Bofuri – 07 – Kinda Immortal

As they roll—literally, in the case of her poison ball—with Maple, it’s not long before Yui and May are up to Level 20, have double strength, and are able to dual-wield normally two-handed warhammers. They go at the Hydra boss over and over until they can defeat it in under two minutes and thirty seconds…not bad for three girls with no agility!

The members of Maple Tree branch out (heh heh) on their own little mini-quests once Iz gives the sisters new crystal hammers. They monster hunt with Sally as she teaches them low-speed agility, Kuromu finds a hidden undead dungeon with Syrup and gains awesome new armor, Kanade upgrades her Akashic Records, and Kasumi…shears sheep for wool, until Maple demonstrates a new skill that lets her grow a huge ball of wool around her, and even add poison to it. Talk about hogging—er, sheeping?—all the glory…

While everyone else is off leveling up, Maple ends up falling down a rabbit hole of sidequests involving an NPC mother and ill child. These quests would be difficult if she wasn’t a massively OP’d tank with a giant flying turtle, but she completes them all in the space of a few hours.

Due to the unnatural speed with which she clears the chain of quests, the NPC mom’s dialogue is unnecessarily dramatic. Instead of being happy to be thanked, Maple feels like she owes the mom an apology!

The final reward of the sidequest chain is “Loving Sacrifice.” Maple commissions an angelic new white suit of armor and gathers her guild-mates in the overworld to demonstrate. After shedding a slice of her HP (she has over 1,000, so plenty to spare), she dons wings and a halo and creates a barrier around the entire party of eight that no enemy can penetrate as long as she’s alive.

Rather than jump for joy at this development, her guild-mates are…a little nervous. After all, isn’t this just a bit much? Maple became the target of the gamemasters before when she spammed Devour; no doubt they’ll step in to de-power her again in an effort to restore game balance.

At the same time, a much larger guild has set its sights on Maple Tree as a potential rival, and will be watching them very carefully in the third event preceding the guild competition. So while Maple was on easy street throughout this episode, that may not be the case next week.

Bofuri – 04 – Bird (Ice)Box

Maple and Sally’s foray into the sprawling second level is uneventful until the former falls through a hidden trap into a large cavern containing a club-wielding jester boss. The girls work together to defeat it relatively easily. Maple exhibits her new skill “Cover Move”, which enables her to finally keep up with Sally by mimicking her movements in exchange for double damage. Since zero doubled is still zero, it’s another NWO hack for Maple.

After one day they only have two medals, but when they encounter Kuromu and his party on the snowy but notably not cold mountain (a nod to RPG characters rarely bundling up in cold locations), he reports they’ve got zilch. Feeling indebted to him for his earlier assistance, Maple lets his party go through a one-time use teleport gate, only for the gate to almost immediately reappear, suggesting the boss made quick work of the Kuromu crew.

Maple and Sally use the gate, which takes them to the lair of Silverwing, their toughest boss challenge yet, featuring multiple attack vectors. For once, the usually OP Maple is pushed back by attacks, her HP is depleted, and even the outer layers of her armor is destroyed. Thankfully, ten Devours are enough in concert with Sally’s quick harassing attacks and Mirage skill, which enables Maple to slip in under the big icy bird and deliver a Hydra coup-de-grace.

For their trouble, the duo gains give medals for a total of seven, as well as two mysterious monster eggs. They head to warmer climes and warm them until they hatch, revealing a turtle familiar Maple names Syrup and a white fox familiar Sally names Oboro. Like their masters, Syrup and Oboro feature high defense and agility, respectively, and level up and gain skills as they’re used. They both make adorable additions to the party.

The familiars can also be stashed away when not needed, or in the case of Maple and Sally trudging through a desert inhospitable for either animal. Upon reaching an oasis, the two meet their first PvP opponent: a raven-haired maiden in pink samurai garb, brandishing a katana. She placed sixth in the previous event, and looks to rise in the player rankings and is perhaps thinking of adding Maple and Sally’s seven medals to her own collection.

Bofuri – 03 – No More Maples!

As expected, the admins at NWO reign in Maple’s invincibility somewhat, as she’s now only able to use her Devour skill ten times a day and can now take a degree of damage. Maple isn’t happy, but Sally reminds her of all the damage based effects now available to her.

Before heading to the dungeon that leads to the second level, the pair do some sightseeing. They spot a pair of newbie sisters just starting out, visit a cafe where they meet others who ranked high in the first event, and get a lead on a sidequest in the North Forest.

We learn Sally is super afraid of any kind of ghosts, making Maple the steady party member for this particular quest. They locate a cabin with a hatch that leads an underground passage. There, a man in apparent constant pain is tied to a chair.

Maple’s potion has no effect, but Sally casts a string healing spells, exhausting her MP, and he’s finally healed. Their prize for completing the quest is a Super Speed Skill. Sally celebrates by showing Maple a “never-ending sunset area” where they can just relax and soak in the gorgeous view.

The next day they tackle the dungeon to the second level, which contains a formidable boss: a humongous stag that forms from a tangle of huge vines. Maple’s Hydra attacks have no effect, and the stag launches an earth-shattering counterattack. With no agility, Maple has to be yanked to safety by Sally, and she lands awkwardly, resulting in a brief K.O.

Sally, on the other hand, sticks her superhero landing perfectly and presses her attack on the stag, using her high speed and evasion traits to deliver a death by a hundred slashes followed by an authoritative coup-de-grace. It’s the second straight episode with an exciting, kinetic Sally battle.

With the boss defeated, a disappointed Maple comes to, and the pair continue to the second level’s gathering area, where Iz presents Maple her new white shield, which Maple calls Shirayuki (nice name). The chibi dragon MC then appears to announce the start of the second event: this time, it’s a treasure hunt, and Maple and Sally are able to form a party together.

Since players are allowed to kill other players for their medals, and Maple not only already has a gold medal but has only ten Devours per day, she’ll be even more of a target for opportunistic opponents, so both she and Sally will need to be on their guard. It’s the end of Easy Street…so much the better!

Bofuri – 02 – The No-Damage Duo

Bofuri’s second episode is split between Maple’s first NWO battle royale and when Risa finally joins her. The battle is a cakewalk for Maple, whose ultra-defensive specialization ensures she takes no damage in the process of bagging more than two thousand kills, most of them absorbed as MP by her Great Shield.

Maple actually gets pretty fierce once various parties start ganging up on her, even paralyzing and poisoning those who flee to up her kill count. Compare that to when she’s waiting for enemies, killing time by innocently drawing intricate Yakuza dragon and Nazca lines. I really dig Maple’s low-key drawing talent, which comes through in the game!

Leading up to Risa’s arrival, I was starting to think it would be a running joke for Maple to bring up the fact Risa hasn’t joined her in the game yet, and that she might never join her due to various circumstances IRL. However, once she finally enters (as “Sally”, her real name in reverse), it’s as a “Swashbuckler” class, high on agility and evasion.

This complements Maple’s tank class perfectly, especially when they have to get somewhere far away fast. Sally simply carries the ridiculously slow Maple on her back as she races across the overworld, while Maple dispatches incoming enemies with ease.

Their destination is an underground lake where they can find a particular kind of fish, the scales of which Maple needs for the white shield she’s having Iz forge once she has enough cash. The duo spends a lot of time fishing, while Sally maxes out her swimming and diving skills and finds a cool underwater dungeon.

Tanks like Maple can’t swim, so it’s all up to Sally to take out the beastly aquatic boss at the end of this dungeon. It’s a cool design with lots of pyrotechnic attacks. While both the boss and Sally are CG, and the frame rate screeches to a near-halt, that’s somewhat mitigated by the blur used to indicate they’re underwater. It’s also an exciting, fast-paced, and well-directed battle.

When it’s over, Sally returns to a worried Maple with a new awesome-looking outfit. That’s when the game’s dragon mascot informs them that the second level of the game will soon be opened for those who meet the conditions. In need of a new pair of boots to complete her Swashbuckling look, Sally tosses Maple on her back and races back to town.

The news of multiple levels to the game satisfactorily explains why Maple was able to become so powerful in so short a time: she’s still only on the first of those levels. This fact, and the tough fish boss fight, bode well for their future adventures and battles posing a greater challenge.

One of many details I’m liking about Bofuri is the restrained use of cutaways to online chatting, between the A- and B-parts and before the end credits. The chatting chronicles Maple and Risa’s progress and rise in notoriety. Like similar cutaways in Durarara!! it adds depth, texture and a sense of community to the show.

Bofuri – 01 (First Impressions) – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

Kaede‘s friend Risa recommends that she start playing a fun new VRMMO called New World Online…so she does. That’s pretty much it! Oh, and because she doesn’t want to get hurt, virtually or otherwise, she uses her entire allotment of status points on Vitality, or defense, thus becoming a slow but stalwart Tank-class character named Maple.

When Maple finally encounters low-level monsters, they can’t hurt her, and to her dismay, the first of them (a cute bunny) disintegrates before her eyes. However, the violence remains PG-rated throughout, and she continues to gain levels, skills, resistances, and status points—all the latter of which she puts into ever greater defense. Maple’s single-mindedness and bemused commentary keep things lively.

Eventually she heads to a dungeon and buffs her way to the boss, a 3-headed dragon with poison breath that destroys her shield and shortsword. Still, once she gains a poison immunity, she nibbles the dragon to death, and earns some cool armor, among other treasures and abilities, as a reward. Bofuri is not on my list, but it’s competently generic and harmlessly pleasant.

Cautious Hero – 03 – The Goddessizer

While Ristarte is enjoying tea with fellow goddess Ariadoa, Seiya barges in to announce he’s not leveling up as fast by simply working out. Rista hopes this means he’s finally ready to start fighting monsters, but Seiya, ever cautious, still thinks it’s “too risky.” Aria suggests a compromise: if Seiya trains with a god, there’s no risk of dying, and he’ll level up faster.

Seiya’s all for it, and Aria introduces him to the stubborn Divine Blade, Cerceus, who certainly looks like he could take Seiya on. Rista leaves the two to train without checking in (knowing it angers Seiya), but each day she finds Cerecus in the cafeteria at lunch, looking more and more defeated and demoralized.

It gets so bad that she finds Cerceus hiding behind racks of nori, and learns that Seiya is already over three times stronger than him, but insists on training without breaks or sleep. When Seiya finds him and forces him to keep training , Rista can’t save him, as she’s summoned by the goddess Ishtar (who for the record is arguably less smokin’ hot than the Ishtars of DanMachi or Fate/Grand Order).

It’s both strange, sad, and funny to see Seiya, a human, reduce a god renowned for his prowess and doggedness in battle to a sickly, (relatively) emaciated god who’s lost the will to carry, look at, or even mention a sword. When Cerceus tells Rista her hero is sick, Rista’s grave, knowing look says it all. Still, Ishtar says Cerceus, who was once himself a human, is getting valuable training from Seiya.

Ishtar’s news for Rista was about an imminent attack from the Demon Lord’s armies the next town of Seimul in Gaeabrande. Rista and Seiya are to head to the town’s central church to meet his two allies, the mage Eruru and the swordsman Mash, both Dragonkin descendants. Since the enemy is undead, Seiya tries to buy one thousand vials of holy water to prepare, but grudingly settles for ten.

Seiya suddenly pours some of the water on the priest who introduces his allies, and that priest is revealed to be undead himself. Still, Seiya chops him into pieces without anyone even seeing him move his sword. Before he proceeds to “mop up” with a massively destructive fire spell, Rista just barely manages to get the two allies and a nun to safety.

When Seiya and Rista take a look at Eruru and Mash’s stats, Rista is encouraged, despite the fact they’re only level 7 and 8, respectively. Seiya is less enthusiastic, declaring the two are so not needed. You’d think he’d at least want them as porters for carrying more holy water…or human shields!

Cautious Hero – 02 – Is This Really Going to Work Out?

First off, while the promo art shows six other characters, I’m glad the focus stayed with Ristarte (AKA Rista, or Listarte/Lista) and Seiya. Nothing worse than introducing a bunch of new characters before we’ve had a proper amount of time with the core duo. In this case, it behooved the show to maintain that focus for their first “town mission” scenario, start to finish.

Seiya flees Chaos Machina to his hut in the Divine Realm to continue working out, even as Chaos beheads one townfellow and threatens to behead Mina’s dad. Things get a bit awkward, pacing-wise, as Rista tries in vain to urge Seiya to get moving.

I really shared in Rista’s frustration during the scene leading up to Seiya’s logical-sounding rebuttal.  Not only does it seem absurd for a hero to just keep doing push-ups while people are dying. When she prepares to storm out, calling him a terrible hero and a coward, he makes his position clear: if he goes in half-cocked and gets killed, everyone in the village—and possibly the world—die anyway. So he must be perfectly prepared.

Seiya seems to be proven right when in the battle Chaos Machina constantly unveils previously-hidden, increasingly more powerful forms to counter his leveling up. But once Chaos transforms into a kind of Bahamut ready to smash him into dust, Seiya blocks her strike with one hand. Turns out the stats on Rista’s scan were grossly underrated due to a “Fake-out” ability. Seiya had more than enough power to defeat any form of Chaos from the beginning!

Because he’s so overly cautious, at least one innocent man died needlessly. Things get worse when, after eliminating Chaos Machina, he repeatedly burns the charred remains—little more than scraps of charcoal—with his hidden abilities, setting all of the town’s shops (and some of its people) aflame. You’d think he could move the collected remains somewhere where there wouldn’t be such horrific collateral damage, but Seiya’s caution only applies to his own survival. More so than Goblin Slayer, Seiya’s an unrepentant bastard.

That’s just one way he’s not quite the hero Rista hoped for; he’s got all the stats but none of the…heroism. Before leaving town, Mina’s dad offers some money as thanks, but Seiya demands all his money…and after burning half the town, too! She also has next to no power when it comes to where they should go and what they should do next; she thinks they should move to the next town, but he demands they return to the Divine Realm so he can work out more…and so they do.

Cautious Hero’s second episode lacks the novelty of the first, but is still both fun and watchable. I appreciated its willingness to let its simple character dynamic play out. Now I imagine it will rinse and repeat with a new and more powerful foe, introduce more characters, or both. I’d say it’s the right time for a new face or two. Otherwise, Seiya being ruthlessly condescending to Rista while spamming enormous fire spells on nothing but dust will get stale.

Oigakkosan’s Summer 2019 Anime Season Wrap-up

Arifureta began as a grim, visually unremarkable dungeon crawler, hinting at global conflicts and structures of political and social control… before devolving into guy-shoots-monsters-gets-harem-rinse-repeat. Pitting guns, missiles and motorcycles against orcs and wolves is tricky to make compelling, and Arifureta’s mediocre animation, slow plot, and constant battles doesn’t help.

Worse shows aired this season but few featured dragons being anally raped by the protagonist with a giant metal spike, nor said dragon joining said protagonist’s harem afterwards. However, and I’m going out on a limb here, even if this is up your personal kink, Arifureta’s PG-13 sensibilities probably wont go far enough for you. Niche at best, Barely Watchable for the rest of us.

Dr Stone is delightfully consistent with it’s focus on science process, over the top characters, and methodical plot to rebuild society from the stone age up. While its medium term objective (defeat super-strong/ super evil antagonist with science) has taken a back seat to gaining support of the villagers Senko discovered mid-season, its not forgotten.

We’ve learned about electricity, food chemistry, and glass as much as human nature, motivation and weakness. Hand in hand with lovable characters and charming visual style, Dr Stone is probably my most recommended show of the season.

Given’s relationship story is lovely, thoughtful, and matured with deeper issues of loss. The wow is in the details. From taking a dozen buses just to stand by the ocean, just to stand where you once stood with a close friend, to walking off stage after only one song, Given doesn’t over explain itself with dialog.  It’s solid but, like real romance, the best parts come from getting to know the characters. So I called it quits after episode six. Still, highly recommended

Granbelm finally developed an emotional core: Mangetsu is a magic puppet created by Ernesta’s subconscious desire to have a friend who isn’t an effed up mess. Also, despite earlier signs that losing wasn’t that big a deal, it has been revealed that girls die all the time in magic fights but no one remembers because… magic amnesia.

These are solid reveals and Mangetsu’s heart filled good bye to the cast (almost all of which immediately forget she ever existed) was strongly delivered. It just took way too long to develop. Combined with a dull pure evil villain, power levels that swing at the whim of the story, and Granbelm’s misunderstanding of what a mystery is (as opposed to just being confusing) and the show is only watchable.

Maou-sama, Retry! started off so absurdly bad, so generically Demon Lord/Isekai, that it had a certain charm. As it strolled forward, it took no greater objective than to introduce new characters to Maou’s harem, and forget about previous characters and potential destinations for the story. Aku hasn’t even been in the previous two episodes. The result is powerfully without purpose. It doesn’t care. You shouldn’t either. Barely watchable.

UchiMusume also suffers from a lack of purpose and follow through. For a show that features a central character who’s past is a mystery, and a hero who occasionally kills people for political gain, there’s an awful lot of wandering around aimlessly and eating food!

The result is harmlessly cute but smidgens of world building do not make up for a four episode long trip to and from a village to buy a new trench coat. It’s Barely watchable.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest – 01 (First Impressions) – The Pit of Misery, Dilly Dilly!

Arifureta doesn’t bother with any light-hearted introductions or explanations into how Nagumo Hajime and his class ended up transported to a new, fantastical world, it simply plops us right beside him as he wallows in an abyss of despair. He’s weak, ineffectual, and his only magical skill is transmuting the rock in his immediate vicinity.

He was underleveled way further up in this labyrinth; now he’s prey for prey. When a giant polar bear-like monster with a tanuki face slices his left arm off and eats it, he retreats into a cavern of his own making and passes out under a healing holy crystal, bleeding and waiting for death.

Then and only then do we get some insight into how he ended up in this situation: he was on a quest in the labyrinth when a careless classmate touched something that transported them to a far more dangerous level.

He manages to save his classmate Kaori from a rampaging behemoth, but while the others cover his escape, one of them targets him directly, sending him plummeting into the abyss where we first meet him.

Kaori, who may not see Hajime as a love interest but still looks out for him, warns him not to come on the quest after she has an awful dream about him meeting his doom, but he convinces her to help protect him, and he’ll be alright.

Turns out her dream was prescient, but when Hajime wakes up in the abyss, in pain but still not dead, he decides to change his tune and pump himself up into Survival At All Costs Mode. First, he drinks holy water, then he captures a smaller monster and eats its raw meat, which ends up poisoning him and turning his hair white.

But that’s not all: in addition to his badass hair, Hajime’s muscle mass and stats have all increased, and he’s gained the skill of the monster he ate. Much like Rimuru Tempest when he first arrived in a new world as a Slime, Hajime uses the ample resources around him to continue leveling up and build weapons that will let him defeat ever more powerful foes.

It’s a very A-leads-to-B-leads-to-C procedural process, but one thing’s for sure, Hajime’s seiyu Fukamachi Toshinari stops sounding so annoyingly whiny and adopts a cooler voice to go with his cooler appearance and upgraded skill-set. It’s as if he had to fall into the deepest abyss (and get betrayed by a classmate) in order to awaken the will to become a stronger person in this world.

Armed with a pistol and grenade, Hajime locates the bearlike monster who ate his arm, and utilizes all of his new skills to tear its arm off and eat it, then puts a bullet between its eyes. Hajime is no longer messing around; he’s going to survive and get home, and he’ll kill anyone “in his way.”

Isekai shows are like American crossover vehicles: there are a lot of them, and most of them are exactly the same, but still others are actually good. I’m not quite sure what Arifureta is quite yet, but it at least distinguished itself nicely by putting us right beside a protagonist who had already literally hit rock bottom.

Aside from some glimpses of his elaborately kitted-out classmates and the awakening of a starving, red-eyed Loli, this was a stripped-down and minimalist outing that focused on one young man shrugging off death and despair and improving himself to the point he can climb out of the darkness.

I’ll see where he leads…especially since Youjo Senki taught me the dangers of passing judgment on a show after its first episode.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 24 – Fair and Square

With the discovery of the hourglass in the underwater temple, Naofumi now knows another Wave will arrive in 48 hour’s time. Fortunately, that’s enough time for him to teleport back to Melromarc and warn the queen, who quickly mobilizes a fleet of ships.

I’m not sure how she arranged things so quickly—unless such ships are on 24-hour standby—nor do I know how they know the next Wave will be at sea, but it is, and when they all teleport, they find themselves contending with monsters large and small.

The small fry are no problem for the soldiers, and Melty, who still considers herself part of the Shield Hero’s party, does her part, until one of the monsters grabs hold of her and threatens to drown her in the sea or worse. That’s when L’Arc Berg springs into action, demonstrating his impressive offensive power by eliminating scores of the beasts.

The giant leviathan sub-boss is a far tougher nut to crack, but a leveled-up Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo along with their new friends L’Arc and Therese press their attack and manage to kill the thing. There’s some great battle music to accompany their fight, complete with saxophones.

But once the sub-boss is dead and floating in the water, and the other three Heroes come to pick up rare drops (vultures), the mere mention of them being Heroes gets a weird reaction from L’Arc, who says if they’re joking about being Heroes, they’re not funny.

Turns out he and Therese aren’t ordinary elite adventurers from this world, but full-fledged Heroes from another world entirely. In order to save their world, they have to eliminate the heroes in this one, starting with Naofumi. It’s nothing personal—Therese feels horrible having to do it after all of Naofumi’s help—but do it they will.

As predictable a twist it was that L’Arc and Therese would end up powerful new foes of Naofumi & Co., I do appreciate that they’re not evil, nor do they have any petty beef with Naofumi, they’re just doing their duty as protectors of their world; apparently one world cannot be saved without condemning the other.

In any case, the fight between the former allies is appropriately intense and impressive. Not only do L’Arc and Therese not hold back, but Raph and Filo show just how much more powerful they are now that they were finally able to level up.

Also, L’Arc may do what most cliched villains do and explain his tactics to his opponent, but he does it in the name of fighting Naofumi “fair and square,” Naofumi is similarly transparent in the service of playing psychological games with his former buddies.

Ultimately, the fight comes down to a stalemate: blows have been dealt to both sides, but no one’s in terrible shape, and have plenty left in the tank. That’s when Glass makes her second explosive appearance, revealing herself as allied with L’Arc and Therese and a member of their world. Perhaps she’s a Hero as well?

In any case, she accuses her allies of wasting time playing around and launches the same attacks against Naofumi that very nearly did him in in their previous match. She’s pleased to see that his skills have improved since then, but warns him that they still won’t be enough, as those attacks are far from her worst, and she’s totally committed to personally erasing him.

While I thought this season would go out with a whimper, here we not only have a new Wave, but a paradigm shift in the structure of the plot, with a heightening of stakes and urgency. This is no longer a binary matter of saving or not saving this world; it affects other worlds as well, with other sets of dedicated Heroes whose goals don’t align with theirs.

The final episode is titled simply “Rising of the Shield Hero”, so it’s a good bet Naofumi won’t lose next week (that would be a fall, not a rise), but it will be interesting to see what he and his friends will have to sacrifice in order to fight off Glass, L’Arc, and Therese,  and where they go from there.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 04 – A Companion in Hell

At a royal gala celebrating the defeat of the latest Wave of Catastrophe, there might as well be a black cloud hanging over Naofumi. He doesn’t want to be there any more than anyone there wants him to be there. Raphalia tries to cheer him by offering him food, but when the Spear Hero…[checks MAL] Kitamura Motoyasu sees her, he challenges Naofumi to a duel on te spot.

Motoyasu doesn’t like how Naofumi is using a demi-human as his slave. Even if it’s legal in this world, he doesn’t think it’s right. Of course, he’s coming from a position of great ignorance in terms of the actual nature Naofumi and Raphtalia’s relationship. Myne eggs him on, and even when Naofumi refuses to fight Motoyasu, King Melromarc intervenes, ordering him to accept the challenge and arresting and gagging Raphtalia.

Clearly there are two sets of rules in this world: those Naofumi must follow, and no other rules. A duel between two people shouldn’t be something that can be thrust upon an unwilling participant, even by a king. But Melro straight up abuses his power, and nobody stops him, because he is king. All the while everyone, from the heroes to the assembled nobles, practically pelt Naofumi with a hail of insults and exhortations of disgust.

But if he has to fight, Naofumi is going to fight to win, something that might actually be possible since he’s leveled up and gained so many skills, including several that transform the shield into an offensive weapon. He has Motoyasu off balance until Myne interferes with a wind magic spell. The blatant cheating goes utterly unnoticed by everyone but Naofumi, but as a result he loses, and “Myne” makes sure to rub it in his face.

I put “Myne” in quotes because that’s not her real name; turns out she’s Princess Melty, the king’s daughter. Naofumi goes over in his head how he was set up every step of the way by Melty, using the power of her pops and manipulating Motoyasu into thinking Naofumi was The Worst. Even the other two heroes…[checks MAL] Kawasumi Itsuki and Amaki Ren saw that Myne interfered, making Motoyasu the loser.

But no one else will speak up about the cheating, and however ill-begotten the Spear Hero’s victory was, it was still a victory. That means Raphtalia’s slave contract with Naofumi is terminated. As she turns away to leave, Naofumi is consumed by some kind of miasma. But she doesn’t really leave; she admonishes Motoyasu for freeing her when she never actually asked to be freed, and tells him the truth: that Naofumi has only ever been kind to her, and she owes him her life.

Some time ago, in a moment of vulnerability when Raphtalia broke down, Naofumi was there to hold and comfort him. Now it’s Raphtalia’s turn to comfort him. He may think he’s in Hell, where no matter what he says or does, everything will be stacked against him, but that’s only the case if he completely disregards one very important fact: Raphtalia is his sword, and if need be she’ll follow him through Hell itself.

As she embraces Naofumi she levels up, growing into a grown woman in the process (a quirk of demi-humans and one reason they’re oppressed). The miasma is lifted, Naofumi rises, and is free to leave not with his slave, but with his ward, companion, and sword.

Motoyasu still suspects Raphtalia is somehow being brainwashed, but Ren and Itsuki don’t see how he can think that after hearing Raphtalia pour her heart out so publically. The King skulks away, either disappointed the plot didn’t work out or disappointed in his daughter (or both).

Best of all, when Raphtalia gives Naofumi a sandwich she made and he tastes it…he can finally taste it. It’s as if she broke the curse that made everything taste like nothing for him, either through a passive practical spell, or simply by being there for him when no one else was. Even if they got off to a rough start, he was there for her too. And so they’ve saved each other.

This was a standout episode that really got my blood boiling when things started again piling up against Naofumi, but things more or less worked out in the end. There was definitely some catharsis to him finally being cut some slack. I’m still not quite sure why Malty is so obsessively committed to making Naofumi’s life hell. It’s because she’s just, well, bad, that would be slightly disappointing. But what else could it be? She barely knows him.

After being so pissed off with the other heroes that I didn’t even bother to learn their names, Ren and Itsuki showed promising signs that their opinion of Naofumi was improving, or at least that they’d entertain his claims of unfair persecution. Perhaps that’s the first step towards the four heroes eventually working more closely together for a future Wave.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 03 – The Grateful and the Ingrates

Only a week has passed after the fight in the mines, but Naofumi and Raphtalia have leveled up to a respectable degree. The armorer says as much, and all the extra discounts and freebies the demi-human gets confirms to Naofumi that this world is full of lolicons.

Still, he seems pleased that Raphtalia is less timid and is now able to stand and speak up for herself. She even negotiates to get new custom-made armor for Naofumi that he thinks makes him look like a bandit, but also doesn’t want it going to waste.

It’s a good thing they mentioned the Waves to the armorer, because he points them in the direction of the church where the Dragon Hourglass counts down the time until the next Wave, which will come in less than a day.

Unfortunately the other heroes are there, and the Spear even tries to steal Raphtalia away, but she rebuffs him. They can mock him all they want and even bring up the “rumors,” but Naofumi won’t say a single word of attack or defense. He’s long since done talking with these assholes.

Raphtalia wants to know what happened between her master and the other heroes, but Naofumi isn’t ready to tell her. Regardless, when dawn breaks and they prepare to be transported to the location of the Wave, Raphtalia formally reiterates her undying loyalty to Naofumi. She is only alive because of him, and so she’ll be his sword and never leave his side.

After transport, Naofumi gets a close look at a Wave of Catastrophe for the first time. The other heroes rush ahead, but he notices they’re leaving a nearby village unprotected from the hordes of undead soldiers and swarms of giant wasps.

So he and Raph head there, he orders Raph to evacuate the villagers while he tries to kill as many monsters as he can. It’s tough work, as there are hundreds of them and he can’t seem to get their numbers down. Luckily the bulk of them mill around beneath a watchtower that Naofumi sets ablaze and brings down on top of them.

When the royal knights arrive and firebomb the place to mop up, they don’t bother to warn Naofumi, who gets Naphtalia under his shield just in time. When she hears the knights talking shit about her master, she threatens to take their heads off, and Naofumi has to order her to stand down.

Still, despite the knights’ utter disgust of Naofumi, he protects them all the same, and in turn, some of them stay behind to help him and Naphtalia even after their commander orders them to meet up with the other heroes.

With the knights’ help, Naofumi and Naphtalia are able to fend off the remaining monsters, while the other three heroes defeat the “boss”—a chimaera, from the look of it—with their much flashier-looking attacks. All of a sudden, the skies clear and the threat has passed. And Naofumi has passed his first Wave test.

A massacre of innocents such as that which claimed Naphtalia’s parents thus averted, the raccoon girl is overwhelmed by the relief and starts to cry, but Naofumi’s heart isn’t made of stone, especially where she’s concerned, so he puts his hand on her head to comfort her.

Naphtalia may have been a slave purchased to be used a a tool, but even Naofumi has to admit she’s much more than that. By not treating her like a slave but like any other person, he’s helped bring about her transformation into a formidable warrior with the heart of a true knight.

Naofumi has also gained the gratitude of the entire village, none of whom still harbor any animosity towards their hero. There are still a lot more people to convince that he’s actually not a rapist swine, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s not here to make friends or clear his name. He’s here to save this world from the Waves, then go back home.