The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 01 (First Impressions) – Can’t Lose for Wein-ning

Despite the obnoxiously-long title, this is not an isekai, but a comedy that happens to take place in a renaissance-level fantasy world. In it the Empire of Earthwold lords over many lesser kingdoms, including Natra, presently led by Prince Wein, whose father the king is ill. The thing is, Wein doesn’t wanna rule Natra, which is in dire financial straits.

He wants to make it just attractive enough to sell to a greater power, then begin the retirement stage of his life. He’s lazy, and wants to take the nearest shortcut, but he’s hampered throughout this episode by another quality he possesses: tactical and strategic genius.

Yes, while he acts petulant goof in front of his personal aide Ninym (and no one else), Wein is in fact too smart for his own good, and enjoys the fierce loyalty and admiration of his older military advisors, who would no doubt change their tune if they knew the jerk was planning to sell their kingdom!

But that threat of being found out doesn’t really factor into this first outing. Rather, Wein plays the role others aks him to play, rallying the troops and coming up with a plan to fend off the army of a neighboring kingdom. Again, he doesn’t wanna, but he’s backed into a corner.

As such, he gives a rousing speech to the toops and executes the battle plan, which works out far better than he was expecting. Part of that is due to his agreement with the Empire to train Natra’s royal forces, once again potentially shooting himself in the foot.

But when the enemy’s general charges his camp, Wein and his aides retreat, goading the enemy into giving chase right into a canyon trap, where Ninym and a force of archers mow the enemy down, cementing Natra’s victory. It’s here where the brutality of war and the quirky comedy clash the most.

Once back at the strategy table with his military advisors, whom Wein knows want to invade their now-vulnerable neighbor, he tries to propose a plan far too preposterous for them to accept…only for them to accept it immediately and assume he’d seen the plans they’d already made.

Prince Wein’s inner voice has a chibi avatar who does all of his internal, genuine reactions while maintaining his princely façade. But if it’s money he wants to put his kingdom in a better position to be sold, invading a gold mine is probably a net-profit proposition.

Genius Prince isn’t going to win any awards with its production values, but other than some muddy-blob-looking armies and quite a bit of still-shots with streaking white lines indication action, it’s an inoffensively adequate-looking affair. The comedy is similarly unimpressively competent.

Mostly, should I continue this show I shall look forward watching Wein’s interesting friend/confidant relationship with Ninym, who stays by his side despite his shenanigans, as well as watching him continue to succeed despite trying to fail. It’s Machiavelli-meets-Bialystock!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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No Game No Life – 03

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Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

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Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

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But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

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In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

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When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

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No Game No Life – 02

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Rock-Paper-Scissors is a very simple game, and a lot of psychology goes into its play. Stephanie Dora loses because she gets lost in analysis of her own strategy, and doesn’t consider the fact that Sora has a pretty good idea what it is. She fails to figure out that he had it all figured out, and loses. But the win isn’t particularly impressive (and Steph’s inner strategizing goes on a bit too long for my taste), because as Sora says: there was no way she was going to win; she’s just too emotional and easily riled.

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She was also coming off a fresh and devastating loss to Kurami and wearing nothing but a sheet over her panties, which couldn’t have helped her confidence. Sora may not have gotten a challenge, but he didn’t want one: he merely used a bet with Steph to test the power of the ten pledges. When he commands her to fall in love with him, she falls under his spell, but only intermittently. I liked the idea of the pledges being that ironclad, but it stumbled a bit in execution, Steph’s constant smashing of her head against things in an effort to shake off the spell got a little old after a while.

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That being said, I appreciated the manic energy both Hisaka Yoko and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu brough to Steph and Sora, respectively. Lest we forget, Sora’s not a normal human being, nor is Shiro; a point beautifully reinforced when they grow too far apart from one another. That intense co-dependence may make a future romantic pairing between Sora and Steph a bit tricky, but on the flipside, their absolute trust in one another makes them such a powerful gaming duo, Steph starts to believe they could be the key to saving the kingdom of humanity. More to the point, Sora’s thinking big, aiming squarely at the throne.

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Guilty Crown – 16

Mr. Kuhouin sends Argo to Tokyo to retrieve his daughter for an arranged marriage in exchange for diplomatic favor. When Argo touches down, he finds a dire situation in which Shu has adopted Yahiro’s ranking system and the entire student body has fallen in line. It’s a highly regimented operation in which the weak are discriminated against due to shortages of food and medicine. Shu has Argo detained, but when he escapes and tries to make off with Arisa, Shu confronts him with a member of his secret service. In the fight, a ceiling beam falls on her void, killing her – something Shu didn’t know could happen. Back at GHQ, Shu’s mother is helping Segai awaken somebody…

Wow, talk about a quick turnaround. We knew there would be big changes once Shu decided he wasn’t going to dick around anymore, but what we have here goes beyond a tight ship. His New Order is an authoritarian regime that draws its power from fear: both the fear of Shu’s void power and the fear of Shu, their last hope, being infected. So the weak like Souma are marginalized (with Shu even ready to let him die in a scene of heartless micromanaging) while those with strong voids get preferential treatment and are invited into the elite secret service. We like how the episode introduced a new Rank A character just to kill her in the end, not only to show us that even the strong aren’t safe, but to expose Yahiro’s lies to Shu, even if it may too late.

As for Inori, well…it seems she made a choice right beside Shu; the choice to put her conscience aside to serve her king. Tsugami is basically going with the flow, and Ayase is just flat-out disgusted with what Shu’s become (he tells her he’s glad they were alone when she slapped him so he didn’t have to “reprimand” her) , as is Argo (the best line of the episode adds some levity to all the dread: “We really liked that ‘pale-faced weakling strugglin’ for all he’s got’ thing you had going, you know!”). But as Shu says to Argo when he’s got a knife to his throat: let’s see you try to keep this mob together and keep them safe with no resources. It’s a thankless job, really. Is Shu expressing the archetypal excuses of the tyrant, or are his sacrifices justified to ensure at least some of his kingdom survives what’s coming?


Rating: 3.5

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