The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

The Faraway Paladin – 11 – The Other Side of the Coin

At the start of this outing, everything’s coming up Maryblood, as he, Menel, Anna, Reystov, and his merry band of adventurers march throughout the Beast Woods, clearing them of demons. With help from Bee and Tonio, the newly-safe villages are gradually revitalized. When Will returns to places he’d seen at their lowest point, he can see firsthand what his good works have wrought.

Then one grey day Reystov reports that one of the more talented adventuring parties is two days late from a scouting mission. Will rolls out with Menel, Reystov, and two capable parties in search of them, and eventually find their corpses. They’re then led into a ravine and surrounded by demon beasts, led by a particularly ferocious chimaera.

Will & Co. put up a stout front, but the bottom line is they’re very nearly outmatched, which comes down to a lack of caution and preparation. When Menel is severely injured by the chimaera’s dragon breath, Will flies into a panic. He tries to cast lightning on all of the beasts, but is interrupted and hits himself, a rare unforced error. He has to resort to pure adrenaline and matching the beasts in viciousness with his demonblade to survive the day.

When he wakes up, he learns from Reystov that he and Menel were carried out after the Chimaera fled, and that he burned himself out fighting too hard. Even so, Will doesn’t see this as an inevitable occasional slip-up. Rather, he suffers a total and complete crisis of confidence, cursing himself for believing he could treat Menel and the others as equals despite being so much stronger than them.

We even get the first glimpse of Will in his previous life before coming to this world, just when I’d come to grips with the fact the show didn’t care about that part of Will’s story at all. But the person he was is crucial to how he’s feeling now: full of guilt and regret for expecting too much of his comrades because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He doesn’t have to say anyting to Bee and Tonio for them to know something’s very off about him.

Will decides he’ll never let something like this happen again, visiting the still-unconscious Menel and healing him a bit more before going off on his own. However lonely he might feel, he’ll feel even worse if he ends up killing those who have stood beside him. Still being an impressionable young whelp, he instantly agrees with the chatter of passing soldiers referring to him as a “monster”, and concludes that he must walk his path alone.

You can tell from Gracefeel’s expression that Will is off-base here. He never forced Menel or anyone else to stand beside him or be his friend. It’s pretty clear Menel, and Bee and Tonio, and Reystov and Anna, are with Will because they believe in him and his strength and want to do everything they can to make a difference in this world with him. The question is, will they be able to bring Will out of these doldrums, or does his new self-imposed isolation represent the new normal?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 10 – Kicking Despair in the Face

When last week ended with the sour note of Prince Ethelbald considering killing him, Will does what Lugh Tuatha Dé would have done when he first entered the room: size up his opponents in a potential fight. He thinks better of starting anything, and instead puts his faith in his ability to speak from the heart and plead his case earnestly.

Will tells the Prince that as the bearer of Gracefeel’s torch, it is ones like him who must march first into the darkness. Ethel says such a path will only lead to despair, but Will is well aware; he has business with that despair, and will be sure to smack the shit out of it when he sees it.

Ethel is charmed and disarmed by Will’s utter frankness, which makes the sudden intrusion of Bishop Bagley almost unnecessary. I say almost, because it’s a key moment when we see that despite Will being an official novice of the temple for barely a day, Bagley will go to bat for him, even standing up to the Crown Prince.

Ethel acknowledges Bagley and the temple’s authority, and proposes a collaboration: he wishes to appoint William as a knight, and since he is also a warrior priest, that will officially make him the titular paladin. Both the responsibility and profits of Will’s exploits as paladin will be shared by the temple and the crown.

We also meet one of the final two unknown characters in the end credits: Anna, the bishop’s lovely adopted daughter and attendant. She’s one of many adopted children from an orphanage he once ran—demonstrating again that beneath all the bishop’s brusqueness is a heart of gold. Anna already knows this, and that her father’s façade is a misleading yet very necessary portrait of the real man beneath.

When Will later asks Bagley why he eschews the blessing bestowed on him by his guardian deity’s divine protection, Bagley tells him he’s known far too many with such blessings who eventually lose them by making the mistake of thinking the power is their own to use how they please. I’ll just say here: the dialogue this week really is a cut above.

Will can admit to using it for the sake of convenience at times, but the reasons have always aligned with Gracefeel’s teachings of stamping out evil, helping the week, and ending suffering. Bagley keeps all of his blessings and prayers stored within him, and uses his own gifts of playing the role of the loud, greedy, borderline corrupt asshole so well, people believe that’s who he is.

After demonstrating perfect praying form that reminds Will of Mary, Bagley tells Will not to accept Ethel’s offer of knighthood, for his own good. But Will has already made his decision—or rather, the decision was made when he was first given Gracefeel’s blessing: She wishes to achieve something through him, and becoming a paladin is the way.

Will then meets the final mystery character from the ED in the tavern, who I’d simply been calling “Aragorn” to this point since he reminds me of his “Strider” ranger persona. His real name is Reystov, and Bee knows him as as one of the strongest adventurers who nevertheless never gives her detailed enough accounts to write proper songs about him.

In this way, Reystov, like Bagley and Will, is merely acting as a corporeal agent of his guardian deity (if that is indeed where he gets his power). He doesn’t care about fame, only getting shit done; getting paid and having fun are nice perks. When Will says he’s assembling a team to go to the Beast Woods and defeat the demon boss, Reystov is in.

With that, Will is officially created a paladin by Prince Ethelbard in a ceremony officiated by Bagley’s Number Two and public pious face of the Temple. With Menel, Bee, Tonio, and now Reystov and additional adventurers, he has the beginnings of the holy army with which he will purge the Beast Woods of evil and suffering. Can’t wait!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 09 – A Wyvern in Whitesails

Will, Menel, Bee and Tonio arrive in Whitesails, and Will is understandably overwhelmed by how big and full of people and activity it is. Bee suggests the quartet wash off the road at the local public bathhouse and then grab a bite to eat at a local tavern. After that, Will gets down to business.

He arrives at Whitesails’ main temple, a gigantic classical structure that feels more like a tourist trap. After meeting with an acolyte, he encounters the temple’s head bishop, Bagley, who is a gruff, no-nonsense operator who nonetheless can sense the power of Will’s faith, and approves having him added to the priestly registry. I’m sure we’ll see more of Bagley, along with the Vice Bishop (the young woman in the end credits) soon.

Will and his party aren’t able to relax long in the cushy accommodations the clergy provides as a perk of his registration, as the city is suddenly attacked by a wyvern. Within seconds it manages to destroy crucial infrastructure, kill dozens, and leave hundreds more in a state of chaos. Will hurries to meet the threat, but initially lashes out with his longest-range lightning magic, and misses.

Menel gets Will to calm down and focus, and summons the faeries to help Will create a lightning spider web that brings the wyvern down to the ground. Once there, the wyvern threatens to spread both its fire breath and a dark miasma all over the temple grounds, but Will first spears it in the midsection then relies on Blood’s hand-to-hand training to wrestle the beast down and break its neck.

He does this in full view of dozens of shocked bystanders, who aren’t quite sure how to react to what they just saw. That’s where Bee and Tonio come in. Bee strums her lute and sings a song of the Wyvern Killer saving the city, and Tonio ensures word of their friend’s heroism will spread throughout the city. In this regard, Will’s party truly is optimized for both creating and distributing his growing legend.

Killing the wyvern also gets Will an audience with Ethelbard, the fair and honorable young lord of Whitesails and all of Southmark. That said, their meeting is a bit tense, as it was when Will first entered the temple, as Ethel isn’t quite sure who he’s dealing with or what to make of him. That soon changes when he learns that half of Will’s party wasn’t directly involved in the battle, and that he did most of the work.

After officially thanking him for saving the city, Ethel asks if there’s any reward he’d want, and Will is ready: he wants Ethel to send troops to the Beast Woods to aid the villages suffering demon attacks. Ethel says that’s a tough ask, as his forces are already spread thin, and the dark miasma turns any beings it touches into savages, further complicating matters.

Will requests an alternative: he will use his own funds to raise an army of mercenaries and adventurers to protect those areas Ethel’s armies cannot. Ethel immediately sees this as a potential threat to his authority, even if Will doesn’t intend it as such, and even weighs the pros and cons of simply killing Will before he becomes too much of a problem.

Obviously he’s not going to be killing Will—I doubt Gracefeel will allow that!—but the more macro Will’s efforts become, the more he bumps up against established powers and enters a realm in which he’s all too green: politics. Again, this is where an expert merchant like Tonio and an expert storyteller in Bee will surely come in handy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 08 – Fellowship of the Sing

When Will saves the tiny halfling troubadour Robina “Bee” Goodfellow and her merchant companion An”Tonio” from a giant ape (simply by staring it down!), his traveling party suddenly doubles in size. They make a deal with Bee and Tonio to travel to the various villages on the way to Whitesails and make money together. Bee attracts customers with her song and lute play; Will heals the injured, and Tonio sells them stuff.

It works out pretty well, and to Will’s delight, Bee also happens to be a font of oral history, including the legends of Blood, Mary, and Gus. While not mentioned by name in Bee’s songs, the trio of are nevertheless still remembered fondly for their heroics. There are times early and late in the episode when we’re clearly just getting an infodump along with Will, but Bee at least makes it interesting by applying music to the stories.

Indeed, we’re transported back to when Blood, Mary, and Gus were human and took on a giant wyvern in order to save a beautiful half-elf girl from being sacrificed. The human boy who loved her gave every coin he could to pay them, which wasn’t nearly their going rate, but it didn’t matter. The two lovebirds are sent off to make something of themselves with a dagger and a bag of coins, and Gus tells them he’ll come to collect the debt, using his name as the password.

That half-elf woman is still alive, waiting at her home for Gus or his representative to come. It’s almost as if Will’s parents inadvertently laid out a path for him to walk, serving Gracefeel and spreading word of her grace to all he encounters. Tonio admits he finds Will an odd duck; someone who doesn’t seem capable of being sold anything in the classical sense.

Of course, as someone who considers his formidable powers not his own but only being borrowed from his goddess, Will doesn’t care about trinkets or riches, only friends, good times, and the revitalization of Gracefeel’s following. A bit port city like Whitesails should be a grate place to gain all of those things.

The Faraway Paladin – 07 – The Paladin’s First Pal

I don’t make much about it until Will mentions it, but his first night camping with Meneldor is his first such night with anyone who wasn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus. As ready as those three made him for the outside world, making connections with others would be all up to him. That said, it helps to have been raised pious, polite and amenable…it’s just that that personality initially comes off to Menel as a stuck-up, privileged rich kid.

If we’re honest, Will was a rich kid, just not monetarily. Add modesty to his virtues, as after absolutely mopping the floor with an entire ruins complex full of demons and lizardmen without breaking a sweat, he simply tells Menel he owes his ability to “having great teachers”. He does what he does so well because he was taught well.

While this episode brings Will and Menel closer together, Will’s placidness can quickly become dull in the absence of those three colorful teachers. After all, he was basically a sponge soaking up their training and life lessons. But that’s why I like the introduction of Marple, or at leas the ghost of Marple, whom the long-lived Menel met and befriended many years before when he was at one of his many nadirs.

I’d like to think Marple would have no trouble sharing some booze with Will’s parents, and if it seems that Menel hasn’t sufficiently matured for someone of his age with someone like Marple, we can chalk it up to Menel not bein explicitly raised at birth by someone of Marple’s caliber. Instead, she pulled him out of the mud and encouraged him to move forward.

Despite his many tsundere moments, by episode’s end all of Menel’s skepticism of Will has dissolved, replaced by ungrudging respect and even a bit of awe, as he decides to make Gracefeel his guardian spirit and asks Will to help him form a contract with Her. When the two go back to the village they saved to party, you can tell Menel is as happy to have befriended Will as Will is to be making his first. It is surely the first of many friends to come, as you can’t spell paladin without pal….I’ll show myself out.

The Faraway Paladin – 06 – Warrior Priest

Will’s first episode On His Own is a good one. It starts out quiet and contemplative, as we just watch a tiny Will traverse grand vistas. He’s searching for humans, but finds only more dead cities and towns. He can always pray for bread and purify water, but he’ll soon need other things for sustenance. Sure enough, his patron saint provides—just not in a straightforward way.

The first person Will meets who isn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus is the extremely pretty half-elf Meneldor, an hunter who was pursuing the giant wild boar Will kills in self-defense. They agree to split the boar and share the liver, which spoils fastest. Whether Menel is Will’s age or much older, the two have an immediate easy rapport…right up until Menel says he wants nothing more to do with Will, and warns him not to follow.

Will was just going to follow the river to the nearest settlement, but he receives a divine vision in his dreams from Gracefeel which seems, at first, to depict Menel’s village being attacked. When Will arrives, it turns out Menel is doing the attacking. Here we see just how well-trained and ready for anything Will is thanks to his three parents, easily neutralizing all the bad actors.

Repeatedly addressed as a warrior poet by the grateful villagers, who are a collection of adventurers, bandits, fugitives and various outcasts, and thus always at each others’ throats. Their no-nonsense elder is barely keeping it together, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the half-elf and his five co-bandits should all be hanged.

Will, who wants to avoid any more killing due to the edicts of his goddess and teachings of his family, negotiates a fine compromise: the village will be compensated in gold, while Will hires Meneldor to help drive the demons out of his village. When Will proposes they just rush in and take care of it, Menel is skeptical, but again, this is Will, who we’ve already seen kill a god. Clearing the village should be a piece of cake…but that won’t make it any less fun to watch him do his parents proud. Who knows, maybe Menel will become his official first friend in the process.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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