Re: Zero – 49 – Every Moment Matters

Episode 48 turned the action up to 11 and supplemented it with a fair amount of effective comedy to keep things grounded and hopeful despite everything being on the line. This week the action is turned down considerably and the comedy excised entirely in favor of a number of dramatic set pieces that complete the table-setting for the season two finale.

We begin with Emilia emerging from the Graveyard and encountering the snowstorm. Fortunately the villagers are safe thanks to a shield of ice Puck created around them, though he told them they had Lia to thank for it. She asks everyone to seek shelter in the Graveyard and stay safe and patient.

Emilia runs to the tree of ice from where much mana seems to be emanating, and it shatters and transforms into Puck’s familiar green spirit form, which leads her into the giant crystal room. There she finds a whole mess of Ryuzus, with Shima preparing to “fulfill her role”.

With a flash of white, the crystal containing the Ryuzus’ progenitor and that forms the core of the barrier vanishes. Emilia asks Birma where Roswaal and Ram are, and finds them freezing to death in a field. With his tome of wisdom destroyed, Roswaal is lost and feels that “nothing matters.” Even so, he is healing Ram, who lets out a breath, proving to Emilia she’s still alive.

The first wave of demon bunnies approach, but Emilia freezes them solid with her magic. She then creates a clear and solid ice road above the deepening snows so the Ryuzus can take both Roswaal and Ram to safety. To Emilia, nothing doesn’t matter, so she’ll stand strong and keep fighting until she can’t anymore.

From the freezing sanctuary to the burning mansion, Beatrice laments her present situation and looks back on her past, when Echidna left her in charge of the Forbidden Library full of her knowledge, and asked her to wait for someone “suitable to inherit” that knowledge, which she simply called “that person.” Echidna used those particular words simply for the sake of getting the pertinent information to Beatrice.

However, she’s treated them like a rigid gospel, and they gradually turned into a curse. For 400 years, various Mathers descendants would visit the library but rarely speak to her, instead looking through the library’s books. By the time Emilia the “half-devil girl” showed up, she killed her emotions and stopped talking. Then Natsuki Subaru arrived, and for a time felt like he was “that person” for whom Echidna had entrusted her to wait.

But last week, as we saw, Subaru said flat out “there’s no way I could ever be whoever ‘that person’ is…”, and she threw him out with her telekinesis. Even if Subaru didn’t even understand what she meant by “that person” anymore than she did, because the two words Echidna used were so imprecise. Four centuries of time may have given them more weight and importance they didn’t deserve.

When Subaru first makes it back in the library, Beako is ready to toss him out without any further discussion, but he holds on to the door and manages to stay in the library. He tells her even if he isn’t that person, he wants to stay with her, to end her days of loneliness. His argument isn’t strong enough, and Beako de-reses the library, banishing him seemingly for good with a “farewell.”

Of course, that’s not enough for Subie to give up either; not as long as there’s still a door in the mansion left to open. He finds it in the secret underground passage, and even though smoke billows and flame lick at its seams and the knob burns his hand, he puts his faith in Beatrice that she won’t let him die when he opens it.

Since this is probably his last chance (there are no more doors), rather than say he’s come to take her away or save her, Subaru tries a different tack: he needs her to save him, by agreeing to stay with him. Otherwise, he’d be too sad to go on living. Beako’s refrain is that he’ll ultimately leave her by dint of his far shorter lifespan.

But even if Subaru’s life is only a moment in Beako’s, if she gives him a chance he promises to engrave that moment into her soul. Rather than fear their inevitable goodbye, he asks her to embrace a guaranteed Subaru’s lifetime’s worth of tomorrows, in which she’ll be too busy taking care of him to be bored or lonely. Unlike the other memories we saw, the moments with him will never fade to sepia.

Subaru’s speech finally does the trick, and just as the library is about to collapse into the flames, Beatrice takes Subaru—whom he calls by his name for the first time—and flies out of the burning ruins of the Mathers mansion in a gleaming purple-pink streak of light. That color, as brilliant as her sepia memories were dull, happens to be a combination of the blue of the freezing sanctuary and the red of the burning mansion.

The destination of that streak of light is the entrance to the Graveyard, where Emilia is fighting the good fight against the bunnies but starting to run out of steam. Subaru, with Beako’s hand in his, tells Emilia he needs to “make a revision” to his first battle, while Beako tells Subie not to blame her for “whatever may happen next.”

I don’t know what will happen next, but hopefully it involves the defeat of the Great Rabbit the ending of the snowstorm, and the final lifting of the barrier, resulting in a victory for Emilia and Subaru without the need for Return by Death. Then again, I’ll remain firmly on guard for the possibility of Re:Zero throwing a final wrench or two into the works—even unto the final moments of the second season finale. After all, every moment matters!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – 48 – Crunch Time

“Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts” almost feels like a finale. At the very least, it feels like the start of the climax of a epic blockbuster film. Every stop is pulled out and not a single moment of its 29+ minutes is wasted. You get a little bit of everything, starting with a well-balanced combination of badass action and lighthearted comedy.

Every wound Garfiel gives Elsa is instantly healed, but he doesn’t consider his fight futile, because he’s not necessarily fighting to beat her. He’s fighting to support his “Boss” Subaru, and no matter how many times Elsa heals and charges, he’ll keep meeting her steel with his.

That’s where we get a couple of impeccably-timed jokes, first with Garfiel boasting that the mabeasts will be no sweat for Boss, followed by the mabeasts being too much for Boss to handle. Subie also strikes out when he tries to demonstrate his real-world knowledge of dust fires, only to need to be bailed out by Otto and Petra igniting the beast with oil.

Those fires defeat the main mabeast but also beging to envelop the mansion. Subaru entrusts Rem and Petra to Otto while he runs into the flames to rescue Beako, whether she wants to go or not.

While the flames rage at the mansion, Emilia’s part of the episode serves as a calming, centering breath. Sure, she watched a number of unpleasant futures, but they come as a jumbled rush of voices and images, ultimately collectively blunting their individual discouraging effects.

There’s also the fact that they’re only “possible” futures, as Minerva tells her after the third trial ends. That means none of them are absolutely the real future, which means Emilia and those she loves will be able to avert disaster if and when it rears its ugly head.

Minerva appears to meet with Emilia in Bliss because Echidna was still “mad” at Lia for how the other two trials went, particularly the second. Perhaps Echidna really would have preferred to greedily feed off Emilia’s despair, but after reckoning with her past in the first trial, the witch’s prediction the other two would be a cakewalk turned out to be accurate.

Minerva is decidedly unwrathful in her interactions with Emilia. In fact, she treats her a lot like Mother Fortuna treated her, with tenderness and love, embracing her when Emilia turns back to see her. I suppose Minerva knew her mother, and maybe even knew Emilia as a baby, which is why she’s so aunt-like here?

In any case, Emilia has passed all three trials, and gains access to a tomb where the intricate barrier spell emanates from the deceased Echidna’s chest. With a cute little “Hi-yah!” Emilia deactivates the barrier and exits the graveyard, only to be welcomed by a raging winter storm.

Elsa and Garfiel are still going at it in the midst of the spreading flames when Maylie bursts through the outer wall with her giant hippo. Frederica isn’t far behind, turning the duel into a battle between sibling duos. After some trash talk the four get down to business, in a fury of bloody, kick-ass combat.

Frederica takes on all of Maylie’s other mabeasts, then Garfiel starts getting serious by transforming into his beast mode, ripping half of Elsa’s face off then not only going toe-to-toe with the hippo, but twisting and ripping it’s damn head off. Unlike the hippo, even Gar’s most vicious attacks fail to faze Elsa.

It’s at this point Garfiel realizes he’s dealing with a vampire. Elsa takes a few moments to tell the story of where she came from, and how she suffered to get to this kind of existence. When she was caught and stripped by an shop owner while stealing off starvation, Elsa reached for a shard of glass and opened the man’s belly.

Elsa, who’d previously only known the cold bleakness of her homeland, was both soothed and excited by the warmth of blood and innards, and never looked back. She tells Garfiel all of this because she finds him so precious and endearing. When he says there’s already a girl he likes, she clarifies that she only has business with his insides, and her love for him will begin after she kills him.

It’s a stirring final monologue for a baddie who has been around since Subaru first arrived, and distinguished by the utter inability to kill her. However, thanks to an assist by Frederica using Maylie to distract her, Gar gets in close and bites Elsa in the neck. Elsa bites him back, but he gives as good as he gets.

Before Elsa’s wound heals (or perhaps it won’t heal because of where he bit her), Gar lifts up the giant headless hippo and throws it on top of her. In her final moments, she recalls the very first thrill of disemboweling someone, then exclaims “What a thrill” in sheer ecstasy before being crushed with an ugly crunch. Hard cut to the title card and that oh-so fitting title, “Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts”.

At this point we’ve reached the 21-minute mark, which is when most other anime are rolling credits. Re:Zero keeps it going with an entire extra act, which is perhaps the most visually stunning and emotionally affecting in an episode that’s already full of those.

It deals with Ram and Puck fighting Roswaal, a battle that moves outside to protect Ryuzu Meyer’s crystal. Roswaal stirs shit by confessing to messing with Puck’s contract with Emilia when she was depressed after her fight with Subaru, essentially kicking her while she’s down in hopes Subie would scoop her up and do everything for her.

Roswaal admits to always looking back on the past, and with fondness, deeming all the wonderful things that ever happened to be in the past, and all that exists now is a phony standing atop a pile of corpses. Puck name-drops Beatrice, provoking him into launching fire attack.

Roswaal is disappointed in Ram’s weak outing thus far; as he wanted her to exact justice for her brethren and find happiness by defeating him. That’s when Ram drops a bombshell on him: he never properly realized her true intention: that she really was a demon, and not someone who was in love with Roswaal.

It’s a confession she delivers while both of her eyes exposed, a trademark of the demon maid sisters. When Roswaal asks her what of keeping her promise to her brethren, Ram simply says she’s prioritizing her own feelings over those of the dead. Puck, energized by Ram’s confession, grows to mammoth size (though maintaining his cute appearance) and seals Roswaal in a giant ring of ice, through which he can spot multiple Rams flitting back and forth.

Roswaal begins destroying the ice walls and the giant ice crystal attacks Puck rains down on him, but in the process he ends up with one of the crystals directly behind him. It shatters on its own and out comes the real Ram, snatching the gospel Echidna gave him, while suffering a horrific wound. Calling it “the root of all evil”, she drops the book in the fire, destroying it.

She wears a smile as she says “Now, at last…” before being hit by Roswaal’s retaliatory flames, which cause a huge explosion that consumes them both. Then the credits roll, and for me at least, the process of starting to breathe again commenced. As it has demonstrated many times in its previous forty-seven episodes, when Re:Zero decides to go big and epic, it does not disappoint.


RABUJOI
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Re: Zero – 47 – Seeing the Job Through

There’s action on all fronts, such that we don’t even check in on Ram and Puck’s fight with Roswaal. What we do see is that for once, an opponent—in this case Gar—is giving Elsa a challenge, even blocking her razor-sharp blades with his pearly whites! Gar’s confidence is buoyed both by his reunion with his big sister (who is free to retrieve the sleeping Rem) and “Boss” Subaru’s heroic example.

Gar and Fred give Subie the time he needs to at least try to make a case for Beako to come with him. She remains weighed down by the pain of 400 years of solitude; a “pure white life” due to the blank pages of the tome her mother gave to her. But it’s because she’s kept her promise for that long that she’s not about to break it now, even if it means her death.

Subie feels the opposite: four centuries is long enough, especially when nobody’s even sure Beako was given the right book! He’d rather she break the promise to keep her alive. Negotiations break down when Beatrice asks with all earnestness if Subaru can be “that person” for her. He says no way, and she ejects him from her library, where he encounters Otto and Petra, cornered by Mabeasts.

Meili (or Maylie if you prefer) is indeed on the scene, riding a giant “Rock Piggie” or Hippo. After grabbing Subie, Otto, and Petra (with Rem on her back) getting them out of the mansion, Frederica vows to hold Maylie off while Subaru and Otto get Rem and Petra to safety.

Unlike last time she fought, Fred’s not prepared to die so soon after meeting seeing her brother again, so she promises Petra she’ll take care not to let herself get killed. Unfortunately, Subaru and Otto have another obstacle: the Guiltylowe, who is immune to the mabeast ward. With both Tinzel siblings occupied, can these two lads handle this boss? To be continued.

The episode makes a clean break from the events at the mansion and returns to Emilia tackling the second trial. I appreciated this as Subie’s side of the story already has a lot of moving parts and cutting back and forth between him and Emilia would have added needless complexity and hampered the flow of both.

Instead, we stick with Emilia to the end of the episode, bearing witness to the entirety of her second trial. While she confronted her past in the first trial, the second is all about an “unthinkable”, i.e. alternate present (or at least near-present, as Emilia still seems slightly younger than her true present form). But the bottom line is this: she’s grown into a lovely young lady under the continued care of Mother Fortuna, who is still alive.

On an absolutely perfect day, an alive and non-crazed Betelgeuse comes calling, and the three set out for a picnic by the lake. Fortuna is dressed up for the occasion and Geuse cannot help but compliment her, which only makes her embarrassed and self-conscious. On their way to the lake, they pass by three other inhabitants of Elior, for whom Fortuna, Lia, and Geuse look like a tight-knit family.

Emilia uses the picnic to bring up the prospect of no longer beating around the bush and making their little family unit an official thing. While Geuse is worried that rumors about him and Fortuna could affect her very important job, but Lia believes it’s too late to worry about others’ opinions, and in any case those opinions are wholly positive, so why not become a family?

Saying she has something in her eye and having said what she wanted to say, Emilia leaves “the rest” to the two “young kids”, tearfully saying “I love you both” as she walks away. She climbs a hill that overlooks the idyllic scene, and is soon joined by Archi. He agrees the two make a good match and Fortuna should “give more thought to her own happiness.”

But, Emilia remarks, clutching Fortuna’s hairpiece that is now in her hair. this world doesn’t exist anymore. Archi confirms it is the unthinkable present, and asks her if she wants to live there in happiness. But Emilia has already committed to the real world outside of this. She’s done being hidden and protected, and wants to be an admirable person, listing off everyone dead and alive who were also admirable in how they helped and indeed are still doing so as she speaks.

Archi turns into a thoroughly disgusted Echidna, but it was she who said that the other two trials would be a piece of cake after how Emilia acquitted herself in the first. And so it was! She was never seriously tempted to remain in a dream world that she knew could never truly be. Rather, she was simply grateful for the opportunity to see her family once more.

To complete the trial, she leaps off the bluff and straight into the water, briefly catching a glimpse of her face and noting that she looks less like Fortuna than she thought. From the depths of the lake, Emilia emerges from the Graveyard, and is surprised to find the village refugees are all there to greet her and celebrate her latest victory.

It’s not just the villagers, either: Ryuzu has come with all of the beast people from the Sanctuary. While some of them still don’t 100% trust her, they’ve seen how hard Garfiel worked, and they’re willing to stand and bear witness to her efforts. Just one more trial to go, which will doubtless be focused on the future, or the possible versions thereof. Emilia promises they’ll all have a nice talk once she’s come through the final trial in one piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 08 – Growing Up Fast

Two years have passed since Eris’ tenth birthday, which means Rudeus’s tenth birthday has arrived. He can sense scurryings and murmurings around the Boreas mansion, but he doesn’t expect much in the way of a celebration. For one, he’s a member of the Notos branch of the Greyrats, one of four main families.

For him to be under Boreas protection invites “unwelcome misunderstandings”, so they’ve kept it quiet. But when the day arrives, after discovering Ghislaine’s rock-hard glutes (she takes her diversionary role very seriously) while inspecting her tail, Rudy is shown to the main banquet hall where the entire Boreas household is gathered to celebrate his birthday.

Eris presents him with a bouquet, and Rudy reacts with tears he had practiced, leading an overly-moved Lord Sauros to start an inter-Greyrat war for his sake. Even Eris’ mom Hilda is moved, first offering to adopt Rudy, then insisting he marry Eris! The big secret Eris and Ghislaine were concealing from Rudy is Aqua Heartia, a superb magical staff made in Asura that must’ve cost a fortune.

As the party winds down and a tuckered-out Eris is carried to bed, Phillip explains why Hilda has been so cold to him these past years: his brother in the capital took Eris’ older and younger brothers, as all male Boreas are raised in the main household.

He makes a seemingly serious proposal for Rudy to marry Eris and take over the Boreas household, offering to handle the coup. Rudy, wanting no part of power struggles, leaves their discussion as idle chitchat over wine and retires for the night.

To Rudy’s surprise, Eris is waiting in his bed wearing a nightie and with silkier-than-usual hair, worried he’d be lonely the night of his birthday and offering to share the bed with him. So begins the most uncomfortable scene in the whole series, which begins with Rudy imagining doing something to Eris. The Eris in his head yells “no” and he ends his fantasy immediately.

Then Rudy warns the Eris outside his head that if she stays with him he might “try something dirty (ecchi)“, to which she replies that “just a little” is fine with her. Alas, Rudy goes way too far, attempting to do far more than “just a little” and immediately receiving a beatdown for it. Lying on the floor, Rudy is filled with regret for forgetting himself in the moment. Eris ends up coming right back, and he prostrates himself in apology.

She forgives him because it’s a “special day,” but warns him it’s far too soon for such things, urging him to “control himself” for five more years when he’ll be a proper adult —at least in this renaissance-analogous  timeline. Taking her words as a promise that they’ll be properly together one day, Rudy swears off “indulgences”, only to remember that Sylphie is no doubt waiting for him…

Back at his home, Sylphie visits the Greyrats, and we see that Norn and Aisha have grown into adorable toddlers. Sylphie has an item she wants send to Rudy, and Lilia promises to send it, along with a box which most likely contains the “holy relic”—payback for saving her from having to leave the home.

Paul, meanwhile, has been inordinately busy hunting an increased number of monsters in the forest, which kept him from attending Rudy’s party in Roa. The double-ringed red orb in the sky has grown, and seems to be responsible for an unusual accumulation of mana which even Roxy can see in the sky from her royal post.

She’s not the only one who notices this. There’s a very badass-looking guy on a mountain who is able to tame dragons; the much goofier-looking, Zvezda-esque “Great Emperor of the Demon World” with the Japanese name Kishirika Kishirisu; and of course, Lord Perugius in his ornate flying castle. Sensing someone could be trying to undo the seal on the Demon-God Laplace, he dispatches his lieutenant Almanfi to investigate.

The looks in on these colorful previously unseen characters greatly expand the world of Mushoku Tensei in a matter of minutes, but they are only teases; it will be up to the show to flesh out these new players and whatever factions or masters they serve. No doubt this convergence of mana will bring them all crashing together…and who else would be in the direct center of it than Rudeus Greyrat?

He’s come to a large open field with Eris and Ghislaine to test out his new staff and show them Cumulonimbus for the first time. But before he can complete the spell, the sky becomes sickly and miasmic in color and pocked with vortices and eddies. Almanfi teleports, and Ghislaine crosses swords with him. He believes Rudy to be the source of the “disturbance”, but Ghislaine rightly tells him he’s mistaken.

Because she is a true Sword King, Almanfi stays his sword. But who or whatever is causing the disturbance takes things to the next level, as a column of blinding blue light starts to expand across the landscape, swallowing up Ghislaine as she orders Rudy to take Eris and go. Eris loses her footing and Rudy shields her with his body just as the light washes over them, leaving us to ponder what the heck is in store for them next.

While I’m sure the series always intended to end this episode on a cliffhanger, the fact that the bedroom scene lingered on so long and past its welcome had the effect of compressing those glimpses of the bigger picture. Not that Rudy and Eris one day tying the knot isn’t critical importance…but they can’t marry if Laplace wakes up and destroys the world!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 8 here!

Re: Zero – 46 – What a Half-Elf Girl Wants, What a Half-Elf Girl Needs

Whereas last week felt at times dilatory and even inessential, it finished the careful cleaning and polishing of the table, allowing this episode to set that table with all the sundry flatware, silverware, and stemware. Subaru and Garfiel (who all along had beast blood thin enough to pass through the barrier) head to the mansion to stop Elsa. Before that, Subaru tosses the jewel containing Puck to Ram, saying she can “do as she likes” from here on.

Upon her emergence from the Graveyard, Ram is at the entrance to greet her and bends the knee and apologizes for not believing she’d get back on her feet. All Ram needs to see is Emilia’s straight posture, forward gaze, and steady hands to see she’s already become so much stronger. Emilia thanks her for supporting Subaru, but Ram sees it as having helped Emilia, since she was the one who convinced her that helping would be worthwhile.

Ram also has a request—the first she’s ever made of Emilia: to save her master, Roswaal-sama, who has been possessed by delusions and strayed from the proper path. To save him, Ram asks Emilia to win and assume the royal throne of Lugunica, thus fulfilling his wish. Emilia, wanting to pay Ram back for her help agrees to her request.

But who should suddenly emerge from the shadows but the very subject of their discussion: Roswaal! He’s arrived to offer his congratulations to Emilia for passing the first trial, but also to express his pity and sympathy for what he deems to be Emilia’s own curse: that of only knowing how to be loved by doing and saying what others expect of her.

When Emilia counters, Roswaal accuses her of using borrowed words and occupying places prepared for her by the will of others, forcing her to fit an ideal by being convinced she could do it. Roswaal says this is what Subaru did to get her to pass the trial, because he and Subaru are “two of a kind”, forcing their ideals on the women they love, and loving an ideal of her that doesn’t exist.

The old Emilia might have withered before such harsh words, but not the present one. Steadying Ram’s quivering hand with her own and taking a deep breath, Emilia responds with an excellent comeback: “Are you done?” She tells Roswaal how Subie said she was a pain in the ass, causing trouble for him when he’s done so much for her, and making it clear she was “weak, all talk, and insufficient in every way”.

But then Subie took her hand and helped her. If Roswaal calls what he said and did to be nothing but lies and deceptions, then she’ll turn them into truths, into wishes. That’s what she needs to do, and that’s what she wants to do.

Roswaal is impressed with Emilia’s growth, but still pities her, because he deems both the Sanctuary and the Royal Selection to be piddling concerns compared to the much larger matter: that the world is proceeding toward the “wrong destination”, and towards its end.

Emilia ignores this threat and proceeds into the Graveyard to face the second trial, but Roswaal maintains his pity and pessimism are justified; after all, he and Echidna “began” this; it stands to reason he’d be able to reckon when its end is near.

Roswaal then speaks to Ram, who be believes to still be fully “on his side”, having only been “putting on an act” with Emilia earlier about her request to her. He doesn’t mind that she assisted Subaru and Otto with Garfiel, as he’s glad she did what she felt was right. For now, he orders her to remain at the entrance for Emilia’s return.

This leads us to the one and only look backwards in time in this episode, when we’re shown the particulars of the bet Ram made with Otto, and why: because it was the best chance of getting her wish. She asks that Garfiel be taken down a peg, for Barusu do something about Emilia, and for Otto not to tell Barusu about their bet.

As a result of winning that bet—which she felt she would win due to Subie’s notoriously excellent timing—she finds herself where she wants to be: not at the Graveyard entrance as her master instructed, but in Ryuzu Meyer’s crystal chamber, confronting Roswaal with her wand in hand while he holds the Tome of Wisdom. She’s come to free him of the witch’s delusions.

Combined with Emilia eventual winning of the Selection, he shouldn’t have any complaints, and indeed he adopts an “I should have known” attitude towards Ram’s actions. After all, he assumes the long years in which she’s had to yield to him must have been “humiliating”, especially when her master was one of the men who destroyed her homeland.

Roswaal is in the chamber to use Meyer’s Crystal to focus and amplify his mana so he can make it snow in the Sanctuary. But because he once taught a younger Ram that “whatever on relies upon should be the thing that brings about their death”, whether it’s the sword, magic, or a demon.

But Roswaal asserts that Ram showed her hand a little too early, as she would have had a much easier time dealing with him once he’d already started setting up his snow day in accordance with his precious tome. But Ram didn’t want to face him as an empty husk, or in any kind of weakened state. That would have interfered with her wish for him to live for the future.

When Roswaal asks if Ram thinks she can win against him, she tells him she know she can’t, as her knowledge of his power is second only to Echidna’s. The thing is…she doesn’t have to face off against him alone, nor did she ever intend to. She produces the blue crystal and out pops Puck, a stray spirit who “happened to be passing by” and is all too willing to help Ram release the man she loves from his delusions.

Having seen what Puck is capable of, I like Ram’s chances, and I salute the expert maneuvering she did in order to end up in this position. But we’ll have to learn the result of their faceoff another time, as the episode’s final act shift’s to Roswaal’s mansion, where Petra is running and afraid. She wants to retrieve Ram and get her to safety, but she is cornered by Elsa.

There’s a heightened sense of danger and finality to this entire last act because if Subie is to believed there will be no more resets until this is all resolved. Whatever happens in these halls is going to stick. So yeah, I was relieved when lil’ Petra is rescued by Frederica, and warns her that she’ll be punished for disobeying her order to run away by herself.

This time, Petra does run away, and we only hear loud bangs from the battle between Petra and Frederica. Then Petra tries to locate Beatrice, hoping she’ll be able to help, but cannot locate her library among all the doors. That’s when Petra tears up and prays for Subaru come save them…and Subaru, who had just arrived, obliges, cheering a flabberghasted Petra up with his bright smile.

Elsa’s charge towards Frederica is suddenly arrested—by Frederica’s little brother Garfiel, parrying Elsa’s blade with the stout arm guards they used to play with. They have a frankly adorable little reunion where they express their wonder that they’re both so big now. Elsa lets them have some time together without attacking, probably because a.) she’s confident in her ability to beat them both, and b.) she’s got an ally in Meili running around somewhere nearby.

I hope Subie doesn’t forget about her, especially as he seems to be focused on the assassin duo’s third target: Beatrice. He’s there to “drag her out into the sunlight”, whether her precious tome told her he would or not. Things on any of the various fronts could go sideways in the blink of an eye, but it’s so far, so good with Subaru (and Ram)’s grand schemes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – 45 – Weakness vs. Strength

This week stretched my patience for looking back by providing yet another flashback within a flashback, namely the time a suffering young Roswaal met Echida, who literally sucked his excess mana out of his mouth with a French kiss.

Roswaal, Beatrice, and Ryuzu Meyer all reside in what would become the Sanctuary. Their primary foe is yet another new character in Hector, the “Devil of Melancholy”, who shares the present-day Roswaal’s harlequin-like appearance and bizarre speech patterns.

As with Geuse and Fortuna in Emilia’s flashback, Roswaal and Echidna can only buy as much time as they can for Ryuzu to become the last-ditch catalyst for the core of the Sanctuary’s barrier.

Beatrice escorts her to the core without fully understanding that Ryuzu means to sacrifice her waking self, and suggests they use her ability to run away. But Ryuzu is done running, is happy with the life she’s lived with everyone, and is resolved to preserve the Sanctuary for everyone else.

This flashback amounts to more exposition, providing further context for the present confrontation between Subaru and Roswaal. It’s just regrettable to immediately follow up Emilia’s flashback-, tearful goodbye-, and exposition-heavy trial with an episode like this, which lacks any kind of forward momentum in favor of continuing to look back.

Roswaal is unwilling to surrender to buy into Subaru’s way of doing things, as he is still counting on Emilia to be overcome by her inherent weakness, while Subaru believes in her gradually-awakening strength. He tries to provoke Garfiel by questioning his love for his family, but Garf went through his own trial and is done with being weak.

Some yelling ensues, Roswaal and Subie admit they’re very much alike except in their beliefs and preferred methods, and essentially part ways all but saying “may the best man win.” Emilia, fresh off her completed first trial, emerges from the Graveyard where Ram is there to greet her. As its title “Beginning of the Sanctuary and Beginning of the End” indicates, this was very much a transitional episode, and it showed.

Re: Zero – Frozen Bonds

There’s one more piece of business before we begin the months-long wait for Re:Zero Season 2: a second OVA that takes place before Subaru is transported into this new world from that convenience store parking lot. It’s a prequel that focuses on Emilia, prior to becoming a candidate. She lives alone in a treehouse in the forest, surrounded by ice sculptures of people she carefully tends every day. This begs the question: did she turn them to ice? Is this penance?

If it is, she doesn’t know it. We actually get a good amount of Emilia simply wordlessly going through her daily routine, and it’s clear she’s as good a good girl as she is in Re:Zero. But then there’s the issue of her appearance, and her resemblance to the Witch of Envy. Everyone dispises that witch, and Emilia has exhibited magical powers, so everyone in the nearby village is afraid of her and hates her. Everyone except Puck, of course.

When a band of thugs attacks her with the intent of capturing her and selling her into sexual slavery, Puck isn’t around, so she has to rely on her own powers, as well as the cooperation of lesser spirits Puck taught her how to summon. She begs the thugs again and again not to escalate, but they ignore her. A giant yeti joins the fray, and her powers go out of control. Puck intervenes, calming Emilia down, but only because he’s respecting her wishes not to kill anyone.

There’s an “arbiter” spirit named Melakeura who is intent on eliminating Emilia simply for resembling (and being descended from) the witch. He’s stubborn as a horse (and looks like one too!), and Puck can’t dissuade him. Not wanting Puck to take on everything himself, Emilia leaves the safety of her treehouse and sets off on her awesome ice snowboard. Melakeura confronts, condemns, and attacks Emilia, but Puck arrives in time to slow him down.

A multi-stage back-and-forth battle between the two occurs, with Emilia demanding the arbiter to judge her for who she is, not some different person, and Puck insisting she be allowed to live a happy life in peace. Melakeura isn’t having it, so after Puck is nearly KO’d, he forms an official contract with “Lia” and takes his notorious monster form for the first time to defend her.

Melakeura also grows to monstrous size, making this almost a kaiju battle ending. But when the dust settles, Lia and Mega-Puck are none the worse for wear, and commit to their bond as father and daughter before a gorgeous sunset. Frozen Bonds felt 20-30 minutes longer than it really needed to be (some of the battles and Melakerua’s halting dialogue got repetitive at times) but it was nevertheless fun to see a glimpse of Emilia That Was, and how she came to be the exceptional person she is in the present.

Hachi-nan tte, Sore wa Nai deshou! – 01 (First Impressions) – A Slight Improvement

In this suddenly wintry economic climate filled with the fear of viral transmission, the prospect of nodding off in front of your self-quarantine dinner and waking up in a completely different world…doesn’t sound so bad?

Our protagonist doesn’t live in Coronaland (the first anime to reference is probably a couple seasons off), so his is a more general ennui towards his meager lot in life. But when he wakes up at a sumptuous wedding banquet in the body of a five-year-old boy named Wendelin, he rightly presumes that lot has improved greatly.

Alas, the extravagant banquet was only to keep up appearances for the noble guests of his noble family. In reality, they’re dirt poor, sad little lords of a backwater knightdom. Their grand manor is falling apart, and the next meal he has is dry brown bread and soup that’s mostly just water.

Not only that, he’s not the third son of the lord of these lands, but the eighth, when factoring in two half-brothers. Meaning despite technically being nobility, nothing of the very little his family has will ever come Wendelin’s way. And yet, this is still probably a better deal than his salaryman existence.

That’s because in this world our protagonist has mana, which means he’s able to perform magic, something only one in a thousand people in this world can do. Yet after reading a very brief note on how to use a crystal ball to measure his mana, his father’s library doesn’t have any other material on harnessing that mana. More to the point, his Dad can’t even read!

He heads out into the woods to try to figure things out on his own, hastily drawing a magic circle, striking poses, and calling out names of spells to no avail. That’s when he’s approached by Alfred Rainford, a former court magician who sensed Wendelin’s mana and is confident he’s bound for great things.

When Alfred accidentally drops a boulder on a giant wild boar, he helps Wendelin summon his wind power and unleash it on the charging boar. It doesn’t do much, but it’s pretty good for a very first try, and Alfred takes care of the boar with a much stronger and more focused wind spell. Still, he thinks Wendelin will surpass him one day.

Sure enough, this episode begins ten years after the MC arrives in this world. He’s a cool cocky teenager wearing the same magician’s robes as Aldred, and having tea with no fewer than four pretty ladies (who mercifully don’t fight over him). I’m not quite sure such a flash-forward prologue was necessary, but I guess the show didn’t want to keep us in the dark about whether Wendelin would make it in this world.

The 8th Son? Are You Kidding Me? is…fine? It borrows elements from Youjo Senki, except that the MC becomes a boy rather than a girl and is in a Renaissance-era world rather than WWI steampunk. It has some decent moments of levity. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in its spirit of escapism. But even with Re:Zero 2 pushed to the Summer, this show is likely to be supplanted by better isekai anime airing later this Spring.

Re: Zero – Memory Snow

Firstly, this OVA/Movie isn’t new: it was released back in October 2018…but it’s new for me! And frankly, after one and a half seasons of watching the cast of Re:Zero in chibi form sharing the screen with the casts of 3-4 other isekai shows, it’s a rare pleasure to finally see Subaru, Rem, Ram, Emilia, Roswaal, and Beako in their normal proportions, in a more slice-of-life setting.

While these initial screenshots are disconcerting, one can be rest assured that neither Subie nor anyone else goes through anything horrible or traumatic in this Memory Snow side story; the worst thing that happens is he wakes up to an increasingly cold manor. Turns out the cold is emanating from Puck, who is undergoing Hatsumaki, a periodic semi-controlled bleeding-off of mana. It’s fun to learn that Ram shares Subie’s extreme dislike of the cold.

Subaru’s first date with Lia is postponed until the Hatsumaki is over, but he makes the best of a chilly situation by taking a page from his homeland and organizing a snow festival on the manor grounds. Everyone makes a snow sculpture while Subie, the village elder and Roswaal serve as judges. Even Beako gets in on the action, while Ram and Rem’s collaboration of a Subaru-Roswaal hybrid statue gets middling scores for being so creepy.

At the post-festival banquet, Roswaal cracks open a stash of booze hidden under the floorboards of Subaru’s bedroom. This results in what I believe is our first taste of both Tipsy Emilia and Tipsy Rem, who while unassailably adorable in their playful drunkenness, have limited energy stores and it’s not long before both are using Subie’s lap as a pillow. Ram, on the other hand, can mostly hold her liquor.

The group migrates outside, where Puck expands the Hatsumaki to give the villagers and surrounding lands a lovely late night snowfall; the spirits soon appear, thousand points of light dancing around the sky. Beako and Rem deliver their barbs to Subaru regarding his being named after a star of all things, but by night’s end everyone can jump in bed content after a very full, fun day spearheaded by Barusu.

With Puck’s Hatsumaki waning, the story closes with Subaru and Emilia finally having their date—and Lia unveiling her adorable outfit for the occasion. While this outing lacked its parent anime’s sadistic bite or any measurable stakes, it was a strong affirmation of the real reason why I kept watching Re:Zero, and will be tuning in to its second season: the characters. Subaru, Rem, Emilia & Co. are eminently fun to watch, whether they’re chibis in a high school or playing in the snow without a care in the world.

Assassins Pride – 11 – A Vast and Insidious Conspiracy

From the moment Mule and Salacha arrive, Melida and Elise are at Mule’s mercy. Her family administrates the library, and she knows what all the books do, from dressing them in fairy tale cosplay to showing them the way through the labyrinth. The whole time, we know Melida and Elise’s “new friends” are up to something.

What we don’t know is why, aside from loyalty to their respective houses. What those houses are conspiring to do to Melida is evil, and all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. So…who are Mule and Salacha, really?

When the quartet completes a trial, which consists of defeating low-level imps and organizing books, four new books bearing their names materialize on a shelf. This is when Salacha decides: forget her bro’s orders, she’s Melida’s friend, and she owes her at least the warning that all of this is a trap, and help her chase down Mule, who’s taken her book.

Meanwhile, the Headmistress and the upperclassmen (of whom apparently only Shenfa can actually fight) are attacked by a Guild Grimface necromancer, but are bailed out by Kufa, who in turn is bailed out by Williams Gin when the necromancer transforms into Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin.

Grimface has apparently come to eliminate any and all witnesses to the screwing over of Melida, but Kufa made sure some students, led by Rosetti and Naqua, stayed on the surface to repel the guild’s raid. Thanks to Salacha, Melida at least knows that even two of her friends are working against her on behalf of their blood purity-obsessed families.

But what does Mule mean when she says she’s doing this because she “likes” Melida? Is she really doing her father’s bidding, or does she have a third, distinct agenda all her own? Was she just putting on an act in last week’s secret meeting? The final episode (at least of this season) has a lot of questions to answer.

Assassins Pride – 10 – No Point Imagining Bad Scenarios

No sooner than Melida returns to Flandore, she’s encouraged to enter the Vibria Goat Librarian Certification Exam, which in addition to being a damn mouthful, involves exploring Flandore’s sprawling central labyrinth library. Melida and Elise are eligible owing to their status as Luna Cadets, but the headmistress just wants them to stay on the safest level and get the feel of the place for a future exam.

Meanwhile, a widespread conspiracy is in motion against the Angel family, whose political rivals are annoyed that a girl of dubious parentage continues to rise. The movement is led by Salacha’s older brother, and she and Mule flank him as he discusses how they’ll take the Angels down. Mule even offers a magical book to aid them, which begs the question: whose side are these girls on? Salacha’s hesitation over harming Melida seems to suggest the answer isn’t so simple.

Salacha’s brother’s first move is to send in a goofy joker-masked man into Melida’s school to loudly and publicly declare he, not Lord Angel, is her real father. While examining her mana, Kufa reminds Melida that he warned her this kind of thing would happen when she started to gain renown, and to simply keep facing forward and doing her best.

Despite the headmistress’ meager expectations, Kufa thinks Melida should try to win the Certification Exam, in order to silence further doubters of her potential and prove that even if she is technically a bastard, she has what it takes to serve Flandore with distinction. So of course, things don’t go as planned when the Exam begins, with the lift being interrupted and a strange tentacle monster snatching up only Melida and Elise.

As the two girls battle high-level undead—apparently the ghosts of past librarians, very Ghostbusters—in the sprawling library, Lord Angel himself visits her school, and is received by Kufa and Rosetti. After the incident with the impostor claiming to be her father, the Lord’s fears about Melida’s fast rise causing trouble for the family has led him to decide to pull her out of school—away from both Kufa and Elise.

Kufa protests, and the Lord can tell he has reason to, but the dispute is interrupted by a message from Guild Grimface, indicating that Melida and Elise are in grave danger. Back in the library labyrinth, just two undead enemies cause severe wear to the girls’ swords, making it unlikely they’ll last if more than two were to appear. Naturally, ten ghosts appear, surrounding them, which is when Salacha and Mule drop in and eliminate them.

Is Salacha here to carry out her brother’s wishes and those of the families who have allied against the Angels? Is Mule seriously going to take steps to expose Melida’s “blunders”? Or are they there as they were at the slumber party: fast friends who want to protect and aid them?

Assassins Pride – 09 – Wedding Crashers

The Shangarta mini-arc felt more over-stuffed and rushed than any previous Assassins Pride storyline, but it at least managed to bring Melida and Kufa still closer together and answer some questions about his and Rosetti’s past.

There’s a lot to get through here. It’s a dense episode. We start with Melida seeing Kufa in his half-lacanthrope, vampiric form. He immediately prepares to wipe all her memories of him, resetting their relationship to “nice to meet you” status.

To his credit, he lets Melida make the final choice to not wipe the memories, as she’ll gladly take his secret to her grave. Even if Kufa believes there’s no one in the world who would ever accept him, Melida is that someone, and is even able to kiss him without a hint of embarrassment him to prove it.

Kufa takes us back to when he was a child at the Pricket residence, and we learn Rosetti was his adoptive sister, and Blossom his adoptive dad. A giant spider-mage attacks the place and makes Kufa bite Rosetti, turning her into vampire kin.

He helps a man who has come to slay the spider, and swears his loyalty to him in exchange for letting Rosetti live a normal life as a human, which Kufa makes possible by wiping her memories.

Back in the present, Melida has a wedding to stop—the one between Rosetti and her betrothed. Melida snaps Rosetti out of her trance by bringing up the fact that the two of them still have a competition for Kufa’s heart—and Melida’s already kissed him…twice.

The Rosetti we know snaps out of it and spars with Melida. In the process, some of Melida’s magical flames graze Blossom, on whose head a tiny spider was lurking. It transforms into Naqua, the spider-baddie who forced Kufa to turn Rosetti years ago, and most recently forced Rosetti to commit the assaults.

Once Rosetti remembers all the awful stuff Naqua made her do, she chases him down, but he quickly overpowers her. That’s where Kufa comes in, activating Rosetti’s vamp side so they can fight together. They lure Naqua into a mystery spot, paralyzing him, and turn him into dust, which is then dealt with by the other students and instructors.

After the fight, Kufa, who must abide by the promise he made to his guild, suppresses Rosetti’s memories of him—going back to when they were brother and sister—once more. Like Melida, she pleads with him not to do it.

I know Kufa made a promise and his guild would probably kill him and Melida and Rosetti when they found out, but it’s still a raw deal for Rosetti. I mean, Kufa gets to walk around simply hiding his true nature but with all his memories intact…why not let Rosetti have those same rights?

Then, in a final scene with his adoptive father Blossom, Kufa gives him a potion that will restore his wife’s humanity, which begs the question: if such a potion exists, why didn’t Kufa use it on Rosetti? I guess; the wife hadn’t completely changed yet, while Rosetti had.

In any case, on the train back to Flandore, Rosetti is back to her usual self: jealous of Melida and having no memory of who Kufa really is, just a vague inkling that someone she was close to long ago is out there, somewhere, and she’s intent on becoming famous enough that he’ll seek her out.

Like I said…that was a lot of plot boxes to check off in short order, but rather than come away dizzy and confused, I found it to be a pretty satisfying episode. Kufa and Melida’s bond keeps growing deeper and deeper, while there was an obvious bittersweet-ness to how things turned out for Rosetti.

 

Assassins Pride – 08 – Heart of Darkness

Attacks on innocents increases, and they look a whole lot like vampire attacks, so with Kufa suddenly vanished and the blue aura a distinguishing feature of the culprit, it’s looking increasingly bad for Melida’s instructor. Rather than continue with her school’s training, she decides to sneak off and investigate matters for herself, notably leaving Elise behind.

Instructor Laqua predicted Melida’s actions and tags along, in part because Kufa told her to look after his charge if anything were to happen to him. Whether he’s responsible for the attacks or has gone dark in order to more effectively track down the true culprit, the bottom line is that he’s not around.

Melida and Laqua search the most forbidden of the “mystery spots” and learn there’s not strange phenomenon at all, just a secret dungeon where Marquis Pricket has been experimenting on townsfolk. The increased restrictions on movements were all to hide his dark operations.

Upon returning to town, Melida and Laqua find Rosetti killedapparently while protecting an injured Elise. When the Marquis himself is attacked, the townsfolk turn against Kufa and seek to use Melida as a hostage to snag him and no doubt exert mob justice.

Shenfa helps Melida escape, and suddenly she’s all on her own. She investigates another mystery spot that turns out to be the bad guy’s library and office. He sics a vampirized Rosetti at Melida, and that’s when Kufa finally shows his face to protect his student, begging Rosetti to snap out of it.

At this point it’s pretty clear Marquis Pricket is the baddie, and is trying to create his own army of lancanthrope-human hybrids. We’ll see if Melida and Kufa can foil his plans and save Rosetti from an awful fate. In any case, I imagine the fake-boyfriend angle has been shelved indefinitely!