Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 05 – Taking the Tsun with the Dere

Via a handwritten letter from Paul instructing him to read it out loud (Ghislaine can’t read), Rudeus learns about his new job as academic and magic tutor to a nine-year-old girl in the city of Roa, for whom Gislaine is both bodyguard and sword instructor. It’s a five-year commitment, ending when he turns 12, and in that time he’s forbidden to contact home.

Paul did this because he suspected Rudy and Sylphie might enter a co-dependent relationship that would be harmful for both of them. He also tells him the young lady is “fair game”, but hands off Ghislaine, whom he mentions having bedded previously. Fortunately, this is all we hear of Paul this week, and presumably for the next five years of Rudy’s life.

Rudy takes this sudden change in his life extraordinarily well for someone who had not only become comfortable in his previous life holed up in his room, but also became comfortable in his home village with Sylphie. He realizes one can become too comfortable, and life too easy. If this job will help pay academy, tuition, he’s game.

Upon meeting Phillip Boreas Greyrat, Rudy learns he’ll be under the employ of his father’s cousin (i.e. his cousin once removed), making his daughter, Eris, his second cousin. And while Phil says his daughter is “a bit willful”, that hardly does her justice. Rudy bows as a noble should, but is immediately dismissed as too young by the fiery, ultra-tsun Eris.

Eris brooks no back-talk, as when Rudy asks what age has to do with tutoring her, she slaps him across the face. He slaps back, but far from cowing her, she pounces and starts beating the shit out of him until he has to push her off with wind magic. She then chases him around the manor.

Despite this first interaction, Rudy isn’t ready to give up, which impresses Phil (at this point, all other tutor candidates quit). Rudy can see the challenge his father has laid out for him, and knows full well he’ll be laughed at if he turns tail and runs home.

More than that, Rudy has had his fill of being beaten up from his previous life. In his position as tutor he’s going to teach the intense, violent Eris that violence should never be the first resort, and one can’t get too comfortable committing it.

After proposing some kind of scheme with Phil to get Eris to accept him as her tutor, we cut to Rudy emerging from a wooden box with bound hands in a grimy dungeon. He wakes Eris up and explains the situation: they’ve been taken hostage by brigands.

When their captors enter and Eris treats them with immediate derision, she’s met with a level of violence she’s unable to keep up with. While she’s bloodied and missing several teeth, she’s still defiant. The degree to which she’s beaten also indicates to Rudy that the false kidnapping plan he arranged may have turned into the real thing.

Rudy is reasonably sure he could overpower the guards, but not sure enough to risk it, and in any case his first lesson as tutor is that might makes right, something he wants to avoid. Instead, he partially heals Eris, bars the door with stone, and busts through the window bars. Eris asks for help, but he’ll only take her with him if she promises not to yell and scream or be violent.

As the baddies bust through the barred door, Eris agrees, and Rudy whisks her off. The moment he’s fully healed her, she’s back to yelling and acting imperious. At this point he bids her farewell, but she soon forms up behind him, saying she was only joking and will honor their promise.

The two take a horse cart back to Roa without incident. The men who race ahead of them on horseback seem like bad news, but Rudy is condient once they’re within Roa’s walls that they’ll be safe. That is, until Eris is snatched up again and one of Phil’s attendants reveals he’s in league with the brigands to exact a ransom.

Rudy halts their escape with Eris by erecting a stone wall in their path and prepares for battle, but he’s outnumbered and surrounded. The baddies offer Rudy a generous cut of the ransom for his cooperation—equal to more than ten enrollments in Magic University with change to spare.

Rudy admits it’s a tempting offer, but if there’s one thing his dating games have taught him, it’s how betraying the girl for money can only bode poorly for one’s affection levels and chances of winning the girl’s heart. So he rejects the offer and launches a massive firework into the sky to blind the baddies, enabling him to snatch Eris out of their clutches.

Rudy is able to get some distance between him and the brigands and lays down suppressive fire magic, but one of the baddies practices the North God Sword Style, which includes deadly sword-throwing. Rudy cannot avoid the path of thrown sword or summon magic fast enough to deflect it.

Fortunately for him, Ghislaine saw the firework and headed for its launching point. Using her immense beastperson strength and speed, she’s able to make it in time to shatter the thrown blade into metal dust and kill two of the brigands in one sensational, fluid, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movement.

It’s a moment that briefly but powerfully demonstrates the potential of a show as well-funded and lovingly made as Mushoku Tensei—it can match the artistry and badassery of Jujusu Kaisen or Demon Slayer. Rudy is also haunted by the sight of one of the dead brigands, who is headless and robed in blood. He can’t hear, freezes up, and has to be snapped back to coherence by Ghislaine. Compare that to Eris, who is just happy to see her bodyguard and doesn’t really react to the blood.

The intensity of what Rudy just went though stays with him when they return to the Boreas Greyrat home, otherwise none the worse for wear. Rudy deems his plan to be a failure, as in the end things spiraled out of his control and he and Eris could have ended up dead without intervention from Ghislaine. Notably, Eris slaps her father’s hand away when he tries to help her, as she prefers to get up herself.

Rudy turns to leave, but after a few beats, Eris turns back around and orders him to stop, then tells him he has “special permission” to call her Eris—no “lady”, just Eris. When he asks if that means she’ll let him teach her, she turns back around, but it’s clearly not a “no”, and his mood brightens appreciably.

While an archetypal tsundere out of the gate and throughout this episode, I still found Eris’s desire to stand on her own two feet and utter lack of patience for bullshit admirable. Like Rudy when he arrived in the world and to this day, she has a lot to learn, and from reading, writing, arithmetic and magic, Rudy has a lot to offer.

The faux-then-real kidnapping was a worthy means of bringing the two together, and showing us just how awesome Ghislaine is. I’m sad Sylphie gets the short end of the stick, but it should be a fun five years. I’m hoping they don’t fly by too fast!

Check out Crow’s review of episode 5 here.

Great Pretender – 18 – The Pressure is the Reward

Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia are bound, fitted with weights, and taken out to sea to be executed. However, Oz begs Suzaku Akemi to spare his boy. Oz tells Makoto to kill Abby and Cynthia to prove his loyalty, and the two women tell him they’re neither friends nor family, and would kill him if they were in his shoes.

Makoto doesn’t believe that, and in any case can’t hurt either of them, so Oz shoots them instead, and they fall overboard and under the waves, apparently dead…but quite possibly not? What matters is Makoto thinks they’re dead, and when Akemi offers him Oz’s life, he takes it.

For several days Makoto neither talks nor eats, but turns a page when he’s able to grieve his losses in Akemi’s welcome arms. Two months pass, and she’s taken him under her wing like a surrogate son—replacing the one who walked away from the family business.

Because Makoto is a highly capable person who increases Akemi’s profits, she puts him in charge of the human auctions without hesitation and arranges for him to have a room at her house, deepening their relationship. Ishigami has never seen the boss like this, and fears she’s taking it too easy.

He makes sure Makoto understands that the pressure he’s feeling is both the reward and what keeps one on their toes enough to hang in there. He also warns him that while Akemi won the last round, Shanghai problem isn’t going to go away. Makoto comes home to find Oz outside his apartment. (If he faked his death, it stands to reason Cynthia and Abby are probably fine too, though that’s left up in the air for now).

From a slick office overlooking a futuristic, fluorescent Shanghai, Liu has his fortune told by a famous fortune teller—whom we later learn was paid by Laurent to give him a particular fortune that will accelerate his plans to “resolve” things with their Japanese parent. After the teller leaves, Laurent walks in asking for Liu.

As Liu tells Chen, how a book was translated made the difference in which received the Nobel Prize. It’s the same with international business negotiations. Flashback to when Laurent was a boy in Brussels, and intrinsically understood the value and the power of being a good interpreter…as well as the cost of not having adequate skills.

Laurent’s mother, who is severely dyslexic, gets swindled and ruined by a businessman, all because she couldn’t read what she was signing. While cooking dinner for her and Laurent while out of sorts, the pan slips out of her hands and we can speculate that she was killed by oil burns.

Flash forward several years to Paris when Laurent is a poker hustler and womanizer. The men who lost to him beat him unconscious, but when he wakes up in an alley, filthy and bloodied, he spots the very man who swindled his mother years ago—and whom he blames for her death.

Laurent buys a knife at the hardware store and follows the man, but when he chooses the time to stab him, a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman steps in front of him and the blade plunges into her instead. In seeking revenge for his mom, Laurent accidentally stabbed the wrong person.

Makoto is hearing about Laurent’s past from his suddenly-not-dead(again) Oz. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were in cahoots, while Makoto is yet again an unwitting pawn in an even longer con, even as he and Akemi grow closer as surrogate mother and son.

Great Pretender – 17 – Coward of Oz

Edamame is moving up in the Scarlet Company thanks, in part, to the Chinese lessons his late mother insisted he take. Back then, he idolized his valiant attorney father Seiji, as did his mom, whose only complaint was that her husband worked too much. Both were completely unprepared for the news that he was helping the mafia traffic children.

While Makoto responded to his dad’s betrayal with rage and resentment —and eventually turning to a life of crime just like the ol’ Pops, only pettier. His mother collapsed from the shock, and was bedridden the rest of her days, but she never gave up hope in her Seiji.

The flashbacks to good times abruptly turning bad then worse for Makoto are efficient but particularly well-done. His mom warmth and forgiveness despite the harsh betrayal she endured—something it’s clear Makoto never understood.

“Sleepy Princess” Abby and her reluctant jailor Makoto is such a bizarre scenario, such is her keeping-it-real ethos, Abby doesn’t treat her jailor any differently than the guy with whom she jumped out of a building in Singapore. Their growth as something like friends is evident when she asks him if he’s alright working for such a despicable business, and isn’t just asking, but is genuinely concerned.

She should be! Suzaku Ikemi’s Scarlet Company is on the brink of war with their satellite organization in Shanghai, which due to China’s economic boom has grown more profitable than its parent and unilaterally declared independence. Their disdain for their Japanese bosses is expressed when their boss, Liu, sends his second-in-command—the boorish Chen—instead.

Chen is accompanied by his interpreter, whom Makoto recognizes is his damn dad, who now goes by the name “Oz”. So that’s where he slithered off to!

Suzaku isn’t impressed by Shanghai’s little power move and declares an ultimatum, claiming 80% of Shanghai’s profits, even she must know won’t be forthcoming without a degree of bloodshed. Still, her options are limited; with their Chinese cash cow’s leash becoming slacker by the day, she can’t appear weak, lest they regard her as a paper tiger.

Makoto, meanwhile, is furious with the news of his dad’s participation in this job, and suspects it was kept from him on purpose by Laurent, who is flirting with a couple local women when Makoto violently confronts him. That leads Laurent to ask: if the geezer truly “means nothing” to Makoto, why get so worked up about him?

In his next meeting with Abby in her cell (where she’s playing way too many video games), she raises the possibility Seiji did what he did “out of necessity”, got in too deep. She suggests he compare his “loser scumbag” critique of his dad to what he himself was, before he met her and Laurent. Perhaps Seiji has returned to his life because he wants to be forgiven.

Makoto tests that theory by visiting Seiji in his hotel room. Seiji reveals he was actually just outside the door of Mom’s hospital room, but was too ashamed to walk inside. If he walked inside, she might forgive him, and he wasn’t sure he deserved that. But seeing what a shell of a man his dad has become, Makoto decides to be like his mom, and give him that second chance to be in his life. After all, Seiji is still wearing his wedding band.

Early in the morning, Makoto executes a modified version of the prison break plan, this time threatening the kids with his dad’s handgun; a necessary tactic to get them to go with him. Cynthia arrives with a bus big enough to hold them all, and seems both amused and heartened to see not one but two Edamuras in her presence.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until they get off the main highway and are immediately sandwiched and forced to stop by two mafia cars. One of them carries Ishigami, who while so charming and friendly before suddenly exudes cruel menace. He laments that both he and Suzaku saw something in him, and are disappointed it “didn’t work out”—i.e. that now he’ll have to murder him for his treachery.

Speaking of treachery: Seiji is the one who ratted Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia out to Ishigami, identifying them as the same group of con artists who have been causing trouble in the underworld. When Makoto can’t contain his rage and rushes at his dad, Seiji puts a gun to his forehead, reminding him he’s not his dad anymore…he’s “Oz.”

It’s possible he’s playing a longer game that requires he betray his son so he could save him later. Or he could just be a bastard. We shall see. In the meantime, Makoto & Co. are in deep shit!

Great Pretender – 16 – Surly Princess in the Demon Castle

Makoto knowing he’s in on Laurent & Co.’s latest scheme doesn’t make coming to work at Scarlet every day any easier. He cooks tasty food for the captive children, who then leave it untouched—one of their only available acts of defiance. It wears on him, but Laurent tells him Cynthia is about to make her move.

The next day, she does just that, posing as a wealthy foreign “dealer” who speaks English—I’ll note some of the best English I’ve ever heard in an non-dubbed anime. I’m glad they didn’t skimp on that detail, as the language barrier makes Makoto’s role as Ishigami’s (and later Suzaku’s) interpreter crucial to the deal.

Cynthia and Kim take Ishigami and Makoto out to the UAE, where they situate themselves at a vantage point from which to watch their services in action. They use Clark and Abby to stage a desert kidnapping, with Abby posing as a royal princess.

As is typical of a GP episode, this scene wears its Hollywood action influence on its sleeve, and is quick and well-executed—like a Hollywood action movie, only animated. Makoto also notes how convincing Abby appears during the staged attack, considering she’s not one to panic when a gun is pointed in her face.

More importantly, the charade and “Princess Abigail” convince Ishigami, who brings Cynthia, Kim, and Abby before Suzaku Akemi herself for inspection. Suzaku treats Abby no differently from any other human trafficking victim: like a piece of meat to be stripped down and viewed from all sides. Makoto wisely averts his eyes to avoid Abby’s ire.

Suzaku indicates her interest without strongly expressing it, and initially low-balls Cynthia with an offer of 100,000,000 (Cynthia hopes that’s not yen, since that would amount to less than $1 million). When Cynthia forces the issue, Suzaku blows smoke in her face and cops a feel, stating that if Cynthia were a little younger she’d get a pretty good price.

Cynthia doesn’t react to the abuse, which is clearly Suzaku testing her mettle, because she revises her offer to a cool billion. While that’s over $9 million US, it still feels like small potatoes compared to Laurent and Cynthia’s previous con jobs.

The deal is struck, and Princess Abby gets Ishigami’s winddown room as her cell, complete with TV and video game console. Meanwhile, Makoto continues to switch out the kids’ untouched food, and urges them to eat for their own sakes. But their looks indicate they don’t care about their sakes.

Hanging his head the whole way back to his apartment, Makoto is shocked to find Laurent, Cynthia and Kim waiting to surprise him with celebratory drinks. Makoto rightfully suggests this is sloppy on their part (who knows if Suzaku is following any or all of them since they arrived?) and they leave.

The plan from there is to spring Abby after they get their money. To do so, Makoto needs the key to her room, which Ishigami all-too-easily offers up when he falls asleep after drinking too much beer. Makoto presses the key into a bar of soap, and Kudou makes a copy.

On the appointed night, everything goes smoothly except for Makoto’s not-so-sudden crisis of conscience. (I particularly liked Abby hesitating to escape because she was in the middle of a game—it really nailed her character’s nonchalance in a crisis) He’s not prepared to simply hurt Scarlet by taking their money then stealing Abby back; he wants to free all ten kids being held there too. But when he and Abby try to do so, the kids don’t budge. Just like they wouldn’t eat because they have nothing to eat for, they won’t escape because they think they have nowhere to go.

They might reconsider that once they’re sold off to people who will use them for unspeakable purposes, but the bottom line is these kids’ spirits have long since been broken. They were already abandoned by their families for cash, after all. They don’t care what happens to them, and care even less about helping Makoto realign his moral compass. When a kid asks where they’d go from there, Makoto doesn’t have an answer. As Rachel Menken said to Don Draper: “You haven’t thought this through.”

Due to a security guy Makoto initially relieved returning when he forgot his phone, Makoto is unable to free Abby, so the op will have to wait for another day. But it feels like even if they do free Abby and get the money, this isn’t the whole job. Or maybe it is, and the job that follows may lead us more into Laurent’s past—the apparent focus of this final arc.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In / Spectre – 01 (First Impressions) – An Eye and a Leg

Two years ago, Iwanaga Kotoko saved Sakuragawa Kurou‘s life by catching him as he fell backwards. All she asked in return was that he remember his savior for the rest of his life. Kotoko later learned Kurou had a girlfriend, but they recently broke up. Having harbored a one-sided affection the last two years, Kotoko now approaches Kurou with her intentions to date him with eventual plans for marriage.

If Kotoko sounds like an unusual girl, she is: when she was eleven she was kidnapped by various youkai who asked if she would consent to serving as their “God of Wisdom”, one who could both mediate issues between youkai and between youkai and humans. In exchange for agreeing to help them, Kotoko lost her right eye and left leg, but considers becoming a god who can commune with youkai to be a fair trade.

When a particularly nasty ayakashi troubles a local library, youkai go to Kotoko to ask for aid. But as she’s outgunned in this particular case, she asks Kurou to accompany her. While youkai everywhere fear him like some kind of bogeyman, including a kappa whose reaction to seeing him led to his breakup with his girlfriend, Kotoko sees the value of having someone like him in her corner.

Thus, their “first date” involves confronting the giant beast in the library, and while Kotoko’s words fail, Kurou’s actions don’t. Only even Kotoko is surprised by how Kurou deals with the beast: he lets it rip his arm off, only for it to immediately regenerate, and the beast shortly dies, poisoned by Kurou’s flesh. Kurou confesses that something happened to him when he was eleven too: he ate youkai flesh.

While lacking in action until the final  minutes, the introduction of the forthright, no-nonsense, charming Kotoko and the inscrutable, unflappable Kurou is very well-handled and their dialogue never drags. They sport instant chemistry, owing in no small part to the voice talents of Miyano Mamoru and Kitou Akari, and I’m eager to see not just how they work together but how they become closer going forward.

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Attack on Titan – 40 – Truth Desert

Titan is effective because the audience shares in the characters’ frustration that their world is shrouded in mystery and they have no idea what The Truth really is. They have to either be content with smaller truths— Historia’s identity as true heir to the throne, for instance—or theories, like the one where the false king altered the memories of those who settled within the walls, and altered history along with it.

As Historia is meeting her father for the first time in years, she goes over her own sad, well, history in her head. She had an objectively horrible mother who never showed her love, but with no frame of reference for what a “normal” mom-daughter relationship should be, getting violently shoved away for trying to hug her made her happy, because it was something.

The first words Tori’s mother said to her were basically the same as the those with which Tori’s mother left the world: words expressing regret she ever gave birth her. Rob Reiss was and in the present still isn’t proud of having to send his daughter away, but the alternative was her sharing her mother’s fate that one night, when the men in black coats and hates came.

Meanwhile, at the farm, Hange returns Sannes to his cell, and reveals to him that his friend Ralph didn’t sell him and the king out, he was simply used as a pawn to get Sannes to betray the king. Hange has very little patience for their weeping and moaning, and voices that lack of patience…emphatically.

Erwin meets with Pyxis to inform him of the coup he’s planning; after he has words, Pyxis agrees to lend his support when the time comes, but the Military Police is working even faster than they are, and when Erwin’s presence is demanded at the scene of Reeves’ murder, Erwin doesn’t hesitate naming Hange his replacement as commander of the scouts in his absence.

I’d congratulate Hange on her sudden promotion, but she just took command of an organization that is about to be unjustly branded an enemy of the state. What had once been a position of great esteem is now a thankless job. Not that that matters to Hange—she’ll do her duty to the fullest.

Erwin walks into what he knows to be a frame-job, but still makes sure to let Reeves’ family know he intends to avenge the man’s killers, and even though they’ve been carefully conditioned to blame him, Erwin’s pure charisma seems to have an affect on them. On the rooftops Kenny watches scouts all over the city get rounded up as criminals, but prefers to let Levi come to him.

Before being arrested, Erwin told Pyxis a story about his childhood, when his father used to teach his history class. Erwin asked a question his dad had to evade, but later that night explained his theory to his son. In a truth desert like the world in which they lived where others only encountered mirages, his father had found an oasis. But Erwin, young and stupid, blurted out his father’s theory in public until the wrong ears caught it, and that was the end of Erwins’ father.

Since then, Erwin had always suspected his father was killed by the government, and if that happened, it meant there was merit to what his father believed, so he came to believe the theory was fact. To get closer to The Truth, the current government and its fraud monarchy must be replaced, and Historia enthroned as the true queen.

With the military police prowling for any scout and the government on high alert, no part of Erwin’s plan will be easy. In the midst of all this intrigue, I’m sure a number of scouts are almost wishing for the days when all they had to do was…kill Titans. Of course, that (relatively) easier life was only possible because they were more in the dark than they are now.