Assassins Pride – 02 – The Right Time to Shine

In a welcome scene of student and teacher bonding, Melida learns that despite his stoic look and manner he’s both embarrassed to have to examine her body (her being a girl and all) but has been trained to hide his true emotions. While that was implied last week, it’s good to hear him actually voice it, as well as voice his sincere hope for her success.

While Melida’s mana has awakened, she’s not a Paladin, but a Samurai class, like Kufa. Kufa warns her to keep her awakening secret and forbids her from using mana against anyone but him. Since he estimates she’s currently only able to summon half of her mana, she’ll rely on the element of surprise to win in the school tournament.

Keeping cards close to one’s vest, and waiting for the opportune time to reveal them, are all part in parcel of what Kufa is all about. But he learns something about her too when she defends him against the mocking words of her “friend” Nerva: she’ll more readily summon what strength she has for others before herself.

When the tournament begins, even Melida’s allies aren’t aware she can use mana, and she doesn’t use it until Nerva is at the very height of her arrogance. Thankfully it’s not a one-sided affair, as there’s a lot of back-and-forth as Nerva ups her game. But in the end, there’s a card in Melida’s hand she kept even from her tutor, taking a page from his book.

That card is a phantom-blade technique he only demonstrated to her once, meaning she either learned it from that one time, or trained a bunch on her own. She thought mutliple moves ahead in her fight with Nerva, making it seem like she was totally out of mana, only to summon the rest of it when Nerva opened herself up to finish her.

In the end, Melida surprised Nerva to the point that after their match she returns the book she took from her and apologizes, apparently continue to value the “friendship” she said they’d have no matter what happens. I appreciated that extra dimension to Nerva, who isn’t just a sneering, bullying bitch after all.

Melida also addresses her father and master of the house, and as Kufa remarks, just the fact her father responded to her (by basically telling her not to get too cocky until she’s accomplished more) is another victory. If she continues to improve, it’s looking less and less likely Kufa will have to kill her, or worry about getting killed himself for failing.

But even with a chastened Nerva and an semi-acknowledging father, Melida faces a lot more adversity, both from her overachieving Paladin cousin Elsie to some unsavory lancanthropes lurking in the shadows.

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Assassins Pride – 01 (First Impressions) – Change of Heart

Right away, Assassins Pride impresses with its striking setting: a world coated in unending darkness but for Flandore, a city-state in the form of a massive chandelier with city blocks within its lanterns. Even within these lanterns there’s an eerie feeling that it’s the middle of the night and always will be.

It is a world in need of a protagonist slightly more interesting than Kufa Vampir, who despite his cool name and profession (assassin), is dull as dry toast. At least he’s good at healing cats and catching clumsy young women like Melida Angel, whom he’s to serve as tutor and attendant. She’s a little more interesting thanks to her story, which is provided through Kufa’s narration as he writes in his journal.

Like him, Melida is a member of a noble family. Only nobles possess mana which is used to fight the lacanthrope hordes outside (and sometimes inside) the city. Her dream is to join the elite Crest Legion as a battle maiden, but…things are not going well.

While mana awakens in most noble children at around seven years, Melida’s has yet to awaken. As such, she’s an easy mark for mockery by her mana-using noble peers at the academy, and pity by her cousin Elise from a branch family, who has already surpassed her.

As Kufa watches Melida try in vain to best her particularly arrogant classmat Nerva and run off in tears, he considers his duty should it be determined Melida has no chance of ever awakening her mana: he’s to assassinate her. The rumors going around are that she’s not a true member of the Angel family, but the illegitimate child of her mother and a man who is not Lord Mordrew, explaining her lack of mana.

Watching Melida initially disgusts Kufa, to the point he believes offing her would be a “professional mercy” (and referencing the show’s title), since he’d be ending her suffering, knowing she’ll never be rewarded for it due to her true lineage. But when he enters her room to do the deed, she’s not there. Instead, she’s being chased through the streets by low-level Lacanthropes in what could be an attempt by her father to get her mana to awaken through combat.

But with zero mana, Melida is no match against the three pumpkin-headed scarecrow monsters. Kufa very much is, and exhibits a small measure of his power in dispatching them before they can cut her hair, which she cherishes as her mother’s legacy.

Watching her endure the beating, too proud to call for help, causes a major shift in his thinking, from pity bordering on disgust to admiration and a powerful desire to support her, even if it means hiding secrets from his bosses. He sees his own pride in her pride, and wants to validate if he can…because no one else will.

When Melida firmly agrees to do “the one thing” that could awaken her mana, but could also end up killing her, Kufa administers a dose of a potion to her (through a kiss), and for a moment, she seems to die, falling backwards into a deep, dark ocean, all of the color peeling from her body.

But after the end credits, not only is she still alive, but is impressing her maids with mana tricks. Was her mana really awakened, or did Kufa simply transfer some of his to her? Perhaps only by transferring some of his is there a chance to awaken hers? In any case, he knows he’s treading carefully, and the day may yet come when he’ll have to kill her. He just hopes it doesn’t.

Assassins Pride is…fine. It’s a no-nonsense opener that introduces the place, the players, and the stakes, but often lacked energy. The stateliness and good repair of Flandore calls into question the seriousness and urgency of the Lancanthrope threat (especially as we only see Level-1 scarecrows). The atmospheric setting and clean animation/character design did most of the heavy lifting, while Kufa and Melida felt more like archetypes than distinct characters. I’ll stick with it for now, but so far it’s nothing life-changing.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 20 – Strong Bonds

Well, look at that…Queen Mirelia understands that you need to have a camp and supplies if you’re mobilizing a large force. She also understands the need to make a regal impression in front of that force, as she suits up in her armor against the wishes of her Shadows. Finally, it seems she’s ready to take a more active role, promising to bring the Pope and his flock to justice for their treason.

Meanwhile, in the magic Cathedral, the Pope manages to block, parry, or nullify pretty much every attack thrown his way, and unlike his opponents, he doesn’t particularly care if his acolytes push themselves so far they end up dying; he considers that martyrdom (though I bet if you asked him to lay his life down he’d have a different view).

When the other heroes urge Naofumi to break out his “overpowered” Rage Shield, the cursed dragon within takes hold of him. Like Emperor Palpatine, the dragon wants Naofumi to let the hate flow through him—not just the dragon’s hate, but his own, amassed during all the various injustices that have befallen him since arriving in this world.

Thankfully, Raph, Filo, and Melty pull him out of his rage spiral by reminding him that they love and support him, and aren’t about to lose him to the darkness.

Naofumi promises not to let the shield get the better of him, and coordinates with his allies and the other heroes to press the attack against the Pope.

But no matter what feints and combos they throw at him, he calmly deflects it all, and serves up more innane religious babbling as if anyone wanted to hear any more. All the while, his followers outside fall and expire one by one. He can’t keep this up forever.

Ultimately, the Pope decides to concentrate his remaining Mana into a large-scale illusion spell that creates a kaleidoscope of Pope clones along the inner surface of the Cathedral, enabling him to attack his foes from above and every angle.

It’s almost game over for our heroes, but Queen Mirelia casts an Icicle Prison spell that freezes him in place for them to finish off. Naofumi delivers the coup-de-grace by casting Blood Sacrifice, which, you guessed it, requires him to expend the majority of his own blood.

At first it looks ineffective, but the blood creates a mechanical serpent that bursts out of the ground, snatches up the Pope, snaps his staff, and basically dissolves him into a pool of blood. With that, the Cathedral falls, the Heroes are free, the lame boss I never cared about is gone (hopefully for good), and Queen Mirelia introduces herself to the nearly-bloodless Naofumi, apologizing for not showing up sooner and promising not to let him die.

Obviously, he’s not dying—we have at least five episodes left—but hopefully this victory marks the beginning of détente and future cooperation between Naofumi and his fellow Heroes. I’m just glad this Pope-Coup mini-arc is behind us, and that it was resolved in reasonably satisfying fashion.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 19 – United Front

The Pope packs a whallop with his attacks, but turns out the first couple were just “trial runs”, to unleash the full power of the weapon he transforms it into a spear and draws upon the mana his holy army of followers, who number in the thousands despite not having any kind of supply train. Did these people just walk out here from wherever they came from without provisions of any kind? Seems like a logistical nightmare.

That weapon turns out to be a replica of the Cardinal Heroes’ own weapons, able to transform as needed. Melty is shocked to learn it still exists, believing it had been lost long ago, while Motoyasu condemns its use as “cheating.” As for Naofumi, he asks why, if they could make such powerful weapons, did they bother summoning heroes at all?

However, Motoyasu’s weapons, nor combo attacks by him and his party, have any effect thanks to Popey’s magical barrier, which enables said Pope to laugh and bray on about delivering judgment and such.  What he didn’t count on, however, were the Sword and Bow Heroes not being dead after all.

Turns out Itsuki and Ren never trusted the Three Heroes Church, and were investigating it when they learned that the church had possession of the weapon. They were led to a false shrine where the church tried to assassinate them, but failed. Now, with all the four Cardinal Heroes, assembled, it’s time to turn the tables as one unit…right?

Wrong. Naofumi isn’t fighting with other three. Not after the shit they gave him and the trouble they caused which he and his party had to clean up. And who can blame him? They’ve demonstrated they’re no better than the Pope, taking and doing whatever they want without regard to the lives they affect.

This results in roughly six minutes of the heroes bickering among themselves and pointing fingers before Naofumi finally gives in and joins the others, but only until they deal with the Pope and the Queen’s Shadow Punitive Force arrives (which, by the way, where the hell have they BEEN?), and because he promised Fitoria he’d at least try to make up with the other heroes.

However, by the time they’re ready to fight as one, The Pope has already prepared “Cathedral”, a high-level spell that encases the entire crater in a magical barrier that he maniacally declares will be their “final destination.” Somehow I doubt that. I have to say, I’ve had quite enough of our ambitious pontiff and his seemingly infinite supply of mana.

But at least his actions led to the other three heroes finally learning not only how wrong they’ve been about Naofumi, but how harmful their own actions have been. Here’s hoping the lessons stick, even if the alliance is only temporary.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 11

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Re:Zero continues to dominate our Spring schedule, blasting ahead of the field and lapping it numerous times with its awesom-nitude. Last week set things up for another potential heartbreaking reset, but instead there was no death nor Return by Death; only victory and sweet sweet closure.

It begins, surprisingly enough, with the origin story of Ram and Rem. We’e only known the relatively inept-at-everything Ram, but she was once a demon prodigy, despite only having one horn. Indeed, a display of her power kept her and Rem from being killed in the cradle. All Rem could do was try to be content in standing behind her sister as she dazzled everyone with her talents.

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But one day, when their house was attacked and their parents killed, she lost her horn while protecting Rem. This Rem-centric flashback makes a point of showing the tiniest of smiles of relief on Rem’s face when that damn horn, which had caused her so much grief and self-hatred to that point in her life, finally broke.

And yet, back in the present, Rem has never forgiven herself for smiling, or for envying her sister, or for putting her in the position of having to protect her at the cost of her horn. The “inept, less-than” Ram is a product of Rem’s weakness and worthlessness, and she’s been trying to make up for that ever since, including going after the Mabeasts alone.

Upon coming to, her first reaction is distress that Ram and Subie are there, rejecting her whole notion of sacrificing herself for them. But they can’t change the fact they’re there, here and now, and aren’t going to abandon her.

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Instead, Subie promises he has a plan for the mabeast boss, and sends Rem away on Ram’s back to safety. Rem, however, can’t help but call back to Subaru, which just so happens to imbue him with the courage and confidence to pull off his trump card: a Shamac spell that gives him the opening he needs to stick his broken sword in the mabeast’s throat.

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Unfortunately, that’s not enough to kill it, but just before he passes out from using all his mana, Roswaal arrives to mop up, grateful his subordinates were able to hold their own as long as they did, and all too happy to help.

Rem pounces on Subaru, happy beyond words he’s still alive, and though he passes out and wakes up in his bedchamber, the curse is lifted, so he didn’t die and the same timeline continues on, much to my delight.

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He wakes with Rem’s hand in his, and he then must endure an extended monologue filled with self-loathing and inadequacies stemming all the way back to when Rem and Ram were newborns about to be killed. Even then Ram saved them while she just lay there.

Obviously, Rem is being far too harsh on herself, undermining the wonderful, powerful individual she became by her own efforts, and far too quick to dwell on the past. Subaru tells her she should focus more on the future, value herself more as others like him do, and smile and laugh that life turned out as well as it did. And Rem eventually lets herself laugh, tears in her eyes. BAWWWW.

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With all the talk of leaning on one another, this sure looks like the start of a Subie x Rem romantic arc, but the next time we see Subie, he’s asking Emilia on a date like he did before, and again she accepts, even with her fuzzy concept of what a date is. So I guess Subie’s primary love interest remains his EMF.

As for Ram, now far less than she once was, but at peace with it, we see that her sessions sitting in Roswaal’s lap are so he can restore her mana. Since Roswaal brought her and her sister into his home, Ram has always been utterly devoted to him, and he makes it clear that he may be away for a while, so she must continue to take care of her little sister and Subaru in his stead.

I don’t know what tragedy might befall our friends next (and I’m sure they’re in for more trouble), I’m glad for an ending without a taste of what’s to come, that I may simply revel in the progress that Subaru has made. He and Rem have come so far, but the evolution of their friendship couldn’t have happened more naturally, as if it was always meant to be this nice. Also, hopefully Subaru will get to actually go on a date with Emilia!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 10

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Another unfamiliar ceiling…and another unfamiliar but very welcome occurance: that we may be able to bask in Subaru’s latest victories. He’s alive, the kids are safe and their curses are removed, and neither of the twins are dead, hate him, or want to kill him. This calls for a celebratory steamed sweet potato and some Puck-applause!

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For course, every silver lining has its cloud, which is this case is Beako’s latest unfortunate news for Subie: he still carries the curse of the mabeasts who nommed him, and that curse will allow them to essentially “eat” him remotely by taking all his mana.

He has only half a day. No surprise, then, that Rem has already gone out alone to hunt down the mabeasts who are on the other end of the curse, thus “canceling the meal” and saving Subie, whom she’s become rather fond of, clearly.

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Going into that forest is not for the faint-hearted, but Subie isn’t letting his Return By Death skill undermine his commitment: he’s going in like he has only one life to live, because he really does only have one life he wants to live, and it’s one where everyone, including Rem, is alive.

Joining Subie is Ram, who warns him she’s not the fighter her younger sister is, though she has a pretty nifty Clairvoyance skill, as well as some intimidating wind-elemental magic. Emilia is too drained from healing Subie, so she’s out, as is Puck, while Subie arms himself with the “sharpest sword in the village”, presented as a gift for his heroism.

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Notably absent from the party? Beatrice, despite her likely being more than capable of contributing offense. So while imperfect, the Subie/Ram duo gets off to a good start, with Ram showing off the damage her wind magic can do.

Then Subie gets a bright idea, using the very curse keeping him from talking to others about Return By Death to lure all mabeasts to his and Ram’s location, luring Rem in turn.

For the record, Rem is looking particularly badass and dangerous this week, as her Demon Mode makes her a formidable but also reckless and unstable killing machine.

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Despite Rem’s initial good intentions (saving Subie), because she’s gotten little carried away by the power of her horn (which Ram lacks), so it also comes as no surprise that after surviving a potentially fatal fall off a cliff, Subie and Ram have to deal with a Rem who isn’t too picky about her targets.

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I thought for sure this is how the episode would end: Subie unexpectedly catching a mace to the head and waking back up in the village inn with a sleeping Emilia by his side. It is a new “save point”, after all, and I assumed his Return By Death was only delayed last week so it could occur this week.

Mind you, I wasn’t happy about that prospect, which is why I was happy that Re:Zero decided not to kill Subie this week, either. Perhaps it’s aware of the potential for “Reset Button Fatigue”, especially after we only got a grand total of five minutes of victory to bask in.

That suspension of Subie’s death wasn’t certain at all, though. I like how the episode kept me guessing till the end, with a thoroughly berserk and unpredictable Rem flailing that mace around (sorry weapons experts) and Subie seemingly having few options.

Of course, I was also amused by the tactic he employs in his effort to cut Rem’s horn and restore her to normal: by tossing Ram straight at her, as a smokescreen for his strike. It almost works on the first try, too…but as Subie said earlier, the “difficulty level” is demonically high, to the point where nothing will work on the first try.

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That being said, “Fate-sama” quickly gives Subie a second chance to take out Rem’s horn, and he re-resolves himself not to wuss out at the last second, out of fear of killing either twin. That horn has simply gotta go. I hope he can get it, just like I hope all the mabeasts killed this week mean he’s no longer going to be remotely eaten.

Re:Zero’s action isn’t regularly head-and-shoulders above Kabaneri (despite being better in every other category) but it really distinguished itself this week with some astonishingly cool and exciting animation, made all the more compelling by how much we care about the combatants. Rem truly came off as a force of nature ready to explode. But here’s hoping she doesn’t!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 09

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This week served a full plate of contradictions. The tasty morsels included: Subaru recounting the aspirations of each village child to compel Rem to participate, king of exposition Roswaal wearing reasonable clothes and flying off without any exposition, and Rem and Emilia devouring scenes bond-strengthening with Subaru. We also finally learn the source of the curse and witness some brutal combat in the forest.

Of all shows, Re:Zero has been remarkably good at packing its plates—often skipping opening or closing credits—and even though very little narrative has actually happened, the density and emotional impact has always earned it for me. Unfortunately, parts of this episode were slow, as if intentionally dragging its feet for an unearned cliffhanger ending. Additionally, many of the slower scenes were static, and the general animation quality was noticeably lower than normal.

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Focusing on the good, Re:Zero just nails Emilia’s character. She could very easily be the perfect nice girl central love interest, but the fact that she really doesn’t know Subaru’s motives—that she really doesn’t understand him at all—but accepts that he’s probably a good person anyway gives her a lot of nuance.

Her best scene this week is no different: she enters mid conversation, not even knowing what Subie’s said to Rem and Rin, gets the gist, and gives him a little prayer for safety. Their back and forth is compact, simple, but full of lovely facial expressions. Seriously—just watch how her mouth subtly changes when she’s happy, exasperated, or bemused.

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Rem gets two solid scenes as well, and while both are much more Subaru-pushed than the scene with Emilia, they are still quite touching. Also, narratively advancing, as we learn a little more about the need for barriers to protect human settlements from the creatures of the witch, and that Subaru reveals he knows she can smell the witch on him.

I greatly appreciated how these scenes are painted as less romantic than Subaru’s scenes with Emilia. Here he has a kind word, makes a pinkie-promise, and shows his trust in Rem. It’s friendship, not harem-building, and that adds nuance to the format that easily could be about getting all the girls.

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Intentional or not, the last strong scene starts and ends poorly. The animation leading up to the fight was lackluster, there was a lot of static dialog, and we still don’t know the motives of the villain. That abruptly changed with Subie’s epic kill. Like his fight with Rem several weeks ago, this had a ‘screw you I can take a beating’ vibe that makes all of the Subie fights enjoyable to watch.

Rem’s fight was decent too, for the most part. I get the sense that it ate most of the episode’s budget and the brutality was sweet but the storyboarding was weak. Call me a grouch, but having back to back ‘saved by your partner’s sacrifice’ moves, plus Rem being smashed by what looked like a dodge-able earth attack, felt generic. Eye-rolling, honestly.

The uneven quality of the fight aside, Rem’s brutality is a nice contrast. Specifically, we’ve only seen this kind of slaughter from evil characters before and…that’s kind of the point with Rem.

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Because this episode really works or doesn’t based on it’s reveals, and you will probably only enjoy it more if you’re looking at some of the details, this review has largely been spoiler free.

Technical shortcomings aside, my biggest criticism is that for all the things I didn’t spoil, a lot wasn’t answered. As Rem says, she has a lot of questions and we better be ready to answer. And hopefully soon.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 08

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Subaru wakes up, in the bed, once again, with the twin maids sitting beside him. This time, he volunteers to work at the mansion once more and spends as much time with them as he can, working his utmost to earn their trust from the start, so they won’t suspect and kill him! His second priority is finding and stopping the shaman who killed him and most recently Rem in previous loops.

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For the latter part, Subie learns from Puck that he has the somewhat rare “darkness” alignment, rather than any of the standard four elements. Excited to be able to focus his mana through his “gate” and perform magic for the first time in this world (aside from Return By Death, obv) he get’s a little too carried away and blows out all his mana at once.

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Like Explosion Girl in KonoSuba, this leaves him barely able to move, but he’s absolutely committed to continuing his tireless work with Ram and Rem, knowing his life and future may well depend on the results. Everyone notices that Subaru is simply trying way too hard, hiding his churning troubles beneath an overly chipper, caffeinated exterior. Something has to give, and it does, when he’s overcome by nausea.

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Emilia is outside the bathroom when he boots, and he can’t fool her any longer, so she takes him up on his desire to lay his head in her lap when the need arises, and it arises. Emilia is so kind and tender and matronly as she gives Subaru something he’s needed for some time: a pressure valve.

Safe in her lap, free of complications, he can let it all out, and Emilia is glad to see him not holding it in. In fact, it proves to her that he’s a truly good person, and she relays that to Rem. It’s such a lovely, calming scene, and the episode perfectly built up all that pressure and tension.

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His Emilia-aided lap pillow catharsis, then, turns out to be the means by which he achieves his first objective: earn the trust of the staff. Emilia assures Rem, who tells Ram, who tells Lord Rosvaal. I’d like to think that’s how it works, anyway!

That catharsis and its positive effects would not have been possible if Subie had been a mere houseguest and not someone doing his part in the mansion with the maids. He’s done being lazy and half-assing things; that’s how people have died in the past.

Of course, there’s still that shaman to contend with. He believes both he and Rem (at different times) were hit by a fatal spell in the village. Now he and both sisters will be going to the village together, and thanks to “Beako”, he knows there’s a way to detect a spell before it’s cast (much like a boss’s big timed attack in RPGS).

But once that spell is cast, it can’t be un-cast, so I hope to hell he’s careful and doesn’t have to go through all of this yet again. Another important thing he learned was that people who help him prefer simple thanks to elaborate apologies.

Honesty and simplicity are Subie’s tools of salvation. Cry when he has to, accept help without shame, and thank those who give it. If these people see every side of him, not just the artificial ideal, they just might not end up being the “poisonous flowers” he dreads.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 12 (Fin)

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With all the emotional groundwork laid, all this episode has to do is flick the domino and watch them cascade, in a finale that levels up its core duo, gets them to overcome their respective “will-blocks”, and makes some interesting connections on the side while tying up loose ends.

Takeru has been stabbed by Haunted, but Ootori doesn’t hesitate to fight him, even deciding to form a contract with Vlad, something she swore she wouldn’t do until it came time to carry out her revenge. Ironically, had she done it for that reason, Vlad assures her he would have eaten her alive.

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Instead, she’s doing this for Takeru, her captain and her friend, and his beloved sister. It’s a nobler cause, and Vlad equips her accordingly. Like Takeru and Haunted, Ootori gets to don her badass relic eater armor, with which she’s able to push Haunted back and retrieve Takeru. The other three arrive in a van to pick them up.

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With Takeru healed but still out cold for some reason, all the girls can do is fight back Kisek’s overflowing demon mass. Takeru, meanwhile, is in his subconscious with Lapis, who wants him to give himself body and soul so that she can best achieve all his desires. With this, Lapis kisses Takeru, the first overtly romantic act undertaken by the relic eater—albeit only in his mind.

With that, Takeru is now in God Hunter Mode. He drains all of Ootori’s energy, then tells her he may not be able to walk beside her anymore, and asks the others to hang back too, as there’s no time to explain. Takeru is preparing for the worst case scenario in which he dies trying to fulfill his wishes regarding Kiseki. And no one will argue that no one else can stand up against the raging Kiseki.

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Turns out his wishes aren’t to kill Kiseki and die with her. For all these years he’s been conflicted between kill and protect, but now what he wants is the latter, no matter what it may cost. And because of his deepened contract with Lapis, he’s able to not only overpower Haunted and get him out of the picture, but convince his sister with his sheer resolve to start questioning herself whether she truly wants to die, and discovers that’s just one of the hundreds of demon voices speaking for her. Ideally, she wants to live too.

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The wavering weakens and eventually dissolves the overflow mass, and Takeru pulls her out of the mess, safe and sound. The road ahead will be tough, but the two have now decided together that they’ll walk it nonetheless instead of taking the “easy way out”, mutual destruction. And they won’t be alone on that road; turns out Takeru and Ootori will be able to walk it together, along with Suginami, Mari, and Usagi.

Speaking of names, Orochi’s last name is Kusanagi, suggesting a relation to Takeru, while the chairman of Valhalla is another, even quirkier Suginami. Finally, that little blue-haired elf girl Suginami saved back at Alchemist turns out to be Kanaria, another Valhalla member. All these connections hint that a sequel is feasible, even if none is promised. Honestly I’d tune in, if only to experience more of its awesome soundtrack.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 11

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Takeru is categorical with Kiseki: He’s not going to kill her. And if someday he’s forced to, it will be the day he dies too. One might think Kiseki would prefer if her brother lives on with the life she never got to live, but Takeru’s a stubborn mutha. He may also be a fool; but I also have a sister, and I don’t think I’d feel any differently than he does, so I’m a fool too.

His words are enough of a comfort that Kiseki promises she’ll try to hold out longer, but it isn’t long until the siblings are cornered by Kirigaya and Yoshimizu, who is now apparently his relic eater. Then their duel is interrupted by Kurogane and Director Ootori, who retain custody of Kiseki and put Takeru in solitary to cool his jets.

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While Takeru and Kiseki were enjoying normal life, some very big things were going down. The war between Inquisition and Valhalla goes into full swing, with the latter eager to capture Kiseki (whom they regard as one of their own—a “harbinger of chaos”—and they’re not entirely wrong), and the former setting up several decoys to misdirect them. In this whole big peripheral chess game, Takeru is but a pawn, but Kiseki is the King. But I will say, while there have been Preston and Zane episodes, this one is definitely up my alley: packed with action.

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Of course, all that action wouldn’t be worth much if it didn’t have something compelling to back it up, and when we see Takeru’s flashback, which he dreams while in solitary, we get that something. Not long after learning Kiseki was his sister and a powerful immortal demon, she killed the rest of their family and household. But his father didn’t order him to kill his sister. Instead he offered him the choice: kill her, or protect her. That’s what Takeru chose to do—in fact, it’s all he could do—and he’s stuck to his guns ever since.

When he wakes up, he hears Ootori in the adjacent cell, apologizing for getting him in this situation (even though he’s eager to thank her, not blame her). She wants to share his burden the way he pledged to bear have of hers. Why? Well, because he changed her life, and changed her. Without him, she wouldn’t have the “peaceful life” she has now; she’d still be consumed by revenge. It’s no confession of love, but one of intense admiration, gratitude, and hard-earned fondness. Ueda Reina knocks it out of the park here.

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The two lament more can’t be done, but then they’re broken out and given the opportunity to do just that, thanks to some help from their friends. While Takeru promised to share the future or ongoing burdens of Usagi, Mari, and Suginami, the fact of the matter is, thanks to his past deeds, they’re pretty set at the moment, and have no qualms about inverting the deal without delay.

One aspect I like about this team’s chemstry and how far they’ve come is that they know Takeru so well, they’re shocked when he doesn’t tell them he doesn’t want to involve them out of concern for their safety. Mari and Usagi immediately start suspecting something went on with him and Ootori in solitary to change his standard tune. Which is kinda true, but not in the way they’re imagining; the way that makes Ootori blush.

When Valhalla troops attack Kiseki’s transport, Kurogane and Kirigaya fight them off. Then a Valhalla leader, Orochi, shows up, and Kurogane orders Kirigaya to clear out. We don’t see their fight, but the buildup to it, whether we end up seeing it next week or not, was very well done. The music direction remains exemplary, as the scene practically hums with the potential power of the two fighters, expressed not with overly bombastic orchestra, but a relatively low-key electronic track that nonetheless emanates gravitas.

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Then Kirigaya’s face contorts, as he’s sick of transporting one of the “heretics” he hates so much and wants to exact revenge upon, and he opens up the back and prepares to kill Kiseki. Of course, Takeru arrives in the Nick of Time to stop him, but even with Ootori and Usagi backing him up, he and Kiseki aren’t out of the woods. Kiseki herself is starting to involuntarily overflow, and at the worst posssible time, the cavalier, flamboyant Haunted shows up (who is, at least, less boring than Kirigaya).

Announcing he’s here to bring Kiseki back to Valhalla with him, for her own good, impaling Takeru on multiple thorns only accelerates her overflow. If Takeru isn’t dead (and I doubt he is), he’s certainly out of commission for the time being, leaving the rest of the 35th to deal with Haunted (assuming Kurogane gets his money’s worth with Orochi and is delayed).

By being taken out here and now, Takeru has placed his burdens completely on the shoulders of his friends and comrades. But they won’t shrink from their duty. This should be quite a finale.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 10

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This week we finally meet Kusanagi’s little sister, and she’s Akira. with Chaika’s voice. Things start to look very wrong right from the get-go, as Takeru has to swear half his life away just to get to a fake glass partition to see her (it’s actually a large video screen).

Kiseki looks stunted, tired, and is wearing what looks like a straightjacket in the antiseptic but very dark facility. Indeed, what could have been a lame “little sister is in love with her brother” episode takes a dark turn indeed, making last week’s beach episode (which I did get around to watching) well-timed.

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It wouldn’t be an Akira tribute without a Kaneda Slide, which Ootori has the honor of doing during a nighttime motorcycle chase with some low-level artifact-smuggling baddies. It’s good to see the platoon, no longer beset by personal matters among its members, working at full strength again, and doing a more than competent job.

Still, the one guy who hasn’t faced major personal conflict yet is Takeru, and that changes this week with the intro of his Sis, who Ootori isn’t even aware he’s seen yet but suggest he does, as she notices he looks unrested and troubled.

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And anyone would be that if their cute little sister had as much mana as Kiseki, along with “Overflow Syndrome”, a condition that demands she be locked away and killed over and over so that her cells don’t envelop the entire world. I’m not sure I care for Sougetsu’s cavalier demeanor while describing the situation, but then again perhaps someone such as him charged with protecting the world needs to maintain a certain sense of humor to avoid being consumed, if not by Kiseki, than by despair.

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His methods don’t seem to be working particularly well, however, because the next time Kiseki resurrects, she goes berserk and breaks out of the supermax facility. Takeru encounters her in a dark alley, where she absoluely slaughtered (off-camera) another perp he was chasing while on another mission with the 35th.

Faced with his sister out in the open, and knowing the threat she presents, Takeru’s first reaction is to keep Ootori and the others back, even drawing his sword on them to make certain they come no closer. But Ootori assures him that while she knows he’s suffering, they’re not his enemy. They take Kiseki to a safe house together.

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There, Suginami tells the others what Kiseki is, and they decide what do do with her: give her back to the Inquisition. But not before she gets to go on a date with her brother. Now, this was just a shameless opportunity to exploit Kiseki’s adorable character design by having the girls dress her up in various outfits (thankfully the one they settle on is decent). But there’s also a profound sadness to it, especially what happens later, because this is the first and only time she’s gotten to interact with anyone other than Takeru in anything resembling a normal human way.

And while out with her brother, Kiseki repeats the request he didn’t hear the last time, because his time was up and he was ordered to leave her. “—- me,” she said, but I can’t read anime lips so good, so I didn’t know the rest, and even suspected the show would get cute again and be “kiss me.” But she asks him to kill her. To release her from her wretched cycle of dead, rebirth, and the appalling solitary confinement and restraint in between, and to release the world from the existential threat she presents.

It seems like an equatable arrangement for all, except for one problem: Kiseki is Takeru’s little sister. He loves her, and he’s never once considered killing her, no matter how dangerous or miserable she was.  I predict he’ll react to her request with disgust…even if part of him knows there may be no other way.

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 06

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 6 follows last week’s trend of Emiya making poor decisions, introduces another servant and, in the least surprising surprise of all, reveals Shinji is the third Mage at school.

Through all of it, episode 6 had a distinct slice-of-life vibe, which was a good thing. Archer’s flamboyant red costume aside, the casual way people have to talk to Emiya and the matter-of-fact way he responds to all information, went a long way to make the exposition and infodumping feel grounded.

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After seven episodes, my biggest disappointment with F/sn is its choice to make Emiya the protagonist, instead of Rin. Rin certainly presents other storytelling challenges, being a hot tempered know-it-all, but I get the sense that whatever she is up to when Emiya can’t see her, is probably a more interesting story to see.

Perhaps I’m most frustrated because Emiya’s surprise does not often match my surprise? Likewise, Emiya’s total lack of introspection, narration, planning or strategy of any kind makes me wonder what Rin is up to and leads my eye to probe the backgrounds for what he must be missing.

If this is intentional, it’s annoying but a clever trick. Think of it this way: because we occasionally see Rin planning and up to interesting things, and because we see her Servant Archer around more than her, we must assume, as viewers, that Archer is an intentional distraction and that Rin is up to something very interesting, without the writers and animators having to spend effort on showing us.

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Why do I describe this episode as feeling like a slice-of-life?

The episode starts with Archer and Emiya talking on the street as they walk home from school. Sure, Emiya’s arm is covered in blood and they are talking about magic, but there’s nothing magical about the conversation or setting. Emiya even has his school bag, casually in hand. If they weren’t talking about servants, it could just be two dudes beefing about school on the way home.

Emiya’s following day at school plays out the same way. Ignoring the magical implications of his confrontation with Shinji and the Sigil removal with Rin, we really just watched a guy walk around a school building with a girl and accuse another guy of beating up another student. Heck, he accuses Shinji of something every other day and that ‘Emiya Casual Swagger’ makes it feel like any other day.

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This is where the lack of Rin’s point of view makes Emiya seem more stupid than he probably is. From his perspective, Rin just pops in and out of his life and appears to skulk around the school, largely unnoticed.

However, for all we know, Rin goes to class in the same casual way. Perhaps more understated than Emiya does, as I doubt she’s accusing suspicious classmates in public. We just don’t know.

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If we saw Rin in class, laughing it off with her friends and seeing her day-to-day, Emiya wouldn’t seem so clueless. It’s an interesting choice to not show that, and I’m curious to know what advantages the story will carve out by making its protagonist look stupid — with structure no less.

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In one scene, Saber tries to make Emiya understand that as soon as they deal with the third master at the school that his alliance with Rin will end. Then Saber agrees to train Emiya in swordfighting and we see how much everyone is putting into his survival and how ineffective all of it is.

Emiya is crushed by her blows almost immediately and only resents her for it afterwards. Likewise, while Emiya claims otherwise, it’s clear that the temporary nature of his alliance went in one ear and out the other.

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However, this scene is quickly followed by a delightfully opposite one where Emiya is working on his magic and Saber comes to watch him.

The mirroring of the scenes is obvious but thought provoking. Where Saber’s scene is warm and bright, his is cold and dark. Where hers has them stand far apart, his has them crouched close together. Where hers is quick, wordless, and fierce, his is instructive and patient.

I don’t know the writer’s intention — if Emiya’s world is more personal and small and Saber’s is more violent and to the point — but it was interesting to see that comparison.

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Overall, this week was thoughtful and well-constructed. We learned that Archer has no desire for the Grail, that Shinji is not only a monster but a mage, that Caster has an alliance with Assassin and that the Servant I thought was Assassin was most likely Thief. We learned a lot and none of it felt like an instructor yelling facts at us.

Coupled with my salivating need to see what happens next week, even if it’s only jaw-snapping action, that smacks of something great. Thoughts? Counterpoints? Hit me up in the comments below!

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 05

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 05 has all the pieces of a fantastic thirty minutes of anime, but never quite comes together as a fantastic piece of anime.

Ultimately, it falls down because all these pieces, as understandable and dare-I-say believable as they are, do not fit together. At any given moment, the story lurches from breath-taking action, to relationship dialog, to Scooby-Doo style mystery.

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Emiya starts off his day by ignoring Sabre’s recommendation and going to school. Alone. Then he runs into Rin, who is completely besides herself at how stupid he is, and how he’s totally ignored her warning that she would kill him next time too.

Despite his recent encounter with Berserker, and nearly being killed by Lancer before that, Emiya’s character fails to grasp how dangerous his situation is. More accurately, his attitude comes off as ‘Whatev’s! I know best’

Thank goodness he doesn’t whine when Rin tries to kill him later.

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In some ways, I could see Emiya as a proxy for the viewer. (at least, young male viewers) He’s bold, knows enough to follow along, and isn’t totally useless . He’s like any starting JRPG character and we’re right there with him.

So, naturally, if he were our RPG character, we’d probably throw him stupidly into every fight and expect the level balance to make it beatable too.

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However, this is an anime and we have to watch Emiya ignore everyone and rush in stupidly. We don’t have any control to make the decision for his character, and there’s clearly no level balance to save his skin, which makes his decisions feel all the stupider.

Honestly, who here isn’t wondering why he isn’t trying to learn more magic, grind up some n00bs for XP, or locate a secret magic weapon? \I’d never invite this thick head on a raid and that’s the truth!

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At school, Emiya has lunch with the student council president, learns about mysterious bad goings on (the archery captain-chan never came home from school and Shinji the douche-hole was the last person seen with her)

So naturally, Emiya decides to put on his investigation hat and look around the school after everyone has gone home.

You know, completely ignoring the fact that mages don’t fight in public because PEOPLE are around. SMERT!

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Then Rin tries to kill him or, more likely, beat sense into him over how stupid he’s being OR, since he’s already been warned, remove his command seals so that she can have control of Saber or, just because he’s incredibly annoying.

Rin’s conflict (that she likes Emiya or feels responsible for him) is obvious and accounts for why she doesn’t put all her effort into actually killing him but I’m sure this is an area many viewers will find annoying. Very very very well animated but tsundere’ly annoying.

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Then a girl screams, clearly being destroyed by Shinji and the fight is broken off. Until Emiya prevents Rin from being killed with his arm and runs off to fight against Assassin all alone.

Again, showing that he’s profoundly ignorant or just plain stupid.

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After a fight that can only be described as putting even Bahamut’s animation to shame, Rin saves Emiya AGAIN, considers herself frustratingly semi-in-his-debt AGAIN, and they go to her house to talk about.

Ultimately, they talk about family and info-dump us a bit, drink tea, and form a truce that Emiya will no doubt take for granted and make Rin want to kill him again.

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From morning exposition to aimlessly screwing around at school, to mystery investigation, to angry relationship fight (with magic) to compassionately helping a civilian, to another magic fight, to info dump and happy relationship moments, the constant shifting of gears gave me whiplash.

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold.

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That said, while it didn’t hit last week’s balance of exposition with action, this week was in no way as eye-rolling as our first major info dump at the church. If anything, the erratic focus captures how life must feel for Emiya.

However, I get the feeling that Emiya is kind of stupid and his erratic world would flow a whole lot smoother if he was smarter about living in it.

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