Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 03 – Getting Situated

It doesn’t take long for Gilgamesh to determine that Mash, Ana are a waste of his time, as he easily deflects their attacks. He also reveals that the Holy Grail is already among his treasures, which is why the Three Goddess Alliance is attacking Uruk. But as it’s one of his treasures, Gil is unwilling to give it to anyone; not the goddesses (including Ishtar, who makes a brief appearance) and not to Chaldea.

Merlin suggests they stop asking for now; Gil is a moody man, and leaving him alone could bear fruit later. Gil’s attendant Siduri suggests Mash and Ritsuka gain his favor through achievements not in battle, but simply in soaking up the capital and its people, rhythms, and work. If they play ball and show due deference to the king and his city, maye he’ll be more receptive.

To that end, Siduri shows them their modest but adequate new base of operations, where three additional Servants in Benkei, Ushiwakamaru, and Leonidas come to visit, eat, drink, and be merry with Mash, Ritsuka, Merlin and Ana as part of the larger “Uruk Experience.” Siduri also confirms that Enkidu is indeed dead and has been replaced by a fake who answers to the Alliance; but Gilgamesth has yet to meet him in person.

From there Mash, Ritsuka and Ana make themselves useful performing all manner of tasks that while generally menial and perhaps “above” time travelling warriors, are nevertheless tasks that are crucial to Uruk’s survival.

That means not just making mud bricks, harvesting wheat, shearing sheep, and tending to the children and the sick, but also joining Ana in the caverns below Uruk to dispose of evil spirits she believes are contributing to a wasting epidemic among the populace.

Ana doesn’t initially get why Ritsuka and Mash are interacting so closely with that populace, but Ritsuka very logically explains that getting to actually know the human beings he seeks to save helps to motivate him, as well as to more fully empathize with their fate should they fail. And Fake Enkidu and his goddess mother very much want them to fail.

KonoSuba – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba for short) is refreshing. I passed it by believing it no more than a lame SAO-or-the-like clone, but as Preston was with Grimgar, I was glad to be wrong about that. But it takes a totally different approach to its sudden fantasy RPG milieu.

For one thing, it hums along at a breakneck pace, and also provides clear (and kinda harsh!) background: protagonist Satou Kazuma finds himself in the afterlife after dying not by heroically pushing a classmate out of the way of a runaway tractor, but simply dying of shock, complete with doctors and family laughing at his passing.

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It’s also a very comedic show, unlike the shows I thought it’d be aping, it charts its own course, and that course leads to frequent laughs. The goddess assigned to guide him in the afterlife and choose what to do with himself (go to heaven or be reborn in a new, alternate world) is Aqua, and while initially serene, quickly shows her endearingly smug, haughty side (and seiyu Amamiya Sora’s great range).

Aqua reminds me a little of Hotaru in Dagashi Kashi, in that she’s a character who totally owns herself. The difference is Aqua is a little more self-aware; she knows she’s hot stuff, and she’s appropriately cocky and brusque with young Kazuma, getting digs about his “shut-in NEET” life and super-undignified end every chance she gets.

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To its credit, KonoSuba also knows the advantage of balance and restraint in a comedic presenation, which means it doesn’t simply pile harships onto Kazuma. In fact, the tables turn devastatingly quickly for Aqua when Kazuma decides the “thing” he will take with him to the next world will be her, a request another goddess accepts without complaint and sends both Kazuma and a very shocked and scared Aqua off to their new life together, in order to defeat the “Devil King”.

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The fantasy world they end up in is familiar, but I like how the two react very differently to suddenly being there. Kazuma simply goes with the flow, making use of his extensive knowledge of RPGs. Aqua…starts off by having something like a panic attack. She’s very disoriented and nervous, and assumes Kazuma is useless, but when he turns out not to be, her manner with him softens appropriately. (He then later turns out to be not very capable after all.)

Of course, when Kazuma learns they need money to register as adventurers, it falls to Aqua to try to procure some funds, which she does by essentially begging a kindly religious man; something she’s not proud of. However, they get the registration fees, and get an assessment of their stats before choosing their jobs.

Despite being average at everything (save slightly higher intelligence and extremely high luck), Kazuma insists on being an adventurer, while Aqua is amazing in everything but intelligence and luck. In other words, these two complement each other perfectly.

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With the “character creation” taken care of (both for Kazuma and Aqua and the show itself), they go on to “begin their adventures.” What follows is a wordless but wonderful montage of the two settling into a life of strenuous manual labor, digging holes, carrying loads, and building and plastering walls.

The montage progresses from the two just getting by and sleeping in hay with manure, to getting slightly better at their jobs, earning enough dough for food, baths, bedding, and eventually booze and carousing (followed by Aqua vomiting rainbows…more than once).

This sequence reminded me of the classic Shinji and Asuka training montage—not a bad thing to be reminded of, and probably not an accident. Kazuma and Aqua start out with very low opinions of each other, but the more they work together, the better they manage in this new world.

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Another choice Aqua gave Kazuma when they first met was to spend eternity in “heaven”, but only as an old man sitting around for eternity. It wouldn’t be what it’s cracked up to be in the living world, she warned. But Kazuma chose reincarnation, and now we see him reaping the benefits of that decision.

Sure, there are conflicts and hardships, but also mirth and vitality. They’re just scraping by, but they’re alive, damnit. And we’re talking about a goddess who never knew what it was like to be alive before she met Kazuma, and an otaku who had a very narrow scope and short duration to his previous life.

Then, suddenly, Kazuma jumps up out of bed, startling Aqua (who sleeps beside him, no big dealio), and realizes: this isn’t right. They fell into a comfortable rut of being day  laborers, but they came to this world to defeat the Devil King. Only then can Aqua go back to being a goddess, and can Kazuma receive a gift from the grateful gods.

So they agree to return to the original plan, starting by striking out in the wilderness on a “kill quest” to test their abilities and hopefully bag a monster or two. I can’t wait to see how they manage to muck it up!

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Prison School – 02

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This week we meet Mari’s dad Kurihara (voiced by Fujiwara Keiji), the chairman of the school, and the man who allowed boys to enroll at the school in the first place. Kurihara has a very hilarious way of speaking, ending each sentence with a dramatic pause before delivering the final words like an accusation.

At first he looks like he could potentially be a useful ally to the guys, as he insists Mari at least give them the weekends off, opening the opportunity for Kiyoshi to have his sumo date with Chiyo after all. That impression doesn’t last long, however, as Mr. Kurihara immediately becomes more a liability than an asset (he left a web page featuring “latina asses” open on his computer).

Note he doesn’t rub this in her face; she finds it out by accident. But it’s enough to anger her into giving the inmates so much work they won’t possibly get it all done by the weekend. Kiyoshi’s dreams are crushed almost as soon as he let them take hold. Then he spots an anthill, and decides no matter what, he’s breaking out.

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My first thought was “okay, they’re totally getting their sentence doubled.” But this week doesn’t move too fast; instead, it delves into the difficulties of breaking out. However, Kiyoshi gets instant and powerful motivation when Chiyo herself tosses him the details of their date to him.

I’ve very glad there’s at least one girl at the school who doesn’t consider all men scum, and who is perfectly fine with Kiyoshi breaking the rules if it means she can enjoy a sumo match with him. And God, their little sumo-related (I’m guessing) “thank you” gestures are the most adorable fucking thing.

I still can’t see a scenario in which he’s able to get out without getting caught and having his sentence doubled or worse. But Chiyo makes it worth the risk.

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But as Kiyoshi continues to scrape a hole in the wall within the refuse shed, he gets the feeling Gakuto knows about his plan, because Gakuto pretty much tells him he knows about his plan (the dramatic expressions in this show are a freakin’ hoot).

Kiyoshi has another immediate problem: Hana. Her thirst for justice, honor, and equity in all things demands that because he saw her pee (never mind how accidental that was), she gets to watch him pee. And the more she tries to make that happen, the more excited she gets, the more it seems her interest in Kiyoshi goes beyond simply balancing the scales, demonstrating that the show is interested in presenting the perversions of both sexes, not just the lads’.

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There’s a lot I loved in this episode, but one scene I might consider my favorite is when Mari and her dad cross paths in the hall after school. When the book slips out of her dad’s hands and photos of butts scatter all over the floor; the looks and words that are exchanged; the dad’s final look at the camera as he finishes his lines with panache, it’s pretty much perfection, and it had me in stitches.

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Once again, an easily-avoided slip-up by Mari’s dad convinces her that the inmates need even harsher treatment, resulting in Shiraki Meiko using her new riding crop with gusto on Kiyoshi and Gakuto at once, with Gakuto taking “heads” and Kiyoshi taking “tails” in the worst way.

Kiyoshi and Gakuto’s plan to destroy the shed (so they can stay near his escape route without suspicion) goes off without a hitch, but they don’t count on Hana setting up a table and chair and supervising the repairs personally. She also brings enough tea to make Kiyoshi have to go really bad, something she’s determined to be present for.

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This results in the raunchiest and grossest set piece to date: when Hana gets impatient and tries to whip Kiyoshi out herself, he struggles, she trips, grabs what she can (his pants), pulls them (down), and in the commotion, Kiyoshi just…can’t…hold it in anymore. That brings us to a match cut to rival 2001’s bone-to-satellite transition—with Meiko having a most unladylike drink before hearing Hana’s scream.

By no means did Kiyoshi want to do what he did, and he’s clearly ashamed that it happened. Unlike the peeping, he had virtually no control of his role in either peeing incident. If anything, it will be that much harder for him to look at Chiyo without being subsumed by guilt, now that yet another secret he can never tell her about has come between them. Kiyoshi’s slow moral destruction continues apace…

There’s also the matter of him and Hana still not being completely even. If Hana believes in absolute, eye-for-an-eye justice, well then, she’d have to do to him what he did to her. In any case, Prison School has shown it won’t pull its punches.

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