Fabiniku – 07 – A God This Delicious

When Tachibana ends up a captive of the squid worshippers, such is the Premier’s vanity that she commits herself entirely to a beauty contest between her and Tachibana regardless of the fact the winner will be sacrificed to a giant squid. Even so, she loses to Tachibana.

Jinguuji and a village trader (who develops a thing for him) soon find and free the Premier, and they discuss strategy over her first hot meal in days (she’s been through some shit). The Premier agrees to work with Jinguuji to kill the Giant Squid God and save Tachibana.

Alas, any admiration or affection she might’ve been developing for Jinguuji is dashed when he uses her as literal floating bait for the squid, whom we learn is very particular about the girls he eats. After a whole day, the squid finally takes the bait at dusk. All the while, Jinguuji has noticed his strength has been sapped of late.

As Tachibana is carried in a cage litter for the seaside sacrifice, she curses the fact she and Jinguuji chose now to have another big fight. She remembers the first one, when she (or rather he at the time) fell behind in his studies and got mad at Jinguuji for not being an easy tutor.

The “useless eggplant” moniker was born, and the two friends didn’t speak for days. However, present-day Tachibana isn’t about to die before she can make up with Jinguuji, so she busts out of the cage and manages to wrest loose her tiara, thus instantly charming the men holding her captive.

This plan backfires when the wives and lovers of those men threaten to kill Tachibana before the squid can. Jinguuji tries in vain to pull the giant squid out of the water with his diminished strength, but regains that strength and then some when he hears Tachibana give an honest and heartfelt rant to the villagers about not judging people by appearances and taking responsibility for themselves.

Jinguuji rips the giant squid out of the water and impales its head on the statue of itself where Tachibana is clinging to dear life. Wounded but still alive, the squid notices Tachibana and attempts to eat her, and the Premier, soaked in black ink, almost helps by pulling Tachibana in.

But then Jinguuji tosses her his trusty Damascus steel kitchen knife, and the Premier, who you thought could sink no lower, pulls what in Demon Slayer parlance could be called a “Sleeping Zenitsu”, which is to say that for a brief moment she does something incredibly impressive and cool—in this case lopping off the squid’s tentacles and rescuing Tachibana in style.

The timing couldn’t be better, because up until this point the Premier had been little more than a walking joke and punching bag. Here, she plays a crucial role in ensuring Tachibana is safe…and goes a step further by grilling the village’s god and having a feast. Her actions are so audacious, the villagers agree to give up their power struggle make her their new leader.

Naturally the Premier isn’t interested, and as she runs from the villagers, Jinguuji and Tachibana make up. It’s not surprising that Tachibana even forgot she was mad at him, considering how much happened to her over the course of a day.

The episode ends with them basically exchanging vows: Jinguuji is to never take his eyes off Tachibana, while Tachibana is to never leave him again. Unfortunately, the Demon Lords generals have now learned that Jinguuji’s power is diminished when he and Tachibana are separated. Their vows will be more important than ever as they draw closer to the capital.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 06 – Cellophane Squid

When Schwartz summons the sleepy and adorable Goddess of Night (Noto Mamiko), the Lord, Lucius, and the town guard all bow their heads, while the goddess notices Tachibana, shrinks to human size, removes Tachibana’s pink coat, and reveals the tattoo that identifies her as a hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty.

We not only learn that Jinguuji could be considered Tachibana’s “weapon”, as Gram is (or rather was) to Schwartz. They also learn that Tachibana’s charms affect different people in different ways. The lord hopes to enter into a mutually beneficial political marriage with Tachibana, which she seems to be receptive to owing to the promise of three meals and a nap per day.

Jinguuji proves to be more than just her weapon in this world, but also an important devil’s advocate. Tachibana is only looking at the surface benefits and ignoring the disadvantages of the arrangement with the lord. Chief among them is the fact that she and Jinguuji  have been having fun traveling the world rather than staying and working in one place. Rather than let the town become their next office, the two decide to continue their vacation.

While resting in the apartment between towns, Tachibana unearths a composition book from when she and Jinguuji  were in elementary school. Tachibana wrote that her dream of the future was “cellophane tape”, which Jinguuji admits made so little sense he was actually afraid. But it’s instructive that in response to the question “if you could only take one thing on an island with you, what would it be?” The young Tachibana wrote “Jinguuji”.

As for Jinguuji’s dreams for the future, he doesn’t let Tachibana read that part, scribbling over it with permanent marker. This results in a spat between the two, with Tachibana huffing as she walks ahead of him and calling him a useless eggplant. It’s this state of rancor in an unfamiliar land that contributes to Jinguuji losing track of Tachibana.

In the process of looking for her, he finds the same cart in which they briefly spotted the captive elf premier. She’s been taken prisoner to be used as a sacrifice to their deity, which demands only the most beautiful people. The vain she-elf tries in vain to use her “allure” to get her captor to free her.

To add insult to injury, the squid vendor shows up with a captured Tachibana, claiming she’ll be an even more beautiful sacrifice. Obviously Jinguuji will show up in time to save both beautiful women, but until then it looks like we’re in store for a lot more chaotic, irreverent comedy. I’m here for it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 05 – Ch(armor)ed

Lucius, perhaps sensing that Jinguugi and Tachibana might be useful, has them accompany her and the captive Schwartz to defeat a “Living Armor”. On the way, Lucius admits even he is not immune to “Audrey’s” charms, and feels compelled to give her a candy.

The peculiar thing about the Living Armor, which introduces itself as “Vizzd The Incomparably Skilled”, doesn’t so much kill its victims as…steal their clothes. Schwartz runs in headfirst and is the first to be disrobed, followed by Lucius, who is revealed to be a woman—which wasn’t really a surprise.

When Tachibana gives Lucius her pink dress to cover up, she reveals her slip, setting Jinguugi off. When he puts his jacket on her, the Charmed status only increases—such is the power of the “boyfriend shirt” effect. This leads to the two bickering about their “preferences” while Vizzd can get neither a word nor a blow in edgewise.

Jinguugi’s Charmed status and increasing irritability results in him making quick work of the Living Armor, revealing that Vizzd is really a small girl aligned with the Demon Lord was piloting from within. Lucius takes her to the station an interrogates her, but Vizzd is rescued in the middle of the night by a fellow Demon Lord underling, Kalm.

The next morning, Schwartz is hoping to get a peak at Tachibana in her bedclothes (which, dude), only to discover Jinguugi’s “Door to Tachibana’s old apartment” skill. Schwartz notes how much it seems to be a place where a guy lives, which is the perfect opportunity for Tachibana to reveal that she was once a 32-year-old male salaryman.

Schwartz is crestfallen, but Tachibana shows off her effortless ability to make friends—an ability Jinguugi has always been both envious of and perplexed by. Turns out Schwartz didn’t even know he could bring up a menu with his stats and skills. He seemingly activates one when a massive purple mouth-like opening forms in the sky above them…or could the color be a hint that this is that Kalm lady?

Fabiniku – 04 – The Black Swordsman

After much walking and much complaining by Tachibana, she and Jinguuji arrive in the first decent-sized town in this new world. Jinguuji doesn’t want to cause another incident like the one in the village where every man basically went nuts over Tachibana’s Unparalleled Beauty, so he hides it in the most inelegant way: a brown paper bag.

The Browns Fan look does keep men from becoming enthralled, but Tachibana does not like it. She wants Jinguuji to buy her a sword, so she takes off the bag to persuade him, and very nearly does. When the weapons store owner presents a golden hair ornament that will divert everyone’s gaze from its wearer, Tachibana tries to haggle the price with her beauty. This leads to more chaos, and to Jinguuji having to toss Tachibana into the apartment for her own safety and that of the people she instantly bewitches.

Back in the wilderness, she proposes staying in the apartment while Jinguuji does all the long-distance walking, but reconsiders this arrangement when heasks her what would happen if she was in the apartment when he died. The solution is that Jinguuji simply spent most of their gold on the dang crown, which Tachibana loves. As she walks through town, no bag on her head and enthralling no one, she notices how everyone is instead focused on her handsome companion.

The fact that Jinguuji is also wearing a Japanese business suit attracts one person in particular…Kirito! Well, he claims his name is Schwartz von Lichtenstein Lohengramm, but he’s actually a fellow Japanese guy who was summoned there by a goddess (not the same goddess who summoned Jinguuji and Tachibana, mind you). He assumes to have met a fellow “hero” in Jinguuji, but Jinguuji isn’t interested in the guy, who is clearly an otaku.

Schwartz also picks up a weird vibe from Jinguuji and Tachibana as they bicker, first thinking of them as a couple, then wondering if they’re a father-daughter pair, but the daughter has developed feelings for her dad which…the kid clearly reads a lot of light novels, okay?

Schwartz gets it into his head that he need s to prove that he’s a hero to these two, so he whips out his holy sword Gram and launches an attack at Jinguuji. We learn from his inner dialogue that the attack was much stronger than he expected, and that he hasn’t quite mastered his sword. This affords Jinguuji another chance to demonstrate his catlike reflexes when it comes to getting Tachibana out of harms way.

It also results in Schwartz being arrested by Lucius, an officer of the town watch, for destruction of property, with Jinguuji and Tachibana also brought in for questioning. Lucius’ boss gives Schwartz a chance to prove he’s a genuine hero summoned by a goddess by giving him a mission-based quest like one gets in RPGs. It looks like Jinguuji and Tachibana will also get roped into the mission to subjugate a “living armor” that collects magic items. Should be fun!

The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

Hortensia Saga – 02 – The Girl Who Cried Werewolf

While Alfred is on monster patrol with Maurice, Marius is helping carry flowers for Nonnoria, who visits the Albert family grave to pay her respects to those who took her in when she was orphaned. Marius looks back four years ago to the dreadful night she lost everything she had, when Maurice told her she’d have to cut her hair and live under an assumed identity “until the time came” to reclaim her kingdom.

When talk of Magonia (complete with flying cities and fantastical beasts) comes up—specifically, a shapeshifting  monster that dwells in the nearby Tron Cavern—young Conny desperately wants to see and prove his skeptical big sis wrong. The next day, just after Alfred, Marius, and Maurice head to the cavern to investigate, Conny’s mom arrives at the Albert’s door. Sure enough, the little scamp went off on his own.

Even though help is on the way, Tron is a veritable labyrinth, so Nonnoria fills her knapsack with a ridiculous amount of supplies and heads out without a second thought with Qoo (basically a Moogle), showing what she’s truly made of even though she’s otherwise a complete space cadet. She finds Conny before the others, but they’re still lost, and then get chased by goblins.

Nonnoria huddles against the cavern wall with Conny and Qoo, hoping Alfred will make it in time to save them just as he saved her before from a wolf. He does, with Marius and Maurice close behind. Then they notice a blue light that leads them to a moonlit spring. There, the beast makes its appearance, in a form identical to the werewolf that killed both of their fathers.

Ever since hearing the Tron monster could take the form of a wolf, Marius has been uneasy, but once she sees it, she freezes in terror, as if being transported four years into the past to the night she could do nothing but watch in horror as her life was taken away.

As Alfred fights the werewolf, Marius retreats, slips, and falls into the spring, and she relives more memories of the night Maurice whisked her out of the capital to the Albert Dominion. Maurice is aided by an even grizzlier Sir Balthazar, who warns him the Pope may be in cahoots with Camelia to install Prince Charlot as a puppet king.

While Princess Mariel wants to stay and protect her little brother, the fact is neither she nor her remaining allies are strong enough to stop the coup that has unfolded. The only thing for it is to disappear until the time is right. When she arrives at Albert’s lands, she finds kinship in Alfred’s grief for his lost father. When she comes to in the cavern, Alfred has fished her out of the spring.

It turns out the “werewolf” was only an impostor, as the cavern monster takes the form of the thing you hate most. Alfred assumes he provided the werewolf template, and Marius isn’t able to tell him her father was killed by the same monster at nearly the same time.

They head home, Conny is reunited with his family, and Alfred scolds Nonnoria and Qoo for racing into danger. Marius’ last memory is of cutting her hair with a dagger, which not only marked a profound turning of a page in her life, but in the present represents her willingness to turn the page from those horrible memories and re-fix her gaze on the more important present and future.

I once again enjoyed this episode, which was absolutely fine, if not particularly original. In fact, I liked it a bit more than the premiere, which to its credit had more narrative lifting to do out of the gate. Conny requiring rescue was hilariously telegraphed from a country mile away, but Nonnoria going into Battle Maid Mode was unexpected, and I came away actually liking her in spite of her deeply annoying voice and extra-ness. If nothing else, she can really spin a knife.

As for the romance angle, Alfred had no idea he was carrying a girl on piggyback. Who knows when he’ll learn the truth, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later in the 12-episode run—and not because he walks in on her or something. If there’s anyone in the world she could trust to tell, it’s him.

Hortensia Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Glimmer of Hope in an Age of Turmoil

What have we here….an un-ironic, non-isekai, no-nonsense Euro-style medieval fantasy epic? Welcome to Hortensia Saga, which plunges us right into the thick of an attempted coup…what odd timing

One of the king’s loyalist retainers transforms into a giant werewolf and kills him right before his daughter’s eyes, and then goes on to kill one of his baddest-ass knights, Fernando Ober (or Albert, depending on the subs).

The late Fernando’s brother Maurice Bauldelaire (Hi, Tsuda Kenjirou!) arrives at the Ober estate to tell his nephew Alfred the news that his father is dead, making Alfred the new Lord of Ober.

Maurice also rescued the adorable Princess Mariel, who cut her hair short and poses as a young lad named Marius whom Alfred takes under his wing as his squire. That’s fine with Mariel, who wants to become stronger so she can protect those she cares about.

Marius and Lord Alfred were brought together by shared tragedy and grief and become fast friends. If Alfred is aware Marius is actually a princess in disguise, he never mentions it, even after four years pass and she becomes his trusty squire. That’s a helluva time jump, and I kinda wish a little more time was spent on developing their friendship, but alas, this saga has a lot of ground to cover.

In those four years both were trained by Maurice and feel ready for their first real battle against the forces of Camelia (the retainers who betrayed the Hortensian crown). It doesn’t go particularly great, as their allies were pre-slaughtered and both youngins have to be saved by Maurice, but the two had each other’s backs, didn’t give up, and escaped with their lives, so call it a learning experience.

Marius is sufficiently injured that she doesn’t wake up for days, but when she does, Ober’s maid Nonnoria (Ueda Reina, pushing a bit too hard) is there to welcome her back to the land of the awake.

Marius joins a discouraged Alfred at his family grave where they met four years ago, Alfred declares his resolve to become much stronger, and Marius declares she’ll become stronger right beside him. The one thing they can’t do is give up hope. Little does Al know his squire is a girl and the heir to the kingdom he serves!

I was ready to pass on Hortensia when its opening sequence involved a hefty helping of lazy CGI extras, and featured characters who weren’t that much better designed or animated. If you’re going to go as arrow-straight with your milieu as this, you’d better bring it with the execution.

What actually kept me watching was the voice acting of Horie Yui and Hosoya Yoshimasa, two seiyuu I admire but haven’t seen in a lot of leading roles of late. Their work elevates a classic but bland premise, a rushed narrative, and merely serviceable production values. I’m putting this in my “maybe” pile for this season.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 03 – What Modern Times Entail

Lord El-Melloi II is pissed, and he doesn’t hesitate to take it out on one of his more talented but insolent students, Flat, with a head-grabbing move that another student, who looks like a magical girl, has patented it. Meanwhile, a new student, Luviagelita Edelfelt, is not amused, and asks Gray what, exactly, is the lord’s deal.

In continuing with the domestic comedy that surrounds him, the source of Waver’s foul mood is the unplanned closing of his favorite coffee shop due to an electrical fault. As a loyal and enthusiastic regular, he offers his services to track the cause. Turns out one of the exterminators the owners hired went missing into the labyrinths beneath the shop.

El-Melloi’s investigation leads to an encounter with some kind of lightning-aligned beast, and when he fails to return to the coffee shop, Gray is called, and Gray calls Flat, who along with his classmate Svin meet Gray in the tunnels to search for their professor.

They locate him, a bit beaten up but otherwise fine. Svin takes him above for medical attention, while Gray and Flat follow the illuminated tracks of the monster that attacked the lord. They eventually encounter that beast—a kind of giant demented electrical rabbit—and Flat shows he’s no slouch when it comes to magical barriers, making a good team with Gray.

They eventually reach the source of the monster: the workshop of a Clock Tower zoology mage, Gurdoa Davenant, who sees the death of the exterminator and others to be a small price to pay if he can reach the Root. He summons several more rabbit beasts that surround the students, suggesting an excellent battle is about to take place.

Unfortunately, Lord El-Melloi returns with Svin (in his own form of beast mode) and a bunch of documents tying Gurdoa to a number of crimes for which the Clock Tower has frozen his assets and declared a warrant for his arrest. It would seem the modern world cannot bear mages like Gurdoa, willing to break the rules of magecraft to pursue his own lofty designs.

He later admits to his students he was partially bluffing and probably would not have been much help if Gurdoa didn’t go peacefully (which he does), but I imagine if he’d let Gray, Flat, and Svin let their collective hair (and hoods) down, they could have put on quite a show. Instead, it’s a much more subdued (and thus boring) resolution.

This episode’s case file was okay, but nothing to knock one’s socks off, especially after the spectacle of Gray unleashing her power (and as-of-yet unspecified connection to Saber). However, the post-credits scene bodes well for some future excitement: according to Luvia, two positions for Association participants in the Holy Grail War have closed—not something El-Melloi wants to hear.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 02 – Nothing is Eternal

One of Lord El-Melloi II’s basic lessons in his class is “nothing is eternal; everything changes,” and he should know, having once been the master of a heroic spirit of whose vast empire nearly nothing remains. And it is a former student, Mary Lil Fargo (subfamily of the Aminuspheres) who summons him to her mansion, which is the site of her father Ernest’s murder and dismemberment.

The seven parts of the body that were separated and arranged throughout the house indicate the same kind of planetary magic the Fargo family specializes in, but the arrangement is all wrong. Of the four people in the mansion when Ernest died, all have a motive to kill him, be it revenge for abuse (Claire the maid), jealousy over his research (Fernando Li), money to pay debts (his nephew Alec), and of course, his heir, Mary herself.

While this seems at first like a classic whodunit with El-Melloi picking the least likely suspect as the culprit, the murder mystery takes an entirely different and unexpected turn: no one murdered Ernest; he murdered and dismembered himself, all in the service of setting up an experimental spell that would grant him immortality.

El-Melloi confirms this when a hidden section of the rotunda’s floor reveals the part of a human associated with the planet Earth: the soul, not of the body. Once revealed, it contacts the other seven parts and reconstructs Ernest, but it is far from perfect, being his first and only attempt: he’s a grotesque monster, seeking Mary’s life force to complete his immortality.

El-Melloi doesn’t do anything to protect Mary, but he doesn’t have to: his apprentice Gray is on the job. After an incantation, her lantern-dwelling sidekick Add transforms into a mighty scythe, and its power blows her up to then ever-present hood off her head, revealing she bears an uncanny resemblance to Saber, AKA Artoria Pendragon.

While the reasons for this have yet to be revealed, knowing a little more about Gray certainly makes things more interesting. It also explains why she’s such a skilled fighter, such that El-Melloi only needs to step back with Mary and let her do her thing.

Once she dispatches the demented undead Ernest (creepily reciting words that rhyme with “Gray” in the process), she smiles in self-satisfaction before realizing her hood is down, and promptly pulls it back up. El-Melloi—Waver—apparently can’t look at a face that brings up such terrible memories of the Holy Grail War.

Before parting, El-Melloi deduces that Mary is a talented enough mage to know what her father was up to…and that it wouldn’t work and result in his death. El-Melloi won’t be able to prove it, but still wants to know why she did nothing to stop him.

Mary’s answer is rooted in the lessons she learned from El-Melloi himself: nothing is eternal. Letting her father go through with a doomed, incomplete immortality experiment was her way of relaying that lesson to him. Mages shouldn’t seek immortality, except in the indirect way they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

If Ernest had succeeded, he’d have rendered that generation—made Mary, and her future and that of her children—redundant. Not only that, if I’m interpreting Mary holding hands with Claire at the end, letting Ernest essentially kill himself freed the maid from his abuse.

As first cases go (not counting episode 00) this wasn’t too bad at all; it introduced El-Melloi’s investigative process, showed off his knowledge of magecraft and deductive facilities, had an interesting twist, and of course, revealed Gray’s “Silver Saber” mode. A good week’s work. On to the next case!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 25 (Fin) – Beginning Anew?

With the arrival of Glass, a badass virtual force of nature during the previous wave, one could have expected the battle to intensify exponentially. Well, one would be wrong; all Naofumi needed to do was level up thirty-three times to not only survive Glass’s attacks (and her combo with Therese) but deliver considerable damage with his Soul Eater Shield (with no Maka Albarn in sight).

In rough shape but refusing to surrender, Glass activates a Tunnel of Moving Pictures® that we see way too often in anime as a cheap way to remind us of Everything That’s Happened™. It also offers Naofumi a glimpse of Glass’s (and L’Arc and Therese’s) devastated world. He ponders whether he wants to save this world as much as Glass wants to save hers, and if he’s willing to kill her for that cause.

Ultimately Naofumi decides to fight on for this world, if for no other reason than it contains Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty. They have been loyal and true friends and servants. But L’Arc tosses Glass a potion that restores the SP the Soul Eater took away, and seems ready for another round…that is, until she suddenly gets sloshed.

Throughout this battle, the meek green-haired mage who is a member of the Bow Hero’s party and mostly says “HOEEE!” like Cardcaptor Sakura, is quietly distinguishing herself as a key contributor.

First, she rowed Melty over to the dead shark thingy so she could join the party. Then, acting on a light bulb from the queen, she uses her wind magic to shoot some great casks of that weird wine that seems to get everyone drunk immediately (but has no effect on Naofumi).

I can’t help but applaud this audacious, completely-out-of-left field way to conclude the battle, as time runs out, the waves recede, and L’Arc, Therese, and Glass bid goodbye until the next one.

With the Wave gone, Naofumi’s party, done with leveling up for now, still has to wait for a storm to pass for them to sail back to Melromarc. They spend the time on various leisure activities, during which Raphtalia blushes and beams at Naofumi roughly 96% of the time, to no avail…

More intriguingly, the green-haired mage, who finally gets a name—Lecia—joins Naofumi’s party after she’s thrown out of Itsuki’s for the same reason Jar Jar was banished: shesa bein’ clumsy.

But Lecia whines a lot and has a very low opinion of herself, she’s the victim of a false accusation, just as Naofumi was (in her case, destruction of an accessory, though that was probably just an excuse to get rid of her). That automatically makes her a spiritual ally of Naofumi, so he goes a bit further and makes her a literal one.

For the remainder of the episode, Naofumi strings Raphtalia along across land and sea to surprise her with the reward bestowed upon him by Queen Mirelia for his leal service to her kingdom: lordship over the lands of Seyaette, including her rebuilding home village, which is to become the Shield Hero’s official headquarters and training facility.

All the other decent sorts with whom Naofumi has crossed paths made it a point to move there and help his cause. He tasks Raphtalia with revitalizing the fishing industry. Raphtalia is obviously very happy and grateful for all this, but none of that matters compared to having Naofumi by her side. He makes her promise never to leave her or Filo, even when the last Wave is beaten back. She doesn’t like how all this looks like him prepping for the time when he’ll be gone—an eventuality she can’t accept.

While Naofumi doesn’t 100% promise her he’ll never leave or die—I mean, he can’t really do that; it’s out of his control for the moment—he gets a flash back to his own world, as he walks past his old, useless self, and reassures her that he won’t leave her side. There’s still so much to do:  get the village up and running, recruit and train new party members like Lecia, continue to level up for the coming threats, even trying to uncover the mystery of why the heroes of different worlds are competing.

Basically, Iwatani Naofumi isn’t going to dwell on the the what-ifs of after the Waves end, because he’s just getting started. In other words, there’s more than enough to fill another season, which is likely forthcoming but not yet officially confirmed. In this viewer’s opinion, I hope it’s confirmed soon, and in a year or so we get to watch more of Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Melty, Lecia, heck, even Bitch and Trash—and just as importantly, get to hear more excellent Kevin Penkinage.

Dororo – 04 – Tears In Rain

Osushi is a merchant who used to be far better off, but her parents died and her brother Tanousuke went off to fight for his lord. She’s prayed for his safe return every day since…for five years. Dororo, not exactly master of tact, tells her that’s…pretty long.

But Dororo is also a master of reading people, and he can immediately tell she came from money despite her tattered clothes. Osushi’s prayers are answered, but the brother who left her to uphold his honor and loyalty is not the same man anymore.

When Hyakkimaru, standing in the rain, “listening” to the drops fall, rushes towards the red sword he sees in the distance, he and Dororo find an entire convoy of people slaughtered. The swordsman tells them his blade thirsts for blood, always.

To Hyakkimaru, it’s just another demon, even if it’s using a human as its instrument. He makes good use of his prostheses by taking having his fake leg run through then tossing it aside, separating it from the man. But when Dororo runs to retrieve the leg (as he always does) and touches the sword, he becomes its new servant.

Like the One Ring, the sword bends its holder to its own twisted will, putting Dororo in a trance when he tries to resist. Back in the village, Osushi has retrieve the sword’s original holder, who turns out to be her brother Tanousuke. While initially elated by his return, he was accompanied by so much blood and death and won’t speak to her, so she knows something’s not right.

Filling out the broad strokes of the cold open, we see Tanousuke’s lord order him to use a dull, rusty sword he’d pulled out of storage to behead a captive. But with each captive he kills, the sword, called Nihiru grows sharper…and thirstier. Eventually Tanousuke turns the blade on his lord (serves the lord right, really) and massacres the entire camp.

Needless to say, if there’s any part of Tanousuke left, that part probably laments still being alive and being used only to quench Nihiru’s thirst. But the part of him the sword twisted into its service only wants Nihiru to return to him, hence his utter ignoring of Osushi’s tearful pleas to stay with her.

Nihiru has Dororo bring the sword to Nihiru, but is intercepted by Hyakkimaru. For a moment, Dororo isn’t sure Hyakkimaru knows he’s not a foe, and attempts to dodge his strikes, but there’s no doubt who’s the superior warrior. Thankfully, Hyakkimaru merely knocks the sword out of Dororo’s hand without harming him.

Unfortunately, Tanousuke is there to pick Nihiru back up, but the sword has taken its toll on his body and mind, and he can’t quite keep up with Hyakkimaru, who kills Tanousuke and breaks Nihiru’s blade. Her brother’s imminently peaceful expression upon dying, as if he’d finally been released from an extended stay in hell, is little consolation for poor Osuhi, who is alone once more.

Nihiru, being one of the demons in the Hall of Hell with which Daigo made a deal, releases another part of Hyakkimaru upon its defeat: his real ears and sense of hearing. The first things he hears in his life are the steady falling of rain and Osushi’s weeping.

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Hell, Daigo is now aware that someone out there is killing off the demons he made a deal with. Even if the demons haven’t double-crossed him yet (why would they uphold their end of the deal once they got his son’s parts? They’re demons), the good fortune he’s enjoyed is unlikely to last if Hyakkimaru continues knocking them off.

KonoSuba 2 – 03

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KonoSuba calls back to its first season more this week, but for some reason it didn’t bother me as much, probably because it’s always a hoot to watch Kazuma and Megumin explosion training montages, and even more of a hoot to have Kazuma and Aqua tackle a dungeon, with no one but each other to bounce off of.

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The episode also doesn’t hesitate to remind us that Kazuma is a bit of a cad and a perv, considering the “rustling” going on when he and Aqua used to sleep in the stables. But with Darkness away (having seemingly but probably not unspeakable things done to her) and Megumin sitting out the dungeon (an accidental explosion could kill them all), the balance of the episode has a fleet, stripped-down feeling to it.

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Also, it manages to surprise by making this one of the times when Aqua is not only the most capable party member, but absolutely essential to clearing the dungeon. Whether undead are naturally drawn to her or not, one can’t deny she’s good at dispatching them, and with style to boot. I loved how a string of anti-undead spells were suddenly interrupted by an exuberant “Nature’s Beauty!” for good measure.

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Once they reach Keele, the former court wizard who has a whole story and after whom the dungeon is named, there’s a bittersweetness to the fact he became a lich to protect his love, and thanks to Aqua, can return to her through purification.

Kazuma is pleasantly surprised throughout the dungeon trek with Aqua’s staggering awesomeness, right up until he realizes the reason they’ve been chased around by undead all this time was because of her.

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Still, I maintain it was a good thing Aqua accompanied Kazuma. They got a bunch of loot, and Kazuma was reminded that Aqua isn’t always useless, and sometimes he is. Unfortunately, none of the gold they make goes towards their towering debts, because they instead end up buying the house however many rounds it takes to send Aqua into the alley to vomit the gold away.

As is so often the case, Kazuma & Co. can’t help but take two steps back for every step forward, at least as far as money goes. But that was still a damned entertaining dungeon trip.

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