DanMachi IV – 03 – Meeting Their Mossy Match

Whelp, the fun and swagger didn’t last long, did it? Cassandra tries in vain to heal Chigusa and Luvis, but the parasitic plant that has infected them is beyond her abilities. Simply cutting them only speeds their growth. With time against them, Bell opens the floor to ideas, as he admits he’s best suited to combat.

Cassandra says they could retreat to the surface and enlist the services of a higher-level healer, or they could confront the enhanced monster in hope the plants within their people will wither and die if it’s defeated. Ultimately, the group goes with the latter plan.

I like Bell’s dedication to deliberation and consensus…in theory. In practice, it’s a little odd that Chigusa, Luvis, and his party members are able to survive as long as they are considering their bodies are being eaten from the inside by parasitic vines. Frankly, standing around talking about it saps (no pun intended) the urgency a bit.

When they find Luvis’ party mates, they’re clearly being used as bait. As Strategist, Lili delegates duties amongst the party members, with Bell and Asha focusing on the Moss Huge. But Moss is crafty, and arranges things so the weaker members of the party are closer to it, forcing Bell to leap in at the last minute to save them.

His Fire Bolt hits, and the Huge doesn’t seem to like it one bit, so it grabs him by the leg and dives into the water. Bell is about to run out of air when he is suddenly released by the Huge, and the current shoots him straight out of a massively high waterfall. Just like that, the party has lost its leader and strongest member.

Lili momentarily loses it and tries to rush after him, but Aisha reminds her of her duty as Strategist to keep a cool head. She also ruefully admits that Bell is stronger than her now, and has surely found a way to survive whatever fate has befallen him.

So Lili crafts a new plan: the party will head back to where they started on this floor: a high enough vantage point that they’ll avoid further ambush, but also an enticing spot for the Huge to attack them. Once the Huge is where they want him, Makoto will use her gravity magic to bring down the rocks and crush him.

It might work! Certainly Bell isn’t in a position to fight the Huge as he’s now several thousand feet below everyone else, but he is alive. No sooner does he get back on his feet than something slices him in the arm: one of the laser-quick Iguazu Eina warned him about.

At first he hides behind a crystal, which gets eaten away pretty quickly by the onslaught. So he considers what Ais would do in this situation, and then does it: faces the threat head on and fighting it off with his quick swordwork. He gets nicked more than a few times, but in the end he’s still standing and the Iguazu are gone.

For his efforts, he receives a surprise round of applause…from a mermaid he didn’t even know was watching! Hopefully she won’t try to kill or eat our dinged up Little Rookie.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 02 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp

On the verdant final floor of the middle floors, Bell’s awesome mega-party makes camp. Haruhime was initially worried about whether Bell could still fight and kill monsters after his dealings with the Xenos, but Bell tells her he’s committed to being a “hypocrite hero”.

Bell’s performance against the monsters thus far earn him high praise from his comrades, though Lili worries he’s “drifting away”. Welf says it’s then the job of a supporter to keep chasing after him. Aisha also remarks that Bell is having a positive influence and looking like a true hero, not just dragging everyone along but making everyone around him grow stronger.

After a meal ’round the campfire, everyone retires to their tents, where we get some nice combinations of characters chatting. There’s Mikoto swearing to be Haruhime’s shield (any shippers?), Daphnie praising Lili for her Strategist performance thus far (Daphnie is so cool!), to an increasingly agitated Cassandra warning a drowsy Chigusa about her premonition about a creepy Green Moss that covers everything.

We also have nice moments between Bell and Welf as well as Bell and Aisha when he relieves her for the change of watch. It’s a welcome reminder that as affable as things have gone so far, they are still in dangerous territory. And Aisha warns that it’s going to get a lot more gnarly as they descend into the lower floors. If Bell gets himself killed, he’ll likely take the whole party with him. To Aisha’s delight, Bell doesn’t flinch at these words.

The landscape turns from green to a vivid blue as the party descends to the 25th Floor and the Great Falls of Water City. DanMachi puts out some serious Abyss vibes here, as our heroes are absolutely dwarfed by the massive waterfalls and rock formations.

Their first encounter with monsters (blue crabs) is relatively uneventful, but just walking a bit too close to the water’s edge nearly costs Haruhime her life. Thankfully, Mikoto isn’t just talk, and impresses all when she dispatches the giant piranha.

When Welf spots an extremely rare and valuable material, even the level-headed Lili decides it’s worth the risk (especially considering how expensive this expedition is costing the Familia). Part of a Strategist’s job is deciding when the risk is worth the reward, and even when another monster ambushes Mikoto in mid-air, she shows how much her training paid off by delivering a dazzling somersault kick.

The haul of expensive material and Mikoto’s heroics leave the party feeling confident about descending just a bit lower before heading back to their 24th Floor camp…and then Cassandra’s premonition begins to come true. They spot a wounded Luvis emerging from the darkness, and right behing him is the most formidable monster yet.

Bell rushes ahead to take it on, but it seemingly reads all his moves, and he identifies it as an “enhanced species”. When it unleashes a hellish fusillade of woody projectiles, everyone does their best to avoid them, but Chigusa gets caught by one—only one—and her resulting shoulder wound is infected by a rapidly growing plant that no doubt threatens her life.

Proof positive that adventuring in the Dungeon is all fun and games…until one of your party gets struck down. Now comes the true test of Bell’s leadership, Lili’s guidance, and the other party members’ physical mental fortitude. Can they overcome this setback, or is it only the first of the dominoes?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 04 – Her World, Her Rules

If you’re going to go three weeks between episodes (since the first three were available in week one) following with a character-centric bottle episode is probably the way to go. We don’t see how Weiss is discovered or how the rest of her team takes her before Shion; instead we’re right beside Ruby inside Weiss’ nightmare world as she tries to find her bearings and rescue her still-new comrade.

She arrives in a harsh winter wonderland with an psychedelic sky, but at least she can use her weapon as a snowboard, and spends coins in order to communicate with Shion, create shortcut doors, and bring up the map of where she’s been. Considering she only has a finite amount of coins, I’d say she’s actually way too liberal with their use early on.

After witnessing a Schnee-brand train being attacked and derailed by White Fang, Ruby follows the tracks to an Orwellian nightmare of a city, packed with statues and portraits of Weiss’ father. The city is populated by a bunch of patrolling robots who salute with “Big Nicholas” (instead of Big Brother) and laborers who might as well be automatons with their highly structured, joyless days working to fatten their boss’ pockets.

When blending in doesn’t work (I mean look at her), Ruby tries to climb the vast walls of the city’s central tower, but is pushed back by magical brambles. She then encounters a “Silly Prison” for “dummies” depicted as members of JNPR who meow kind of like cats a a pet shop. Ruby is a little disappointed Weiss sees their comrades like this.

As for Weiss herself, she’s been given an Esdeath-like makeover. Her sister is a bat who alerts her to Ruby’s movements, while her always-looming father orders her to take care of the intruder. Wanted posters appear instantaneously, and before long Ruby is cornered and finally comes face to face with Weiss.

As you’d expect, Weiss isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and in any case regards Ruby with nothing but disgust and contempt. Seeing all this trippy shit inside Weiss’ head, Ruby is compelled to believe that all the time Weiss was trying to make nice, she was actually harboring hatred for everyone else, including her.

Shion tells her it’s not that easy; that the Nightmare itself casts a sinister shadow over everything. Ruby is an intruder, and so the Grimm will use everything at its disposal from Weiss’ mind to throw Ruby off her game. But it’s clear that Weiss’ existence prior to joining the rest of RWBY has been harsh, cutthroat, and above all devoid of love and warmth. Hopefully Ruby can heat things up a little and bring the ice princess back from the brink.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Pandemonium is the ultimate agent and wielder of chaos. None of the Jokers have anything on this mirthful, pint-sized Giallo buff. Haruno Anzu typically voices her with a singsong child’s meter with a healthy share of “Maa’s!”, which rides the line between ironically effective and annoying, but also makes it that much creepier when ‘Moni speaks more quietly and seriously.

While Menou expends all of her ether on a mere warm-up fight with Moni, Akari seemingly heals Momo with her power, which made me think Momo would possibly play a role in the battle. Ashuna also gets reports of around a hundred people in town suddenly melting into red goo, making the princess primed to get involved in whatever’s up on the island.

I’ll tell you what: nothing good! Giant four-eyed rats with human legs sticking out of their backs? No freakin’ thank you! But it’s par for the course for the B-movie-obsessed Moni. She’s not trying to take over the world. She’s just trying to be as entertained as she can possibly be watching humans try their absolute best…then die horribly.

When Menou does run out of her own paltry stores of ether, Moni shoves her out of the castle with a giant hand, but that’s when Ashuna officially joins the battle, pretending she’s meeting Menou for the first time and offering her own seemingly unlimited stores of ether for Menou, who is far better-equipped to use it.

The duo of Menou and Ashuna proves extremely successful, at least at first, as Menou connects the earthly and heavenly veins, builds a massive Pseudo-Cathedral atop the castle isle, and sucks Moni into a bloody singularity, then an endless loop of detainment. Logically, the battle should be over. It’s not.

That’s because with Moni around, chaos reigns. Kill her once or a hundred times, it may not even be the real one you’re killing. Moni not only survives, but summons a gigantic eldritch abomination from the fog in order to show just how tough a cookie she is.

The kaiju obliterates the castle isle in one blow (which is sad, that was a hell cool-looking isle; reminded me of Ico) but the dashing Princess Ashuna saves Menou with a princess carry—just before that, she showed genuine affection and concern for her reluctant bae Momo.

So the giant monster is out there, but Menou soon determines it’s not a real threat; it’s still basically trapped in its current location by the fog, and that fog soon starts advancing on both the monster and Moni. While all this is going on, Akari is kept from joining Menou and Ashuna in battle by another Moni, who prefers mind games to blood and gore.

Moni felt like chatting with a fellow Japanese. Moni knows Akari can only use her Pure Concept of Time so much before it starts to degrade her soul into nothingness. There’s also the side effect of losing your memories from your previous life, but Akari, who was bullied at school in her old life, is only concerned with keeping her memories of Menou.

Akari destroys Moni with one shot from her fingertip, but Moni soon comes back and continues to mess with Akari, telling her that there’s a reason she’s failed so many times. Someone more powerful is impeding her efforts—someone with access to something called the “Astral Archive”, an entity composed of all the collected memories of the planet, the source of the power of ether, and the origin of the lord written in the scriptures of the Faust.

In other words, it’s probably Flare. So as Moni threatens to wear out her welcome by transforming into a CGI centipede girl (which while creepy and menacing, lacks visual mass and weight and is thus less impressive than the kaiju she summoned), she’s looking more and more like an intermediate boss on the way to the true big bad: Menou’s mordant mentor.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 01 – Quest for the Legendary Seasoning

Every single one of PriConne’s season two premiere’s 23 minutes is used to pull us straight into its lush, expansive world and not let us go, like those mangy purple dogs that keep nomming on Yuuki. It offers both epic fantasy thrills and comfy cozy little pleasures that come between those big moments, and I absolutely love it to bits.

As thanks for sharing her mushroom harvest, Kokkoro was given a map by Karin at the Guild which leads to a “Legendary Seasoning”. After a tasty breakfast of egg sandwiches, the quartet heads out into the big, beautiful world. The first season was always easy on the eyes, but PriConne pulls out all the visual stops as Peco, Yuki, Kokkoro and Karyl strike out on an adventure.

The four soon find themselves gleefully lost in a vast above-water coral forest. Along with all the eye candy comes top notch chemistry between the disparate characters, the same classy orchestral score, and superb sound design. It also features some great comic timing, with quick cuts that had me laughing on more than one occasion.

They’re stuck in the forest for what seems to be several days, such that when Karyl is sick of fish, Peco and Yuuki trap one of the furry beasties that roam the area. Their meat is juicy and delicious…but ultimately poisonous. The four find out the hard way one by one when they vomit rainbows. The friends and family of the beast they ate surround the paralyzed party. Karyl had me howling when she exclaimed “I don’t want to die in such a stupid way!”

Fortunately, te four are saved by a grizzled old man who has lived in the coral forest for years. In fact, he and his party made the original map the copy of which Kokkoro obtained. He serves as their guide, and Kokkoro learns from his locket that he’s the last living member of a adventurer’s party of four…whose souls happen to still be stuck here in the form of spectres.

The quartet readies for battle, but when physical attacks prove worthless, Kokkoro works off a hunch and initiates a healing spell to help the ghosts pass on peacefully. Turns out that’s what the old man wanted all along, and he too is a ghost. That said, Peco asks the four of them to join them on their search for that legendary seasoning, “Drops of the Sea.”

The ghosts agree, and procure transport to the location in the form of a dang airship that soars through achingly gorgeous landscapes and cloudscapes. This is all happening during the end credits, and it’s a credit to the show that it packs as much as it can into its running time. It’s only fitting that a series in part about food that it offers such heaping helpings of visual bliss right out of the gate.

Alas, they’re never able to procure the Drops of the Sea from the eggs of the giant turtle who supposedly lays them…because the only turtle they find is a male. That said, this was always about the journey and about sharing new sights, sounds, and tastes along the way…even if they were briefly poisoned!

The episode fittingly ends with a meal. Returning home after to long, there isn’t much in the way of food to prepare, but Kokkoro makes it work, whipping up a quick and tasty fried rice-like concoction. When Karyl, a famously picky eater who hates vegetables, spots bits of them in her food, she is weary, but when she works up the courage to take a bite she learns it’s much better with veggies than without.

Everyone scarfs down their dinner and puts their hands together in thanks: thanks for the food, and thanks for each other. Then it’s off to warm beds, restful sleep, another gorgeous dawn, and another fun adventure.

Meikyuu Black Company – 07 – Operation Eternal Capital

Just as Preston seems to be enjoying Moonlight Fantasy more for the interaction of its endearing cast and not necessarily its world-building or plot, I too prefer when MBC keeps things simple.

That didn’t happen this week, as the meeting with the Demon Lord—who is Rimu’s twin sister—sits on her throne and delivers one long and convoluted infodump about What’s Going On, What’s At Stake, and Ninomiya’s crucial role in Saving the World.

The Demon Lord’s exposition is actually accompanied by actual imagery of a temporal war between the forces of natural order in the world and the corrupting expansion of Raiza’ha that left unchecked will render the planet incapble of supporting life.

But that conceptual ambition isn’t matched by sufficiently impressive visuals. Also, the bottom linie is Ninomiya is standing around either nodding his head or adding his two cents here and there.

Ninomiya, Rimu and Ranga actually arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle as Raiza’ha of the future is about to bring about the end of the world, so at the end of her spiel it’s time for the three to return to the past from whence they came.

Well, Ranga comes from the future, but he’s all in on going back in time with Ninomiya and Rimu. The DL does give Ninomiya a Matrix-like blue-or-red choice, but rather tan return safely to Japan, Ninomiya accepts the challenge of the mantle of savior of this world.

Upon returning, Ninomiya learns he and Rimu were gone a month, and not only is he penalized for the unapproved time off by his boss Belza, but his accommodations were assigned to another employee.

Since he arrives just in time to save Shia and Wanibe in the Dungeon, he, Rimu and Ranga take it upon himself to crash at Shia’s (admittedly pretty nice) apartment until further notice. She’s not particularly thrilled—and is perplexed by the sudden appearance of the extremely cute Ranga—but she’s also a nice person, and so accepts the freeloaders.

That night, the gang avails themselves of a rare instance of Raiza’ha footing the bill at a traditional business dinner and drinks, though Ninomiya must foot the bill for Rimu and Ranga as they are not Raiza’ha employees.

Ninomiya wants to be above socializing with the “rabble” but he knows the consequences of letting Rimu go hungry for too long, and so accepts the additional debt on top of the cost of being AWOL for a month.

In a show as irreverent towards The System as MBC, it’s not surprising that Ninomiya would be sent back to the past as the world’s only hope of salvation only to be treated like a problem employee by the very company that will be responsible for the worlds destruction in 300 years if he didn’t come back.

He also faces a rude awakening as he commences Operation Eternal Capital, as the difficulty of the Dungeon that leads to the ancient ruins has increased quite a bit since he last tackled it. That said, with the power of Rimu, Shia, Ranga, on his side (and Wanibe too, I guess), his Meikyuu Black Company is putting its best foot forward in this quest to save the world.

I just wish the production values were doing the same, but this was a distractingly janky-looking episode, especially when contrasted with the smooth CGI go-go-dancing of Rimu and the Demon Lord in the new ED.

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

Meikyuu Black Company – 05 – The Rise of General Ninomiya

After a very nervy and fun fakeout in which Ninomiya dreams he’s back on Earth but Rimu followed him and is wreaking havoc on the city, he wakes up somewhere else entirely…or rather somewhen else. He was summoned to save humanity, who have been living in the underground town of Marcia for the last three centuries. This appeal is initially clumsily made by Marcia’s “Priestess”, Ranga (voiced with great verve by M·A·O), whom Ninomiya discovers is a boy…by grabbing his crotch.

This is obviously a despicable act, but not shocking considering it’s long since been established that Ninomiya is a slimebag. The “cute girl is really a boy” trope is also particularly outmoded and tone-deaf, especially for a show spouting progressive socioeconomic theories. It also isn’t dwelled on for too long, so I won’t either. Suffice it to say Ranga is determined to make his “Lord Messiah” fall for him—Why, I cannot say—but also is mainly on board so he can get to the surface; he can’t stand living underground.

When Ninomiya bristles at helping a bunch of needy losers, Marcia’s mayor Zazel pulls an old 9mm pistol on him, only for the gun to get chewed on by Rimu. Ninomiya, a constantly snacking Rimu, and Ranga travel across the surface by motorcycle. There, Ninomiya learns this isn’t a different world, but the same old Amuria, just in the future.

Raiza’ha Mining Corp. basically destroyed human civilization and made it ripe for conquest by the Demon Lord. Now the monsters rule the surface. Ranga directs the trio to what is “probably” the Demon Lord’s castle, but turns out to be home to the Demon Lord’s deputy assistant section chief, General Ant.

This ant turns out to be Ninomiya’s old friend and comrade Ant A, who treats them to a feast while he unburdens himself with the monsters’ current troubles. These are put into relief when one of the conquered humans bursts in complaining about the horrific conditions under which he works.

These conditions are, hilariously, the norm in both Japan and America: 8 hour days, only two days off (AKA the weekend), and a scam called insurance. While it’s a pretty on-the-nose critique of our present late-stage capitalist dystopia in which we live, there’s definitely something to plainly listing all the ways it sucks through the voice of someone acting like it sucks, rather than it being the norm.

Of course, this and many of the other humans aren’t aware that it could be much worse than the status quo; it could be like the state of Raiza’ha at the height of its power, when employees were treated like dispensable slaves. Seeing which way the wind is blowing and reunited with his good friend Ant A, Ninomiya decides to ditch the mission he was summoned for and join Team Demon Lord.

By employing more draconian labor practices upon the conquered surface humans while at the same time incentivizing rule-followers and hard-workers with the ability to boss other humans around, he quickly reorganizes the entire social structure of the human subclass, while increasing efficiency, output and earning favor with the big guy.

This results in Ninomiya returning to Marcia in a gaudy Captain Harlock outfit. As the Demon Lord’s newest deputy assistant section chief, General Ninomiya declares that he’s going to be running Marcia from now on. Flanked by Ant A, Cerberus, Rimu, and a Ranga who is simply going with the flow at this point, I’m not sure the underground humans have any choice but to submit, desperately short on supplies as they are.

At any rate, Ninomiya Kinji has once again climbed to the top of his situation by being nothing more or less than the asshole he is and always will be. We’ll see how long it lasts and what form his likely inevitable downfall takes.

Meikyuu Black Company – 04 – Shiacalypse Now

Shia leads Ninomiya and Wanibe on a training expedition on the second floor, armed not just with a sword, those lovely star-filled eyes, and those diamond highlights, but a filled-to-brimming tank of enthusiasm for Being a Good Corporate Drone and Doing One’s Duty The Right Way.

Ninomiya has even less energy for this nonsense than usual because he has to produce five million gold in a month or his loan shark will take his life. He doesn’t have time to do things by the book. With his literal life at stake, one can’t begrudge him embracing methods some might call…unsound.

The team encounters a Majin, the monster of legend that causes a “Death March”—treated by Raiza’ha as an unavoidable but potentially profitable natural disaster. Turns out Shia’s employers set her up to be the latest in a long line of powerful human sacrifices to appease the Majin.

What they didn’t count on is that one of the grunts with her is Ninomiya Kinji, who has an ant army at his disposal and soon starts farming monster parts for gold.

As for the Majin, it’s too tough even for the great Shia (its laser beams really pack a punch), so Ninomiya suggests they retreat. Unfortunately the emergency magic crystal dagger used to transport back to the surface only works on one person.

Naturally, Shia gives it to Ninomiya, but her ensuing melancholy goodbye melts his cold cold heart and he not only stays behind with her, but throws the dagger at the Majin, transporting it to the surface where it becomes the company’s problem, as it should be.

The Majin, drawn to Shia’s considerable mana, eventually makes his way back down into the dungeon, where Ninomiya is ready for him in the form of a giant pit trap into which the Majin falls. Ninomiya then has his ant minions fill the pit with cement, and has Shia dry it with her wind magic. When that isn’t enough, he sets the whole thing on fire. Shia can’t argue with Ninomiya’s ends, but the means disturb her.

When the Majin still won’t die, Shia resolves to defeat it, as is her “duty and destiny”, even at the cost of her life. It’s here where Ninomiya unfortunately decides grope her, losing a lot of goodwill he’d built up recently. He admits he looked up her family history, and how her father was of the absentee adventurer variety.

He deduces that Shia has been “brainwashed by thoughts that benefit Raiza’ha”, in part because she was happiest once she joined the company. But just because it improved her life doesn’t mean that life is theirs to throw away and call it “duty”. Raiza’ha isn’t a nation, and Shia isn’t a soldier. She’s just a damn at-will employee.

After being rescued in the nick of time by Rimu, who then quickly dispatches the Majin she reports was “incomplete”, Ninomiya claims victory…for himself, continuing to cement his role as an incorrigible sonofabitch. But he made some good points to Shia about casting aside the corporate conditioning and determining what she wants to do with her life.

If that’s continuing to work hard, fine. If it’s working hard for a company that just tried to sacrifice her to an eldritch abomination, that’s not fine. We’ll see if Ninomiya’s core message gets through to Shia, despite the messenger being a cad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Peach Boy Riverside – 01 (First Impressions) – Carrot Debt

Peach Boy Riverside drops us right into the middle of former princess Sally’s journey away from home. She has a positive, can-do attitude as ample as her pants are shiny, and isn’t above lending a carrot to a hungry, adorable Harefolk Frau when she hears their stomach growling. When he pair visit a nearby village, the seemingly friendly townfolk reveal they’re racist as fuck. What feels like more than half the episode is spent in this village, which serves to contrast Sally’s kind and tolerant heart to the fearful, prejudiced townsfolk.

But when a Cockatrice emerges from the forest to wreck up the place, it’s Frau who saves the village that hats them with a One Punch Man-style demolition of the foe. The villagers aren’t won over, but the local lord seems moved by Frau bowing and thanking him for the carrots the previous night (when he somehow didn’t see that Frau was a demihuman). Hawthorn, commander of the local Kingdom’s knights, brings them in for questioning, but soon frees them, and feels bad about having put them in stocks, so treats them to a meal in the open-air market. That’s when Peach Boy Riverside quite suddenly gets dark and bloody, as two high-level Oni unleash a devastating attack on the city.

Frau again rushes to protect Sally, their main source of carrots, but is no match for the giant knight-gooshing walrus. That said, Frau fights valiantly enough to buy time for Sally’s latent “Peach Eye” power to awaken, turning her into an even more powerful fighter than Frau. While a bit light and lulling in the early stages, and featuring a completely random image of a nude Sally tangled in tentacles, Peach Boy Riverside picks up some steam and reveals a sharp edge when it counts. At the very least, I’m intent on see what happens next!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 12 (Fin) – Quite the Day

After Drewes and Aira join the battle in the forest, we’re back in Krausner’s capital experimenting with crops with the Alchemist lady. Both she and the Gran Magus really put Sei to work such that she’s exhausted by the evening, but Drewes knows she’ll have to perfect her conjury and speed it up if they’re going to win the war against the monsters. The next morning, Aira joins Sei along with Leo, Drewes, and Al on the next adventure into the woods.

We get Saint’s Magic Power’s longest and most sustained battle, as both toxic slimes and demonic monsters hassle the expeditionary force. Both melee and elemental magic attacks fly freely, with the various magic users employing teamwork for maximum efficiency. All the while, Aira and Sei perform healing and protection duties. There are number of close calls, but someone, usually Al, always has Sei’s back.

When they come close enough to the miasma-infected swamp for Sei to begin her purifying conjury, she is distracted from the task when Al and Aira end up in danger. Drewes insists Sei keep herself focused on her conjury duties, and when the enemies start to surround them, he goes back on his promise to hold back and unleashes a devastating Inferno attack that destroys both nearby fiends and burns the forest. Sei is able to purify the swamp, but that’s all she has the energy for.

That night, Sei finds it hard to sleep, both due to the forest having been destroyed and her unannounced feelings for Albert and what to do about it. Albert escorts her to her tent, but before she heads in to retire, she turns around just as Al does, and they share a tender moment that fades to black and could be interpreted as sharing a chaste kiss. The next day, Sei is back at 100%, and with Al holding her hands, she’s able to revive the forest to its former glory, wowing Aira, Leo, and everyone else in the process.

After the exertion, Sei loses consciousness, coming to in Al’s arms as he princess lifts her back to the city. Sei insists she can walk on her own two feet, but doesn’t pass up Al’s offer to hold her hand as she does. Aira is loving it the whole time! When it’s time to return home to the capital, the old alchemist tells Leo that the Saint’s Magic Power is…love. Well, duh, that’s been pretty clear for a while now! And that love is more often than not focused on a single individual: Albert Hawke.

After the bombast of the forset battles, this very quiet, steady, and pleasant show ends on a characteristically quiet, steady, and pleasant note: Sei and Al enjoying the gorgeous view of the capital from a good vantage point at sunset. As the sun sets on Sei the Saint and her dashing and valiant love interest, I came away nodding agreeably. MAL is often very wrong in its scores, but 7.32 is just about perfect for this show. Never terrible, but also never game-changing, and bolstered by the warm and expressive Ishikawa Yui, whose voice I’m always happy to hear in non-dystopian series!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 08 – Into the Western Woods

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent would prefer if we forget about Aira and whether or not she and Sei will ever actually speak to each other, and despite being somewhat frustrated by the sudden page-turn, I came to accept it in the spirit of enjoying watching Sei’s magic power continue to evolve, which all starts when she finally gains access to the forbidden section of the library.

Yuri Drewes might have the line of the night when he sidles up to her and asks if she’s thinking about murdering someone. But her interest in poisonous plants is obviously more honorable and altruistic. When her attempts to create holy water or imbue plants with magic fail, she learns from Yuri about “Saintly Conjury”, which is the closest analogue to the “blessing” of water of which she speaks.

At the end of the day, Sei more or less figures out how to perform Conjury quite by accident, simply because she’s concentrating very intently on her desire to help those who have helped her. An orb of magical energy appears just below her throat, and it lets out a little shock wave that imbues all of the surrounding plants with magic, just like she’d been trying.

While this is inarguably a huge breakthrough, Sei isn’t quite sure how she did it, and so isn’t sure how to repeat it. But then duty calls, as the knights request the institute’s best healer to accompany them on a dangerous expedition to the infamous Western Woods. Johan expects her to be very low on the prospect, but to his surprise, she’s fully prepared to do whatever she can to prevent or mitigate more casualties of the kind she treated before.

So early the next morning, she dons her durable, practical, yet stylish adventurer’s outfit and prepares to depart. She’s met by several surprises, first Jude and Johan seeing her off (though I don’t see why she’s surprised; they both adore her). Then she learns Commander Hawke will be joining the expedition in order to protect her. That goes for Yuri too, though a part of him is coming along just in case she pulls off Conjury again.

While Sei is wearing the hear ornament Albert gave her because she knew she’d want to keep her hair out of the way, he tells her that it’s actually enchanted, and will keep her safe come what may. His delicate, respectful, and above all dignified courtship of her has been one of the many surprise delights of this series.

But heck, even if her hairpin didn’t do jack, she’d still be fine, right? I mean, she’s got a Knight Commander and the Grand Magus protecting her. Well, maybe not so much, as the miasma becomes denser and the monsters grow stronger, Yuri and Albert’s hands are full stemming the tide of lesser beasts when a boss-type salamander appears.

When it spits its fire breath at Sei, she doesn’t have time to raise a magical shield, but her hair ornament has her back, raising an ice barrier in the blink of an eye that protects her from the flames. So yes, practical choice of hair accessory, but also a literal lifesaver. Though I suppose she could always heal herself if it came down to it…

But up to this point in the ongoing battle, Sei had been on her back foot and serving a support role as a healer and buffer, a role she knew well from the video games she’d play when not working her ass off. But when she witnesses a demon cat bite Albert in the shoulder, drawing blood and causing a deep wound, Sei just…reacts.

Whether it’s Saintly Conjury or simply Saintly badassery, Sei casts the same spell she cast the other night, but instead of simply imbuing nearby plants with magic, it eliminates all monsters and miasma across a vast area-of-effect, while fully healing Albert and everyone else’s wounds, right down to minor cuts and bruises.

Sei’s not just a healer or supporter. She also might just be the greatest weapon against evil alive. That aside, it was just hella fun to finally see her operating in the field, rising to the occasion as I expected she would.

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