumed and converted into the power that would create a barrier against the Waves. Berg & Co. seemingly find the real heart first.

Naofumi’s party soon finds what they believe to be the heart, but encounter the fourth Hero from Glass’s world, who clearly matriculated at Generic Anime Bad Guy U. Long, wild gray hair, glasses, a quasi-military uniform, and a devil-may-care attitude…he sucks, and I just want to punch him. But he is the wielder of the Book vassal weapon, and even Ost’s attacks go right through him.

When this guy doesn’t heed Naofumi’s order to release control of the Tortoise and give back the souls he stole, he lets the heart’s defense system kick in, forcing Naofumi to protect everyone with his Meteor Shield. Filo and Raph fan out and attack the heart, but as they do, they cause Ost to cry out in pain, and she eventually passes out.

This whole time inside the body of the Tortoise, Ost has been doing some serious soul-searching. Once her existence was so simple: collect souls with the greater good of protecting the world from Waves. But then why does she empathize and feel with the people whose souls she’s supposedly designed to take?

The answer, it would seem, is that she isn’t really the Tortoise’s familiar. Even with the Tortoise’s head and heart destroyed, she remains, and opens a path to its deepest depths.

The Book Wielder is there, annoyed they’ve made it this far, and reveals that Ost could be more accurately described as the Spirit Tortoise itself. She is its very core, which means if Naofumi & Co. are to succeed, they must kill her…which is exactly what she asked them to do when they first met.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 02 – Do It, Then Think Later

Remember when the latest season of TenSura started with a bunch of long, boring meetings? Well, in the first half or so of this episode Shield Hero takes the same tack, putting Naofumi and Queen Mirellia in a room full of crotchety generals bickering over who should take command or lead the forces against the rampaging Spirit Tortoise. It’s all…a bit dry?

It seems more fun outside as Filo and Rishia are joined by Elrasla, noted tough old broad, and Eclair, whose dignity and decency I admire even as I rack my brain trying to figure out who voices her (I’m sure ANN will list it eventually). They’re basically at the kids table on standby while the brass talks things out.

That brass is soon joined by the same woman voiced by Hanazawa Kana who asked Naofumi to please kill her last week before suddenly disappearing. We learn her name is Ost Hourai, and while everyone knows her as the concubine of the now-deceased king of the Tortoise Kingdom, reveals that she’s actually one of the Tortoise’s familiars in human form.

She was created to seduce her way to the highest levels of human political power, and then use that power to get them to start wars. The Spirit Tortoise, ya see, uses human souls to stop the Waves. But someone has gone and unsealed the Tortoise itself, and its resulting rampage is not by choice.

Ost is there to help in any way she can, but rather hilariously, none of the advice she offers is anything anyone in the room doesn’t already know. I love how offbeat and quirky she is, it really spices up the otherwise dull meeting scenes (as does the Kevin Penkin score, as always). Also nice is Raphtalia meeting Naofumi on a moonlit bridge that night, telling him if the other generals will follow a good plan, they just need to come up with one.

Naofumi thinks he has one, and will utilize the unique qualities of the various allied kingdoms to pull it off. Manpower, siege machines, mages, and explosives, there’s a wealth of resources with which he will stop, pin down, and eventually behead the Spirit Tortoise. Everyone pitches in, even Rishia and Ost pulling Tortoise research duty at the library.

One night while Naofumi’s suddenly much bigger party is gathereda round a fire, Ecliar mentions that she brought some new weapons and gear from Elhart in Melromarc, including a new sword for Raph, a new gauntlet for Filo…and a stat-boosting Filo mascot suit for Rishia, which is pretty adorable.

It’s while she’s in that bird suit that Ost picks up on Rishia being in love with the Bow Hero, and encourages her to “get intimate as soon as possible” and not overthink things. Honestly I can’t imagine what Rishia sees in that stuck-up prick, but hey, you can’t choose who ya love!

While a bit stronger than last week owing to Ost’s weirdness (and Eclair’s profound uprightness), this was still a table-setting episode packed with exposition and information leading up to the trip to the Tortoise-beheading fireworks factory…and is thus scored accordingly.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 01 – The Tortoise and the Hero

lot has happened in the real world since the last Shield Hero aired in late July 2019. It actually feels like much more than three years ago…more like thirty! And that’s even taking into account we saw Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo in Isekai Quartet, the last episode of which aired just when shit was starting to go down in 2020.

Anywho, this episode marks a relatively understated, workmanlike return to the world of Shield Hero, with Naofumi settling in as lord of Lurolona Village, where the old and young, strong and weak alike train for the next Wave of Catastrophe, including his newest party member, Rishia, who rather comically must wear a penguin mascot suit to up her stats.

The relative peace of the status quo is rocked by the sudden arrival of a flock of monstrous bats. Raphtalia and Filo make quick work of them, but Naofumi’s HUD identifies them as “Spirit Tortoise Familiars.” Also, the next Wave countdown has cirously…stopped.

Naofumi and the other Cardinal Heroes are summoned to Melromarc where Queen Mirelia explains what’s happening: the Spirit Tortoise has revived and is starting to wreak havoc on the kingdom that bears its name. However, the other three heroes aren’t interested in assisting. After the meeting Rishia beseeches her former boss Itsuki, who tells her she’s not strong enough to fight for him.

After Naofumi gets Rishia a new sword at the weaponsmith’s, Raphtalia suggests they head to the slave merchant to make Rishia one of Naofumi’s slaves so that she can be stronger than Itsuki’s party members. Naofumi bristles at the idea, as he believes only Raph would volunteer to be a slave.

However, Rishia wants to become stronger, and she’s willing to be tattooed on her decolletage and endure the pain of forming a contract in order to do it. Rishia may be convinced she’s a failure, but if Naofumi and his party can offer her a chance at redemption and to prove herself to Itsuki and her former colleagues, she’s game.

With that, Naofumi’s party loads up the Filo-drawn wagon and journey to the Spirit Tortoise Kingdom to meet this latest non-Wave-related threat. While stopping to camp for the night, Filo reveals her ahoge serves as an antenna for direct communication with her queen, Fitoria.

She tells Fitoria they’re headed for the kingdom, and Fitoria responds that Naofumi will now face the choice she spoke of before: do something about the Spirit Tortoise, but also learn to get along with the other three heroes, or she’ll personally kill them all. Yes Rishia…even Itsuki!

They arrive at the capital of the kingdom as it is already under siege by massive swarms of bat monsters in the air, primate-like beasts on the ground, and scores of refugees running for their lives. They hear rumors that three of the four heroes were already killed going up against the Tortoise.

Filo’s two-way connection with Fitoria pays off again when the queen confirms that none of the three are actually dead; they were just rumors, thus calming Rishia down. Filo and Raphtalia then get to work eliminating the baddies while Rishia leads the people back to the safety of the capital’s walls.

Naofumi ends up using one of his many abilities to lure a huge host of enemies in his direction, then uses Dark Curse Burning to eliminate them all in one fell swoop, though not without bearing a physical cost he can’t hide from the trusty Raphtalia. In the aftermath of the battle, a mysterious, slightly pious-looking woman flat-out asks him to “please kill” her. To quote Rishia … Kweeeeh?

The Faraway Paladin – 08 – Fellowship of the Sing

When Will saves the tiny halfling troubadour Robina “Bee” Goodfellow and her merchant companion An”Tonio” from a giant ape (simply by staring it down!), his traveling party suddenly doubles in size. They make a deal with Bee and Tonio to travel to the various villages on the way to Whitesails and make money together. Bee attracts customers with her song and lute play; Will heals the injured, and Tonio sells them stuff.

It works out pretty well, and to Will’s delight, Bee also happens to be a font of oral history, including the legends of Blood, Mary, and Gus. While not mentioned by name in Bee’s songs, the trio of are nevertheless still remembered fondly for their heroics. There are times early and late in the episode when we’re clearly just getting an infodump along with Will, but Bee at least makes it interesting by applying music to the stories.

Indeed, we’re transported back to when Blood, Mary, and Gus were human and took on a giant wyvern in order to save a beautiful half-elf girl from being sacrificed. The human boy who loved her gave every coin he could to pay them, which wasn’t nearly their going rate, but it didn’t matter. The two lovebirds are sent off to make something of themselves with a dagger and a bag of coins, and Gus tells them he’ll come to collect the debt, using his name as the password.

That half-elf woman is still alive, waiting at her home for Gus or his representative to come. It’s almost as if Will’s parents inadvertently laid out a path for him to walk, serving Gracefeel and spreading word of her grace to all he encounters. Tonio admits he finds Will an odd duck; someone who doesn’t seem capable of being sold anything in the classical sense.

Of course, as someone who considers his formidable powers not his own but only being borrowed from his goddess, Will doesn’t care about trinkets or riches, only friends, good times, and the revitalization of Gracefeel’s following. A bit port city like Whitesails should be a grate place to gain all of those things.

The Faraway Paladin – 07 – The Paladin’s First Pal

I don’t make much about it until Will mentions it, but his first night camping with Meneldor is his first such night with anyone who wasn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus. As ready as those three made him for the outside world, making connections with others would be all up to him. That said, it helps to have been raised pious, polite and amenable…it’s just that that personality initially comes off to Menel as a stuck-up, privileged rich kid.

If we’re honest, Will was a rich kid, just not monetarily. Add modesty to his virtues, as after absolutely mopping the floor with an entire ruins complex full of demons and lizardmen without breaking a sweat, he simply tells Menel he owes his ability to “having great teachers”. He does what he does so well because he was taught well.

While this episode brings Will and Menel closer together, Will’s placidness can quickly become dull in the absence of those three colorful teachers. After all, he was basically a sponge soaking up their training and life lessons. But that’s why I like the introduction of Marple, or at leas the ghost of Marple, whom the long-lived Menel met and befriended many years before when he was at one of his many nadirs.

I’d like to think Marple would have no trouble sharing some booze with Will’s parents, and if it seems that Menel hasn’t sufficiently matured for someone of his age with someone like Marple, we can chalk it up to Menel not bein explicitly raised at birth by someone of Marple’s caliber. Instead, she pulled him out of the mud and encouraged him to move forward.

Despite his many tsundere moments, by episode’s end all of Menel’s skepticism of Will has dissolved, replaced by ungrudging respect and even a bit of awe, as he decides to make Gracefeel his guardian spirit and asks Will to help him form a contract with Her. When the two go back to the village they saved to party, you can tell Menel is as happy to have befriended Will as Will is to be making his first. It is surely the first of many friends to come, as you can’t spell paladin without pal….I’ll show myself out.

The Faraway Paladin – 06 – Warrior Priest

Will’s first episode On His Own is a good one. It starts out quiet and contemplative, as we just watch a tiny Will traverse grand vistas. He’s searching for humans, but finds only more dead cities and towns. He can always pray for bread and purify water, but he’ll soon need other things for sustenance. Sure enough, his patron saint provides—just not in a straightforward way.

The first person Will meets who isn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus is the extremely pretty half-elf Meneldor, an hunter who was pursuing the giant wild boar Will kills in self-defense. They agree to split the boar and share the liver, which spoils fastest. Whether Menel is Will’s age or much older, the two have an immediate easy rapport…right up until Menel says he wants nothing more to do with Will, and warns him not to follow.

Will was just going to follow the river to the nearest settlement, but he receives a divine vision in his dreams from Gracefeel which seems, at first, to depict Menel’s village being attacked. When Will arrives, it turns out Menel is doing the attacking. Here we see just how well-trained and ready for anything Will is thanks to his three parents, easily neutralizing all the bad actors.

Repeatedly addressed as a warrior poet by the grateful villagers, who are a collection of adventurers, bandits, fugitives and various outcasts, and thus always at each others’ throats. Their no-nonsense elder is barely keeping it together, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the half-elf and his five co-bandits should all be hanged.

Will, who wants to avoid any more killing due to the edicts of his goddess and teachings of his family, negotiates a fine compromise: the village will be compensated in gold, while Will hires Meneldor to help drive the demons out of his village. When Will proposes they just rush in and take care of it, Menel is skeptical, but again, this is Will, who we’ve already seen kill a god. Clearing the village should be a piece of cake…but that won’t make it any less fun to watch him do his parents proud. Who knows, maybe Menel will become his official first friend in the process.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 12 (S2 E01) – Eyes Forward

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, Mushoku Tensei is back, and I’m pleased to report it’s just as good—and occasionally unnecessarily lewd—as ever. There’s a new OP, and it’s awesome. There’s a new ED, and it’s beautiful. Rudy, Eris and Ruijerd are still on the Demon Continent, and learn that largely due to Ruijerd’s Superd status, booking passage on an above-board ship back to Millis Continent will cost a literal fortune.

While Rudy is always quick to determine and execute a course of action all on his own, Dead End is a party, and both Eris and Ruijerd wish to help him share the burden of figuring out just how to make that fortune without taking their entire lives to do so. Meanwhile, training with Ruijerd is only making Eris a more formidable fighter; I don’t know if their combat animation counts as sakuga but it remains top-notch and extremely fun to watch. Ditto her wonderful expression of joy when she scores her first hit on Ruijerd (who was distracted by Roxy!)

After having another dream with the creepy smooth god dude Hitogami, Rudy learns he actually entertained the guy more by going off-script. This time he decides to do exactly as Hitogami’s advice says, and he is promptly rewarded. By feeding a starving urchin the food Hitogami told him to buy at the vendors, he ends up befriending the scantily-clad Kishirisu Kishirika, the “Great Emperor of the Demon World”, who could pass as a member of Zvezda.

As thanks for sustaining the life of her physical body for at least another year, Kishirika gives him one of her twelve Demon Eyes: the Eye of Foresight. She does so by roughly replacing his existing normal eye on the spot, which looks…painful! But upon returning to their inn he ends up saving a man he bumped into form a falling pot, and within a week he’s able to sue the eye to defeat Eris in combat. This understandably makes Eris very upset, but Rudy was too excited about his new eye to foresee that.

New eye or not, Rudy reminds himself that his mission isn’t to “power up” but to get Eris home. And even if he were to exploit the eye for profit, it would likely take too long to make the necessary cash to book passage. So he decides, on his own, again, that he’ll pawn off his staff in order to get the cash. Only when he leaves in the night to do this, Ruijerd stops him.

While the party has meshed well in the last year, seeing Rudy again try to go off on his own and solve everything frustrates Ruijerd, because it makes him feel like Rudy still doesn’t trust him. Rudy counters that he doesn’t want to do anything illegal and thus “evil” that Ruijerd would not approve of, like stowing away or smuggling, as it would likely fracture the party.

Here, Ruijerd once again exposes Rudy’s biggest blind spot—Eris—by pointing out that selling the staff she gave him (and which clearly means so much to him) would fracture the party too. So Ruijerd makes a compromise: he’ll turn a blind eye to smuggling and the like if Rudy keeps his staff and keeps him and Eris in the loop about what they should do from now on.

Right on cue, the man Rudy saved the day he got his new eye introduces himself: Gallus Cleaner. Could he be the sort of unsavory figure who can help get two noble humans and a Superd across the ocean? Are Roxy and her two Fang companions trying to avoid crossing paths with Rudy, or victims of back luck and timing? I’m excited to find out, and to watch more of Rudy, Eris, and Ruijerd’s adventures this Fall.

Sonny Boy – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Say Goodbye…

Sonny Boy’s finale begins boldly, with what amounts to a stirring five-minute music video. We follow Nagara, who has slipped right back into his usual existence. Things are so normal, he sometimes wonders if he was ever really adrift in the first place.

Notably absent from Nagara’s high school is Mizuho, whom Nagara looks up and waits outside her school’s gates, only for her to not have any idea who he is. You and I know how much Nagara grew while adrift with Mizuho, Nozomi, and Asakaze, and yet this world seems almost cruelly intent on keeping him isolated and alone.

His present existence back in his original world lies in stark contrast to the surreal, beautiful, and fantastical journey he and Mizuho undertake to get back to a world they’re certain hasn’t changed, even if they have. They tie themselves together, run out of the space elevator, and keep running, even when God tries to stop them. Asakaze bids them farewell, unable to follow even though there’s nothing left for him there.

The flashback to Nagara and Mizuho’s escape serves as a bridge between Nagara’s post-return life and Mizuho’s. Mizuho notes that “everything is gone” from the two-years-plus they were drifting. While Nagara has a part-time job, Mizuho spends her evenings sneaking into their old school and breaking a glass. But a cat doesn’t come delivering a new one; it just stays broken. That’s as it should be…so why is it so sad?

At least we learn that Mizuho was simply messing with Nagara when she pretended not to know him; maybe it was just that seeing him again got her old defenses up. And yet these two people who suddenly find themselves strangers in a simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable world can’t help but spend time together, basking in both that contradiction and in the knowledge that the two of them are different from everyone else in terms of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There’s a elegiac quality to their interaction, like they were the last surviving members of their unit in some long-finished war. Yet Nagara can’t help but worry that one day he’ll forget what he and Mizuho are feeling right now, and go adrift all over again. Before they part, possibly for good, Mizuho tells him as long as a part of him is still on that island, he’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine.

The episode ends with a third music video, focusing on Nozomi, but wordlessly, until we cut to Nagara preparing to inspect a bird’s nest at the station, only to find Nozomi has already rescued a surviving chick. Nozomi recognizes Nagara from middle school, but unlike him and Mizuho seems to have no other memories of their time in those other dimensions.

Ultimately, Nagara seems fine with that, and fine with the fact Nozomi quickly runs to another guy who I believe is Asakaze. It would seem that by dying in that world, Nozomi’s existence transferred to this one…or something. No matter; I too am glad she’s still alive, bringing light and energy to dark and sullen places.

What I’m not glad about is that this spells the end of Sonny Boy…or at least it should. This just felt like such a wonderfully self-contained and authoritative twelve episodes, my urge for a sequel is tempered. Like Nagara back in his home dimension, everything that should happen will happen.

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

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