Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 05 – Taking the Tsun with the Dere

Via a handwritten letter from Paul instructing him to read it out loud (Ghislaine can’t read), Rudeus learns about his new job as academic and magic tutor to a nine-year-old girl in the city of Roa, for whom Gislaine is both bodyguard and sword instructor. It’s a five-year commitment, ending when he turns 12, and in that time he’s forbidden to contact home.

Paul did this because he suspected Rudy and Sylphie might enter a co-dependent relationship that would be harmful for both of them. He also tells him the young lady is “fair game”, but hands off Ghislaine, whom he mentions having bedded previously. Fortunately, this is all we hear of Paul this week, and presumably for the next five years of Rudy’s life.

Rudy takes this sudden change in his life extraordinarily well for someone who had not only become comfortable in his previous life holed up in his room, but also became comfortable in his home village with Sylphie. He realizes one can become too comfortable, and life too easy. If this job will help pay academy, tuition, he’s game.

Upon meeting Phillip Boreas Greyrat, Rudy learns he’ll be under the employ of his father’s cousin (i.e. his cousin once removed), making his daughter, Eris, his second cousin. And while Phil says his daughter is “a bit willful”, that hardly does her justice. Rudy bows as a noble should, but is immediately dismissed as too young by the fiery, ultra-tsun Eris.

Eris brooks no back-talk, as when Rudy asks what age has to do with tutoring her, she slaps him across the face. He slaps back, but far from cowing her, she pounces and starts beating the shit out of him until he has to push her off with wind magic. She then chases him around the manor.

Despite this first interaction, Rudy isn’t ready to give up, which impresses Phil (at this point, all other tutor candidates quit). Rudy can see the challenge his father has laid out for him, and knows full well he’ll be laughed at if he turns tail and runs home.

More than that, Rudy has had his fill of being beaten up from his previous life. In his position as tutor he’s going to teach the intense, violent Eris that violence should never be the first resort, and one can’t get too comfortable committing it.

After proposing some kind of scheme with Phil to get Eris to accept him as her tutor, we cut to Rudy emerging from a wooden box with bound hands in a grimy dungeon. He wakes Eris up and explains the situation: they’ve been taken hostage by brigands.

When their captors enter and Eris treats them with immediate derision, she’s met with a level of violence she’s unable to keep up with. While she’s bloodied and missing several teeth, she’s still defiant. The degree to which she’s beaten also indicates to Rudy that the false kidnapping plan he arranged may have turned into the real thing.

Rudy is reasonably sure he could overpower the guards, but not sure enough to risk it, and in any case his first lesson as tutor is that might makes right, something he wants to avoid. Instead, he partially heals Eris, bars the door with stone, and busts through the window bars. Eris asks for help, but he’ll only take her with him if she promises not to yell and scream or be violent.

As the baddies bust through the barred door, Eris agrees, and Rudy whisks her off. The moment he’s fully healed her, she’s back to yelling and acting imperious. At this point he bids her farewell, but she soon forms up behind him, saying she was only joking and will honor their promise.

The two take a horse cart back to Roa without incident. The men who race ahead of them on horseback seem like bad news, but Rudy is condient once they’re within Roa’s walls that they’ll be safe. That is, until Eris is snatched up again and one of Phil’s attendants reveals he’s in league with the brigands to exact a ransom.

Rudy halts their escape with Eris by erecting a stone wall in their path and prepares for battle, but he’s outnumbered and surrounded. The baddies offer Rudy a generous cut of the ransom for his cooperation—equal to more than ten enrollments in Magic University with change to spare.

Rudy admits it’s a tempting offer, but if there’s one thing his dating games have taught him, it’s how betraying the girl for money can only bode poorly for one’s affection levels and chances of winning the girl’s heart. So he rejects the offer and launches a massive firework into the sky to blind the baddies, enabling him to snatch Eris out of their clutches.

Rudy is able to get some distance between him and the brigands and lays down suppressive fire magic, but one of the baddies practices the North God Sword Style, which includes deadly sword-throwing. Rudy cannot avoid the path of thrown sword or summon magic fast enough to deflect it.

Fortunately for him, Ghislaine saw the firework and headed for its launching point. Using her immense beastperson strength and speed, she’s able to make it in time to shatter the thrown blade into metal dust and kill two of the brigands in one sensational, fluid, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movement.

It’s a moment that briefly but powerfully demonstrates the potential of a show as well-funded and lovingly made as Mushoku Tensei—it can match the artistry and badassery of Jujusu Kaisen or Demon Slayer. Rudy is also haunted by the sight of one of the dead brigands, who is headless and robed in blood. He can’t hear, freezes up, and has to be snapped back to coherence by Ghislaine. Compare that to Eris, who is just happy to see her bodyguard and doesn’t really react to the blood.

The intensity of what Rudy just went though stays with him when they return to the Boreas Greyrat home, otherwise none the worse for wear. Rudy deems his plan to be a failure, as in the end things spiraled out of his control and he and Eris could have ended up dead without intervention from Ghislaine. Notably, Eris slaps her father’s hand away when he tries to help her, as she prefers to get up herself.

Rudy turns to leave, but after a few beats, Eris turns back around and orders him to stop, then tells him he has “special permission” to call her Eris—no “lady”, just Eris. When he asks if that means she’ll let him teach her, she turns back around, but it’s clearly not a “no”, and his mood brightens appreciably.

While an archetypal tsundere out of the gate and throughout this episode, I still found Eris’s desire to stand on her own two feet and utter lack of patience for bullshit admirable. Like Rudy when he arrived in the world and to this day, she has a lot to learn, and from reading, writing, arithmetic and magic, Rudy has a lot to offer.

The faux-then-real kidnapping was a worthy means of bringing the two together, and showing us just how awesome Ghislaine is. I’m sad Sylphie gets the short end of the stick, but it should be a fun five years. I’m hoping they don’t fly by too fast!

Check out Crow’s review of episode 5 here.

Great Pretender – 16 – Surly Princess in the Demon Castle

Makoto knowing he’s in on Laurent & Co.’s latest scheme doesn’t make coming to work at Scarlet every day any easier. He cooks tasty food for the captive children, who then leave it untouched—one of their only available acts of defiance. It wears on him, but Laurent tells him Cynthia is about to make her move.

The next day, she does just that, posing as a wealthy foreign “dealer” who speaks English—I’ll note some of the best English I’ve ever heard in an non-dubbed anime. I’m glad they didn’t skimp on that detail, as the language barrier makes Makoto’s role as Ishigami’s (and later Suzaku’s) interpreter crucial to the deal.

Cynthia and Kim take Ishigami and Makoto out to the UAE, where they situate themselves at a vantage point from which to watch their services in action. They use Clark and Abby to stage a desert kidnapping, with Abby posing as a royal princess.

As is typical of a GP episode, this scene wears its Hollywood action influence on its sleeve, and is quick and well-executed—like a Hollywood action movie, only animated. Makoto also notes how convincing Abby appears during the staged attack, considering she’s not one to panic when a gun is pointed in her face.

More importantly, the charade and “Princess Abigail” convince Ishigami, who brings Cynthia, Kim, and Abby before Suzaku Akemi herself for inspection. Suzaku treats Abby no differently from any other human trafficking victim: like a piece of meat to be stripped down and viewed from all sides. Makoto wisely averts his eyes to avoid Abby’s ire.

Suzaku indicates her interest without strongly expressing it, and initially low-balls Cynthia with an offer of 100,000,000 (Cynthia hopes that’s not yen, since that would amount to less than $1 million). When Cynthia forces the issue, Suzaku blows smoke in her face and cops a feel, stating that if Cynthia were a little younger she’d get a pretty good price.

Cynthia doesn’t react to the abuse, which is clearly Suzaku testing her mettle, because she revises her offer to a cool billion. While that’s over $9 million US, it still feels like small potatoes compared to Laurent and Cynthia’s previous con jobs.

The deal is struck, and Princess Abby gets Ishigami’s winddown room as her cell, complete with TV and video game console. Meanwhile, Makoto continues to switch out the kids’ untouched food, and urges them to eat for their own sakes. But their looks indicate they don’t care about their sakes.

Hanging his head the whole way back to his apartment, Makoto is shocked to find Laurent, Cynthia and Kim waiting to surprise him with celebratory drinks. Makoto rightfully suggests this is sloppy on their part (who knows if Suzaku is following any or all of them since they arrived?) and they leave.

The plan from there is to spring Abby after they get their money. To do so, Makoto needs the key to her room, which Ishigami all-too-easily offers up when he falls asleep after drinking too much beer. Makoto presses the key into a bar of soap, and Kudou makes a copy.

On the appointed night, everything goes smoothly except for Makoto’s not-so-sudden crisis of conscience. (I particularly liked Abby hesitating to escape because she was in the middle of a game—it really nailed her character’s nonchalance in a crisis) He’s not prepared to simply hurt Scarlet by taking their money then stealing Abby back; he wants to free all ten kids being held there too. But when he and Abby try to do so, the kids don’t budge. Just like they wouldn’t eat because they have nothing to eat for, they won’t escape because they think they have nowhere to go.

They might reconsider that once they’re sold off to people who will use them for unspeakable purposes, but the bottom line is these kids’ spirits have long since been broken. They were already abandoned by their families for cash, after all. They don’t care what happens to them, and care even less about helping Makoto realign his moral compass. When a kid asks where they’d go from there, Makoto doesn’t have an answer. As Rachel Menken said to Don Draper: “You haven’t thought this through.”

Due to a security guy Makoto initially relieved returning when he forgot his phone, Makoto is unable to free Abby, so the op will have to wait for another day. But it feels like even if they do free Abby and get the money, this isn’t the whole job. Or maybe it is, and the job that follows may lead us more into Laurent’s past—the apparent focus of this final arc.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 15 – The Brutal Return to Reality

It’s been four months since the Wit Studio-produced, Netflix-distributed Great Pretender closed the book on its satisfying London art dealing/Cynthia romance arc, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its return for its final and by far longest arc, involving the ever-mysterious Laurent. But at least in its first of nine episodes, it’s an almost completely Edamame-POV episode.

After a ~5-minute recap (as narrated to his mom’s grave) of his adventures so far, we learn Makoto considers his latest job with Laurent, Cynthia, Abbie, et al will be his last. He returns to Japan to seek honest gainful employment, and Laurent seems to wish him well, urging him to “do what feels right”.

While his criminal record would seem to be a massive obstacle to getting a job, Makoto snags a job at a “trading company”, with the very expressively-faced Ishigami as his immediate boss and mentor. Makoto proves a natural at the job, using the people-reading and interacting skills normally used to con people to instead sell them stuff.

He rises literally to the top of his company’s tower, where he and a select group of model employees await the arrival of their chairman, the cool and fearsome Suzaku Akemi. Her lazily muttering “do your best” to Makoto upon meeting him signifies her approval of him, making his employment official.

Not long after meeting the big boss, however, Makoto learns that while gainful, this employment may not be quite on the level. That’s made painfully clear when, while in Hanoi with Ishigami for a pickup, he learns that the merchandise freaking children.

That’s right: Suzaku Akemi, Empress of the Underworld, has a large controlling interest in human trafficking, buying orphans and refugees for cash and auctioning them off to the super-rich. And Makoto thought the art dealing business was cutthroat! It’s a wonder he doesn’t vomit in disgust as the poor kids are dressed up and paraded out like lambs to the slaughter.

Then it dawns on him: if this “Sacrlet Company” Laurent recommended to him is a front for the mafia, than Laurent has had Makoto infiltrate the company for a job….his biggest yet. While the focus is on Makoto for the lion’s share of the episode, the fact of the matter this is Laurent’s show, because Makoto went and did exactly what he hoped he’d do. The Puppet-master’s strings extend across oceans!

Laurent fesses up to this job to an outraged Makoto, who is as angry with himself as his French friend, having let himself be played yet again. But Makoto isn’t the only one Laurent has in mind for this job, which is presumably to bring Scarlet and Suzaku down while pocketing a tidy profit. Cynthia, Abbie, and Kim are in, as is a welcome face from the Singapore arc, Clark, the nicer of the Ibrahim brothers.

With the recaps over, the broad strokes of the new job drawn, and the awfulness of the mark made crystal clear, all that remains is to actually dig further into Laurent’s past, which this week only amounted to a brief but beautiful dream where he and an unknown lover gaze up at the Aurora Borealis. Eight eps should be more than sufficient to do that, and they’re sure to look just as fantastic as the previous fifteen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 02 – Sam of All Trades

I recently watched the TNG episode “Time Squared”, which featured a lot of sweet shuttlebay porn. The Enterprise-D’s shuttlebay is gleaming and spotless, but that’s just where the shuttles land. We never saw the dirtier storage and maintenance facility, but that’s the part of the Cerritos we get to see in just the second episode, where Ensign Boimler gloats about being assigned to co-pilot a shuttle escorting a decorated Klingon general to his diplomatic appointment.

Meanwhile, it’s become clear Ensign Rutherford has developed a bit of a crush on Ensign Tendi—can you blame him?—but his grueling engineering duty schedule conflicts with a date to watch an astronomical phenomenon. In order to make that date (he considers it beneath a Starfleet officer to go back on his word), he quits the Engineering division. Seems kinda rash!

Boimler could never have predicted a slacker like Ensign Mariner would not only be his shuttle co-pilot, but also old friends with the general they’re escorting, a closeness made clear when in the middle of introducing himself to the general, Mariner pounces on him and the two have a brief knife fight.

By-the-book diplomatic protocol and theory are fine, but Starfleet is just as much about who you know than what. The resulting shuttle ride is predictably chaotic as Mariner exploits the fact the general is a lightweight when it comes to bloodwine.

He’s passed out by the time they land in the Klingon district to grab him some local Gagh, but before they know it he’s “behind the wheel” and taking the shuttle for a joyride without them. With transport and ship-to-shore comms not an option due to the properties of the planet’s atmosphere, they’ll have to track him down on foot.

In a hilarious demonstration of how nice and understanding the vast majority of Starfleet officers are, Rutherford’s commanding officer is perfectly fine with him exploring other divisions. Things don’t go well with command, however, as Rutherford manages to muck up a basic holodeck command simulation that theoretically shouldn’t be muck-up-able.

Feeling that perhaps there’s some continuity to be found in the great engineering project that is the human body, Rutherford tries his hand at being a nurse, only to find his bedside manner is non-existent. We also observe how Tendi’s bubbly personality serves her well in calming and reassuring the patient Rutherford wound up.

Boimler once again exposes his greenness when it comes to missions on worlds other than Earth and Vulcan (which shouldn’t even count!) when they reach the Risian district. He’s suddenly seduced by an human-looking woman who turns out to be an alien interested in depositing eggs in his throat. Thankfully Mariner has his back…and a hose!

She has it again when Boimler recklessly jumps into the middle of a dispute in an Andorian bar he knows nothing about. Things escalate quickly into a big Alien Bar Fight (a Trek standard, to be sure) but cool (and thirsty) heads prevail when Mariner offers to pay for the next five rounds if everyone agrees to stop fighting.

Now that’s Starfleet—inadvertently starting fights, then amicably ending them. But Boimler starts to lose hope that he ever had a chance to be a Starfleet captain, and tosses his combadge in a puddle.

The last division Rutherford tries is security, and to the surprise of both himself and the buff Bajoran chief, his cybernetic implants give make him the perfect fit for security, as he dispatches a squad of holographic Borg without breaking a sweat, letting the implants do their thing.

Still, after a day(?) of trying out new career paths, all it takes is one glance at an open Jefferies Tube—spotless and gleaming—for him to politely turn down the offer to job the “bear pack”. Like the chief engineer, the security chief is supportive and happy for Rutherford.

Back on the planet, Mariner and Boimler encounter a shifty, Gollum-like Ferengi offering transport. Boimler is suspicious, but Mariner tells him she’s “pretty sure he’s a Bolian” and that he should listen to her since they haven’t let them astray yet. But when the Ferengi betrays them by pulling a knife, Boimler phasers it out of his hand, saving Mariner.

Once they learn the Klingon general safely reached the embassy, Boimler and Mariner return to the Cerritos. Despite asking to keep events between them, Boimler ends up telling everyone at the bar how Mariner confused a Ferengi for a Bolian. We later learn that the Ferengi was another friend of Mariner’s, who put on a performance in order to restore Boimler’s confidence.

As for Rutherford, he learns that Tendi wasn’t going to hold it against him for not watching the pulsar from a window—and certainly wasn’t something to quit the job he loves about! Instead, she joins him in the tubes and watches it on a PADD, in a very cute cozy scene of budding friendship.

Star Trek episodes don’t always have A and B-plots running side by side, but they’re definitely a common occurrence among the hundreds of episodes of television in the franchise. I felt both A and B worked well here, with the on-ship/off-ship plots complementing the characters and served as backdrops for their development. Tendi definitely got the short end of the stick this week, but she’ll no doubt be the focus of an episode (or an A or B plot of one) soon.

Stray Obervations:

  • The cold open features another TNG classic: the alien intruder depicted as a bright point of light. In this case, it’s one that is weak enough to be placed in a hold by Mariner, who threatens to stuff it in a canister unless it creates the cool new tricorder model that has a purple stripe…and a power crystal!
  • Mariner’s little singing but about the shuttle’s blast shield was as awful here as it was in the previews that made me initially weary of this show. Thankfully it and scenes like it are the exception and not the rule.
  • That said, why did she have so many bowls of broth, and why was it spilled all over the consoles? I know, I know…“it’s a cartoon!”
  • Boimler really was presenting himself to that Klingon general all wrong. Standing too far away and speaking too softly are both considering insulting.
  • The senior officers looking ready to get angry only to be totally understanding and supportive was a an example of why I love this show: even though it borrows so much from a franchise I know back to front, it can still surprise me!
  • Another practice that, while true to Trek, I found a bit problematic, was the alien stereotyping by Boimler and Mariner. Mariner’s barb about Klingons smelling bad was pretty cringey. As for Boimler ragging on Ferengi…Dude, the Alpha quadrant would have been lost to the Dominion without Quark and Rom!
  • At least the Ferengi dude was acting all “TNG first season” on purpose…IRL he wears a monacle!
  • As someone who does not mind tight enclosed spaces (as long as I can get out of them of course!) I always loved the Jefferies tubes growing up…even if they made no sense. You’re in space! Just make the ship big enough so the tubes are regular height!
  • I am so here for all the alien representation these past two episodes. Due to budgets, previous Trek crews were overwhelmingly human, which made the Federation feel small.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 02 – Elephant = Car

After being duped into not one but two separate radio broadcasts, Minare considers legal counsel, until Matou produces her business card with a drunkenly-scrawled note declaring that she wouldn’t complain no matter how many people he shared their conversation with. Even if it’s not a binding document, with the hole Minare has dug with her boss Takarada, she may not be able to turn down a new job at the radio.

Takarada can’t really afford to drop an experienced waiter like Minare on the eve of the summer festival, so he claims her life for that duration. Her co-worker Nakahara, who has a thing for her, would rather she stay put and fulfill the things she promised to do for him…probably while drunk, because she doesn’t remember any of those things. In any case, while updating the restaurant blog, Minare learns that much of the customers are so attuned to her voice that they immediately recognized it on the radio.

Radio host Chisato Madoka casually asks Matou if he’s looking to replace her, but that’s not his intent with Minare at all. Mostly, he wants to bring up a voice talent from the ground up, and there’s never been an amateur who is so clear and presice with her words while delivering a tone that’s harsh and overbearing yet somehow also not unpleasant—pretty much the opposite of Chisato’s. So he and other members of the crew visit Minare at her workplace to offer her a more permanent job.

Some time passes, but eventually Minare is picked up in a car by the fit mixer Koumoto, whom Minare immediately considers asking out before reconsidering due to her uncertain economic future. Matou has her sit in to deliver a 5-minute promotion for the festival. Minare warns him she might not paint it in the best light since she’s not a fan of Urasando, but does a fine job anyway, and like before, doesn’t mess up once.

You can hear Minare on the radio while she tends the food stall, and a discussion with Nakahara emerges about the nature of the food they’re selling at the stall under the name “Gagarin.” Turns out it’s the predecessor restaurant to “Voyager” run by Takarada’s culinary master, and they’re selling what’s left of Gagarin’s food at festivals to phase it out.

Honestly I wasn’t so sure what the point of all that talk was about the two restaurants, except as an opportunity for Minare to introduce a more dramatic scenario than the mundane truth…only for it to be the truth? As for Minare’s weird neighbor who remembers a date and starts seeing blood? What’s up with that?! Could that be fodder for a future Minare broadcast? Finally, her ex Mitsuo heard her, and seemed amused. That can’t be good!