Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Fruits Basket – 07 – On the Outside Looking In

Tooru arrives for her mysterious meeting with Hatori and is brought to her office by Momiji. Hatori doesn’t mince words: when most of the members of the Souma clan aren’t aware of the Zodiac members’ secret—only around fifty “insiders” do—it’s an “outrage” that Tooru knows, and she should leave the Soumas and never have anything to do with them again.

It seems like a classic case of trying to scare someone off by making things sound far worse than they are, but when Momiji explains why Hatori is so resolute. He once had a girlfriend named Kana, who was a Souma but an “outsider.”

They loved each other deeply, and asked Akito for permission to marry, but Akito blew up at them, resulting in Hatori being blinded in one eye by glass from a shattered mirror. Kana blamed herself, and that blame turned into an obsession and an illness. The only way Hatori could save her was by wiping her memories of loving him.

Tooru is empathetic of Hatori’s position, but doesn’t want to leave Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure, the latter of whom suspected Hatori was up to no good and comes to put Tooru’s mind at ease, as Hatori is prone to over-drama. Still, he and Momiji have New Years-related matters to attend to, so Hatori escorts Tooru back to the front gates.

While doing so, Tooru gets lost in thought and slips down some stairs, and Hatori catches her, which technically means hugging her, and transforms into his zodiac animal: a dragon. But not a big dragon; a tiny, defenseless seadragon. As Tooru rushes to get him in water, he remembers this is exactly how Kana first reacted when she learned his secret.

That takes us down memory road, to when Hatori’s ice-cold heart was warmed by Kana’s warmth. A man who neither knew nor felt he needed love suddenly found himself not just receiving it, but giving it back in return. Kana accepted him for who he was, and if anything only loved him more because of it.

Things went seriously pear-shaped when they attempted to ask for Akito’s approval, an absolute must, considering he’s the boss. But Akito sees Kana as nothing but an outsider, not someone who would do anything about “the curse.” He says a great many terrible things to Kana that day, including that she’s to blame for Hatori if he goes blind.

That sets Kana on a downward spiral that leads to her memory being wiped, which was probably what Akito was going for. I must say in my limited exposure to him I’m not a fan of Akito…but hey, I wasn’t a fan of Hatori last week and here we are, seeing him in all his humanity, passion, and tragedy. Perhaps Akito’s story is even worse than Hatori’s!

Hatori comes to on a bench beside a worried Tooru, who then runs off to find his shoes that she dropped. While she’s gone, a newly-engaged Kana walks past as her friends congratulate her. From her perspective, Hatori never loved her, but it doesn’t change the fact she finds him more handsome than the man she’s going to marry; his dream man.

Tooru returns, it starts to snow, and when Hatori asks what Kana told her, she has the same answer Kana had: when snow melts, it doesn’t simply  mean water, but that Spring is coming. Tooru reminds Hatori of Kana on more than one occasion; he just hopes she doesn’t suffer the same fate.

As for “the curse,” Tooru tries to ask Shigure about it but he demurs, stating it’s not quite time to tell her, should he choose to do so. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to learn the Soumas’ secret; perhaps she’ll learn about the curse through plain happenstance…

Sansha Sanyou – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch a show about three colorful characters, voiced by three young, hungry seiyuu, coming together and shooting the breeze about nothing in particular…but mostly food!

That’s what we have in Sansha Sanyou, a minimal-stakes slice-of-life comedy with cute design and crisp, clean visuals that I’m seriously considering as my feel-good pick of the Spring

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As I said, Hayama (blonde class prez with a well-concealed mean streak), Futaba (energetic girl who loves to eat) and Yoko (purple-haired former rich girl struggling with making friends) are all voiced by relatively new, inexperienced actresses (Futaba’s seiyu is a pure rookie).

You can hear their infectiously fresh exuberance in their line delivery, much like Sore ga Seiyu. They also happen to have decent chemistry, comic timing, and range. They’re young, but they’re talented. Their efforts are backed up by appealingly above-average, colorful character design and naturally-flowing dialog that takes some interesting and unexpected turns.

I like how Hayama and Futaba, already good friends, decided to become friends with Yoko just because various random circumstances brought them together, and…well, why not? At the same time, Yoko is working hard to fit into “commoner society” now that she’s no longer super-rich.

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Yoko’s doting worry-wort semi-stalker of a former servant is a nice touch, as is her legitimate elation over receiving freebies, her worries over the cost of everything (hence her bread crusts being her main repast) and her earnest attempts at cooking for her friends, who enjoy the variable results without complaint, as good friends do.

Hayama also shows she’s got a hard edge behind her adorable demeanor, making a challenging classmate cry off-camera then shrugging it off. And while Futaba is the simplest of the three characters, she knows Hayama well and they bounce off each other’s eccentricities nicely.

There’s nothing overly complicated here, and that’s the point. The only question is whether I’ll have enough time to watch it, because it’s definitely good enough to keep.

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