The Genius Prince’s Guide – 10 – Cooperative Relationship

Princess Falanya leads the people out of Mealtars, past the armies of Lowa’s brothers, and into the waiting arms of Caldmellia and King Gruyere, who were not prepared to deal with so many refugees. The stunning move, made possible thanks to Falanya’s charisma, essentially freezes all parties and gives Wein ample room to negotiate a way out of this that’s acceptable to all, yet still takes advantage of his opponents’ disadvantage.

As the officially sanctioned negotiator for Mealtars, Wein makes use of the city’s ample treasury and offers to buy Levitian’s surplus surplies with both gold and the promise of a memorial and temple to Levetia. With the Levitian army hanging back in reserve, Wein uses the supplies to raise a militia the princes won’t want to fight.

But his true masterstroke comes when he meets with Lowa’s brothers, who like the Levetians have limited room to maneuver due to the sensistive military scenario that has been created. With a knowling Lowa present, Wein dusts off the “trial in absentia”, pinning the blame on the assassination  and the war on the absent Demetrio and forcing his younger brothers to agree, as it’s the best option they have.

As a result, the armies end their siege of Mealtars, the Levetians return home, and the people of Mealtars are cemented not only as a strong friend and ally to Natra, but in Lowa’s faction as well. The mayor tells Lowa over tea how he asked Wein “why are you doing this?”, and was charmed by his response: to gladden his little sister’s heart.

As we know, nothing is more important to Wein than his family, be it Falanya or Ninym, so we know he was being sincere. But there’s no denying siding with Mealtars in their hour of dire need paid huge dividends for Natra and Marden, as imperial exports, passed off as Marden exports, are now flowing through the vassal state and into the west.

Ninym rightly brings up the fact that the richer Marden becomes, the more likely it is they’ll desire independence again. Sure enough, Marchioness Zenovia is encouraged by her advisor to take advantage of their newfound prosperity to “extract a commitment” from Natra when Wein pays them a visit on his way to Soljest.

The advisor proposes that Zenovia ask for Wein’s hand in marriage…which is exactly what Wein thinks she’ll ask for when he visits. Only…she doesn’t? Wein is totally thrown off as they discuss only matters of state such as a conservative western nation sending a letter of protest regarding trade goods.

Wein lets his hair down and be his impetuous self in front of Ninym, as usual, assured that the next day Zenovia will broach the topic while giving them a tour of her capital. But once again, Zenovia—disguised as Zeno and fooling no one—simply gives him a tour…no proposal.

Wein is the one to broach the topic, but when they have a seat on a bench in a park, Zeno pivots by asking why Wein is so “oddly distant” from his people. Wein proceeds to give a cautionary lecture on the responsibility of nobility and royalty to maintain a certain mystique and remove from their people.

This is for a reason Zeno hadn’t considered: she, as well as Wein, Soljest, and even Lowellmina Earthwold, can trace their venerable royal and noble lines all the way to commoners. That means all of the people in one’s kingdom could one day become the first humble branch of a new royal tree…hence his vigilance. He must be the best prince he can be, because he’s surrounded by potential replacements.

Zenovia acknowledges that Wein is a great man, even greater than she initially believed, and that’s the reason she’s happy, for now, with Marden remaining a loyal vassal of Natra (also, she jests that his face isn’t her type). But as she confides to her advisor, Zenovia also feels that marriage with someone like Wein, someone she lionizes as a hero, would be impossible.

I feel she’s selling herself short here, but it’s not my place to tell her how to feel! Even the advisor concedes that she should trust her heart in this matter, and it doesn’t make her a bad leader to refuse the clever play of strategic marriage.

I’m usually not a fan of characters running themselves down to prop up ones they idolize, but considering what she’s witnessed Wein achieve in the time she’s known him, it’s hard to argue with her feelings of inadequacy. Such is the sold writing of this show that I can both disagree and respect her position. Now, what’s up with Delunio?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 09 – The Princess Pride

At first, Wein thinks he’s arrived in Mealtars at the absolute worst time: just when Falanya has insisted that Demetrio seek Wein’s approval for his marriage to her. Wein, Ninym and Lowa exchange subtle nonverbal cues as he expresses his heartfelt approval for the union. After all, it will be the second—with Wein marrying Lowa, Natra’s Imperial influence will skyrocket!

This prospect causes Demetrio to agree to discuss it another day, which buys his sister time, but Wein assures Falanya that he won’t let her be married to such a man. Later, despite showing signs of fatigue, Wein joins Lowa for a secret clock tower meeting. Things aren’t going quite as Lowa planned, but she’s in a good position to snatch the throne, and promises Wein she will get him “all mixed up” in her “epic tale”.

As we learn Prince Manfred to be an incredibly decisive and logical man, planning to assassinate someone as intelligent (and thus dangerous) as Wein, Falanya continues to spend much of her time in the Citizen’s Assembly. Not only does she soak up the discourse like a sponge, but garners the esteem and admiration for watching and listening so intently.

Demetrio welcomes Wein to further talks, but when a maid serves them tea, Wein asks, then demands the maid drink it herself. When she hesitates, Demetrio takes his cup, accuses Wein of cowardice, takes a sip…and collapses as blood trickles from his mouth. Ninym starts to chase the maid, but Wein orders her to find a doctor instead. They may never learn Manfred ordered the hit, but he’s not about to let an Imperial prince die…even the worst one.

Demetrio survives, but Wein is detained for questioning for several days, during which time Mealtars is surrounded by Bardloche and Manfred’s armies. No sooner is Wein free than news comes the Levitians, led by Caldmellia have also brought an army to the city’s doorstep. The increased strain on the besieged city will lead to unrest, riots, and eventually military intervention. But as Wein is calculating all of these variables, he suddenly passes out from exhaustion.

That means, surprisingly, that it’s once again up to Princess Falanya, and unsurprisingly, considering how much she’s learned in so short a time, she rises to the occasion and handles the shit out of it. As the Citizen’s Assembly threatens to devolve into every-man-for-himself chaos, she stands in the center of the assembly (who we already know to be enamored of her) and makes an impassioned plea for solidarity.

It works, and Mealtars manages to hold together even with three armies staring them down. Ninym scarcely leaves Wein’s bedside, so when he finally awakes, she leaps at him for a tearful hug that’s probably a little too tight for his current condition, but speaks to how he’s as much her heart as she is his.

With the entire city united behind their new idol Falanya, Wein has her lead them out of the city walls in a peaceful and orderly evacuation. Through her speeches, she’s able to convince them to leave it all behind in service of a better future for all of them. Strategically, of course, this has the effect of paralyzing all of the armies outside, who even combined are dwarfed by Mealtar’s sheer numbers.

Even Caldmellia and the Levitians weren’t prepared to take in and provide for so many, meaning whatever ulterior motives they had, they’ll have to put on hold. As Falanya tells the masses, Mealtars isn’t the walls or streets or houses; Mealtars is its people, and with the power of the people at her back, even the tiny, adorable little princess can stare down imperial armies and religious zealots alike.

I’m truly loving Falanya’s rapid ascent to greatness from her humble beginnings as the character who listens to exposition for the benefit of the audience…and if Wein is still hoping for a slow life down the road, I’m sure he is too!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 08 – Little Miss Vying for the Throne

With help from Mayor Cosimo of the merchant city of Mealtars, Princess Lowellmina has organized a Summit of Imperial Heirs, where she and her three brothers can discuss a “peaceful succession”. She made a point to invite Natra, which is to say Wein, but is surprised to discover he sent his sister Princess Falanya in his stead.

It was actually Falanya’s idea. Sure, Wein had no interest in getting tangled up in another one of Lowa’s webs, and has the excuse of dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. But as we’ve seen in what are informative but rather stiff infodumps with her tutor, she’s absorbed enough knowledge, and wants an opportunity to apply it…while helping her dear brother out.

Lowa soon pivots from her disappointment over Wein not coming, and decides to introduce Falanya to her three brothers. There’s the youngest, Prince Manfred, who seems the shrewdest of the three (though not four if you include Lowa!), the hulking military-backed Prince Bardloche, and the eldest, Demetrio, who is the eldest…and biggest jerk.

Falanya comports herself well in this deep end of the political pool; a testament to her education and diligence. When the three bros start to bicker, Ninym is there to suggest the politest possible tactical retreat: she already promised to speak to Lowa.

However, it’s Ninym who picks up on Lowa’s not-so-subtle cues she wishes to talk in private, and it’s here where the episode shines, as I love how these two drop all rank and pretense and act towards each other like the old classmates and friends (or frenemies?) they are.

As Falanya observes and learns at the banquet, Lowa proposes a deal with Ninym: inside information about the summit of heirs in exchange for Natra joining her cause (which is now a legitimate fourth faction, making up in patriotic fervor what it lacks in teeth). Ninym, who wasn’t born yesterday and understands Wein’s wishes, imitates Wein perfectly in declining Lowa.

It’s not quite as fun when Mayor Cosimo gives Falanya a tour of the city, but Falanya is suddenly inspired upon entering the “Citizen’s Assembly”, which serves as a kind of non-voting delegation of commoners who hash out various proposals and debates.

Even though they’re discussing the construction of a new aquaduct, Falanya is enthralled, and watches carefully to see who among the delegates persuades most of the others to his way of thinking (unfortunately, I didn’t see any women in the assembly).

Demetrio, who we immediately learn to be a rude petulant asshole, activates Full Skeevy Villain Mode when he decides he’ll take out his anger at Wein for sending Falanya in his stead by doing…something to Falanya. It’s clear that even in a scenario in which Lowa doesn’t win the battle of succession, it isn’t going to be this guy.

He’s just a bad seed, and when his face twisted as he knocked over his own table of food, I thought him capable of anything, up to and including kidnapping poor lil’ Falanya!

That something turns out to be initially less barbaric, as he suddenly surprises Falanya (and Lowa and Ninym) with a proposal of marriage to Falanya. He says it’s to tighten bonds with Natra, but it’s really because once Falanya marries him, he’ll consider her his property to torment as he pleases. That’ll teach Wein to slight him!

Falanya trembles a bit, but regains her cool and politely responds by saying she’ll convey his proposal to Natra. When Demetrio says he needs an answer from her now, she takes the kid gloves off and surprises everyone in the room with her directness: royal marriages are a matter of state, and she knows full well she’s still too young and inexperienced to make such a decision alone.

Wein’s brother would be so proud…so it’s a good thing he’s here, and was listening just outside the room. On the one hand I’m sure Falanya and Ninym are glad Wein’s there. I also believe that Falanya won’t see his arrival as a failure on her part; as she said, she’s too young and inexperienced for the moves that are going down in Mealtars.

Demetrio will have to tread lightly around Wein to avoid being gutted, but it’s also incumbent on Wein not to doom his country by impulsively slaying the eldest imperial prince, even if he is a prick! Finally, I’m sure Lowa is glad Wein’s there, because she wanted him there all along. Will she be able to draw him to her side, huge hassle though it may be for him?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 05 – All Out in Antgadull

Lord Geralt’s untimely demise threw a wrench into Wein and Lowa’s plans, but they waste no time pivoting to an alternate gambit, aiming above else to claim the initiative from both the rest of the empire and the nascent rebellion against it.

This results in Wein brazenly arriving at Marquess Grinahae Antgadull’s front door and trying to sell him a rather dastardly fiction of Geralt being the mastermind behind the rebellion, giving Grinahae the option to throw himself at the mercy of the empire (i.e. Lowa) for a relative slap on the wrist in exchange for revealing all about the rebellion.

Grinahae has Wein depart his manor believing he’s agreed to the proposal, but Wein knew there was a 50-50 shot of doing so. When he and his handful of guards are ambushed by the leader of the rebels, Wein quickly pivots once again, managing to best their leader (whom he believes to be a spy from the west) by taking his sword arm and forcing them to retreat.

Back at the manor, the rebels execute their plan to assassinated Grinahae and burn his manor down, along with all evidence of the rebellion. This plan fails thanks to the skill of Nanaki, Falanya’s bodyguard whom Wein borrowed to ensure the rebellion couldn’t cover their tracks.

By then, Grinahae is already in hot pursuit of Wein with a speedy mounted force of around 100, with plans to eventually seize the princess. Wein seems hopelessly outnumbered—which is exactly what he wants Grinahae to think as they crest a hill.

Wein knows Grinahae knows his own lands, and that the speed of his force will be able to overtake and defeat Wein’s once they’re out on the wide plains beyond. But Grinahae didn’t consider that Wein brought a Natra force that is puny compared to Antgadull’s combined forces, but in this instance outnumbers Grinahae’s host.

Then Grinahae’s escape route is blocked by another large force, this time of Imperial and Provincial forces. When brought before Princess Lowa, the only defense Grinahae can think of is to condemn Wein for bringing an invading force into Antgadull.

However, Lowa and Wein have this covered too: Wein’s Natran force is part of a joint military exercise, made possible thanks to one Ambassador Tallum, who didn’t want Geralt’s sudden death ruin the meeting of Wein and Lowa. Grinahae has no choice but to surrender.

Back in Natra, Lowa enjoys a cup of tea with Ninym, with everything in Antgadull having worked itself out to both her and Wein’s benefit—or at least to neither of their detriments. It certainly could have gone worse, but the quick and careful planning and adaptability they were famous for at the academy helped them win the day.

Lowa confirms that she’s called off the marriage proposal for now, citing the advantage of remaining unwed when it comes to expanding the empire’s influence, and the fact the empire remains in a state of instability. But Lowa’s cup suddenly gets unstable when Ninym brazenly points out that Lowa has feelings for Wein!

We see that Lowa has a blind spot when it comes to this, as she didn’t think anyone knew when it was blatantly obvious to Ninym (and others) for years. What’s great about this show is there’s an actual good reason she likes him, beyong his looks and brains.

That reason is demonstrated when Lowa asks Wein why he didn’t play things differently in Antgadull. Basically, he broke Grinaahae so he’d be easier for Lowa to control. He promised to help her if she ever got them in a mess, and he kept that promise.

As she returns to the empire, she not only admits she likes Wein, but also yearns to have a relationship like Wein and Ninym: one of absolute mutual trust despite their vast differences. For Lowa, becoming empress means being able to stand proudly beside her two old friends.

It’s a noble, nuanced, and very satisfying mindset that eschews the obvious love triangle dynamic for something less zero-sum. And while I’m sure the show will keep its focus on Wein and Ninym as he resumes his efforts to raise Natra out of debt, I hope we get more Lowa again soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

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