DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!

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DanMachi II – 02 – White Rabbit Howl

Apparently, Apollo’s sole reason for challenging Hestia to a War Game between their familias is his infatuation with Bell, but Hestia flatly refuses and storms out of the banquet with Bell. Of course, the matter is far from over, as Bell and Hestia wake up to a full scale ambush of their home.

Woefully outnumbered and without the high ground, they only have one choice: run. If there’s a silver lining in this chase for Hestia, it’s that she gets to be princess-carried by Bell for most of it.

Their destination is the neutral guild, though Eina and her boss lament that no amount of fines will deter the ridiculously wealthy Apollo from doing what he wants. Daphne warns Bell that Apollo will never stop pursuing that which he wants, while one of his strongest lieutenants in Hyakinthos has added incentive to capture Bell, believing Bell stole his god’s affections.

Even Ais’ hands are also tied for the duration of the chase, as it would not be proper for her to be seen as assisting the Hestia Familia (plus Finn plain won’t allow it). Bell is no match for Hyakinthos, and gets severely slashed up.

He’s only saved from having a limb removed by the scornful Hyakinthos by sniper arrows from Miach Familia’s Naaza, along with last-minute backup by the Takemikazuchi Familia and the arrival of Welf, Lili, and Miach, who heals Bell’s wounds. Able to run again, Bell takes Hestia and continues to flee while their allies fight Apollo’s forces.

But there’s something strange going on: some of the fighters are wearing Soma Familia’s emblem, and when Welf and Lili are briefly separated, we learn why: Zanis has come to bring her back into the fold, and either due to brainwashing or some other psychological trauma (why not both?), Lili obeys him, leaving Welf behind.

As Bell and Hestia stop to rest under a bridge, still far from the guild, Hyakinthos announces from the rooftops that no matter what happens, Apollo won’t stop until he has Bell.

Hestia tries to get Bell to return her romantic feelings for him, but when he says he “respects” instead of “likes”, she gives away their position by screaming her displeasure, and they’re nearly blasted away by Apollo mages.

Rather than keep going for the guild, Hestia has Bell turn southwest, and they arrive at Apollo’s palace. There, she throws Prum’s glove in Apollo’s face and officially accepts the war game. Apollo calls off his attack forces and declares that the details will be forthcoming as adventurers come out of the woodwork to celebrate the first War Game in a long time.

Bell is going to have a tough time fighting all of Apollo on his own, but knows where he can receive the training he needs to get stronger. When he’s turned away at Loki’s gate by Tione, but not before she mutters something to him under her breath.

Those words lead him to a more secluded spot where Ais and Tiona are waiting. Neither are able to be seen with him in public, but in the interests of a fairer fight against Apollo Familia, both are eager to help train him. With the added need to rescue Lili from Soma before the War Game begins, Bell suddenly has a lot on his place, and will need all the help he can get.

This was a thrilling chase episode, starting with a bang and continuing to escalatie until poor Hestia had no choice but to give in. The weather turned from a morose cloudy gray to a more hopeful golden sunset as the chase ended, with Inai Keiji’s stirring score lending both urgency and majesty to the proceedings. I can’t wait to how Bell avoids becoming the latest part of Apollo’s collection—and who else pitches in to help him.

Kokkoku – 06

Damn, this was going to be my “last chance” episode that would decide whether I would drop Kokkoku, and what do you know, the story finally shows some signs of life! Granted, it does so in an episode full of death, starting with the guy Tsubasa is fighting. Tsubasa basically suffocates him as he struggles.

It’s an ugly, nasty business that makes Tsubasa, who can’t find Makoto after killing someone, start to despair. Thankfully Juri, Gramps and Takafumi encounter him before he turns into a Handler, and Juri’s expulsion of the jellyfish/specter stops the transformation.

So Tsubasa is fine, but now Stalled. Then Majima appears, saying she has the kid (who is with the crotchety guy who amusingly hates kids) and wants to deal. When Juri hears Majima’s terms, she wonders why she didn’t just come and talk to them rather than causing so much chaos.

Majima doesn’t have a good reason, beyond perhaps wanting at the time to give the Yukawas a taste of revenge for what they did to her family. Juri will help her try to retrieve her family, but she won’t forgive her for doing things the way she did.

Majima’s plan is to summon three Heralds, but she can’t summon the necessary murderous intent to do so. The summoning falls to Takafumi, who is just experimenting whether he can do so on a whim, and can. Talk about coming through with a hidden power in the clutch!

In any case, the Herald/Handler appears, and Gramps works overtime transporting himself and Takafumi out of its deadly reach, while Juri jumps onto it from above and begins expelling the three jellyfish within the body.

This makes for decent, novel action, with parts of the Handler sloughing off into clouds of wood, sand, and dust, but those clouds eventually freezing along with the rest of Stasis.

Unfortunately, while Juri released the jellyfish from Majima’s parents and brother, she can’t bring them back to life; only their semi-mummified bodies remain. Majima solemnly takes them into her arms and dusts off their faces.

So what’s next for this bunch of misfits? Will Majima honor the agreement and return Makoto? What about Sugawa? And how many underlings could possibly still be running around to serve him?

Kokkoku – 05

At last we see Majima Shouko’s side of the story of the time she and Juri last crossed paths. She was riding in a car with her mother, father, and brother (the latter two being violent dicks) when the Yukawas activate Stasis.

Overwhelmed by despair at their sudden predicament, one by one her family is surrounded by tentacles and dust and floats away, leaving her alone. She finally meets another moving soul in young Juri, who is so upset about her dog dying she expels Shouko on sight.

Juri’s goal, which is different from Sagawa’s, is to retrieve her family from Stasis, if she can. She believes Juri’s ability may be the only way to do that, and manages to get one of Sagawa’s men to side with her in exchange for sex at a later date. Suddenly Juri teleports in and expels that guy, leaving Shouko with just one guy.

There’s a fleeting opportunity for Shouko and Juri to talk, woman to woman, but it doesn’t happen, because there’s no trust on either side. So Shouko and the eye-spot dude go to Sagawa, who again uses a sacrifice in order to summon not one or two but three separate Heralds, which Shouko believes to be her lost family members.

Shouko seems to refine her goal on the spot to simply recover her family’s bones, not get them back alive, which while noble, is simply not as pressing or compelling as the situation of the Yukawa’s, who are all still alive and haven’t given in to despair.

Juri and Gramps manage to rescue Takafumi, despite his resisting when they come to get them (Sagawa apparently set him up outside like bait with a big tin of chocolate). The bickering Yukawas are immediately surrounded, and Gramps teleports them away, but it’s going to be another chase. Yippee.

Finally, Tsubasa and Makoto make it home, but their tail gets there first and takes the note Juri left for her brother. Thankfully, Tsubasa can sense something isn’t right just in timeto save Makoto from getting stabbed.

Somebody ends up stabbed in the end, but as the fabric the knife goes through is the color of the towel Tsubasa was using as a shield, we don’t know who yet.

While it’s good to know more about Shouko’s motivations, things continue to move at a snail’s pace, while the cat-and-mouse game through the drab, lifeless Stasis has long since grown stale.

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Juri’s would-be attacker is stopped by Gramps’ catlike reflexes and Juri’s own power, and she gets Gramps to talk about the incident from her youth in which the two went to the Stasis because her dog Andre was about to die, then she used her power out of anger to almost cast Gramps out of Stasis. While running around looking for her, he passes a young Majima on a bridge with her big stuffed cat.

When more thugs go after them and Gramps has to stop to rest, it’s No More Miss Nice Juri. She’s done running, and decides to launch a counterattack on the thugs, pulling out their specters one by one. The fight works up an appetite, so they head to a konbini for some food and drink.

There, they find the place a mess thanks to the thugs, and Juri curses them for being so awful before trying to turn matters to the girl on the bridge years ago, which Gramps only somewhat remembers.

They later can’t find Tsubasa or Makoto where they left them, but Juri believes the specter of the man killed by the Handler transferred to Tsubasa, which means he’s moving around somewhere.

Meanwhile, Takafumi is being grilled by Sakawa and his friend, who think the Yukawa family has been selfish and reckless in their ownership and usage of the Master Stone.

Takafumi, the worst negotiator in the world, doesn’t seem like he’d resist whatever ridiculous terms these sinister sweet-talkers come up with, as he still believes they’re holding his family members hostage.

Back at the Yukawa residence, Majima and the other henchmen sit around. One gets restless, and decides to demonstrate the proper way to strangle someone on a stalled guy, but gets killed by a much smaller and weaker but still deadly Handler/Herald.

When Majima inspects the remains of the Handler, she finds a desiccated human body, and tells the others that those that stay in Stasis and give up control of their bodies to the Specters end up as Heralds. Someone in Majima’s family met such a fate, which goes a little further towards explaining her present beef with the Yukawas.

Kokkoku – 03

Juri escapes death by strangulation when her eyes go white and she spontaneously gains the ability to expel “specters”, the jellyfish-like beings humans must merge with to be able to move in the Stasis. Before long, the three men in her house are stalled, and Juri escapes with The Stone, much to the chagrin of Majima.

Now that we’ve seen flashes of both Majima and Juri’s memory, it’s clear the two knew each other, and were both involved with specters during that time. Majima remembered, Juri didn’t, and now Majima is with the bad guys, working against Juri’s family. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy leader (Sagawa) tests the abilities of the Herald on an expendable henchman, and learns that the monster is getting smaller, and thus his power isn’t limitless. Before long, they may even be rid of it, and able to do affect change in Stasis as they see fit.

Coincidentally, the specter within the now-dead henchman travels to Makoto and merges with him, enabling Ma-tan to wake up, much to the delight of Tsubasa.

With all the Yukawas now free except for Takafumi, Sagawa decides to try to talk man-to-man about ownership of the Stone. In the fact of such intimidation, I fully the gentle, passive Takafumi to fold like a cheap suit.

The tougher members of the family in Gramps and Juri thankfully reunite, but not before Juri gains another tail from a group of thugs who were looting a store when she walked past…not trying to hide herself or her movements in any way despite not knowing who may be around and after her. Baka Juri!

One of those guys appears and tries to keep up a story about simply being some guy who happens to be able to move as well, which lasts all of ten seconds before he and his friends start to rush Gramps and Juri.

With a series of short teleportations, the two are able to get away, and stick to the middle of the road to avoid ambush. However, they don’t take the extra and very obvious precaution of staying away from other people, regardless of if their motionless or not.

The huge goon in sunglasses doesn’t have to go anywhere to get his knife in a position to stab Juri to death; she strolls right up to him! I tell ya, I’m rooting for the Yukawas—there’s no one else worth rooting for—but they aren’t making things easy for themselves with these constant tactical blunders.

I get it; they’re merely civilians unaccustomed to being in this kind of situation, they’re way outnumbered, and they’re scared. But if they want out of it with their all organs still internal, they’ll have to do better.

Kokkoku – 02

Kokkoku’s second “moment” delivers some welcome answers. The bad guys are part of some kind of religious cult, they want Grandpa’s stone, and the giant “Handler” (the cult calls it the “Herald”) stops anyone who tries to break the rules of the Stasis (crunching a hired goon’s head for trying to kill the “stalled” Makoto.

However, after a relatively nicely staged and directed opening action set piece last week, things kind of devolve into wandering around the drab frozen city, with Grandpa filling Juri in more on the details, while the bad guys send goons after them as they kinda stand around and wait.

One important new addition to the cast is Majima, a mysterious woman who seems to have assited the cult in finding the Yukawa family stone, which they call the “Master Stone” and is crucial for their plans.

A flashback seems to suggest Majima and Juri may have been friends at one time, and she witnessed the stone being used; this also explains Juri’s vague memories of being exposed to the time-stopping powers before.

There’s a funny moment when Gramps and Juri realize they left Takafumi behind, but in keeping with this family’s tendency to close ranks when shit hits the fan, there’s no question of rescuing him before using the stone again in hopes of escaping to a new Stasis, leaving the bad guys behind.

Just a few issues: One of the “jellyfish” turns Tsubasa from stalled to moving, and he’s very, very confused and flustered. When he finds Makoto unresponsive, he heads to the nearest hospital, where he’ll get no help whatsoever (and may even incur the wrath of the Handler).

So if they commit their plan without Tsubasa, they’ll never see him again. But even more detrimental to their plan is the fact Gramps didn’t know the cult was after the stone until he and Juri split up (never a good idea), with him going to free Takafumi and Juri going home to grab the stone.

Unfortunately, Juri simply ran there without trying to be sneaky at all. Even if she had been, the whole group of bad guys were staking the place out, waiting for someone to show up. Since it’s Juri, who they presume they don’t need to activate the stone, her death by strangulation is ordered, and she passes out before the credits roll.

Now, you and I both know Juri ain’t dying…but perhaps something more interesting will happen as a result of the goons’ attempt. Whatever that is, I think it’s time the Yukawa’s were allowed some kind of win. I also want to know what’s up with Majima; if and how she and Juri are connected, and why she’s okay with her being strangled.

Kokkoku – 01 (First Impressions)

I love shows about distinctive families, be they rich or down-on-their-luck, and the Yukawas definitely fit the bill in lacking in the luck department. 22-year-old Juri works tirelessly to secure a job that pays enough to enable her to move out, but for now she lives with her NEET brother Tsubasa, 31, her laid-off (and seemingly defeated) father Takafumi, her older sister Sanae, 25, a single mother to young Makoto, and last but not least, their retired grandfather.

There’s an immediate tension between those who work in the family and those who sit on their asses, but also a close-knit feeling that things aren’t so bad they’ll all one day turn on one another. Tsubasa may be a layabout, but Juri is able to sufficiently shame him into picking up his nephew from school.

There, another kid immediately calls him out as a suspicious character and Juri jokes about it over the phone. She’s having a little fun at Tsubasa’s expense, but is also proud he gave enough of a shit to actually do something for the family. It’s neat little family-centric details along with their general underdog nature, that quickly endear the Yukawas to me.

Just when you thought they had enough to deal with, circumstances thrust the family into a crisis situation straight out of the movies, when a gang of toughs kidnap Tsubasa and Makoto and ask the impossible: for 5 million yen to be delivered to the designated location in 30 minutes time.

Knowing they don’t have the time or the money, Juri grabs a knife and prepares to head to the kidnappers, presumably to take back her brother and nephew by force. Her dad Takafumi, suddenly awakened from his slumber by the emergency, deems only he as head of the house should go (with his dad’s savings).

It’s Grandpa Yukawa, however, who presents an alternative: that they use the mysterious, ancient stone that’s been in their family for years…to stop time.

And that’s exactly what Gramps, Juri, and her dad do. Once time slows, we’re treated to a number of fast moving things freezing in mid-air, along with strange “beings” made of light within the suspended time. Suddenly with all the time in the world, they strike out into the “stopped world”, and Gramps explains what he can as they head to the exchange spot.

Juri, for her part, experiences memories of the stone from when she was a young girl, while Gramps also points out that anyone who can move about in the “Stasis” too long ultimately becomes corrupted by the power they have over those who can’t move.

The inter-family banter is again a winner here, with Gramps expressing both affection and disappointment in his son, Juri’s dad, and when they find Tsubasa and Makoto among their now-frozen captors, it looks like they’re going to come out of this on top, thanks to a little hereditary time magic.

Of course, things don’t go that easily, because there are other people who can move in the stasis, much to the Yukawa’s shock and confusion. They’re assaulted, forcing Gramps to pull out another trick from his bag: instantaneous transportation from one spot to a spot a few feet away in either direction.

It’s not a game-changing power, however, and they can’t take their still-frozen family members along for the rides. When two bored-looking men in suits arrive with a band of henchmen, it becomes clear there’s more to this than careless kidnappers who decided to target a family with no money. One of those suits is jealous of Gramps’ power, so it’s likely this whole ordeal was set up to draw Gramps and the Yukawas out.

Just when it looks like the Yukawas are done for, a gigantic tree-like monster emerges from the sky and descends on the henchman holding a knife to Makoto. Is this tree-dude a friend to the Yukawas; some kind of guardian for Makoto, or an enemy to all of the humans in this bizarre static realm? I don’t know, but his appearance sure does pump up the supernatural vibe. In any case, I hope the Yukawas can get out of this mess.

Stocked with both very realistic human characters and said bizarre baddies, Kokkoku struck a good balance of show and tell, drama, peril, and dark comedy, and was bookended by fantastic opening and ending sequences. This one’s a keeper so far.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 02

This week, Chise gets a better idea of what her new life will be like, though she still dreams about the awful life she used to lead; a life she was willing to discard because she didn’t think it had any value. Now people treat her gently and with respect.

Silky, Elias’ “landlady” cooks and cleans and provide Chise with clothes. After watching her mother commit suicide after telling Chise she shouldn’t have been born, this kind of care seems welcome.

Chise accompanies Elias to London—an up-to-date London that includes The Shard—and while there he swaps his “bony” face for a human one—a handsome one, at that.

Elias takes Chise to the shop of another mage, Angelica, who has some issues with how Elias procured his new apprentice, and is taken aback when a simple rookie mage test—turn a crystal into one’s favorite flower—nearly gets out of hand, with Chise transporting herself to a memory of her and her mom in a field of poppies.

Elias tells Angelica that Chise is a Sleigh Beggy, an individual for whom the miracles that comprise the practice of magic come far more frequently than they would for someone less attuned to magic. After seeing the crystalline growths that populated Angelica’s arm, I felt nervous about Chise’s feet upon creating a partial landscape of her memory from that crystal.

Angelica doesn’t blame Chise, though; she didn’t know Chise is a Sleigh Beggy—something Elias didn’t tell her because that’s a dangerous nugget of information in their line of work. But like Elias, Angelica can tell that, like her own daughter, Chise will make a fine mage one day; it’s just a matter of proper training. Chise and Elias head from London back to the countryside.

After meeting with the local priest, who more or less gives Elias and Chise his blessing and an offer of assistance, Chise and Elias head to Iceland, a a land of dragons—and Chise almost immediately gets kidnapped by one said dragon.

Again, this show makes me recall Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, whose redheaded heroine was kidnapped more than once and had to be rescued (though during captivity she helped facilitate that rescue). We’ll see if Chise manages to use her newfound magical powers to attempt escape from her captors, if it once again falls mostly to Elias to rescue her. At this early stage in her apprenticeship, I won’t hold it against her for needing a hand…especially against a dragonrider!

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 18

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This week is—the second semifinal match, the second-to-last of the Phoenix Festa— The winner shall face Allekant’s AL-D and RM-C. The challengers? Ayato and Julis versus the two aces of Galadadworth Academy: Doroteo Lemus and Elliot Forster.

Wait…WHO are these dudes? Never mind; it doesn’t matter.

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That’s right, this match is a gimmie. The show doesn’t even pretend that the outcome is in doubt. If it had, these guys would have been built-up more in past episodes. These guys are comically weaksauce, to the point I hate to think about the chumps who had to lose to them in order for them to advance this far. Sure, Ayato and Julis have a tendency to make even great opponents look silly, but knowing they’d advance to the finals for sure made this whole match a bit perfunctory.

Elliot is very skilled but also very young, and Ayato senses and easily exploits his lightweight resolve, while Julis simply pops off standard attacks of gradually increasing intensity until Doroteo lets himself get roasted inside his suit of armor. Yes, he had a mecha-horse and a long lance, but couldn’t lay a finger on an opponent on foot with a sword.

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Indeed, this is an example of bad seeding. It would have been far more interesting to me if AR-D and RM-C faced off against Ayato and Julis in the semifinal, so that Saya and Kirin could waste these knights and the four friends could face off in the final. What would have been wrong with that?

I don’t know, but for now Saya and Kirin can only stew in the sting of their defeat to an opponent they should never have had to face to begin with (the Festa is clearly rigged to favor Allekant’s puppets), while they search for the kidnapped Flora. Did I mention I don’t much care for Flora, nor do I care for her basically showing up just so that she could get kidnapped?

Well, I don’t, but she’s just a little kid, and clearly important to Julis, so I understand Ayato wanting to go all out to track her down, even meeting all secretively with Irene, who laments she has no hard intel for Ayato (since Dirk never bothered to brief her), but she does manage to narrow his search to Rotlicht with a hunch.

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Meanwhile, Ernesta and Camilla work through the night preparing their puppets for the final with Ayato and Julis. This is the build-up scene (combined with the previous battles and scenes featuring these two) the Galahad guys didn’t get. These are the guys to beat.

In this scene we learn a lot more about these two Allekant scientists, how Camilla’s body was severely damaged in a terrorist attack, and how Ernesta built her half a body, leading Camilla to pledge half her life to Ernesta in return.

We also learn the two have different goals: Camilla wants to develop a universal lux anyone can wield; Ernesta wants no less than to create a new form of sentient artificial life. She’s already on her way, thanks in part to the puppets’ match with Saya and Kirin.

AR-D wants to keep his face scar to remind him of his imperfections; RM-C wants a less embarrasing way to transfer her luxes to AR-D during limit transfer. Ernesta is over the moon by this progress; Camilla is clearly more weary.

As for Ayato, his cover is quickly blown and he gets chased all over Rotlicht by Men In Black, before a gorgeous young woman pops out from behind a column offering safety.

That’s right, it’s yet another girl for Ayato—though at least one who has been foreshadowed not just by the inter-world signage of the show, but by the fact the OP and ED are sung by this girl, the famous idol Sylvia.

I got a kick out of the post-credits preview with an increasingly desperate CG-Claudia trying to impress Ayato with her own singing. Sorry Enfield, I don’t think you’ll feature much next week either!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 17

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Long story short: Saya and Kirin do not defeat the two Allekant robots Aldy and Rimsy. However, they do put up far more of a fight than any fighters who had challenged them up to that point. That is to say, the robots actually had to fight, rather than just sit back, wait for their opponent to tire, and crush them.

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Make no mistake: Saya and Kirin are crushed. It’s almost cruel after how hard they fight and keep getting back up, but they just don’t have the offensive power to overcome the robots. It makes one wonder why the hell robots can replace humans in the Festa, but it also will make it that much more satisfying when Ayato and Julis defeat them in the final.

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Of course, Ayato and Julis still have to face (I think) the duo from Sir Galahadworth or whatever it’s called, but assuming they win that fight, it may be without Ser Veresta. That’s because someone (cough-cough-DIRK) has taken Flora hostage, and won’t set her free until Ser Veresta has been sealed, which could be a permanent arrangement.

It’s more dirty tricks perpetrated in the shadows, and it’s a shame Flora had to show up at all, only to become a hostage that puts the main duo in a spot, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.but I hope Saya and Kirin, fresh off their devastating loss, can rescue her without Ayato having to sacrifice his Lux.

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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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