Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 04 – Making It Work

This week, the OP theme is played, but this time over a beautifully somber sequence of the Greyrat household is steeped in the winter of discontent inside while buffeted by the literal snows of winter outside. Zenith is pregnant, which was an occasion for great joy…but so is Lilia, and Paul says it’s “probably” his (it’s definitely his).

It’s at this point that I admit that while checking MAL for Lilia’s seiyu (Lynn), I caught the little factoid that she’s described not just a maid, but Paul’s “second wife”. In hindsight, this complicated my understanding of her precise status up to this point. Turns out Zenith is very much not okay with Paul sleeping with her.

At the same time, Zenith cares a great deal about Lilia, and doesn’t like the prospect of Lilia taking a rough month-long trip to her hometown with hew newborn. Both she and the baby could die. Rudy doesn’t like that either, so he introduces a compromise to keep the family from being torn apart.

When Zenith tells Rudy that the mood is gloomy because Paul and Lilia were “bad”, Rudy comes to Lilia’s defense: she couldn’t refuse Paul; the fact she’s in his employ aside, he has a “hold” on her that resulted in their illicit night together. That being the case, Lilia doesn’t deserve to suffer for something Paul did wrong.

Moved by her son’s words, Zenith decides that Lilia and her child will stay in the family…because they are family. Rudy knows he only dug Paul’s grave deeper, but it was a grave Paul dug himself, even if Lilia confides to us that she seduced him. Hearing the couple’s lovemaking in the next room created pent-up urges, and one night she left her door open so he’d see her washing herself.

Lilia believes Rudy understood full well that it wasn’t all Paul’s fault, but he forgave her anyway for “giving in to desire” and betraying Zenith. She also knows that by forgiving her and guiding the family to a compromise, Rudy saved her life. She had always been justifiably skeeved out by Rudy—even to the point she feared he was possessed by the devil!—but now resolves to spend her life repaying him—and have her child serve the future Lord Rudeus.

Zenith’s son daughter Norn and Lilia’s daughter Aisha are born, and Paul for all intents and purposes has two wives to care for (and take orders from). Rudy also notices how much more open with him Lilia becomes after the Great Compromise, and learns that she and Paul once studied swordsmanship at the same training hall…where Paul deflowered her…while she was sleeping.

My opinion of Paul plummets with each passing episode. Yet for all of Paul’s many faults (and, let’s be honest, crimes), Rudy respects him because he’s strong…and not just physically, mind you. Paul is also someone with whom Rudy can engage in “guy talk”, not just about women, but how to be a better man. It’s a path full of mistakes and failures, but Paul is hopeful Rudy will learn from them, even if he ends up making more of his own.

Paul discussing how underwhelming rich girl sex is, on the other hand? Probably going too far. But that comes up when Paul asks his son if he’s contemplating going to school, since he’s around the age kids start to go. Paul worries a kid like Rudy will be bullied (while also being confident Rudy could handle it) and questions the utility of him mixing it up with all those spoiled rich kids. Still, it’s ultimately Rudy’s call.

Rudy, meanwhile, starts to sense that Sylphiette could one day surpass him in magical prowess. When he mentions going off to the magic academy to continue his training, Sylphie reacts by hugging him tightly and bawling her eyes out until he says he’s not going anywhere. And why would he, when he has such a wonderful life with her and his family?

Things become more complicated when Paul interrupts Rudy jerking off hugging his pillow by presenting him with a letter from Roxy. She is well, training a similarly perverted young prince while also improving her own magical skills. She thought she’d hit a wall, but learned otherwise with the benefit of time and experience in new places. She writes that if Rudy feels similarly, he should enroll at Ranoa Magic University.

Rudy doesn’t want to make Sylphie feel sad or lonely, but he also doesn’t want to disappoint Roxy. In such a conundrum, he must fashion another compromise, as he did to save his family. He tells Paul, Zenith and Lilia of his intention to enroll at Ranoa, but requests that they pay Sylphie’s tuition along with his. She’s Ranoa material, but her family lacks the funds.

Paul refuses, but not because he doesn’t want his son to have his way. He has three valid reasons for doing so. For one thing, he’s still intent on making Paul into a capital-S Swordsman, and with Rudy’s lack of progress now is not the time to stop his training. Secondly, Rudy is still young, and Paul can’t neglect his parental responsibilities by sending Rudy away. Third and finally, they actually can’t afford to pay for Sylphie as well as him.

Rudy doesn’t argue, or even get mad. He probably knew he’d get a response like this. Instead, he introduces a counterproposal, asking Paul to find him a well-paying job so that by the time his dad deems him ready to go to Ranoa, he’ll have saved up enough to pay Sylphie’s way himself. When Paul tells him that “might not be the best thing” for Sylphie, Rudy acknowledges that, but it will be for him. Paul did tell him earlier to stick with one woman, and Rudy intends to do just that.

Paul accepts this proposal, but exactly what he has in mind for Rudy is left up in the air until an ornate wagon pulls up to the Greyrats’ front gate. Ghislaine, a hulking beast-woman, climbs out, and she’s welcomed by both Paul and Zenith. She’s the first beast-person Rudy’s encountered, and to his credit he doesn’t leer at her or make any unsolicited comments about her.

Paul asks a cryptic question, “What if I told you to stay away from Sylphie?”, then launches into a vicious sparring session, which ends with Paul using an advanced Water-God move on his son, knocking him out. When Rudy wakes up, he’s in the wagon opposite Ghislaine, who tells him they’ll be working together starting tomorrow. Rudy wanted a job…be careful what you wish for!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 4 here.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 01 (First Impressions) – Getting Serious About Living

Fast on the heels of Zane’s Horimiya comes another contender for Anime of the Season: Jobless Reincarnation, the latest in a rare collection of common stories told uncommonly well. Our protagonist is a 34-year-old NEET hit by a car and killed, but he’s reincarnated as a baby in a fantasy world with all his adult mental faculties and memories intact.

That all-too-familiar premise (for the record, the source LN dates back to 2012) hardly does Jobless justice: from the moment our boy realizes he is the child of the well-endowed young woman who just gave birth to him, his droll adult voiceover (Sugita Tomokazu, I believe) provides a hilariously dry running commentary on his new world.

Rudeus or Rudy, as his parents Zenith and Paul name him, grows up fast, going from a highly mobile infant to a precocious toddler. When he falls down go boom and his mom uses a real healing spell on him, he seeks out the five tomes in his family’s house, learns to read, and gradually learns how to wield water magic.

There’s a wonderful procedural structure to Rudy’s early journey of just figuring things out, but not so rigid a structure that it detracts from the human and emotional sides of his experience. His precociousness also goes noticed by Lilia the live-in maid, as Rudy’s facial expressions betray an older man’s inner wisdom of the world.

While his first attempt to conjure water results in him looking like he fell asleep and wet himself, Rudy hangs in there, gathering any and all basins in which to deposit the water he conjures. Notably, he is able to use magic without the incantations or magic circles the books describe as vital to the process.

Without really trying to, his magical growth remains largely hidden from Zenith and Paul, who are portrayed as dimensional characters with their own needs and wants (they get it on often, as one would expect of a healthy young couple). His family’s home is his entire world, and he’s usually shut up in his room, much as he was as a 34-year-old NEET. This explains a bit why we don’t get to see as much of his family as I’d have liked.

With that hikikomori mentality in mind, it’s as symbolic as it is momentous when Rudy accidentally obliterates the wall of his bedroom with his most powerful water conjuring yet—a giant orb that streaks through the bright blue sky, creating rain for the crops and a rainbow as well. The top-notch animation really sells how powerful—and frightful—magic can be in untrained hands, and how exciting it is to “figure things out.”

When Zenith sees him unharmed and with the magic book nearby, she puts two and two together, and cannot contain her pure joy and delight to have reared a magical prodigy. She and Paul bicker over the promise that he would be raised as a swordsman, but Lilia (showing she’s more than a mere maid—more of a second wife) suggests “Why not both?”

Rudy’s parents—his dad’s a Knight who basically runs the village, and so is not without means—hire a magical tutor to train him, but both they and Rudy are shocked to find she’s no bearded retiree but an adorable young woman with bluish-violet air, ably voiced with by with vulnerability and defiance by Kohara Konomi.

We have the fascinating situation in which Rudy is mentally older than his parents, let alone this mage Roxy Migurdia, and his otaku side comes out when he first sees her and sizes her up (or down, as it were). Roxy isn’t aware of this, has dealt with other parents who thought their kid was The Chosen One, and is dubious of Rudy’s abilities.

Still, she does her job, showing him how a focused magical attack can cleave a tree down in one swipe, then how said tree (treasured by Rudy’s mom) can be repaired with healing magic, which Roxy also knows. Then Rudy demonstrates he can use magic without incantations (again, accidentally, as he’s thrown off when Roxy’s skirt flips up), and re-fells the restored tree, and Roxy knows she’s dealing with someone worth training.

Roxy takes the blame for the tree, but Rudy uses a dating sim-esque line to comfort her, and it works. Then the family welcomes Roxy like one of their own to a sumptuous welcome banquet, and during these lovely warm images Rudy beautifully recites the mission statement of the show:

“It’s like a dream…a dream I’m having as I die from that crash. No, even if it is, I don’t care. In this world, I bet even I can make it. If I live and try as hard as everyone else, get back up when I fall, and keep facing forward, then maybe I can do it. Maybe even I, a jobless, reclusive bum like me can get a do-over at life…and get serious about living.”

I would never have thought I’d be so quickly and easily drawn into yet another Isekai series, but the characterizations and technical execution are so well done, the world it’s crafted so gorgeous and inviting, and the comedy so effortless, it renders Jobless Reincarnation all but irresistible. Yes, we’ve seen this story before, and yes, Rudy is a bit of a creep, but for once it doesn’t matter, at least for me. It goes without saying I can’t wait to see more.

P.S. Looks like Anime News Network’s early reviewers of JR weren’t as enamored as I was, focusing on Rudy’s abhorrent skeeviness and the fact this premise has been done to death.

While I respect their takes, which are just as valid as my own, I prefer to take a more clean-slate approach to the show, and execution can—and in this case, does—outweigh familiarity.

Also, and this is key, Rudy isn’t supposed to be immediately likable or virtuous. He’s just started on a long road of redemption, and his closing monologue suggests he wants to become a better person than he was in his past life.

P.P.S. Crow has written on this episode as well. Check it out here.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 23

Whether he feels bad about trying to sacrifice Stella or not (I would guess not), Elias can’t accept Chise leaving him. He wants her back, and wanders aimlessly in search of her. When he kills part of the forest he’s in, Spriggan springs into action and takes him down.

Titania and Oberon show up, willing not just to help him find Chise, but to invite them both to the land of the faeries (always with the ulterior motives). Elias declines that particular offer, but Titania still helps him find Chise.

Titania’s powers reach far and wide, and practically everyone Chise has encountered and/or befriended on her various adventures notices those powers. As for Chise herself, she now finds herself watching a young Joseph’s memories.

Joseph was the son of a witch and gravedigger and much hated by the villagefolk for those qualities. But when he finds Cartaphilus half-buried in the woods, he takes him home out of pity, and resolves to heal his extensive injuries using the skills he no doubt learned from his mom.

Only Cartaphilus never gets better, no matter what treatments Joe tries. He doesn’t get worse either, which means the conditions that would allow Joseph to leave the town he hates so much never materialize. Joe snaps, and decides that drastic measures are the only answer: he “becomes one” with Cartaphilus.

The newly merged individual travels (presumably) to London, collecting body parts from innocents to replace the ones that no longer work, and learns from a mage that the ancient curse he has cannot be lifted.

With that, Chise comes out of it, and Cartaphilus almost immediately tries to rip her arm off, hoping it’s the final piece to the puzzle of ending his suffering. It doesn’t look good for Chise until Titania, Elias, Spriggan, and Ruth arrive in the nick of time to save her.

Renfred and Alice arrive as Cartaphilus unleashes his grotesque menagerie, and a big battle occurs in the small space. Still, Chise is laser-focused on Cartaphilus, and when he creates a portal to escape, she follows him, but not before shooting an angry look at Elias.

Elias and Ruth follow her, and they end up in a foggy London alley with Chise, just as a fleeing Cartaphilus bumps into Mariel, who just happens to be in that very same alley. Mariel, hoping to help in some way, transforms herself into a bull for Chise to ride.

They find Cartaphilus sitting on the same fountain we’ve always seen during the second-cour credits. Can Chise end his suffering, while also saving herself?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 22

Chise makes the only deal she believes she can make, not just to save Stella, but her own life as well. That deal puts her in the lion’s den, and Joseph, the lion, makes it clear he still hates her, even if he’ll honor the deal.

The process starts with the two swapping eyeballs—a particularly icky sequence—and when his body doesn’t reject it, he prepares to remove her cursed left arm.

While Chise was awake for the eye-swap, Joe locks her in her memories for the next phase—childhood memories she thought lost forever, in which she and her dad and brother were together and she was a normal, well-adjusted girl.

After painfully bittersweet images of their nearly perfect family life flash by—among them her dad fighting off some kind of demon or faerie—a form of Joseph appears that isn’t so much Joseph, but the piece of him that has now made itself at home in her body—his eye.

One night, the perfect family situation dies. Chise’s father gets out of bed with his infant son, walks out the front door, says goodbye to Chise, and never returns. One could explain his course of action as cutting his losses—perhaps having had enough of living with two Sleigh Beggys—and perhaps he simply did what he felt he had to in order to protect his non-Beggy son.

Whatever the reason, it’s a huge betrayal, and Chise’s mom cannot make up for her husband’s absence. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t try: she works any and all jobs she can to scrape by, but because so many monsters are attracted to her no one else can see, she cannot hold those jobs for long, and she slowly drowns in debt.

Like Chise, her mother had a frail body, and when keeping up with everything simply became too much for it, her mind snapped as well. In a moment of weakness, she listened to the voice that told her it would be easier if Chise weren’t around.

She chokes Chise awake, telling her the words Chise never forgot: “I shouldn’t have given birth to you,”, but in this context she isn’t talking of Chise’s inadequacy as a daughter, but the fact that she exists at all. Her mother knows that her curse is her daughter’s curse. It’s more an act of misguided mercy and desperation than malice.

That’s why her mother snaps out of it before she kills Chise, and overwhelmed by shame for what she tried to do, throws herself out the window. After that day, Chise forgot everything that came before, and it was the genesis of her belief she was worth so little even her mother regretted having her.

But that villainous mother, devoid of the context of her torment or the lengths she went to to keep their family of two together, was nothing but a creation in Chise’s mind. Her real mother didn’t really wish her dead; on the contrary, she decided she’d rather die than live on knowing she even made the attempt.

Chise breaks free of this vision of her mother as the real one, and says goodbye before letting her go entirely in a dreamy field of flowers. She even goes so far as to thank this false artiface of her mother, as she was the reason Chise ultimately ended up meeting so many wonderful people, among whom she still counts Elias, despite what he did to Stella.

With her “dark mother” gone, replaced by the whole picture of how things went so damn wrong with her family, Chise is left with the portion of Joseph’s curse of eternal life embedded in his left eye. That curse promises to be a blessing to Chise for as long as she wants to live—meaning that the moment she wishes to die, it will be a curse.

Joseph is not the first to have hosted this curse, and won’t be the last, but all of them have said the same thing to it throughout the centuries and millenia—”Help me.” Chise, waking up on the operating table, grabs Joseph by the throat and tells him she’s going to do things his way, diving into his past to find out how he became is the person he is—to make sense of his truth. Even if he hates her.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 21

In an episode that opens with Chise sharing a bed with Elias, these two splitting up would have been at the absolute bottom of things I expected to happen. But with her condition deteriorating and the meeting with the witches ending up almost completely fruitless, Elias decides to take Chise’s life out of her own hands, for what he believes to be her own sake…as well as his own happiness. Before they part ways, Mariel reminds Elias that only life can pay for life.

Elias has always been called “half-assed” or a “monster” but Chise was the first and only one who would “look at just me.” Well, thanks to his actions this week, she may never look at him that way, or any other way, ever again.

Just as she relays her suspicions Elias and Ruth are up to something behind her back and asks for Ariel to back her up, Elias knocks Chise out. She guides herself out of the dream with an image of Nevin, telling her that whatever others have planned for her, all she can do is be clear on what she needs to do.

With that, Chise breaks out of the dream by stabbing herself in the leg and does what must be done: stop Elias and/or Ruth from sacrificing anyone to save her. When she finds Elias has brought Stella into the house to be the sacrifice, Chise is, understandably, furious.

Even worse is when Elias tries to explain himself: not liking how Chise looked at Stella (i.e. their friendship), and not being able to stand it, and stating as long as Chise can continue to live he’ll be happy. After urging Stella to run away, she punches Elias in the face and storms out.

Of course, what Chise didn’t know is that Stella had already been possessed by Joseph, AKA Cartiphilus, who only pretended to be Stella in distress. But it doesn’t matter; Stella or Cartiphilus-possessing-Stella, Elias sought to transfer Chise’s curse to them. That makes Elias no different in Chise’s eyes anymore. He is a monster after all.

But here’s the thing: human beings are perfectly capable of becoming monsters, or doing monstrous things, if they feel there are no other options. If anything, Elias taking the steps he did were simultaneously appallingly naive and contemptuous of Chise’s wishes, and just plain wrong, but incredibly human nonetheless.

Chise isn’t the kind of human to put her life or welfare before anyone else’s. Cartiphilus knows this, and also knows how angry Chise is by Elia’s betrayal. So he offers her Stella’s life and a spell that will save her own, in exchange for her cooperation. And Chise accepts without hesitation, teleporting away with Carty and leaving her necklace behind.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 20

The no-longer-captive dragon escapes its binds and tears up the auction house, giving Chise and Elias a thrilling ride into the London night sky. Once again, Chise puts another life before her own—in this case the dragon’s—and ends up paying for it like never before.

The cost of her sacrifice this time is a dragon’s curse, which infects her left arm, now huge, gray, and scaly. Shannon is able to stabilize Chise, but the curse will quickly tear through that Sleigh Beggy body (already weakened by two additional curses that Chise can think of), killing her.

This time, there’s nothing that can be done. Chise can choose to live on the Fae Side where she won’t have to hide the curse, and she seriously ponders it. Back when she didn’t want to live, Elias saved her. Now that she wants to live, death has her in its grip.

Unable to help her himself, the mage Elias invites a witch, Mariel, to his home for “alternative treatment.” Mariel, who wants to get her hands on dragon blood, considers Chise the next best thing, and urges her to join her coven. If she does, the witches might be able to help her.

That’s a big might, but with Chise, among other things, not wanting to die by Spring and Stella wanting to throw a birthday party for her next year, even Elias agrees their only course is to join the witch’s gathering.

It would seem Cartiphilus orchestrated this whole thing, reasonably certain that Chise would try to help the dragon at the cost of her own health in the scenario that unfolded. He used her own good nature in order to slap her with a curse that has the opposite effect as his. To what end? Is he trying to die?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 19

We jump from a cold open in which Cartiphilus’ smirks while one of the poached dragons is being dissected as they cry “please stop” and “I want to go home”, to a scene at the college where it’s revealed Renfred is a weepy drunk.

Methinks the composer is a bit too proud of his slide whistle “comedy” theme. The tonal shift is clunky to say the least. Things swing back from jocular to dark when Chise has a very disturbing dream involving an amnesiac Cartaphilus in London.

She awakens to find Alice, Renfred, the Selkie, as well as several members of the “College” she knows nothing about (nor do we) hanging out with Elias in the sitting rom. The College members range from tolerable (Adolf) to embarrassingly awful (Tory). They inform Chise that two dragons have been poached and they’ve come seeking help from her and Elias.

Elias refuses, properly citing Chise’s fragility, but Chise overrules him, and before you know it, we’re back at the underworld auction house where Chise gave herself up to be sold to the highest bidder; one of the dragons is on the block. The man who arranged for Chise’s sale, Seth, gives Chise a checkbook and card tied to a account containing half of the value of her sale, since she was technically her own seller.

It’s strange that she didn’t have access to this cash until now, when she may have to spend it all bidding on the dragon. At least Seth seems pleased that since last they met Chise has become someone who actually, you know, wants to live.

Buying the dragon’s freedom in the auction seems like the College and Chise’s play, and the two combined would seem to have enough to do so, but things (predictably) go pear-shaped when the dragon goes berserk, breaks free from its physical and magical binds, and starts breathing fire.

Chise can sense the dragon’s emotions—its scared and wants to go home—but it might be too late to reason with it. Who the woman is who whispered in Chise’s ear, and what Cartaphilus’ convoluted plan is this time (if he even has one) remain unclear. I just hope this doesn’t all end with Chise yet again coughing up a couple liters of blood…followed by more slide whistle.

 

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 18

The day after Christmas, Stella shows up with sweet treats to hang out with Chise, as promised. Chise is so unaccustomed to friends as we know them that not only did she not expect Stella to come, she doesn’t quite know what to do.

Stella, who we learn is just ten but very mature for her age, tells her not to sweat it; being friends is nothing more complicated than being with someone, talking and listening to them. It shows how far Chise still has to go, and how little Elias can help her.

In fact, having Stella around is apparently too much for Elias, who isolates himself in his study then storms out of the house without any warning. Worried, Chise ditches Stella to go after him, transforming into a wolf to keep up. Elias traps her in the shadows and binds her with tentacles.

Elias doesn’t say much, but he does say that Stella’s presence made him want to leave the house,. He felt better when Chise chased him, but couldn’t stop running, and now he can’t seem to let her go.

Meanwhile, back in London, Stella and her family seem to be being watched/stalked by Cartiphilus and Ashen Eye. What the heck to they have planned?

Chise manages to fire off a flare with her wand, and Ruth manages to find her when a Fae daughter of Titania reveals the shadow where he’s holding her (she helps because they gave her a proper Yule offering).

Chise puts a knife to her throat, which causes Elias to immediately release her. He’s rightfully ashamed and contrite, but Chise forgives him and suggests they go home and get some sleep.

Elias, as we know, is even more emotionally stunted than Chise, lashing out when he doesn’t get his way like a small child. Here’s hoping Elias eventually learns how to control his wilder instincts whenever faced with a perceived slight.

However, Chise accidentally puts Elias into a deep sleep when she sings him a lullaby, and she heads to London to seek the aid of Angelica, meeting her non-magical husband David in the process.

David lends Chise some perspective as someone who knows he doesn’t have all the time on Earth with his wife and daughter he might like, but that he intends to make the most of that time, and so should Chise.

Chise returns home with a recipe for a potion that will wake up Elias, and it works like a charm…but she’s so exhausted from her ordeal that she immediately passes out beside him, leaving Ruth to explain.

Meanwhile in Dragonland, some poachers apparently hired by Cartiphilus(?) try to capture two of the young dragons, but they’re thwarted by a pissed Lindel. Is there a connection to what Carty was doing with Stella in London and the attempted dragon theft here? To be continued.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 17

In a diverting case-of-the-week that involves non-magical clients, Chise meets Stella, a girl just a bit younger than her, who can’t find her little brother Ethan after he ran off after they had an argument. What makes this most likely a magical case is that Stella’s parents have no memory of their son.

Obviously, Stella’s a wreck, but she’s not so much of a wreck she isn’t totally freaked out by a huge skull-faced dude coming out of Chise (or speaking through her body, turning her eyes silver). I also snickered when she reacted to the dog talking.

Turns out the big teddy Elias gave Chise also turns her excess magic into crystal flowers, like a kind of release valve to preserve her body. She puts those flowers, which are like candy to fae, to good use asking the various beings in the forest where the kid went.

In fact, Chise, wanting desperately to do something for someone after so much has been done for her (though if we’re honest, she’s done plenty), goes so far as to let what looks like a more feral Elias suck her blood in exchange for info on Ethan’s whereabouts. This troubles Stella greatly, but as Elias tells her, mages aren’t omnipotent, and in exchange for something, they must be willing to give something in return.

When they finally locate Ethan, he’s in the clutches of the ancient trickster Ashen Eye, who has claimed the boy as his own after Stella’s harsh words to him (“I don’t need you!”) broke their familial bond and made the kid fair game.

Knowing what happened when Ashen Eye was involved before, I figured no one was actually in any real danger, even when both Ethan and Elias are sucked into a dark void (Ash isn’t omnipotent either, but he’s been around the block, and  a lot more powerful than the younger Elias).

The loss of Elias causes Chise to wig out momentarily, but Ruth consoles her. Ash simply wants them to jump through a few hoops; he’ll only keep Ethan if they can’t find him, and if he and Stella can’t reconcile. As they search, Elias must deal with Ethan, who immediately takes a liking to his bony head.

This causes Elias to transform into a kind of Winter Ops version of Chise, and with his uniquely non-human perspective on humanity, gets Ethan to define what he thinks family is. It’s more than just blood; it’s people you want to be with more than anyone else, even if you don’t always get along and say things you don’t mean.

Chise uses the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her to transform into a were-bear, and uses her heightened sense of smell to locate Elias and Ethan. As I suspected, Ash is satisfied the siblings have learned their lesson and warns them to choose their words carefully, because they aren’t sure who might be listening who will take those words seriously.

When initially speaking through Chise, Elias got Stella to agree to pay them in “sweets” for their services locating her brother (who the parents now remember, reuniting the family as it was). But Chise gets something a lot better for her kindness: she gains a friend in Stella.

And hey, even after all that exertion, Chise doesn’t pass out, cough up any blood, or go into any kind of trance or coma, so everything comes up Team Ainsworth this week. I just hope Chise doesn’t immediately revert to her “ZOMG I’m so useless” attitude next week; she’s without doubt earning her keep.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 16

The pagan holiday of Yule is upon Chise and Elias, and the Yule Twins appear to remind them to make their preparations, gathering various logs, boughs, leaves and berries. Elias wants to make certain Chise doesn’t overwork herself (she herself wonders if she’ll make it to next Fall), while they both have to convince Ruth that he’s not a failure of a familiar after Chise’s latest scare.

These scenes are imbued with the spirit and the beauty of the season, from the snow shimmering in the setting sun to the awkward exchange of kisses under the mistletoe. Elias reports that Chise’s kiss made him a little “tingly” in the neck and back, but is that because he felt something emotionally, or just feeling the effects of having to crouch down?

The next day, after receiving a message via bird in the night, Chise sneaks away to London on her own, where she meets Alice. Alice wants to hang, but also needs advice on what to get Renfred for Christmas. It occurs to Chise she hadn’t even considered getting Elias a gift, but wants to do so.

As they shop and eat and eat and shop, Alice eventually runs into a “straggler from her past”, who wants to sell her drugs. When he doesn’t take no for an answer, Alice kicks him in the balls, and Chise scares of his friends with a ferocious Ruth (eager to redeem himself).

Now that Chise has seen a glimpse of Alice’s past, she tells Alice not to hold back on talking about that past just because it might be uncomfortable; after all, Chise knows something about rough pasts!

Alice was a drug dealer and an addict until one day Renfred plucked her off the streets, invited her into his home as a ward of sorts, and stayed with her throughout the long, painful withdrawal process.

Once she was clean he put her to work organizing his library, but when she opened the wrong book a monster jumped out to attack her, and Renfred took the attack for her, having his face all ripped off.

From then on, Alice knew she could trust Renfred, which made him the first person she could trust in her life. Now that extends to at least a second person, as she clearly trusts and likes Chise enough to open up like this.

Once their shopping for their respective masters is finished, the two part ways, and Chise and Ruth (who is happy Chise has made a friend) head home, where an “angry” Elias is waiting. I use angry in quotes because he himself isn’t sure what it means to be angry, but if he was going to be angry it would be because Chise ran off alone without telling him anything.

Still, Elias is happy with Chise’s gift for him, a new string tie, while Chise learns that Elias has a knack for making teddy bears, and made a big one, his best yet, for her. He also points out other presents for her to open Christmas morning.

Chise goes to bed warm, excited, and actually looking forward to the morning, something that would have been quite foreign in her dark past. The next day Ashen Eye finds “a pitiful child” walking in the snow; likely the subject of next week’s episode. But this week was all about Yule, Christmas, and two women with dark pasts living much brighter, happier lives. I can dig it.