The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 13 (Fin) – Cast Away Memories

Shield Hero comes to the end of this second season not quite sure what to do, so it dredges up a few little vignettes from the past, in the context of the characters having little “remember when” moments. It’s odd; it has the feel of a recap since there’s absolutely no forward movement to the plot, but since we never saw the scenes, it’s more of the kind of bonus episode you’d get with a Blu-Ray box set.

The Shield Hero completionist is then honor-bound to sit through a scene of the girls dressing Lil’ Raphtalia and themselves up in various costumes to get to the emotional scraps meat on the bone of this episode: actually watching Kizuna’s descent into ennui, suicidal thoughts, and then acceptance of her plight and making the most of it thanks to the Shield Hero version of Wilson the volleyball from to 2000 film Cast Away.

Kizuna regales that story to Yomogi, who then recalls her last fun moment with Kyou, when he trashed his lab looking for glasses that were on his face all along. This kinda clangs on the ground because as close as Yomogi once was to the guy, Kyou’s a villain and irredeemable jackass. Thankfully we didn’t flash back to that scene or have to see his punchable face.

Finally, Rishia and Raphtalia recall the time Ost taught them about sex, and while Raph had no idea what she was talking about, Filo understood the concept of mating right away. Back in the present, Naofumi, Raph, Filo, and Rishia stop on a promontory to release a bouquet of flowers in honor of Ost, and Ost’s force ghost shows up to wave farewell to Naofumi.

Anime News Network’s reviewer for this show often skewered it more than I, but they were right in one regard where they thought they were mistaken: the 12th episode was the last episode. This was just an epilogue, and while it had some cute moments, it didn’t justify the title of 13th episode.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 12 – Savage Burn

After some glimpses of both Naofumi and Kyou’s past lives in the real world—the latter having nothing but contempt for those days and said world—we see the transported Cardinal Heroes of this world just managing to hold their own against the new Waves of Catastrophe, while Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Rishia, and Yomogi enter Kyou’s lab. They’re met by three of the late Kazuki’s ever-loyal attendants in chimera form, and Raph makes quick work of them with her katana.

After that, Kyou does his gloating villain thing and then sends a zombified version of Kazuki after them. While Raph and Filo deal with him, Naofumi and Rishia break through and reach Kyou. Kyou is good enough at what he does to enrage Naofumi enough for him to draw upon the Rage Shield, which quickly takes control of his persona and even tries to choke out Rishia, saying some horrifyingly mean things about her in the process.

Rishia doesn’t take the insults personally, but insists that the rage shield release Naofumi immediately. But what ultimately quells his rage and frees him from the shield’s hold is an echo of Ost, who asserts that he doesn’t need the shield’s flames. Naofumi wakes up flanked by Raph and Filo, accepting the anger he feels for Kyou but letting it pass and moving forward—much to Kyou’s consternation.

Wielding the Vassal Weapon of the missing Mirror Hero of this world, Naofumi ethers Kyou, not because it’s the right thing to do or because it will save this world, but for himself, of his own free will. Even as he is defeated, Kyou seems to think that Naofumi’s troubles are far from over, so he should enjoy his victory while it lasts. After one last appearance from “Ghost Ost”, Yomogi thanks Naofumi for defeating her friend gone entirely astray.

After that, the Waves of Catastrophe vanish and Naofumi’s party is reunited with Kizuna, Glass, L’Arc and Therese. There’s talk of returning to L’Arc’s palace and having a celebratory banquet, but a one-minute countdown sudenly begins on Naofumi’s HUD, the result of having defeated Kyou and retrieving the Spirit Tortoise’s power; the reason he and his party were able to travel to this world.

Kizuna tears up as she accepts the fact their goodbye must come far sooner than she thought, and Naofumi invites her to come by his world anytime she likes, assuming she’s able to do so. Back home in their world, Naofumi is given a medal and the title of Viscount by Queen Mirelia, and learns that the other three Cardinal Heroes made themselves useful while he was gone by repelling the Wave that appeared at the same time it did in Kizuna & Co.’s world. But while things are relatively peachy, other problems remain to be dealt with, like a new awakened Guardian Beast, the Phoenix.

While there’s still an episode remaining, this felt like a finale, and not a great one. Things felt incredibly rushed, Naofumi moving past his rage felt like a retread of last season; the occasionally fun Kyou was profoundly one-dimensiona, and while Ost was a warm and loveable character, her emotional involvement in this episode and arc felt unfinished and unearned.

While it wasn’t without a couple of decent episodes, I’m sad to say this second season has proved to be a pale shadow of his predecessor. That said, there’s one episode—and an entire third season—to come. Maybe they’ll be better.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 11 – It’s Kyou Ethnina’s World, We’re Just Living In It

The Shield Hero Gang is finally reunited, only with Filo sporting a steep decline in attack power due to her change of species and Raphtalia donning an adorable miko outfit. Kizuna also reunites with her comrades L’Arc, Therese, and Glass for the first time in years.

The warm feelings of those reunions are chilled somewhat by the sight of Kazuki, whose two improbably loyal and devoted aides are trying to stich him back together. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun and his top half ends up separated from his bottom half, hopefully fatally.

Oh, and Kyou Ethnina also has an improbably loyal and devoted aide? A samurai girl who is going to kill his enemies? (Throws hands up) Ok, Shield Hero, why not?!

Glass is so happy and relieved to see Kizuna she doesn’t want to stop hugging her, even if Kizuna finds it hard to breath; it’s Peak Endearing Glass, though you could argue she had a lot more edge when she was a baddie. The group ends up in Sikul Castle, where we learn…L’Arc is the young king of Sikul. The hits keep coming!

Naofumi, Kizuna, and their super-sized mega-party are determined to kick Kyou’s ass, but they need equipment. Kizuna hits up her longtime midriff-bearing blacksmith Ramona and gives her the unenviable task of doing a week’s worth of work in a night’s time.

After placing the order, the group is suddenly ambushed by Kyou’s samurai aide, who is determined to end all of them, scolds them for outnumbering her, and bears a creepy sword with an eyeball.

Needless to say, while she has no shortage of spirit, the girl is no match for the combined power of Naofumi and Kizuna’s parties, and when she’s disarmed, the sword takes on a mind of its own, restrains her with tendrils, and seemingly sucks up her energy.

Therese, L’Arc, Kizuna, Naofumi, and Glass all work together to separate the sword from the girl and send it high up into the sky, where it self-destructs, taking with it the girl’s undying loyalty for the guy who almost blew her the ef up!

Her name is Yomogi, and as befits a hero who cannot kill another person, Kizuna decides to take her to her party’s home and headquarters, where she herself hasn’t been in years. Naofumi protests such light treatment of an ally of Kyou, but doesn’t stop Kizuna from doing things her way.

Sending everyone else away to prepare for the fight with Kyou, Kizuna removes Yomogi’s restraints, asks her to sit down and relax, and serves her tea. In exchange, she learns that Yomogi and Kyou are childhood friends, that he was always a little off, but apparently in a less evil way at first, such that even someone with a rock for a brain like Yomogi was drawn to the knowledge he possessed and dispensed.

However, in the midst of her discussion of her childhood friend, Yomogi concludes that if Kyou has indeed gone off the deep end behind her back, then she’ll help stop him, while also sharing in whatever punishment is chosen for him, even death. While I doubt Kizuna will take her up on that, I’m sure she’s happy for another strong fighter on her side.

Alas, the next day when the mega-party picks up their completed equipment from Ramona’s, Kyou’s big scheme kicks into gear. The countdown rapidly drops to zero, Waves of Catastrophe appear in the skies, and Naofumi and Kiuna’s parties are separated via warping.

Whatever semblance of positive feelings Yomogi might’ve had for her childhood friend are dissolved in the midst of this spectacle. All this time she thought he was occasionally going a little too far in order to stop the waves, but his actual goal was to summon them. Dude’s gotta go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 10 – The Rising of the Katana Hero

As Raph-chan is led to her cell in a giant snowy prison, she is worried that Naofumi-sama will be angry at her for staying behind, even though it wasn’t her fault. But she still vows not to die until she sees him again.

Fortunately, dying isn’t in the cards this week, as no sooner does she find herself in the very same cell as L’Arc, Therese, and Glass do the four escape the “Prison of Exhaustion”, thanks to Raph’s low-level but still effective illusion magic.

Once out, they head to Sikul, dress like locals (which is to say, like Japanese), and grind. Raph-chan fights, levels up, and eats, and starts to rapidly grow, as demi-humans tend to do.

We’re introduced to Glass’ softer side, not only when she thanks Raph for helping free her beloved Kizuna from the Infinite Labyrinth, but also helps tailor Raph’s clothes when she starts to grow out of them. These three may have fought her, Filo, and Naofumi in the past, but they’re not bad people.

Kazuki, on the other hand, most certainly is bad, and in a second-string, B-teamy kind of way, as he’s basically a Kyou wannabe. To that end, he intends to draw the Katana Vassal Weapon and become a legit Hero. Unfortunately for him, the sword has other ideas.

The weapon instead wills itself into the hands of Raphtalia, and proceeds to burn away her Slav-erServant Crest that has bonded her to Naofumi all this time. She separates from the others as she breaks into a run, pursued by police and other officials for “stealing” Kazuki’s katana.

Either fate or the sword itself lead Raphtalia to the Temple of the Katana Hero, where a kindly shrine maiden risrobes her and dresses her in a Hero’s Regalia. Then Kazuki and his aides show up, insisting that she return what is rightfully his and he’ll give her a painless death.

Raphtalia, who is now back to her full size and can feel the power of the Katana coursing through her, warns Kazuki many times to simply leave, but he doesn’t listen. He siccs two replicas of a holy white tiger at her, but she dispatches them with ease.

When Kazuki still insists on going toe-to-toe with her, she delivers a strike that will only kill him if he moves. This is it: it’s happening; Raphtalia is no longer Naofumi’s servant or his sword. As she revealed when she first attained the Katana and was on the run, she wants to stand by his side as more of an equal, and has gotten her wish.

That said, even after defeating Kazuki, one more giant white tiger prepares to pounce on her, and she’s used up a lot of her strength on the previous attacks, all of which she used for the first time. Her expression is one of wisful regret and resignation as she wishes she could see Naofumi one last time before she dies.

But she gets her wish again: Naofumi shields her from the tiger, Filo kicks it, and Kizuna finishes it off with her hunting blade. Just like that, the band is back together, complete with newcomer Kizuna. Like the escape from the Labyrinth and Filo’s rescue, it feels a little rushed and easy, but it’s also a credit to this more episodic arc that keep things moving at a good clip and outings have satisfying beginnings, middles and ends.

With the party reunited and the number of Heroes tripled, I’m hoping they can avoid Kyou’s traps and put the jerk in his place soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 09 – A Whole Different Animal

The moment Naofumi materializes in Sikul, he wants to go right back to Mikakage. Where Raphtalia is concerned, all self-preservation goes out the window. Fortunately, Kizuna can’t send them back, as the hourglass on the other side was shut off. But she can introduce Naofumi to a very useful friend.

Kizuna was trapped in the labyrinth for years, right? Because the reactions to her return make it seem like she was only gone for a few weeks or months, tops. Her peers are also weary of a hero from another world, fearing he’s come to destroy their world.

Oh and Kizuna has a blue penguin shikigami named Chris because…why not, I guess??

Back to Kizuna’s useful friend, Ethnobalt…which is a naaaaame. With a drop of Naofumi’s blood and a catalyst (some of Raphtalia’s hair), he can help him create his own shikigami—one that like Raphtalia is a raccoon, but frankly isn’t as cute as the genuine article to these eyes.

Have I mentioned that Ethnobalt (sigh) is the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? And that instead of the wielder of a pocket watch, he has a “boat” that can grow to the size of a Final Fantasy-style airship (indeed, it looks inspired by the Fahrenheit).

Ethnobalt helps Naofumi out and asks nothing in return; he’s just happy to be useful to his friend Kizuna and her friends. That makes him more of a device than a character, but no matter; he’s able to warp them to Raybul, where both Filo and Glass are currently located.

They soon find Filo, who is being held captive by a disreputable showman along with scores of other magical animals. Filo is notably also not a filolial in this world, because that creature doesn’t exist here. Naofumi initially wants to kill her captor on the spot, but Rishia’s cooler head prevails, and they free Filo without incident that night.

Filo is clearly traumatized by the situation, though when her captor first said she was going to “make a lot of money” for him I immediately assumed he was going to prostitute her out to customers. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but there was a distinct lack of peril and suspense to her rescue.

Despite camping in the forest for the night, Naofumi, Filo, Rishia and Kizuna return to town and immediately find wanted posters of themselves. Fortunately, the likenesses are vague at best. Then Naofumi feels what I’ll describe as a “disturbance in the force”, and suddenly Raphtalia’s stats disappear from his HUD.

The raccoon shikigami Filo names “Raph-chan” is still kicking, however, so the real Raph should be fine. That doesn’t mean she’s comfortable, however, as after the credits we see she’s in chains and has been taken to what I’m assuming to be the arctic stronghold of the Katana Hero, since that’s the name of the next episode.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 08 – Your Sword Till the End

I have to say, I’m really enjoying this more semi-episodic Shield Hero. Last week’s escape from the Infinite Labyrinth was a true bottle episode, while this one expands on Kizuna’s world as well as her own abilities, that haven’t dulled a bit in the years she’s been imprisoned. This week there’s another definite goal: reach the Dragon Hourglass, which in this world serves as a warping point for Heroes.

But wisely this episode starts out with the basics: they need money for food, a roof over their heads, and supplies. Kizuna describes the various races of her world, one of which is Glass’s Spirit People. Naofumi just happens to have a supply of soul-soothing potion that doesn’t exist in this world, so he puts his merchant skills to good us and sells them off to the highest bidder.

It’s a team effort, with Naofumi, Raphtalia, Rishia and Kizuna all doing their parts to ensure they sell all the potion for as much money as possible, which they then spend on new, more location-appropriate threads and gear. I like the new classical Japanese looks. Their day is darkened by the appearance of a “genuis mage” who has figured out how to use the Dragon Hourglasses to warp even though he’s not a Hero.

This guy, Kazuki, reminds Naofumi of Kyou, and doesn’t like him one bit right off the bat. Fortune smiles on his party, however, as a blizzard gives them cover for an easy infiltration of the capital’s central fortress, which contains the Hourglass they need to warp to Sikul.

But while getting in is easy, finding the Hourglass proves difficult, and the fortress is full of dead ends, traps, and a huge number of guards. While Kizuna can’t harm anyone with her hunting sword, she can damage their surroundings that indirectly neutralize the guards.

But there are a lot of guards, which means eventually the party has to split in two groups to lessen their numbers. Turns out this is just another trap, as Naofumi and Raph walk right into the Hourglass chamber only to be quickly surrounded by guards, led by Kazuki and his two personal bodyguards. Taking after Kizuna, Naofumi uses his non-offensive shield’s ability to throw the guards aside.

Kizuna and Rishia then rendezvous with Naofumi and Raph, and Kizuna uses her Hero status to activate the warp. Everyone starts to glow yellow, and it looks like everyone is on their way to safety and the next adventure…but then Raphtalia stops glowing. Kyou, the architect of this latest trap, remotely cackles and taunts Naofumi, saying he’ll be taking Raph to his lab for experiments.

Kizuna can’t stop the warping, which means all Naofumi can do is watch and wait helplessly until he’s taken away from Raphtalia. For her part, Raph puts on a brave face, grateful that she was small so Naofumi could pat her on the head and carry her. She vows to be his sword to the end, and charges at the guards as he and the others warp out.

Filo having been separated from the party last week was one thing, but she’s always felt more like a mascot and strategic weapon than an actual character. There’s a lot more meat to Naofumi and Raphtalia’s history together, and seeing them suddenly separated like this was a true gut-punch, not to mention cementing Kyou as an uber-evil big bad.

But while losing Raph must be crushing blow to Naofumi—he may even summon that hate and anger Ost helped him let go of because of this—at the end of the day we have a satisfying, at times heartwarming and thrilling episode with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I have no idea what comes next, but I can’t wait!

AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

AICO – 11 – More Technobabble Leads to the Home Stretch

When Yura/Kanzaki finds Aico, she’s already willing to forgive all the lies he’s told to that point, because she exists in part because of those many lies. She’s also as ready as ever to sacrifice herself to save her mother, brother, and the “real” Aiko, even though that Aiko has already offered to do the same. For his part, Kanzaki is hesitant in the moment to let Aico go through with it, even though, as she says, that’s how the Burst will end.

In that moment of hesitation, Dr. Isazu hooks himself up to some kind of interface we’ve never seen before which allows him to connect to and manipulate the same Matter as his unconscious daughter.

Isazu uses the human-form Matter to restrain Aico and Kanzaki and a rather lengthy argument with the latter ensues, densely packed with a whole mess of technobabble about networks and cell assemblers. Suffice it to say, Isazu wants his daughter back, and is willing to sacrifice both Aikos to do so; Burst be damned.

Isazu gets increasingly frustrated with Kanzaki’s apparently boundless, “god-like” genius, but is unable to kill him, because Kazuki swoops in just in time to free Kanzaki and Aico from their bonds. A torrid chase ensues, and the real Aiko succeeds in suppressing the purple Matter with her Red long enough for the trio to get to shelter…only it’s not the shelter, but some kind of storeroom.

There, Kanzaki gathers materials for a makeshift explosion to blast their way out of their dead end and continue to Primary Point, but Kazuki doesn’t want Aico to go…because he’s fallen in love with her, plus when the matter attacked his arm he saw her memories. Aico tells him she’s flattered by his confession, but if he truly loves her as he says, he’ll let her save her family, which she can only do by reuniting Aiko’s body and brain.

Back outside the area, the JSDF is poised to start their bombardment of the entire facility, but they’re foiled at the last second when Nanbara lifts the blockade on the Area and sends in wave after wave of civilian Divers. The generals must hold their fire, and Nanbara is summarily fired by her superior, though her assistant Hori remains on the job for the time being, likely by design.

Nanbara gave up everything to save the Matter that will keep her country at the forefront of science from being annihilated by that same country’s military.

Now we’ll see if her sacrifice, and those of Shinoyama and many others, will be validated, as Kanzaki finally gets Aico to Primary Point, where the Burst and Aico’s existence began. The other Divers are holding their own, led by Sagami and Shiraishi and now convinced that what they’re doing has a crucial and noble purpose.

After many trials, lies, revealed secrets, and yes, one very lame confession, Aico has reached her destination, and it’s where she herself has chosen to come. Now let’s see if she and Kanzaki can end the Burst, save her family, wake Yuzuha up, and maybe, just maybe, save Aiko as well.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 20

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This was a quiet, leisurely episode, especially after last week’s excitement on the high seas, but few shows do quiet and leisurely more pleasantly than Shirayuki, and in any case, a little rest and celebration is in order. Shirayuki and Zen are invited to the village headquarters of the Lions of the Mountain, whose chief, Mukaze, is indeed Shirayuki’s father. She remembers seeing him at her grandparents’ bar years ago, but held on to that memory in case she ever saw him, since those grandparents went against Mukaze by saying he was alive after all.

What I like about their reunion is that there isn’t any rancor or hard feelings; Shirayuki is just glad she had the opportunity to meet her dad, and vice versa. We even learn that his wife, Shirayuki’s mom, was once betrothed to Mukaze’s relative, but he stole her fair and square and was then banished. Not all that different from Shirayuki herself being “selected” by the earlier, awful-er iteration of Prince Raj!

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It’s not just a time for Shirayuki to catch up with her dad; Kiki manages a genuine “thanks” for Mitsuhide worrying about her. I’ve always enjoyed the rapport and, if we’re honest, love between these two badasses, even though it’s not romantic love. They care about each other, and it shows when it counts.

As for Obi, he’s so down about letting Shirayuki down by letting her get nabbed, he spends much of his time in the forest alone…until Shirayuki goes after him, to assure him she doesn’t blame him for what happened; it was an unavoidable, unfortunate situation all around.

Obi knows she doesn’t hold his failure against him, but that doesn’t make his failure any more acceptable to him. Even so, Shirayuki asks that he be her guard next time they visit Tanbarun.

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A night of light drinking and carousing ensures, with Mitsu, Obi, and Kiki matching drinks, Shirayuki talking with her dad and Kazuki. Later. Mukaze finds Zen on his own and has a conversation he’s probably been looking forward to, the “what are your intentions towards my daughter” talk.

Mukaze first asks if Shirayuki loves him, then realizes he’s the wrong one to ask, and instead asks him how he feels about her. Zen is forthright in declaring his love for her, leading Mukaze to shout “I won’t allow it!” – but he’s only joking, and always wanted to say that. Worse for Zen, Shirayuki overheard everything, and when he spots her on the stairs, the two turn an intense beet red that really pops in the blue-filter night.

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When it’s time to go to bed, Shirayuki asks Zen to stick around with her a little longer. Uh-oh, I thought…but only for a minute. These two aren’t really going to do anything until they’re good and married, so instead they spend a few hours simply chatting and enjoying each others’ hard-won company. Shirayuki is the first to doze off, whereupon Zen puts her to bed and gives her a tender goodnight kiss straight out of the fairy tales.

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Mukaze expresses his happiness that his daughter has found a place where she’s happy (even though it’s not where he is), and sees her off. Shirayuki, Zen and Co. then head back to Tanbarun, where Prince Raj is elated to see her once more, and the rescheduled ball is still on.

Raj’s little siblings again try to start some shit, but they are stayed when he tells them he doesn’t want Shirayuki at the palace “forever”, because that would be boring. It’s one of Raj’s better lines, delivered with his trademark snap, and is essentially a mic drop to the meddling twins.

A lovely ball ensues, with Raj having the orchestra play the piece chosen by Shirayuki, and the two having a nice dance together. Zen watches from afar, and is surprised how far Raj has come. Rajs owes a lot of his growth to his time with Shirayuki, including the predicament she ended up in.

When she was out of danger, she taught him how to be more self-aware and selfless and less presumptuous; in times of crisis he brought out his courage and stalwart determination to secure her safe release from baddies. Now they’re at the point that when Shirayuki’s hair grows out again, she’d be happy to show it to Raj, because now she considers him a friend, and the feeling is mutual.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 17

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Well, it’s happened: Shirayuki has been whisked away once more, just when I was content with all the easygoing slice-of-court life and looking forward to the ball. But hey, sometimes you gotta let a show take you out of its comfort zone. This isn’t just about romance and daily life, it’s about action and adventure, and for some reason the bishounen Kazuki thinks he knows better where Shirayuki “belongs.”

The entire capture scene is fraught with danger and unpredictability, in the brief period when one could suspend the notion that the abductors would definitely succeed. That’s due to Obi showing us his stuff; to Kazuki’s shock he can fight evenly with his partner Itoya, who is clearly no slouch in the combat department.

But Itoya manages to land a knockout blow to Obi, and he and Kazuki make off with Shirayuki, whom they sedated for easier transport. In the process, Zen’s watch comes loose and falls to the floor, breaking it. Not a good omen for what’s to come at all.

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Obi arguably loses because he’s distracted when Eugena and Rona enter Shirayuki’s room in the middle of the fracas, and Itoya takes advantage of his momentary distraction. But when they come to apologize, Obi doesn’t blame them. From his perspective, they alone shouldn’t have been enough to let Itoya get one over on him.

As Zen races to Tanbarun, and a very lost and distraught Raj plays the song he was to dance to with Shirayuki, a furious Obi decides to hunt down the kidnappers alone. He’s pissed, just as much at himself as the at the kidnappers. After all, he had one job to do: keep Shirayuki safe. He doesn’t want to look at Zen until he gets her back. But beyond all that, Shirayuki is important to him. This cannot stand.

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Raj fully expects to be chewed out or worse by Zen when he arrives, but to his shock, Zen is apologetic for not keeping him informed of the threats against Shirayuki’s safety. Raj apologizes anyway, since it was his duty to protect his guest. When Zen learns Shirayuki was enjoying her stay, he’s glad. Good to see there’s no prince-on-prince bickering holding back the rescue.

Zen does have to report to Raj’s father, the King of Tanbarun, however, to be given leave to move freely within his kingdom for the purpose of retrieving Shirayuki. The king gives him permission, as long as he’s discrete. This is similar to Izana’s warning to Zen that he’d better not draw him or sully his position, or Shirayuki, even if he gets her back, is out.

When Zen, Mitsu, and Kiki prepare to go, Raj sheepishly, then firmly asks that he accompany them; after all. He remember’s Shirayuki’s words about wanting to hear from his people that he’s a good prince, and a good prince doesn’t hide in his castle while others fix problems that occurred on his watch. His valor surprises even his father, but I knew he’d tag along, adding a neat dynamic to the rescue party.

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As two of the three lads who like Shirayuki just starting their mission, the third had a big head start, and is able to catch up to Itoya and Kazuki thanks to his Mad Ninja-Equivalent Skillz. With no distractions and a full head of steam, he has no trouble neutralizing Itoya, but he’s too late: Kazuki and Shirayuki are gone (we knew it wasn’t Obi Kazuki saw, since there were horse hooves, not footsteps).

That’s right: in an interesting twist, Shirayuki is kidnapped from her kidnappers. It sounds ridiculous on its surface, but when considering Kazuki was acting independently after defecting from the Claw of the Sea, and simply got re-captured by them, it’s not that strange. He had “the goods”, now they do. And by “they”, I mean the badass pirate captain Umihebi.

With cooly merciless eyes, she stares right at Shirayuki and tells her straight up “You can’t go home anymore.” Whatever she has in store for her (using her as a bargaining chip for some men in the mountains), it just can’t be good. So now her former kidnapper Kazuki and her are in the same boat: prisoners needing to escape before they’re taken out to sea, just as Itoya and Obi now have the same objective: find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Things are looking good.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 16

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Throughout the duration of Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun, the prevailing issue hasn’t been whether Shirayuki would fall for Raj (she just doesn’t see him that way, and in any case is already in love with Zen) or whether Raj would keep her here against her will (he owes his growth as a prince and a person to her, and the present Raj would never do that). Nor is it whether Obi will fall for Shirayuki (he seems to be, but doesn’t want to).

No, the issue that casts a shadow over this entire Tanbarun trip has been not if, but when those who are after Shirayuki will get their hands on her. Because we knew that when that happened, neither Zen nor Raj nor even Obi would be able to protect her, because if any of them did, because this is Akagami no Shirayuki-hime,which is Japanese for “She’s Getting Kidnapped.”

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That being said, until the night of her abduction arrives, life goes on, and it’s still great to see Raj putting in a very Beauty & the Beast (Disney Version) awkward effort into her sorta-not-quite-courtship. He’s even got a rose and a ginormous and awesome library that would even make Mirepoc Finedel gawk with awe.

Initially cute but quickly wearing out their welcome? Raj’s siblings Rona (who can’t help but meedle for Raj’s sake) and Eugena (too passive to stop the force of nature that is Rona). He’s a big boy, Rona. Let him sort this out for himself. Heck, she doesn’t even have the whole picture, wrongly assuming her heart belongs to Obi, which she “confirms” by shoving Shirayuki into him.

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When left to his own devices, Raj is slowly groping his way in the dark shadows of his selfish upbringing, and gradually starting to see the light of what an equitable interpersonal relationship is. Sure, he cheats a bit with notes, but he’s making the effort, which counts. And there’s no subterfuge in his lovely violin playing – at least this guy knows how to do something!

No amount of notes on general knowledge or violin playing, however, will convince Shirayuki to stay in Tanbarun any longer than originally planned, at least not if she’s not specifically asked to and given a good argument for why she should. She misses Zen terribly, which Obi can see when the two inadvertantly meet on their adjacent balconies.

When Obi said goodnight and went in first, staring at the hand that arrested Shirayuki’s fall in the library, as if thinking “I will never wash this hand again!”,  I was more than 50% sure his hand-staring would be interrupted by a scream indicating Shirayuki had finally been captured. After all, when Obi’s mind is staying to thoughts of impossible romance, his efficacy as a bodyguard is diminished.

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But no, the hammer doesn’t drop until the night of the ball, when Shirayuki gets dolled up in a gorgeously flowing pale green gown that makes her hair pop. Obi is telling her all the ways Raj is making the ball as painless and enjoyable as possible for her, before receiving a letter from Zen warning about Kazuki and an accomplice are on their way to Tanbarun.

How did Kazuki know which room Shirayuki would be in? How did he scale the castle walls without detection? Why the heck is he so gung-ho about kidnapping Shirayuki in the first place? These are all questions for which the answers lie ahead. All we know is, this season’s pleasant extended “honeymoon” is over.

Speaking of honeymoons, Zen, in demanding to go to Tanbarun to rescue Shirayuki, tells his brother he wishes to marry her. And Izana warns Zen if anything happens that requires him to bail him out, he can forget about bringing Shirayuki back to the castle. Yikes…everything is on the line now.

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